Let’s Be Clear (Guest Post)

This guest post comes from the always awesome Sue Kerr (@suek). Enjoy!


When you first quit drinking, you feel very, very weird. That thing you just quit was a huge part of your life, and without it you’ll likely feel really uncomfortable, freakish even. It takes a while to get comfortable living without booze. So I think it’s important to make this time as easy as possible on yourself, or at least don’t make it harder than it already is.

One area that can be the hardest to deal with, is the small matter of Other People. Specifically, what to say to Other People when suddenly, you’re not drinking any more, and they want to know why.

Be prepared.

My advice? Be prepared with your words and your voice. This is the same advice I gave to all my public relations clients when they were getting ready to announce any news to the world… Get your words straight and practice saying them until they are second nature. Only speak in public the words you have practiced. Do Not, under any circumstance, speak “off the cuff” or get drawn into tangents you have not prepared for.

I know this works. So let’s make it easy on ourselves, and come up with some messages we can use to get us through those tough early days when our friends are falling over in shock because we’re not drinking any more.

In my work, I used to make sure that my clients’ messages were true. In business situations this is really important for credibility. But this doesn’t apply to the newly sober. This is one situation I recommend you lie as much as you want!

The important things are;
* One Message, and One Message only
* Memorise your message
* Say it out loud to yourself, over and over, until it rolls confidently off your tongue.
* Stand in front of the mirror, look yourself in the eye, and say your message loud and clear. And when you’ve done that, you smile and nod your head and say “I hear you. Well Done. You’re brave and amazing.”

The whole idea here is that you say something that will stop the conversation in its tracks. It needs to be plausible, and it needs not to leave an opening for more questions. This puts you in charge.

Example 1:
Friend: Sally, where’s your wine?
Sally: I’m drinking soda water tonight.
Friend: Why? Why aren’t you drinking wine?
Sally: “I’m on antibiotics, so I can’t have alcohol at the moment.”
(If this is your message, and you have nosy friends, be ready to answer their next question, “What have you got?” “A bladder infection.” “Ear infection.” “Syphilis.” “Mind your own business!” You choose. )

Example 2:
Friend: Bob, can I get you a wine. I’ve got a nice smooth Pinot Noir open.
Bob: No thanks Frank, I’m drinking ginger ale.
Friend: Ginger ale? Come on Bob, man up and have a wine with me.
Bob: No thanks. I’m going running at 5am, and I want to be fresh.
Friend: Don’t be a party pooper. Just have one.
Bob: No thanks. I’m going running at 5am.

Example 3:
Friend: My round! Pint for you Pat, as usual?
Pat: I’ll have a soda and lime thanks.
Friend: WTF? Since when did you turn down a pint?
Pat: Doctor’s orders. I needed to lose 10kg and get my blood pressure down.
Friend: Stupid Doctors. Come on, have a pint.
Pat: Nope. Doctor’s orders. I really have to lose weight and get my blood pressure down.
Friend: Go On. Just one pint. Do it for me!
Pat: Nope. Soda and lime. Doctor’s orders.

Example 4:
Friend: Red or white?
Lorna: Neither thanks. I’ve got a soda water.
Friend: What’s wrong with you?
Lorna: Nothing.
Friend: Why aren’t you drinking?
Lorna: I think I’m pregnant.
Friend: Really! Holy shit!!

Example 5:
Friend: Hey Max, what are you having mate?
Max: Ummm. Nothing.
Friend: What do you mean? Have a beer.
Max: Nah…
Friend: What’s got into you mate? Have a beer. Here, I’ve got your favourite pale ale.
Max: Tuatara? I love that beer.
Friend: Have one! Here, it’s nice and cold.
Max: Well, I wasn’t going to drink today.
Friend: Why the hell not? Don’t be ridiculous. We always have beer on Sunday.
Max: All right then, just one, OK. Just one.
Friend: Geez Max, what’s the matter with you mate?
Max: Dunno. Cheers.
(I am willing to bet that if Max had his message memorised, he would still be sober!)

The possibilities are endless. Have some fun with it. Just make it short, sweet and final. Be willing to say it over and over. It’s not forever. It’s just to get you through one night, or the first month. You can always get a new message whenever you feel ready.

