Updated: Aug 11
A few ideas on how to 'come out' as a non-drinker and ways to make it easier in social situations.
One of the biggest fears many of us have when we think about giving up drinking alcohol is how to navigate social events as a non-drinker.
In my case this fear was mostly attached to how I was going to tell specific people and groups. But I also used to drink even before an event began, to calm my social anxiety, which was pretty bad in the lead up to any situation involving lots of people.
Most of us have friends and family with whom drinking is the norm, and perhaps as in my case, a coping strategy.
I certainly couldn't have imagined getting through Christmas or the holidays without it. Added to which there was so much fun associated with these times and I felt life would be empty and devoid of joy unless I was riding on a white wine high.
When I gave up drinking in October 2019 summer was on its way. Pre-Christmas parties, get togethers at the end of the school term, end of year catch ups and a host of other occasions that would have usually have involved me drinking myself stupid, were coming up. During this time there were two key things I had to consider. Firstly, should I pre-warn people and secondly what exactly do I say?
The mere fact that these things required a fair bit of energy and thought highlight just how significant drinking was in my life, how accepted and integral it was in every occasion when I got together with certain people and groups, and just how big a deal it was for me not to be doing it anymore.
The fear of how to explain my not-drinking got most of the mental air time. My pride and my uncertainty about how to 'classify' myself blurred the lines and made the rationale a little clunky in my head. But thankfully, not being one to overly worry too much about what others think, I decided it best to be transparent and tell it how it is. A short, simple piece of truth 'I was drinking too much and I felt like shit, so now I don't do it anymore', or words to that effect.
As this response was rolled out I found not one person had much to say other than 'good for you', 'Wow', 'Wish I could do that' or simply 'Oh'. And I chose not to pre-warn anyone unless it was family, mainly so they could stock up on my AF options, but also to give them time to process the shock!
Telling your long time drinking buddies that you're not up for a beer, Champers or Sav is only one part though. The reality of not actually doing it, in situ, is definitely more challenging.
So you need a plan for while you're there and a well rehearsed exit strategy when those 'drink me' signs start flashing, and the 'It's only one', voice rears its head.
What I found most useful was being prepared with alternatives. For me, I find it really hard being out to dinner or in a social setting with people who are drinking without some kind of prop. So, bypassing cigarettes and alcohol I have found non-alcoholic drinks that I really like that look and feel like the treat or reward that I missed.
For some this is controversial, and I understand why, but for me it works really well and I look forward to enjoying my non-alcoholic champagne as much, if not more, than I enjoyed the real thing. The reality is I love being present, but I also love the taste of champagne or red wine, and now I can have both and feel part of any event, drink in hand, not a diet coke or soda and lime in sight.
There are an increasing number of companies who are dedicating time to creating sophisticated, great tasting non-alcoholic drinks. You can get a Shiraz or a Chardonnay, a craft beer or a Gin, all zero alcohol. I've experimented with quite a few and granted, some are just nasty, but that's the case with the real stuff too, so it's trial and error.
Personally I didn't try any until after 2-3 months of not-drinking. I think that's probably a good idea. If nothing else by then you've forgotten the taste and the non-alcoholic stuff tastes pretty good, plus you can drink it and savour the lovely feeling of not getting hazy, consuming less calories and feeling zero guilt! You can even drink the whole bottle without death stares from your partner AND, the BEST thing? No-one else wants it either - HUGE bonus!
So, to recap. Have a plan. Work out what you're comfortable with saying (and honestly, the more people I tell I more I realise most people respect it more than question it). And have an alternative you enjoy, be it Diet Coke or top shelf AF Champagne, take care of yourself first, then worry about the rest after. Truth be told once people have a few in them they have no idea, or care factor, what you are, or aren't doing anyway.
For some ideas on alternatives you can follow @sober_sommelier and visit the Sophisticated sips pages.