“I Don’t Drink Anymore.”

Reactions to sobriety

I had no idea how interesting it would be to hear people’s responses to this simple phrase.

To begin with, I found it a little awkward, to say the least. I felt embarrassed by my sobriety — like a teenager growing into their developing body, I was trying to cover myself up, hiding my non-drinking from the people around me.

Now, I wear my sobriety with confidence and I find it fascinating to hear people’s responses.

So, here’s my summary of comments you might run into when you mention you’ve stopped drinking:

“Well, I don’t drink every day”

You may feel an insinuation that you did drink every day which is why you had to stop. In my case, I didn’t always drink every day, but I still wasn’t happy with my relationship with alcohol.

In saying “Well, I don’t drink every day”, it also reassures them that they can continue drinking and don’t need to consider their relationship with alcohol because they don’t drink daily. Therefore, they have no ‘problem’. It says more about their need to justify their drinking habits than it does about your decision to ditch the drink. Don’t feel you need to respond to this.

“I drink in moderation”

I did too. Most of the time. At least by society’s standards of moderation.

But just because you drink in moderation (whatever that looks like to you), it doesn’t mean that your relationship with alcohol couldn’t benefit from a bit of curious reflection. What I want to say in response to this is “define moderation”. Moderation could be interpreted as anything from one or two drinks every month or so, to a glass of wine every night with dinner, or even drinking to the point where you can still function on a daily basis, despite the bottle of wine you’re finishing every evening.

One again, this comment needs no response. It’s all about people feeling a need to justify their own drinking habits and alcohol consumption and it’s not about you.

“I know when to stop”

I did too. Most of the time. But those times I didn’t, it was terrifying.

This comment feels like it comes with a heavy insinuation that you have no willpower and don’t know your limits. Know that once again it’s the other person justifying their own drinking habits and you don’t need to defend the conditions of your curiosity around sobriety.

My blackouts were rare – in the 5 years I drank since being a mummy, I blacked out once. But before then, when I was in the corporate world and educational leadership, they were an annual if not 6-monthly nightmare. I never once went out intending to blackout. Never once intentionally had that additional glass of wine that pushed my poor body and mind over the limit and put me in significant danger.

I now safely know when to stop. The trick is not even starting. And it’s the most freeing feeling in the world.

“I don’t have a problem”

Ok. This one was a tough one to hear. I always felt that there was a heavy inference with this comment — an unspoken “but you clearly do, otherwise why would you have given up?”

I learnt that the inference existed in my own fear of being judged and my anxiety around not fitting in anymore. This was a journey in finding my people. My tribe. If I lost a few ‘friends’ along the way because of their judgement of me and my sobriety, I was happy not to fit in anymore.

I now know that you attract what you send out to the world. I’ve been blessed to gain new friends who either share my sober lifestyle or at least understand my choices. And the friends who are still with me, from my drinking days, love me for who I am and not what I drink.

“I only have one or two drinks”

Me too. Most of the time. Especially since my daughter was born.

But I had a problem with this. One or two drinks took the edge off my day and I felt like I really needed that ‘treat’ – that miniature escape. When days were amazing, I’d have a drink to celebrate. When days were hard, I’d deserve a drink for getting through it. When my patience with my daughter was wearing thin, it was all ok because 5pm would roll around and the bottle would be opened.

And I questioned whether I was truly living my best life. I wasn’t sure that I was. I still had an underlying sense of anxiety some days, I still felt like I wasn’t good enough, no matter how frequent or focused my meditations, yoga, runs, self-care was – it always felt like a temporary ‘fix’.

And I couldn’t escape the fact that a substance had the potential to make me blackout – this was something I didn’t want to have in my life anymore.

“Really?! Why?!”

This comes with a tone of incredulity. A slight suggestion that you’re making a big deal out of something or just being a little melodramatic.

You’ll notice that all the other comments I’ve mentioned refer to their own drinking habits. This is the most frequent response I receive – I don’t ask for it but I tend to get an outline of the other person’s drinking habits. So, I listen and pass no judgement.

However, this comment is a question – they’re asking ‘why’. And this is an opportunity to respond with whatever your truth needs to be at that time. It’s also worth remembering that this is society’s response to sobriety… this response is packed full of all the cultural, societal, familial norms that the other person has absorbed over time and it’s not a reflection on you. But it is an amazing opportunity to respond with your truth whenever you feel ready to.

I come across this response regularly and once I’ve had the chance to respond with my true, tried and tested response, I’m generally met with understanding.

If you’re nervous about how to respond, you can deflect with a simple “Oh, I’m just having a little break this month”.

“You can have one drink. Treat yourself! It’s just one!”

This is the peer pressure, feels like you’re back in school, response. The jokey, ‘you’re no fun if you don’t drink’ response.

And yes. I could have ‘just one drink’ for now. But there would come a day — perhaps on holiday, perhaps a celebration, perhaps just an evening at a friend’s house, perhaps the day someone close to me dies, where I wouldn’t stop at one. Or two. Or three.

And I’m not going there again.

Most importantly, and there isn’t a bold font that’s strong enough to emphasise this: I don’t want a drink anymore.

I’ll say that again — I don’t want a drink anymore. And this is the glorious place when you realise alcohol has nothing to offer you anymore.

I’m happy.

I’m free.

I’m entirely me.

So, how do I respond to comments like those above? I avoid debates with people who want to justify their own relationship with alcohol. I keep my response honest, simple and free from judgement:

“I love my life without alcohol. I feel better. I sleep better. I’m happy.”

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