Confessions of a pretend-drunk

I still remember my first pretend-drink. I was at a bar and the waitress came around to take our orders. My companions ordered beers, glasses of wine. “I’ll have a club soda,” I said. Everyone turned and stared at me. “You’re not drinking?” someone asked. My face reddened. “Oh, I, uh, I’m painting my hovercraft later so I want to stay in top shape.” It was a lie, of course, the first of many lies; my hovercraft doesn’t need painting!

Faker's choice.

Faker’s choice.

When my club soda arrived, it looked so cool and clear in the glass – the sparkling bubbles, the clinking ice, the bobbing slice of lemon that the waitress had considerately inserted into what was essentially a two-dollar glass of water. I suddenly realized that I could pretend this innocuous drink was a double vodka and tonic.

Next thing I knew, I was ordering another pretend-drink and then another and another. As the night wore on, my voice grew more loud, my gestures more broad, my clothes more off. Multiple club sodas later, I was pretend-drunk. Plus I really had to pee.

The same thing happened at a cocktail party a week later. There I was, cocktail-less, dreading the probing questions from my peers when they realized I didn’t drink anymore, the confused looks, the poorly veiled sneers. Not drinking makes you some kind of freak, even though choosing not to drink is just like choosing not to eat meat, except without the smugness. Alcohol, though, is so deeply ingrained in our culture that anyone who doesn’t partake risks becoming a social-drinking reject, a Perrier pariah, an orange juice outcast. I felt like running home with my cocktail between my legs. Which is not easy, by the way.

Instead, I pretended. I pretended I was drunk. Passing off my ginger ale as high-octane, I staggered about the party, making inappropriate comments about colleagues and telling an off-colour joke about the rabbi and the paper shredder. And while it made me fit in socially, I felt such shame the next morning when I was pretend-hungover, tripping over the empty San Pellegrino bottles, clearly recalling that I had ended the night dancing with awkward white-man moves to Ke$ha! Where are you when I need you, blackouts!  But I could remember every single detail because I was so… so… lucid!

Each time I went out, I would tell myself I wasn’t going to have a pretend-drink, but each time, rather than confess that I don’t drink anymore and face the pity and sad judgement, I would inevitably proceed to tie a pretend-one on. I became a heavy fake-drinker at every social occasion, deeply aware that no one trusts a sober person, except to drive them home.

Before I knew it, I was pretend-drinking every day. Sometimes I’d have a pretend-drink in the morning just as a little eye-open-wider, the hair of the dog that licked me. I started showing up for work pretend-drunk, although I was able to carry out my functions as I always had, which was pretty terrible in the first place, so I completely fooled everyone.

I put the "stench" in "existential."

I put the “stench” in “existential.”

My control of drinking was out of control. After one straight bender, I woke up in the morning to find The Stranger in my bed, the novel spread open to page 92, wantonly dog-eared and sloppily bookmarked. “Oh no,” I cried in shame, “I’ve been reading Camus again! In French!”

I hit soft-rock bottom the day I got pretend-drunk in front of my kids and realized I was pretend-slurring my words. “Oh my God,” I said, “I sound like Foster Brooks at a Dean Martin roast.”  My kids looked at me with sadness and disappointment in their eyes and said, “Who the hell’s Foster Brooks?” I felt terrible. And old.

That’s when I decided to stop the lies and come clean about being clean.

Hi. My name is Ross and I’m a non-alcoholic. Now, who wants some tea?

First aired February 26, 2013 on CBC Radio’s “Breakaway.” Click here for the audio link and terrible Foster Brooks impression.

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About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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42 Responses to Confessions of a pretend-drunk

  1. Amanda Fox says:

    I loved this. I will have to show it to my husband. For numerous reasons, he has never drank, like not ever. Not even during his football days which was a really tough one to pull off. I know he will appreciate this. 🙂 And I like how you describe hitting “soft rock bottom” among many other things in this piece! Very funny.

  2. I’m in awe… this was fabulously written! No wonder you made it to CBC radio! I’m going to wait to listen to it later, because in my head, I’m hearing Vinyl Cafe-style.

  3. peachyteachy says:

    Wow, man.You are high on life.

  4. How do you live with yourself, Rosemary? As a non-drinker – I feel your pretend pain. Alcohol makes me vomit every single time – so I’m fairly allergic to it, and that often gets people away from making smug assumptions about me and my non-drinking. Also, I’m the designated driver so I get ‘cool’ points for that.

    I HATE when I find myself reading Camus in French – I’d much rather read Satre in English… “No Exit” is my favorite existential read…. well, maybe Eugene Ionesco’s “The Bald Soprano”

    Also, bacon is overrated.

