By Jay O
“What’s that fancy can?” a co-worker asked me, while tilting the light blue Bubly to one side, “Oh a seltzer. Taking it easy tonight?”
And here I am again.
I’ve got a split second to decide which way this conversation is headed. Am I taking it easy tonight? What does that even mean?
There was nothing easy about giving-up my evening of playing guitar, writing, eating Oreos in my basement and enjoying a few hours of selfish me-time while my family slept. It definitely wasn’t easy finding parking on this narrow, New England cow-path of a road at the end of a peninsula to attend a work event. And now this.
I have to answer to my non-alcoholic beverage.
I have to explain why I didn’t dip into one of those Aperol spritzers or select from the wide array of microbrews in the cooler. I guess my admittedly loud, light-blue seltzer can has drawn too much attention. Now I gotta fess up.
What’s the deal, Jay? That’s what I hear when people ask about my drink. “Didn’t you see the mimosas?” they ask with their eyes.
Do they want all the answers? Do they want me to start from the beginning? Would they like the crash ending? Maybe I could just start in the middle. I could talk about packing my ski-bag with a sleeve of fire-ball nips and forgetting my hat and gloves. I mean, the answers are pretty straight forward: Yes, I have a deal—a major lifestyle deal. And, yes, I saw the fucking mimosas.
I was at a bachelor party some months back in New York City, and I was out late.
I had avoided the question all night until about 1 am, in the wee-hours of Sunday morning. This was mainly because I was with friends—friends that knew my deal. I found myself at the bar filling up on soda water. The guy next to me took a special interest in my order.
“Soda water?” He yelled, competing with the bar-music that was particularly loud above the bar area.
“Yeah, thirsty.” I said, not afraid of a little small talk, but also very aware of what was next. He didn’t disappoint.
“You all done for the night?” he yelled. Again, the split second. I was feeling good; maybe a little snarky. I was with old friends and just enjoying myself, playing darts and eating crappy bar food. So, I played along.
“No, I just don’t drink booze,” I yelled. He found this funny and snorted a big laugh. I waited.
“Since when?” he yelled.
“Since I fucked my life up!” I yelled back. He was perplexed, I had him in the “ in between.” This was his split second.
“What?” He yelled.
“My life,” I yelled, “I fucked it up there for a bit!”
“Oh, well…,” he began, and I honestly don’t know what he said next. He didn’t yell. He was saved by his drink order arriving, and was probably pleased to escape that conversation.
So was I.
I kind of welcomed that awkward exchange, maybe even baited it. But, it didn’t feel great. It wasn’t necessary. I could have taken many different routes, but that’s the one I chose that night.
I don’t really have a script for answering to my sobriety. Some people do.
I’ve been around enough meetings with people in recovery that definitely have scripts—they have go-to lines. One guy I know who has been sober for 30 plus years gives a straight-forward, badass response—one that’s clearly shaped by years of AA meetings:
“I’m a recovering alcoholic, and I can’t drink in safety.”
And like he says, that typically ends the conversation. I respect the hell out of that, but it’s not really my language. Others take the humor route:
“I used to be a professional drinker, but now I’m retired.” Or lighter fare:
“I enjoy my mornings.”
“I’m already tired.”
“Big day tomorrow.”
I know a couple of folks that just dive-into reasons why alcohol sucks. It doesn’t take much more than an impassive inquiry for them to rattle-off personal and societal reasons why they don’t drink poison and why everyone else should follow suit. Although I tend to agree with a lot of what they’ll argue, I don’t feel too much passion in that approach either. I just don’t know what to say until I’m in the moment. It’s been this way for years—no script, no strategy.
I don’t think I need one.
Why should I have a script? I know a bunch of people out there with other problems that don’t need to work from a script, because society isn’t giving the people around them constant reminders of their problem.
For example, I have a cousin who took seven full years to complete a four-year undergraduate program. At the time the whispers were, “What’s the issue? Is he lazy? Is he partying too much?” But then he graduated, got a job and began his life. No more whispers.
It’s the same with an acquaintance who could never keep a job. When he was unemployed the whispers would start, “Did he get fired? Does he skip work? Show up late?” But then he’s employed again and that’s it—the questioning ends. In both scenarios, these guys can traverse life, social gatherings and work functions without being questioned about their past. This is not the case for us sober folk. We must answer to our seltzer can among the wine glasses and crystal tumblers, over and over again.
Here’s the question I always ask: Isn’t quitting drinking the same, or even somewhat close to overcoming a delay in completing a college program or keeping a steady job? It’s personal growth. Right?
It should be celebrated—probably individually—as personal growth. These were all barriers that we knocked down, addressed or tidied up. We bettered ourselves. Something was amiss. We fixed it.
But the unfortunate answer is, no. These scenarios are not the same. There is one major difference—society doesn’t allow Non-drinkers to hide easily, because this planet is filled with drinkers. We drink at celebrations, hangouts, funerals, baseball games and movie theaters.
Some of us drink at work.
Some of us drink in the morning-right when we wake up. I certainly did ALL of those things. But now I don’t. And for whatever reason, some people at the celebrations, hangouts, funerals and baseball games need to know why.
Why no drink tonight?
I kind of chuckle as I look down at the sparkly blue seltzer can. I’m almost four years into sobriety, and truth be told I just don’t care what I drink in front of people. I’ve moved-on. It took time, but I’m over it.
The decorative, hologram bubbles on the can are glistening in the lights coming off the bay and the can is definitely something my three year old would pick-up if he approached it, discarded, on the sidewalk. I could have shown up with a Kombucha to the board meeting tonight; that would have made me interesting. Or I could have gone with a travel coffee mug. You can put anything in those, maybe even an iced-down cocktail. But this guy probably would have asked about either option.
On a health kick? What’s in the mug? Instead he asks:
“Taking it easy, tonight?”
“Yeah,” I said, “Taking it easy.”
Jay is a full-time parent of two, young energetic boys. He enjoys taking his children on outdoor adventures, and using the natural world as his classroom. Jay previously worked in education as an English Language Arts teacher. In his spare time, he is an avid writer who enjoys journaling and creating writing-based recovery tools. This article is an example of a tool he calls: Side by Side Vignettes.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons