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.
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.
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. )
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.
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.
Friend: Red or white?
Lorna: Neither thanks. I’ve got a soda water.
Friend: What’s wrong with you?
Friend: Why aren’t you drinking?
Lorna: I think I’m pregnant.
Friend: Really! Holy shit!!
Friend: Hey Max, what are you having mate?
Max: Ummm. Nothing.
Friend: What do you mean? Have a beer.
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?
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?
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?”
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.