I’m Not In Recovery. I Just Don’t Drink.

Is it really that strange that, for no particular reason, I just don’t consume alcohol?
Publish date:
December 22, 2011
alcohol, drinking, migraines

When I saw that Helena was outing herself as Ms. Drug-Free America, I figured it’s time to own my sobriety, too.

I don’t drink. And I probably never will.

This isn’t some big secret or part of a recovery program. It’s just that drinking never occurred to me. No one in my family drinks much to speak of, and I’m a lifelong migraine sufferer who has ended up in the ER because of headaches. I can’t afford to go looking for ways to mess with my health. Couple that with a hereditary ambivalence, and well, welcome to my booze-free life.

That isn’t to say I dislike alcohol. I just can’t get excited about it, no matter how much I know or understand. I’ve had waitressing jobs for which in-depth wine knowledge was a requirement. I sampled one bistro’s entire wine list (with a shameful little spit bucket on hand), and I learned to flawlessly uncork a bottle, holding it at my side and never looking at it. I can even say some random stuff about grassy tones.

But when personally presented with a bottle of vino, as I inevitably am by kind strangers on festive occasions, I take it home, knowing it will be regifted. (Some of my partner’s former colleagues gave out really nice pinos as holiday gifts, for example. This made us hugely popular when we passed them on down the line.)

I mean, I do have some social drinks to rely on. I like ginger ale, a bar staple, and I love Shirley Temples (though drinking a neon pink kiddie cocktail doesn’t help with the ongoing attempt to look mature). I love coffee and tea, though preferably decaf. (I know, DIFFICULT!) But whatever. I can order a drink in public, in a bar even, without it being totally conspicuous that I’m alkie-free.

Most of the time.

It gets infinitely stranger when people find out that my partner is a teetotaler Dane. Start Googling any combination of words related to Denmark and alcohol, and you’ll see why this is just bizarre.

In Denmark, there are no open container laws. It’s legal to buy alcohol at 16, and there’s no underage drinking limit if you’re within the confines of your own home. Danish teens reportedly have the highest levels of alcohol consumption in the WHOLE WORLD.

Imagine the disappointment my in-laws felt that their sober son brought home an equally sober woman.

“Brit-tah-nee, will you have a glass of wine with dinner??” they implore at every meal. I always shake my head sadly.

My father-in-law still spends five minutes explaining the supposed medicinal value of schnapps every chance he gets.

My dude doesn’t drink for the same reasons I don’t; he just doesn’t care. Thankfully, he has a booze-lovin’ twin who can pick up the social slack.

Hilariously adorable in-laws aside, I somehow thought this business about my not drinking would get less weird as I got older. I thought at least I would stop feeling like an oddball. It hasn’t. I don’t.

I guess I assumed this would change because I thought people would stop caring. But it turns out that not drinking is very much like not eating certain foods. There’s a swath of people who will never be able to let this issue go, even if it’s medical or religious or whatever. They’re strangely consumed by what others, well, consume.

I’ve been hearing a similar refrain as long as I’ve been veg*n (which has been more than half my life, mind you). Since my reasons for not eating and drinking certain things can just seem like random inconvenient choices, not backed by a particular spiritual or health-related institution, I have to accept that I’m going to continue to be badgered, “Come on, just one drink!” or have new acquaintances go through a period of lamenting, “Too bad you don’t drink!”

No, it’s not. At the risk of sounding like a bitch, too bad you can’t let it go.

I don’t want to feel or sound defensive. I just want for it to not matter. I’m sure plenty of other people who don’t drink deal with far more intrusive questions than I do. It must suck for them way more than it does for me.

Here’s a perfect example. When I was in my early twenties, I had a friend who went to AA. She believed she had a drinking problem and sought what seemed like the appropriate help. Thing was, most of her friends thought she was going completely overboard, creating some sort of complex about her otherwise normal college girl behavior.

Now, there’s arguably a big difference between casual drinking and alcoholism. But that I never have to worry about either is kind of a relief.

That doesn’t mean I know what to say when someone says, “So why don’t you drink?”

Not only do I think that’s kind of inappropriate -- really, isn’t that like asking why someone doesn’t have kids? Could be because THEY CAN’T, which is NOT FUN for some people and also SUPER PRIVATE.

But I think it’s super weird when I’m not allowed to reply, “Uhm, I don’t know. Because it never occurred to me...?” That answer never flies, and I’ve learned that I need some sort of elaborate excuse to get people to let it go. (Hence trotting the migraine excuses.)

Shrugging doesn’t work. Saying I never think about it doesn’t seem legit.

So what gives? How can I make other people feel less on guard and be honest at the same time? Can that even happen?

And if someone says, “I don’t drink,” it might really be that simple. I appreciate your concern, but it doesn’t require an awkward little dance in front of your fridge while lamenting that you don’t have anything to serve.

Seriously, did I say it was a big deal? Give me some tap water already.