What Not to Say to Your Friend Who Quit Drinking: That Happened


ColumnIn 2013, I quit drinking. Here’s my guide for how to be respectful of those of us ringing in the new year with water.

This January 1 will be the first in… well, decades, if we’re being honest, that I will not be hungover. I quit drinking back in April and, as New Year’s Eve approaches, I’d like to share some tips for talking to your friends that don’t drink.

There are a few questions that you should never ask, and some that I believe are okay in the right setting.

Are you still not drinking?

This question might seem harmless, and be well-intentioned, but there’s a lot behind it. First, you might not know what compelled the former party animal to put down the bottle—or whether this is a lifelong decision or a temporary break.

Second, it implies that my not drinking is a burden on you. Are my party-pooping ways cramping your style? Making you feel bad about your own alcohol consumption? Either way, not my problem.

Third, if I am in fact back on the booze, it may seem like you are accusing me of failing at something. Whether my intention is never to drink again or to take some time off, there’s not really a good way to answer this question, so I suggest it be left unasked.

Are you pregnant?

Um. No. If you know me well enough to think that’s an appropriate question to ask, you know that I am, and will remain, childfree. If you don’t know that about me, you probably don’t know me well enough to ask if I’m with child. A lot of people who are pregnant choose not to tell people for a while. Asking is pretty much never cool.

I was/am pregnant, so I get it.

All due respect, but you don’t. You may understand what it’s like to be the designated driver on one too many nights, or be the sober lady at the party, but this is a whole different animal. When you have a baby and talk about how much your life has changed, I promise not to say, “I get it, I have a dog.”

So, you don’t even drink on New Year’s Eve? What about vacations?

See, part of not drinking is not drinking. For many people who tend to over do it, or at least for me, anything can become an occasion. Meaning, celebrating the new year turns into celebrating Tuesday really fast. For some people, choosing to drink on special occasions works, so far I am not one of those people.

I didn’t invite you because it was at a bar.

I know you’re coming from a good place with this one. You’re trying to respect the fact that I quit drinking and not put me in an uncomfortable position. Thanks! But—and this is personal, so I can only speak to my own experience—I would always rather be invited and decide how to handle it. Don’t assume you know what people are okay with. I will say no if I am uncomfortable. Or I will lie and say I have plans.

For me, going to bars isn’t an issue. Hosting a New Year’s Eve party isn’t a problem. I do the things I have always done; I just punk out early more often. When people go from a little drunk to all kinds of wasted, I bow out—not because I think I will want a drink, but because it’s annoying to be around a bunch of drunk people.

My best party trick has always been “The Disappearing Hostess.” A number of you reading this have had to roll me over to get your coat out from under me so you can go home. The only difference is that this year, I will be asleep, not passed out. If I leave early, don’t give me a hard time and try to guilt me into hanging out. Just say goodnight and go about enjoying yourself.

Let’s split the check

I’m a big fan of bill-splitting, especially in big groups. But if you have four $12 glasses of wine and I don’t, it’s not really cool. A beer? Sure.

When do you go to AA meetings?

Again, there are a lot of assumptions built into this question—the first being that I identify as an alcoholic, the second being that I go to meetings. Also, you’re missing the point of the second “A.”

That said, in case you are wondering, my answer is: I don’t. AA doesn’t resonate with me, which is true when it comes to me and most organized groups, and most labels. Simply, AA isn’t my jam. If it works for you, great. Have at it.

Do you think I have a problem?

Just because I quit drinking doesn’t mean I know how you would personally define a problem. I’m no more an expert than I was before I quit drinking. I decided that I was veering into territory that made me uncomfortable given changes in how I was reacting to alcohol and a significant family history, so I stopped.

I am also not judgmental about what other people choose to do. I spent many years having a blast drinking and am not secretly tsk-tsking you or counting your beers.

If you think you have an issue with drinking and want to talk to me because I have stopped, I truly am happy to share my personal experience—but not while you’re drunk, which is often when this question comes up. I’m an “I’ll tell you anything” person, but please be aware of context.

Did you do something terrible?

As a person, I guess I have done some kind of crappy things, some while drinking and some not. There are a few reasons this question sucks.

First, if I did something truly despicable, I probably don’t want to talk about it. Second, it assumes that to do something as drastic as quit drinking, I turned into Sandra Bullock’s character in 28 Days or crushed a small child with my vehicle. For the record, I did not.

Again, people stop drinking for all sorts of reasons, and usually they are personal. Maybe just accept that, because I am standing before you with my teeth intact, things are basically okay and I have averted massive, life-destroying disaster.

Doesn’t it suck not to drink?

Yes. Not drinking can totally suck. But not being hungover is amazing.

Happy 2014 to all of you, no matter what you drink for the toast.

Image: Nick Harris1

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