How To Drink Without Alcohol

23 07 2015

“Let’s go for drinks!”

It’s a common refrain in the adult world. My friends know by now that I don’t drink so it’s understood that when we “go for drinks”, whatever I drink down won’t be coming back up at the end of the night like in the old days. In the business world it’s a little more complicated.

Socializing can be hard work if you aren’t close to the people around the table. There’s an awful lot of small talk that is boring at best, but more often skews to gratingly annoying. Attempts at humor almost always fail, and the smiles that we force out into the bleak aftermath of a bad joke are grimaces against a bitter wind. Alcohol is a welcome friend under such circumstances. The more you ingest, the higher your tolerance for mediocrity. In my personal experience, the goal was always to drink enough that it was no longer me listening politely to someone else, but everyone else being forced to listen to Me. Booze was the impresario that granted a stage to my inner performer. I became the aftermath.

After coming to terms with my bad drinking habits and going cold turkey, I had to inform my friends that Mr. Saturday Night would no longer be making Tuesday appearances. I think most of them were a little relieved, but there was some lingering confusion that remained somewhat unresolved. “Is he an alcoholic?” I don’t know. Am I? Had I opted for a 12-step program, I’m sure I would have been forced to confront that question with unnecessary starkness, and it would have been a resounding “Yes”. I say ‘unnecessary’ because I never felt incapable of removing alcohol from my life. Had I failed, I would have had to submit myself to poorly lit rooms, bad coffee, and other people’s sad, sorry tales. It would have made me want to drink even more.

Am I an alcoholic? Nah. Alcoholics can’t just quit. They have an addiction. They have dependencies. They have to grapple with a futility that I never knew. I was able to quit. It was hard at first, but then it just became the new normal. Dealing with childhood trauma, or divorce, or economic ruin are reasons to drink. I had none of those. It was ultimately just a health choice, like quitting sugar. But it’s more than that, isn’t it?

Drinking when you aren’t great at control is fraught with circumstance. I can admit that when I was a drinker I had a drinking problem, but that doesn’t carry over to my current status. An alcoholic remains an alcoholic his whole life, even if he never takes another sip. That isn’t my story, but the complications that arise from drinking too much are the same regardless of whether you are a diagnosed addict or a frat house party animal. The same series of regrets accumulate, from being hung over too often to missing out on the parts of life that require sobriety, such as participating in sports or getting up before noon. Whether you are able to quit and stay quit or need lifelong help, the damage that gets done still gets done, and this makes the conversation around drinking complicated with people I don’t know.

Every time I face a situation where I’m having to socialize with work contacts over drinks and I very noticeably order the non-alcoholic beer, my companions either come at me straight with, “Oh, are you an alcoholic?”, or they try to tactfully ignore the subject and just label me a recovering alcoholic in their private thoughts. Neither of these reactions is ideal. With the former I end up sputtering out a half-hearted, “No, I’m just a non-drinker,” and with the latter I have to accept that I am being branded something I’m not. Of course there’s the distinct possibility of a third reaction which is that they don’t care and don’t bother attaching any significance to it at all.

In any event, sometimes I wish I could just say, “Yes, I’m an alcoholic,” but this feels disingenuous. There was no rock-bottom for me, no tragic tales of my wretched downfall and the inevitable reckoning with a higher power to forgive myself my many trespasses. I don’t have any sad stories of when alcohol robbed me of my life or ruined the lives of others. I don’t feel that I have any entitlements to the cursed battlefield of addiction and disease that is alcoholism.

On the other hand, saying “No, I’m not an alcoholic, I just have poor impulse control so I have to stay away from the stuff,” reads very similarly to “Yes, I am an alcoholic.” So how do I steer people away from that conclusion? Or more to the point, how do I steer people to the conclusion that it’s just a choice I’ve made and that’s all there is to it?

Using the “it’s for my health” excuse is my default. It covers the why without having to go into the when or the how. And as I get older, there’s less and less focus on alcohol as a social tool, and people are also getting more and more used to hearing about each other’s dietary restrictions. Unfortunately, I no longer have alcohol as an antidote to listening to someone explain why they don’t eat gluten.

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6 responses

23 07 2015
Andrew Robulack

Just refer to yourself as a “teetotaler” and make some obfuscated reference to modern temperance and Joseph Livesey. That should distract nicely from the matter altogether and bury the drunks around you in an avalanche of 18th century triviality.

26 07 2015
The Ulcer

Maybe I should refer to myself as Steampunk, thereby invoking all of antiquity in one annoying, distasteful, fell swoop.

23 07 2015
Frogface

I now call drinking around people I don’t know, “nervous drinking” it really helps to make small talk much, much, and much easier…good read The Ulcer.

26 07 2015
The Ulcer

Thanks Jack Hill of Tiny House Estates.

23 07 2015
Fishpants

I think if someone asks why you aren’t drinking, you should just lean in close, as if to tell them a secret. And then when they lean in to hear your secret, bite their nose off, spit it on the ground, remove your socks, and run in really tight circles until the paramedics arrive. Then you should probably leave. Thus the boring small talk problem is solved.

26 07 2015
The Ulcer

You think I haven’t tried that already??

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