My Sobriety is None of Your Business
You don’t know me. So you don’t know whether or not I’ve been around a bar or spent my life at home drinking with my parents. You don’t know whether I graduated from an Ivy League school or a federal penitentiary either, let alone whether or not I was drunk while doing so payday loans online . Nor do you know if I’m watching my weight, fighting something chronic, or simply just not in the mood. That’s okay though. Really. Because frankly, those things are none of your business. Neither is my sobriety.
That’s right. There are scores of reasons why I might not want to drink. Yet those reasons are mine and mine alone. Heck, even if your life depends on my sobriety (if I’m, say, a pilot, cabbie or nuclear triggerman), the why remains mine. That’s not to say the reasons might not be helpful, mind you. Especially for those in charge of bomb codes. Yet even then the matter is private. So even then I’m under no obligation to fill you in.
Instead of asking about my sobriety, you might ask yourself why you want to know.
Odd One Out
We’ve all been there. Gathered among friends at a restaurant, a server approaches and asks if anyone would like drinks before dinner. Everyone pipes up with a combination of “Yes, please!” and “I thought you’d never ask!” Then, when it’s your turn to order, you choose soda or water. Those who know you may bow their heads. Those who don’t look quizzically in your direction. Everyone can generally sense the table’s mood swing.
So what do you do? Do you feel an obligation to say something? Make light of it perhaps? After all, you don’t want the mood to swing down any further.
In fact, making light of the situation is the most natural response. It’s also the most tempting. A quick clever quip usually gets everything right back on track. The more you practice the comeback, the quicker it’ll come too. And if you have anything of a social life, you’ll get a lot of practice.
But my sobriety did not come lightly. Yours probably didn’t either. And shrugging it off can sometimes feel like shorting the process. Many of us have gone through literal hell to get sober. And these things aren’t so easily dismissed.
In that situation, they must be dismissed. In the interest of harmony, as well as privacy. If you choose to lay it all out at dinner, you’ll sour the entire meal. And unless you’re out there pushing a tell-all memoir, you’ll want to maintain at least some semblance of privacy. A quick quip will do both.
Besides stocking up on quick quips, you may also want to speak with your close friends about the way they respond when the subject comes up. Because their actions could curb the unease to a considerable degree.
If they’re close friends, then they’ll have been through some shit with you. If they’ve been through some shit, they’ll naturally have some kind of feelings about your sobriety. Most friends will be all rah-rah which is great. Some will be embarrassed, which isn’t so great. And some might even doubt your sincerity, which is understandable (especially if you’ve been through rehab a time or two).
Nevertheless, it’ll help everyone if your pals kept things to themselves. Ask them to table their feelings at table. That goes for cheers, as well as reservations. When I’ve done this, my ordering Pepsi became a non-issue. And my sobriety remained my sobriety.
The whole privacy subject was spurred by Amy Haneline‘s USA Today piece “Someone not drinking alcohol? It’s none of your business.” It’s a rat-a-tat-tat of a read. As well-paced as it is edifying. And it puts the entire subject into a right and proper perspective.
To ensure such perspective, Haneline got some added insight from Trish Caldwell. Caldwell not only serves as senior vice president of clinical services at Recovery Centers of America, but she’s a licensed clinician, marriage, and family therapist. She also happens to be certified in both co-occurring disorders and substance use, and has an alphabet-run of letters following her name. And if you’re not impressed by configurations such as MFT, LPC, CCDP-D, CAADC and CCTP, then perhaps you’ll be swayed by Caldwell’s 25 years of hands-on experience.
Caldwell insists that whatever the reasons for my sobriety, none of them are your business. At the same time, your reasons are none of mine. “We don’t have to know the reasons why somebody is choosing to engage in a behavior that they find to be a part of their wellness practices [in order] to support them.”
No we don’t.
Don’t Ask About My Sobriety
If the reasons for my sobriety are none of your business, then there’s no need to ask about them. In fact, Caldwell and Haneline say asking could very well be downright dangerous.
If someone does ask, they could be forcing that person into a painful conversation they aren’t ready to have, like a struggle with addiction, infertility, or other personal reasons. They could be in recovery or working toward recovery, or they could be in a “contemplative stage of change,” where they “recognize they’re struggling with something but they’re not sure exactly the problem they feel they have with it.”
Reinforcing the Subject
We got some reinforcements after discovering a “Perspective” piece writer, editor, teacher Rachel Rueckert penned for The Washington Post. The essay is entitled “The hardest part of being sober is explaining it to you. Here’s why you shouldn’t ask.” And, like its title implies, the piece makes a great case for privacy.
Then again, it should. Rueckert hasn’t had a drink in her entire life.
She’s got a lifetime worth of reasons for it too, from being raised Mormon to having boring preferences. (“My favorite drink is honestly lukewarm tap water straight from the faucet.”). Rueckert doesn’t like the price either, or the memories alcohol produces, among family or friend. (“Watching a friend hurl a brick into a car window, then maniacally laugh as it shattered, was not something I enjoyed.”) Plus, as you might suspect, she’s generally the designated driver.
Still, Rueckert would rather not waste her happy hour explaining herself. She shouldn’t have to either. But folks make it difficult, continuing to ask questions. Consequently she’s had to invent a reason.
If I’m worn down, I’ll say, “I’m working on sobriety,” as if I haven’t been stone-cold sober all my 32 years of life. This response gets a quiet head nod and, at last, respect for a personal boundary.
“Most don’t know, or seem to care, that this is a deeply personal question,” writes Rueckert. Unfortunately, Rueckert is right.
A Few Good Comebacks
Since most folks don’t seem to know or care that this is a deeply personal question, it’s going to get asked. So we may as well have a set of quick answers. These are all from Amy Haveline.
- “I don’t drink.”
- “I don’t like the way I feel on it.”
- “I’m practicing wellness.”
- “I’m the designated driver.”
- “I have an allergy to alcohol.”
- “Drinking goes against my religious beliefs.”
- “I don’t want to.”
- “I don’t drink anymore.”
- “I’m in recovery.”
- “I don’t feel like drinking tonight.”
Healing Properties thanks Haneline, Caldwell and Rueckert for offering their insight and experience. We also appreciate their taking time to bring up such an increasingly timely topic. Sobriety has become something of a thing – thank Zeus! – and the more we can address its peculiarities the better off everyone will be. After all, no one’s born knowing how to navigate the world. That’s why we’ve got GPS. Hopefully this will help get you where you need to go.
And what about you? Are you worried about your sobriety? Is it even an issue? Could you use a little help? Then give us a ring. Please. We’ve been doing sobriety for 20 solid years. Really. So we’ve learned a thing or three about getting sober. We’ve also learned a thing or three about successfully sharing what we know. No foolin.’