This week at my awesome friend Jessica Delfino's bachelorette party, the shots were handed out like water, and to every glass of liquor passed my way, I said, "Thanks, but no thanks."
Please know: This isn't a brag or anything -- but just my experience of how I manage to get through extra-boozy social situations and still manage to stay sober. Because that's the one question I get asked about sobriety more than any other: "I would stop drinking, but sometimes you know how when you're out, and everyone's drinking, it would just be weird not to drink. You kind of have to...You know what I mean?"
I do. So here's how I don't.
I get shit sometimes for breaking the tradition of AA where you don't reveal you are in it. And justifiably so at times. The thinking behind not revealing to other people that you're in "the program" as many people call it is wide-ranging, but perhaps the biggest reason is that, say, I were to start drinking again -- as an identified "member," I don't then bring any stigma of "failure" or "relapse" to the good name of Alcoholics Anonymous. Which is an important reason. And a critical tradition.
For me, the reason I reveal that I identify as an alcoholic -- hopefully, with discretion, and obviously never breaking the anonymity of others -- is that I never would have gotten sober if the person who took me to my first meeting hadn't done the same with me. And thereby availed himself as a resource.
This person, this resource, suggested we meet at a bar the first time I met him. Then he ordered a Coke.
"You don't drink?" I asked. "Why?"
He looked at me with calm ferocity and said he had 7 years of sobriety, had done rehab and did the "whole thing." That might be how he referred to AA. The whole thing.
"So you do AA?" I asked.
"Yes," he said.
And then, not expecting to say so, I sipped my beer and said, "Yeah, I should probably do that."
Years later, when my alcohol- and drug-related depression intensified to a point where I couldn't ignore it any longer, I reached out to this friend.
He then, in a very casual and non preachy way, took me to my first meeting. I had no idea that most people at the meeting, before they spoke would then "identify" as an alcoholic." As someone who used to be so ashamed of all my inner wrongness, it was a pretty massive step for me to say this to a roomful of strangers. Because I associated the word "alcoholic" with so much failure and wrongness.
What was fascinating to me at the time was how much relief and head clearing came in saying it. Submission. Surrender. Letting go. Stop trying to pretend to be perfect or infallible or "right."
Now, this willingness to admit my humanity has become almost like a game. There is so much freedom and relief in admitting there are things wrong with me -- or that I am wrong, or that I am a human being struggling to get better.
That's why I like personal memoir. When I read Augusten Burroughs "Dry" way before I got sober, that book lodged in my subconscious and spoke straight to me in a way few things had before. I knew this guy got me. I just knew it. And that's what appeals to me about writing about my life -- when it works, or even when it doesn't. It can offer a launching point of less aloneness.
And I think that's what AA has done, and continues to do for me. Today, according to my little 12-step app on my phone, I just hit exactly 32 months.
And, as you might expect, there have been many, many offers of alcohol along the way -- including the awesome very fun bachelorette party I went to last night (obviously not from anyone who knows me or I'm close with but rather well-meaning strangers). To show how it is possible to resist drinking, I've listed a few of these choice lines thrown my way when people want me to drink, and below, my way of getting through it and resisting:
Awkward line thrown my way: "I just don't trust people who don't drink."
How I resist: Honestly, there's no need to internalize and take this personally. That's the other person's issue, and it sounds like a comedic bit on their part, honestly. Like saying you don't trusting anyone over 30. It's only a big deal if you make it a big deal. You can joke along and riff, "Yeah that's probably one of many reasons not to trust me." Not taking anything too seriously is an incredibly attractive quality and very tension-diffusing.
Awkward line thrown my way: "If you're not going to drink, why don't you just leave."
How I resist: Yes, I've had men say this to me. I like to see these challenges as like a video game, where you are resisting getting eaten by, say, the ghost in Ms. Pac-Man. When framed differently, how fun to dodge and weave around a corner to escape the temptation-boogeyman that might come your way. It's a game and a sport, and it's fun to kill it constantly. So, if you have a resolution -- to not get eaten by the ghost -- there's some sport in expertly dodging the temptations, even a crap statement like "just leave."
I think I just responded to this guy, "No, I'm actually good. But you can leave if you want to." That person can have as much I-don't-want-to-drink-alone shame and dick-hole energy as he wants, but I'm not taking that bullshit on. No thanks. I have enough of my own to contend with, so go cast your evil eye elsewhere, fuckwad.
Awkward line thrown my way: "Why aren't you drinking? Oh, you're a bad drunk. Is that it?
How I resist: A distant relative sorority girl type actually said this to me. Because I'm a bit of a shit-starter provocateur I like to fuck with people along the lines of, "Oh you want to play, do you? Well then, let's fucking play."
So I responded, "Yeah, I'm a really bad drunk. REALLY, REALLY BAD." Let's make this as awkward as possible and call out exactly what you are doing, sister. That usually shuts people up when you're not embarrassed or ashamed, but instead respond with a steely grin of, "Yeah? What else you got?"
Awkward line thrown my way: "Here's a shot. Come on, it's just one drink, and you have to, we're celebrating!"
How I resist: This depends on your comfort with being around alcohol. I'm personally fine with it. I'm thrilled with people partying around me. I mean, I don't like being around drunk obnoxious people because that's annoying, but people just getting their drink on and letting loose and being stupid, that's great with me. So if you're chill with proximity to temptation, you can take the shot and just lift it in a toast if you want. Or just say with an unflinching non-negotiable grin, "I know, I know. I'm no fun." Or perhaps say, "Trust me, my personality is ridiculous enough as it is, so I will celebrate plenty, don't worry."
Or (if you are secure in this enough -- I don't like this technique for myself as I find having clear boundaries to be the most protective), "Maybe later, but I'm good right now." Or even the white lie of: "I wish I could, but I'm on antibiotics." Or the more perpetual reasoning: "I wish I could, but I'm actually allergic." There is always, always a way to wriggle out of it -- unless you are looking for a way to be talked into it.
I hope this is helpful for those who've asked for my advice on this area. Like I said, honestly, that whole video game analogy I find to be the most helpful. Where you look at it like a challenge of, "Oh what sneaky little way is alcoholism going to try to talk me into doing something I have decided is not good for me today -- aha, that's a clever one, buddy, that is a clever one."
And also it's kind of a good shit test with some people. Like, if you don't want to drink (even if you don't identify as an alcoholic and think 12-step shit is for culty weirdos), and someone aggressively wants you to, or someone is going to look at you differently or treat you differently, then fuck that person. Who wants to hang out with someone who only wants to be around you when they're high? That's kind of creepy -- and sounds like the other person has issues, not you.
Oh -- and humiliating amends and hypocrisy alert on my end -- I once told a sweet nerdy guy who I adore that I would make out with him if he drank (because he had never drank before in his life and was in his 30s and a virgin, and I thought I was being REALLY HELPFUL trying to get him to mix shit up and get out of his comfort zone when I was actually just being a major asshole creep), and it kills me to look back and remember this.
That might be one of the only amends I've made thus far in the program, but yeah, I think in full disclosure I need to point it out here. That the "creep" who wants you to drink, I've been that guy.
And I've gotten better. That's all you can want in life, I think. Just keep trying to get better.
Curious: What advice or what lines do you use when people are pressuring you to do things you don't want to do? Doesn't even need to be alcohol -- but whatever peer pressure situations, even friends who want to drag you out for an all-nighter that is not your bag.
Do you have any magical words to fend off The Pressure?