Here’s my message I made up for my first month of being sober. “I’m doing a 40-day yoga challenge. It includes 40 days of no drinking, so I’m just seeing if I can pull it off.” The first part of that statement was true. The second, complete lie. But it worked. On my Day 14, I went to a neighbourhood get-together, a regular event where I usually drank heaps. I took my soda water, poured myself a glass and sat down.
Neighbour 1: What are you drinking Sue?
Me: Soda water.
Neighbour 1: Don’t you want some wine? There’s heaps.
Me: No thanks.
Neighbour 2: You’re not drinking wine?
Me: No.
Neighbour 1: Really? Why not?
Me: “I’m doing a 40-day yoga challenge. It includes 40 days of no drinking, so I’m just seeing if I can pull it off.”
Neighbours, in unison: Wow! Good luck with that!!

That message worked for me for 40 days, but I wanted to be sober forever. So I needed to change my message eventually. Two months later, at another neighbourhood barbeque:
Neighbour: Are you still not drinking wine Sue?
Me: Nope.
Neighbour: How come? Your yoga thing’s over now isn’t it? I thought you loved wine.
Me: Well, I did the 40-day challenge with no drinking, and I felt so good I decided to stick with it.
Neighbour: Really? How do you manage? Don’t you feel like one occasionally?
Me: I feel so good without it, I’m sticking with it for now.
Neighbour: That’s amazing. I couldn’t do that.

Know when to shut up.

You can see in the examples above that there is an opportunity to delve deeper into this conversation, or to shut it down. I would seriously recommend you shut it down as soon as you can, without being rude. The only goal here is for you to stay sober. You don’t need to spill your guts to anyone and you don’t need to defend yourself to anyone either. Just say your message a few times, and if the other person is being persistent, go talk to someone else, or change the subject on them.

Every now and then, in the early days, I would say my message to someone at a social gathering, and they’d latch on to me about it. They’d confess that they were worried about their drinking. They wanted to stop. What was my secret? How was I managing it? My self-imposed rule is: Never talk about sobriety with someone who is drinking or drunk. Say to that person, “I’d love to talk to you about this over a coffee. Give me a call when you have some time next week.” Nobody’s ever called. It can be really exhausting talking to drinkers about being sober. Protect yourself. Look after yourself.

When sober becomes normal.

The longer you’re sober, the more normal it will feel, and your messages will change. You’ll be surprised at how easily you can say, “I’m not a drinker.” “I don’t drink alcohol.” “I don’t drink anymore.” “I used to drink, but I gave it up.” Your truth about being sober will change. It will get simpler. And your messages will change accordingly.

These days I’m living in a new country, and nobody I meet knows my boozy past or that I’m 4.5 years sober. I have a new message now, for the odd occasion I’m questioned. It happened at a dinner party just the other week. We arrived, took off our coats, and were handed nice wine glasses.
Host: Red or white?
Me: I’ll have the soda water I brought, thanks.
Host: Do you not drink wine?”
Me: No.
Other guest: Do you never drink?
Me, laughing: I used to drink plenty. But not now. I’ve had more than enough wine for this lifetime!

So now I make light of it. It’s perfectly true. I have had more than enough booze for this lifetime.


© 2017

  1. Sister#6 7 years ago

    Great posts and comments. Love the “I think I’m pregnant”. I might use that one at a family wedding this week. Now that I’m past menopause that will really get the tongues wagging!
    It’s really difficult talking to someone who’s drinking about not drinking. I want to take my mother’s advise about “never argue with a drunk, wait until morning” but sometimes they are persistent. Had an interesting run in with a young women last night. 30 years old, no longer has custody of her children, went to treatment in November(now January) and is looking to get her life straight. Where did I meet her? In a room full of drinking people. Funny. I was also there driving my man around to keep him from driving himself. The crosses we bare. Anyway. I had no words of wisdom for her. No sage advise. Just a feeling in common. A hug and a smile like we can do this. Can’t we? This struggle is real. The feelings are real and raw and right there, below the surface. Anyway, back to this post. Great to be prepared but I’m not very good at but I really appreciate the suggestions and practice mine. For now I’m using “no thanks, I think I drank my lifetime full already”. That gets a nervous laugh and end of subject. They may think I’m a “terrible alkie” but frankly, I don’t care what they think.
    Day 118 and counting. Thanks for letting me vent.

