Alcohol is weird. Yes, for the very fact it gets you drunk and makes you act ways and say things you never would sober. But also because of the way it makes you act and feel without it. And I’m not talking addiction levels here, like shakes and headaches and such (that’s a whole ‘nother ball game that I’ve dealt with as the daughter of an alcoholic). I’m talking the simple, albeit weird, feelings of social ineptness and incapacitation that come with being sober in a social setting where I would normally be drinking alcohol.
Being at a bar or a party without a drink in my hand is a surreal experience. It’s as if the confidence and outgoing personality that I normally have, sober or buzzed, stayed home for the night. And instead, I become shy and awkward and insecure with only the person in my head to talk to. And let me tell you, that person suddenly has a lot more to say.
I feel so awkward standing here. Think of something to say Lindsay; you always have something to say. Just because you don’t have a cocktail in your hand and one in your belly you suddenly can’t think of anything to say?! They probably think I’m so dull and that it’d be better if I left so they don’t have to feel awkward with me standing there, staring and acting extremely sober. Loosen up Lindsay, smile, act like you’re having fun.
After enduring an hour at the bar, I decide it’s time to go. Says my buzzed friend, one who enjoys a cocktail or two . . . or three or four . . . like me, “What’s it like being the sober one at the bar?”
Ha. I think to myself. If you only knew the mental torture I just went through. I didn’t even bother trying to explain myself to her. And looking back, it’s probably better that I didn’t, because it’s actually pretty ridiculous. I thought more about it and actually feel silly about my behavior. (The irony in that is equally silly: I’m dead sober and embarrassed about how I acted.)
Why am I so worried about how to act if I’m in a social setting and not drinking? I’m a social person who can have a good time and hold a good conversation. So what’s the big deal? Why does it matter that I don’t have a wine glass or a frosty beer mug in my hand?
I found myself asking my nondrinker roommate the same thing during a 40-day stint of abstaining from alcohol. Despite my lack of interest in going out during those 40 days, I forced myself to join my roommate, who was also newly single, out on the town on several occasions. And surprisingly, she ended up buying a drink because she didn’t feel comfortable hanging out at a bar without ordering a drink. How’s that for even more irony?! She believed that we couldn’t be hanging out in the bar if one of us didn’t order an alcoholic drink!
I was surprised to hear that from her, someone who never orders a drink at a bar. If her theory is true, then she’s essentially been freeloading the bar time we earned for ordering an alcoholic beverage. Although I don’t know consumer-business policy enough to say if we actually have to buy a drink, I assured her that no bar could force a person to buy or consume alcohol. And I know she didn’t actually mean that the bar has a strict “no booze, no service” policy, but she didn’t even think I could order a soda. So, she bought herself a cocktail.
It was my roommate and another close girlfriend that gave me the hardest time for not drinking. It was shocking, and slightly disappointing, how much they pressured me to drink when we were out. Not only was I struggling internally with not having a drink in my hand, but I was also dealing with external opposing forces. In two separate occasions in one weekend (not during Lent), my close girlfriend was visibly disappointed when I told her I was done drinking for the night. I wasn’t driving. I wasn’t drunk. I didn’t have anywhere else to be. I just didn’t want another drink. Yet, I was being chastised.
It was that weekend when it actually came to me, when I finally saw the light without alcohol: I could truly have an enjoyable time without a drink in my hand. Maybe it was because I wasn’t under the confines of Lent – “you want what you can’t have” as the saying goes. But I also wasn’t obsessed with what I thought I should or shouldn’t be doing in a social setting or at a bar. I was simply having a good time and doing it on my own terms. Alcohol wasn’t ruling my night.
And alcohol doesn’t rule my life. Yes, I enjoy a cold brewski at a BBQ and a glass of vino or two at a jazz club. But if I stop at one, two or five, I don’t worry about what people think. I don’t dramatize myself into this awkward, sober monstrosity creepily hovering over the drinkers. And I don’t talk to the person in my head as much . . . about alcohol anyway. She still has plenty to say about other things.