My partner is heading to California next week to cook for a retreat. She’s worked with the same group of women on retreats for a couple years, and this is her first retreat since giving up alcohol. We had a conversation last night about how she was going to tell her colleagues that she wasn’t going to be drinking with them this time. On previous retreats she’d always participated in the drinking. It was one small part of her identity within that social circle.
She decided to send a simple text to her colleague saying that she wasn’t drinking, and didn’t need a spot on the wine tour that’s part of the retreat. She got an immediate, and simple response of okay with heart emojis. As mentioned in my previous posts on the topic, the assumption in our society is that those of us over age 21 drink alcohol.
Just like the assumption in our society that because I am a woman, I date men. If you know me, you are probably giggling at that image. I’ve been out as queer since I was sixteen, to my entire social circle. It’s never something I’ve hidden, but it is something I’ve had to disclose hundreds of times in the almost 20 years since I first came out. I’ve had to learn when it is safer to lie, either explicitly or by omission, and when I can be myself without ramifications.
The parallels between coming out as queer and coming out as sober are uncanny. The potential consequences of the two acts vary, but both have the potential to entirely change your life, your social circle, and the way you move through the world. Even if you don’t make a big, public declaration of sobriety, if you have been a drinking person for any part of your life, you will have people around you who expect that behavior from you. It’s considered polite to offer a guest a drink when they enter your home, show up at your birthday party, or come to a space where you’ve invited them.
There will be many small moments where you’ll have to disclose you aren’t drinking alcohol. In those moments you will have to decide what to say. The word sober has weighty implications, the heaviest being an immediate path to the word alcoholic. There is a tremendous power found in reclaiming language, and it’s one of the reasons I identify as queer rather than as a lesbian. I want to use my privilege in this society (white, middle class, educated, etc.) to be a loud, public voice for a marginalized community of which I am a part. Being an advocate is essential to my nature, so in this case, I prefer to just say I am sober. I don’t drink anymore.
I’ve also learned that advocacy means speaking uncomfortable truths, like the fact that the main reason I quit drinking is because I am done putting poison into my body. This will inevitably make some people uncomfortable, and I am okay with that. My experience being an out queer person for almost 20 years has put me in a lot of uncomfortable situations, and I’ve become immune to it. For those moments when advocacy feels draining, or when I’ve been actually harassed, I lean on my queer family for support. Those lessons are serving me well now that I often come out as sober.
That being said, you are under no obligation, ever, to disclose the reasons for your sobriety. You do not ever have to use the word sober. When my partner was writing that message to her colleague, she first wrote “I’m not drinking right now.” Her decision to give up alcohol is not temporary, and using the modifier ‘right now’ was an unconscious addition to make the news easier for her colleague. After we talked it through, my partner removed that modifier.
If you’re not feeling awesome about using the word sober, saying “I’m not drinking” or “I’m not drinking right now” is more than sufficient. If you get pressed for why, and you don’t feel awesome about full disclosure, here are some things you could say:
I’m focusing on my health right now.
I’m eating clean and don’t want to be drinking.
I just don’t feel like it.
I’d rather drink this kombucha, tea, coffee, water, etc. that I brought.
I’m detoxing my system.
If you want to spark more conversation, try these responses:
Why does it matter?
It’s poison and I don’t want it in my system.
It makes me feel like crap.
I don’t like who I am when I am drinking.
It makes me less creative and less energized.
I prefer my life without it.
Coming out as sober is always your choice. Sometimes you get forced to come out, and it’s okay to obfuscate if you don’t feel ready or safe or like you have the energy to disclose your full truth. If you lose people from your circle, those were not your people to begin with. You probably have more sober people in your life than you realize, and you’ll find them when you start speaking your own truth.