  2. LolaGirl 7 years ago

    I really enjoyed this post. I have a bachelorette party to attend next weekend and I’m terrified because I don’t know what to tell people why I’m not drinking. These people know I don’t do yoga lol. Any suggestions? Sidebar: I went to my first meeting today.

  3. Chica 7 years ago

    312 days sober today! It’s a miracle!

    I’ve been drinking non-alcoholic beer which is quite refreshing on hotter days.

    Hope everyone’s well 🙂

  4. 20012015 7 years ago

    Thanks for that valuable advice and tips….it’s one of the hardest things sometimes…and nosy people are very persistant at trying to get the truth out of you.

  5. Gettingthere 7 years ago

    Great post, @suek. Great to have ready-made scenarios to refer to, and an example of how not to handle it! Thanks for that.

  6. sunnyside 7 years ago

    “know when to shut up” LOL. Glad I can put my experience with the “broken record” response to good use (4 boys now men); the minute you stray from the script, you open the floor for debate.

  7. Janet 7 years ago

    Great advice ! Thanks @suek you are right it does get easier. When people say to me “are you still not drinking?” I say “yes of course I am drinking, I drink bubbly water and buckets of it!” 🙂

    • SueK 7 years ago

      I like that line too Janet. Always feels empowering.

  8. morgan 7 years ago

    Nice, so clear thanks. My latest to the “are you STILL not drinking?!” (Subtext from some shits, “man you must be a serious alkie”), is that I had intended to have some champagne this Christmas and at some special occasions, but when the time came I didn’t feel like it, love my clear head. If anyone persists, I just add I think it is poison for me, can’t take it, so it remains a statement about me, not drinking in general, no discomfort for the drinkers.

  9. Wildchild 7 years ago

    I have been caught out a couple of times, even with my ‘elevator message’ prepared. Somebody called me boring once and I was a bit shocked. I didn’t want to say anything negative about drinking (“not as boring as being unable to function with a hangover tomorrow”) or about my past habits (“not as boring as passing out”). So I’m prepared for this now with “I get my thrills other ways nowadays” with a smile. That will leave them pondering on my exciting secret lifestyle. 🙂

    • SueK 7 years ago

      Nobody’s said that to me yet, but if they did there might be a fist coming their way… shocking eh? I like your response–puts you in the power position.

    • enzedgirl 7 years ago

      @wildchild – someone calling you boring, how fucking rude!

  10. Nic1963 7 years ago

    Excellent Sue. Thank you.

    By the way you’re looking great. You’ve lost weight. Your eyes are looking bright and your skin looks great too.

    Is that your new car outside? Nice.

    You’ve just come back from holiday I hear? You always seem to have so much energy nowadays.

    What’s your secret?

  11. delgirl68 7 years ago

    Thats great @suek, thank you. I also had a good laugh at the “I think I”m pregnant – holy shit” one! Lol

  12. enzedgirl 7 years ago

    Had to laugh at Lorna/Friend: “I think I’m pregnant” / “Holy shit!!”


    Your initial / follow up personal message was similar to mine. Mine was “I initially gave up booze to lose some weight, and I felt so great after a short time I thought why go back!” Or something like that.

    I also love your point about effectively taking care of ourselves in the face of others persistent questions or in the face of others concerns about their own drinking. We are choosing a radically different pathway from most adults in most western countries. It’s hard. And we have every right to choose when and where to talk to people about it, if at all.

    This is such a great post @suek – thanks!

    • SueK 7 years ago

      … we are choosing a radically different pathway…
      that gave me the shivers. So True. Sometimes I forget how bloody amazing it is to get free of booze. It is completely radical.

  13. Casie 7 years ago

    Great post @suek . Thank you!

  14. April 7 years ago

    Love this! Thanks @suek

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Licensed by NZ Drug Foundation under Creative Commons 4.0 2024. Built by Bamboo Creative and powered by Flywheel.

Log in with your credentials


Forgot your details?

Create Account