This past February, I celebrated 3 years of sobriety. It has been an up and down roller coaster of temptation and self-control. Throughout that time, I’ve had to answer numerous questions at outings and social gatherings regarding my decision to abstain from alcohol. Firstly, you shouldn’t have to explain yourself to anybody, but yet, time and time again, it pops up as a topic of conversation.
In this day and age, not drinking sometimes makes you an outsider. It’s the elephant in the room for me at times. While I’m public about my sobriety and inform people that I don’t drink, it sometimes leaves me having to answer even more questions to better explain myself. Friends and family know the drill, but other people not so close have a plethora of questions. Here are some questions or statements that you should NEVER say to someone who is a recovering alcoholic or substance abuser.
1. Are you the designated driver?
Sure, I will do it if it’s necessary, but I didn’t agree to go out so I could schlep everyone around. Oddly, once that title gets announced, people flock over to you as if you’re a personal limousine service looking for you to take them to the next best thing. In fact, the phone might start ringing more often during the weekends because your friends (and any other acquaintances you’ve managed to acquire) know you’re the reliable driver who will do it for free. Another incentive is they won’t need to either drive themselves or shell out money for a cab.
2. Why did you quit? I’m thinking about quitting to save money, is that why you did it?
This puts people in a tough place. Some are open to sharing their stories, but others really don’t want to go into the gritty details of their past. As for financial reasons, no, I didn’t decide to quit drinking nor do people who go through the entire program of Alcoholics Anonymous decide to quit drinking because they want to save money. This is one of the most insulting things you can ask someone who is recovering from substance abuse. Alcohol addiction is exactly what its name entails, an addiction. It requires recovery time, support from friends and family, and personal strength and courage. Asking if someone did it to save a couple bucks is a slap in the face.
3. Oh are you on medication? I was on antibiotics and I know you’re not supposed to drink (whispering) but I did anyway.
Just don’t ask this.
4. I was going to invite you, but you don’t drink.
Some might think that not inviting someone who is recovering is actually the nice thing to do. Quite the contrary for some. I’d like to go to parties, social gatherings, and karaoke nights. While some people must remove themselves from any drinking situations due to temptations, others have developed their own self-control. In that regard that means they can go out to a bar, hang out with friends, and aren’t worried about slipping into a drunken abyss. Not being invited to things makes you feel unwanted.
5. Did you get a DUI or something? Was it bad?
No. While that isn’t the case for me, that might be the case for other people and I can guarantee, they probably don’t want to talk about it. If they did manage to get as far as to get a DUI it’s most likely a huge black mark on their life and something they are going to regret forever. Asking them to go into detail about that event is a no no. If they want to share, that’s great and it’s their own personal choice to do so, but it’s not really your place to ask. It’s also not good to ask what horrible event occurred to influence someone to not drink anymore.
6. What’s wrong with you?
This is a pretty terrible one because it immediately assumes that if you don’t drink you’re an alien. In that case, the standard response should be, “Well, you seen, I’m a Klagazarg from the Planet Kreptor and we can’t consume alcohol or we die.” You could continue to go into your alien backstory here and explain that you’re from a dying planet that’s overheating and it’s ironic that you’re now on Earth, but there’s a good chance they will have already walked away or fallen off their stool drunk.
7. Did you go to Alcoholics Anonymous? What was that like?
The word Anonymous should be a dead giveaway that it really isn’t the best topic of discussion. I did it all cold turkey, but if I respond with that I’ll get another question about why I didn’t go to AA. One leads to the next with each “why” question coming from a place of judgment. It’s also something recovering people don’t want to go into detail to unless they bring it up first. If you really want to know what it’s like, there’s a wonderful search bar called Google.
8. I love this drink (Red bull Vodka/Jack & Coke, Irish Car bomb, etc.). What’s your favorite? I mean, what WAS your favorite?
Nothing is worse for a recovering alcoholic like helping them relive the glory days. We can talk about literally anything else besides what my go-to poison used to be. Hint: It was the three things already mentioned.
9. Come on. Let me buy you a drink. Just one. You can’t just have ONE?
No. I can’t just have one. One turns into ten. Then I’m blacked out and daring police I can beat them in a foot race again. Or the hundred other alternative endings to those blacked out nights like being thrown out of a frat house or every bar on campus. That’s why I don’t drink in the first place. If I could have just one, I would have had one already.
So some might be thinking, “well what do I talk to these people about then!? You’ve just gone down the list crossing off all the things I regularly ask the non-drinkers at the bar!”
Treat people who are recovering just like you’d treat anybody else. Stop acting like you just found them frozen in a block of ice under a swimming pool in the backyard. When people are hanging out with friends drinking, they normally aren’t asking each other questions about how much they love drinking. They’re just interacting like normal human beings do. Disregard the fact that they decided to be sober or that they aren’t drinking anymore and just talk to them like there’s nothing wrong with them because there isn’t.