  5. denmother says:

    Great, now I’m embarrassed to be Canadian. Did you have to out yourself so publicly? Our American neighbours (yes, it’s spelled with a “u”) already think we’re idiots. Way to go, rossmurray1. Thanks a bunch.

  6. Very funny post! My husband and I are teetotalers these days as well. Fortunately, we’ve always been uncool, so it hasn’t been a huge social adjustment.

  7. Ha. I was pretend drunk once, in 7th grade off that fake champagne. The only French novel I have finished to date is L’Enigme du Retour. Currently trying to read Un Aller Simple.

  8. “Hic, hic, burp, burp,,,,,,uh…uh…uh…I…I…I d-d-d-don’t th-th-think I…I…I…I’m g-g-g-gettin th-th-this one, M-M-Mr…uh…uh…uh…Morrie….I m-m-m-mean M-M-M-Mr.uh…uh…uh…. M-M-M-urray!Th-th-those D-D-Dean M-M-Martin R-R-R-Roasts f-f-f-finally uh….uh…uh…hic, hic, burp, burp uh…uh…uh…k-k-k-kicking in”!!

  9. I used to have pretend drinks at high-school parties. I’d get a beer in a can or bottle, take a few drinks, go to the bathroom, dump it out and fill the can with water.

    Oh yeah, I was wicked cool.

  10. Nic says:

    “Where are you when I need you, blackouts!” Ha! This was hilarious for me because I realized that I do the same thing on very rare occasions when I have no access to wine.

  11. byebyebeer says:

    This piece was timely because I’ll be in a lot of social (ie drinking) situations this weekend and have to work up a proper thirst for club soda. I like club soda, but would never drink more than two at a time. Can’t say the same for vodka tonics, which is why I stick to club soda. Always nice to hear I’m not alone.

    Hilarious read, really enjoyed it.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Thanks very much. I like to go club soda, tea, re-used teabag tea, club soda and then just move on to the sugar (see next post Thursday for more on that…)
      Glad you enjoyed it. Safe socializing.

  12. Lisa Neumann says:

    Is there no end to your madness? Where do you pull this stuff from? I need to go and do another step 4 and 5 with my sponsor. Apparently I’ve blocked it all out. 🙂

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Source: I was tweeting nonsense the other night because I’m new at Twitter and terrible at it. In response to myself, I tweeted, “Friends don’t let friends pretend-drink and tweet.” And away we go! You never know where inspiration will surface.

  13. tgeorges1123 says:

    So many things to say. So I’m making this comment into a list.
    1. You have a polar bear AND a hovercraft? That’s so not fair. If I didn’t have to be a Nobel Peace Prize winner or some other such significant person, I would totally move to Canada.
    2.You reminded me about a mom story I’ll have to blog about – the time my grandmother taught my mom how to pretend drink at a bar.
    3. I would say that the lack of Foster Brooks knowledge was bad parenting. (May he rest in peace.)
    4. I hope you don’t fall off the wagon. Do you have a sponsor yet?

  14. rossmurray1 says:

    1. Oh, we take anyone. We’re so nice. Re hovercrafts: There’s a book called The Best Laid Plans that came out a few years ago set in the political circles of Ottawa. I know: exciting. It’s a “comic” novel and I use the quotation marks advisedly; it won multiple awards, including Canada’s top literary humour prize but it is plain dead boring not funny. I actually got angry reading it. Anyway, one of the main characters is constantly working on his hovercraft. Well, you know in movies if you show a gun, they use a gun? Well, if you show a hovercraft… Hope I didn’t spoil the ending for you, anyone reading!
    2. Looking forward to it.
    3. I dunno, was he even funny way back then?
    4. I don’t think I will. It’s two years March 13. Not that I’m counting. I don’t have a sponsor, not in any program. Just stopped. I know some people hear this, especially big AA proponents, and think, “Oh, well, your problem couldn’t have been that bad.” Well, it was to me. I get angry when people try to diminish my decision in this patronizing way — not Best Laid Plans angry, mind you, but certainly not pleased… Seriously, though, most people are pretty cool and supportive about it.
    Thanks for the big list!

  15. Ned's Blog says:

    I’ve heard Canada Dry is a gateway drug to harder vices, such as candy cigarettes and (*mouth shaped like an “O” in horror*) chocolate cigars. It’s a good thing you got it under control.

  16. geoff says:

    interesting article. It’s cool not to drink alcohol. I boycott alcohol so as not to support the booze industry

  17. pinklightsabre says:

    I can relate to this. And why they tell you to get rid of all your (drinking) friends if you want to stop drinking. Good gracious, this is an onion I could start peeling now but I won’t. Would like to hear more about your story some time over a coffee or something.

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