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"Have a F*cking Drink!" - How to Respond in Sobriety

So pretty much ever since I stopped, I’ve been asked about why I don’t drink. This comes up a lot – in a country where we are constantly and actively encouraged to drink from a young age, and for literally any/every reason known to man (happy – celebrate with a drink! Feeling sad? You need a drink. And so on... you get the picture). Any event in our lives triggers our natural inclination to partake, and this perpetual and insidious habit-forming is one of the reasons why it’s so bloody hard to stop. In this glorious society, we are often judged for NOT drinking (I mean, imagine - the horror!) despite it being none of anyone else’s goddamn business. People want to know, nay DEMAND an answer as to what could possibly be so utterly wrong that you’re not immediately ditching everything and diving headfirst into a bottle.

So this can present an issue for the newly sober, and even seasoned non-drinkers, especially if the reason why you stopped was because you bloody HAD TO, as opposed to "i can take it or leave it, so I leave it". I mean, I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want to go down the "Hi, I’m Jo and I’m an alcoholic" route with everyone who asks, despite being the Queen of the overshare. I’m not ready to own that label yet and may never wish to - I really don’t like

the term ‘alcoholic’ if I’m honest. My drinking was bad yes, but not vodka on the cornflakes bad, not hiding bottles bad; but this is something we each have to decide for ourselves, how we define our own drinking, and subsequently own it. Anyway, I digress. So yes, we have choices on how to tackle the inevitable questions regarding sobriety. The easiest and most accessible response if you’re struggling is "I’m on a health kick so I’m not drinking at the moment". This provides a nice positive closer to the conversation, and wont usually open up the sort of follow on questions that the "I’m on antibiotics" line invariably will. If you choose this line of defence, I would advise having an excellently repulsive follow up to the inevitable "what for?" response – "raging thrush" will kill the conversation satisfyingly quickly I’ve found. Anyway, the point is, being armed with an answer for such conversations will help your mindset massively in the early days of going out; the key is in preparation as they say.

Sometimes however, you may find that your reason is not good enough... I have been in this situation many many times, my friends. The "but you can have ONE drink can’t you?! Go on, just one!" needs to be prepared for too. I’ve come up with a few choice responses to this (some less polite than others) but I think the best one is the smoking analogy – if I’d given up smoking, you wouldn’t even think about convincing me to start again, would you? It just wouldn’t happen people! Sadly alcohol isn’t considered as bad a drug yet in the same way that tobacco, or say, crack or heroin is. Most people are suitably anti-smoking enough now though to get the analogy and leave it be.

And on a few occasions I have had particularly annoying people insisting "go on, you can have ONE, can’t you?!" or "just have one to relax!" even after I’ve told them definitively that I’m not up for it. If I don’t know them or think I may never see them again, I have fun and just tell the unbridled truth. Alcohol turns me into a complete and utter off-the-scale asshole! You’ll think initially that alcohol = fun/hilarious/sexy Jo, but it very quickly levels up to the total and utterly horrifying opposite. You’ll want to jam that genie right back into the bottle quickly, but too late, I’ll already be on a one-way ticket to fuckedup-ville and dragging you along too. (I have a plethora of examples from my past of this, that I am unlucky enough to still remember). I find that usually brings the conversation to a satisfyingly abrupt end.

You see, what most normal drinkers don’t understand, is that alcohol is like an exceptionally smooth talking yet incredibly abusive partner (both physically and emotionally – it leaves nothing to chance, and wont let you leave without a fight). At the start, it’s super exciting, you’re having the time of your life time together, you feel alive, amazing, invincible - yay team us! Then, imperceptibly, the emotional dependence creeps in; alcohol starts to whisper seductively in your ear "yeah babe, you’re great. But you know what would make you greater? A drink. You’re so much funnier/sexier/smarter when you drink. Do it for me, go on." And so, for an easy life, you start to feed the beast. So much less stress to just go with it, right? Gradually, the script changes to "I’m not sure you’re as much fun as you used to be. You’re a bit of a failure, aren’t you? I’m not sure anyone likes you to be honest. But you know what will make it all better? A drink". Worst case scenario and the bastard tells you you shouldn’t bother seeing your mates any more, you don’t need them – stay at home, just the two of you… and so on. Now I just want to emphasise that this isn’t the case for EVERYONE – you might be slowly edging away from the screen and the crazy lady who can hear alcohol. And that’s OK, I promise – I wont make any sudden movements. Lots of people do have a normal relationship with alcohol and will thankfully never hear that seductive whisper – they are impervious to it’s advances, the lucky bastards. But some of us aren’t, and if we manage get out from that shitstorm battletorn but intact, it’s up to us to remain that way. We guard that shit like our life depends on it, because for some, it does. So having a response to the "why not drink" question is important, it’s another part of the armour that protects our precious and sometimes precarious sobriety (and if you’re interested in more sober tools, take a look here).

One particularly amazing person from the sober community (well, we all are, to be fair) shared her letter to alcohol with a group I’m in a while back, encouraging the rest of us to do the same. I gave it a go; it’s incredibly cathartic and I’d highly recommend it. And in the spirit of the continual overshare that this blog is, here is mine, written 5 months into sobriety:

Dear A

I miss you. Somedays more than other others. I often catch myself thinking of how excited I would be to see you again, to know of the great times we would have. Of the comfort you gave me, just knowing you were there.

It’s weird now you’re not. Everything felt right in your presence, you made me feel safe because I knew you so well. But then I think about the times you drugged me. The times I woke up in the middle of something dangerous, something stupid. The strange bedsit in Reading with someone I didn’t know. The hotel where I was locked out of the strangers room. Waking up with someone on top of me. Even when I was younger, (I think 14??) unable to fight off R that New Years Eve. And again, with S that night, not knowing how to cope, blaming myself, shrugging it off the next day. Where were you then? All the mornings you left me feeling depressed, wracked with anxiety, guilt, sickness, despair. All the nights when you encouraged suicidal thoughts, wanting to leave it all. Thank god for my two babies, their love holding me steady, always. Their love is deep, real, my love for them unshakeable. A wall of love that was impenetrable always, shielding me from and acting on the poisonous slips of whispers you made me hear.

The thing is, you may have been comfortably familiar, but you were never safe. You never once put me first. I was not in your care, rather I was in the path of danger with you. You turned me in on and against myself, doubting, depressed, an unworthy failure, ashamed, self-loathing, disgusted, unable to look at and reach beyond, and take myself to safety.

Well that’s what I’m doing now. I’m taking myself to safety. I’m gradually, day by day, taking myself to a much safer place. It might not be insanely wild. It wont be the attention-grabbing, spotlight-hogging attention-seeking shit we used to do together. But it’s kinder, calmer, loving. If I follow me down this path, there is just no propensity to fail. I may miss you, look for you now and then, wish you were here even. But I know here, now, I’m so much safer, freer. I can’t let you endanger me any more. Because they are the most important and wonderful people, my beauties, my babies. And so am I.


So yeah. Go and write a really good ‘fuck you’ letter to alcohol, it helps. Then script out your ‘I’m not drinking because’ responses and fly into the wild again my pretties! And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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