Sometimes not drinking makes people uncomfortable.
Eventually someone remembers I'm standing there and will cast a nervous glance in my direction. Sometimes someone will say, "Oh, sorry. Does this bother you?" Sometimes there will be nervous laughter and a change of topic.
When I made the decision to be open about my recovery, I did it with an open mind. I never get offended when people talk about alcohol, or ask me if I'm bothered by the topic. I don't get to choose how people respond to my recovery.
I understand. Being around people who didn't drink bummed me out when I was drinking, too.
A friend said to me a while ago (okay, after she had a few) that she feels like I'm watching everyone's drinking, keeping tabs on how much everyone is consuming.
"I used to do that, when I first got sober" I admitted. "I was on the lookout for other people with a problem, because I was desperate to feel like I wasn't the only one."
I don't do that anymore because I know I'm not the only one, and I no longer need to feel better about myself by comparing myself to others. I also know, now, that there is no way to tell if someone has a problem or not just from watching their behavior at a party. The quiet one in the corner, the one who only had one or two but is going to go home and drink like she wants to, is just as likely to have a problem as the woman who always makes a spectacle of herself. Either way, it's none of my business.
"I avoided you in the beginning, I'm ashamed to say," said my friend. "Drinking in front of you made me feel so badly. It would be so hard to be at a party and not drink. I mean, everyone drinks."
I felt a rush of relief. It was so refreshing to have someone speak honestly to me about it all, instead of tiptoeing around the topic. And I had to smile to myself, just a little. Because not everyone drinks. Not even close.
Eventually she edged her way around to her point. "Do you think I have a problem?" she asked, clutching her wineglass.
"Do you think you have a problem?" I responded. This is how I always answer this question. And more often than not I only get this question from someone who has been drinking.
She laughed. "No, I don't," she said. "But I know I wouldn't want to stop drinking, and sometimes that worries me."
"Well," I smiled, "if you ever feel like drinking is becoming a problem, you know where to find me."
She was thoughtful for a moment. "I read somewhere that people who don't have a drinking problem never wonder about whether or not they have a drinking problem."
"There is some truth to that," I said. "It's definitely something to pay attention to. But I also think that wondering about anything we do that isn't altogether healthy - eating habits, drinking habits, lack of exercise, the excuses we tell ourselves - is a good thing to do. Far too many people wait until something is totally out of hand before they will talk about it So I support asking questions, talking about things, getting information."
She nodded. "I guess I think it's possible drinking could become too important to me if I'm not careful," she said. "Is that bad?"
"No, that's honest," I replied. "And very brave. It lessens the chance that it will get away from you without you knowing about it."
Moments like this more than make up for all the awkwardness of being the only one not drinking at a party, or a few missed invitations.
I love it when people talk honestly with me about how they feel about my not drinking, or their own drinking - whether they have a problem or not. I love it when people ask me questions, like whether or not it's hard for me, or if I want to come to an event that will have alcohol. I take it as a sign of love, respect, for my sobriety.
I know not everyone feels this way, and I'm not recommending going out and asking someone who doesn't drink all sorts of questions. Most people, I think, don't want to be singled out in this way, because the stigma is still so strong.
But I don't mind. I love it when people email questions, ask me the stuff they don't feel comfortable asking anyone else. I would love to see a world where someone wondering about their drinking can talk openly about it, like someone who is wondering about their weight, starting a new diet. People often rally around someone starting a diet or exercise program - sometimes they even jump on the bandwagon, too. Food struggles are so similar to drinking struggles, and I dream of the day when they can both be discussed openly, without fear and shame.