No one trusts a sober man, and other things I’ve learned from five years of not drinking

Yes, that’s right. I didn’t say “sobriety”; I said “not drinking.” Sobriety sounds like a condition, something I’ve been stricken with. (“Have you heard? He has sobriety.”) Not drinking isn’t some ordeal I’ve been forced to undergo but a decision I made five years ago. It’s like veganism, but less smug.

I’ve rarely written about my life without booze because there’s nothing to see here, folks; move along. No rock-bottoms have been hit. No scissors have been run with. Just panic attacks and a realization that my body and brain were no longer up to the punishment. And so, after learning through trial and hangover that I couldn’t just drink a little, I decided to not drink at all.

Which brings me to:

  1. Nobody loves you when you’re not down and out

Because drinking is such a key lubricant in our social engine, people have come to expect from those who voluntarily choose not to drink some lurid tale. A stint in rehab, a drunk-driving arrest, full or partial nudity – these are cause-and-sober-effects people can understand. It gives them the strap of sympathy to cling to when they interact with their recovering friend or colleague. But if you’re not in AA but just decide, “No more for me, thanks,” there’s little sympathy, only skepticism. Rarely has anyone said to me, “Good for you!” More like, “Good luck with that.”

  1. “It’s just a phase”

When you stop drinking, you’ll find yourself dreading the adverb: “Are you still not drinking?” As if it were a state of impermanence, like temporary insanity or seeing how long you can go without bathing. It’s tempting to hate that adverb. But I’ve learned to accept it as an honest inquiry into my well-being, and I usually reply by announcing how long it’s been. Which brings me to…

  1. Not drinking is like a baby

First you mark its age in days, then weeks, then months. Six months will be a landmark; if you keep a journal, you’ll likely add an exclamation mark: “Six months!” Then a year. (In my journal, I wrote, “One year. What now…?” You wouldn’t do that with a baby.) After that, you start to forget the month-iversaries, and sometimes even the year. You shouldn’t, though. Send yourself a card. Slip 20 bucks in it. Buy yourself some candy. Oh, and by the way…?

  1. You’re going to eat a lot of candy

You might be able to kick alcohol, but sugar is a meaner drug. The loss of all that alcohol sugar in your system will have your body diving into the bags of baking chocolate. M&Ms will be your new best friend. Your children will give you an ice cream scoop for Christmas (true story). Sugar: because why give up self-loathing entirely!

  1. The long, dark night of the sober soul.

    The long, dark night of the sober soul.

    Being around drinkers is tough but not impossible

My wife still drinks and all my friends drink and every social event everywhere ever involves drinks. For the first year, being around alcohol was a bit of a skin-crawl. My instinct was to flee, and often I did. But over time it’s become easier as I’ve re-taught myself how to socialize sober and how to be creative with club soda. I have drunk a lot of tea. I will gladly be your designated driver. Dishes to do?  I will do them. Last November, I celebrated my 50th birthday at a local bar. The owner kindly came around with a tray of complimentary shooters. My wife informed her I don’t drink. The owner returned with a shooter of tap water – the saddest shooter in the world. Actually, this may have been my rock-bottom…

  1. I used to be fun

I can be around drinkers now, but when the words start slurring and the conversation reaches that irrational pitch, I’m out. I can’t quite explain it; this should be when things get interesting. I should be taking notes or blackmail videos. Instead, I become sullen and irritable and at times angry. Perhaps it’s the prohibitionist’s scold in me, perhaps it reminds me that I’m missing out. This used to be me. I used to be fun.

  1. But I probably wasn’t

Watching drunk people, I remember that time at the office party when I performed an interpretive dance to “A Horse With No Name” and realize it probably wasn’t as hilarious as I thought it was.

  1. No one trusts a sober man

Someone once stumbled up to me at a party with a bottle of scotch. “Shot to friends,” he said. “I don’t drink,” I replied. “You’re not my friend,” he said and moved on. I know he was drunk but in vino veritas. People will suspect your motives if you don’t drink, like you’re a spy or holier-than-thou or taking blackmail videos. They’ll think less of you as a man, which is a shame, because drinking was the only manly thing I had going. You won’t get extra credit for not drinking. People won’t admire your will; they’ll just think you’re weird. After all, if you truly had will, you’d be able to drink just a little. Just one shot.

  1. Movies are better with a buzz

I used to watch a lot of movies while drinking a lot of beer. Now, sipping my Tension Tamer tea while watching some tired cliché of a rom-com, I realize I’d rather be reading. It turns out most Hollywood movies aren’t worth remembering, and, thanks to alcohol, I don’t. There are years of movies I could watch again because I can’t recall the ending. But no thanks. Similarly, without a glass of wine handy, I don’t cook nearly as much as I used to. I’m sad about this; my wife is even sadder.

  1. Booze is still my co-pilot

My life is better without alcohol – I assume. I have no way of knowing what it would have been like had I continued to drink these past five years. For instance, I tell myself I never would have been able to write a novel if I’d been drinking, but maybe I would have written a better novel! But I do feel healthier in body and spirit. I feel shame only for the usual human reasons. I’ve taken ownership of my actions; I can only blame my stupidity on myself. I’m saving a ton of money. It hasn’t been the miracle cure for everything in my life, not by a long shot (shot!), but I’m generally a happier person.

But booze still controls me. Last summer, sitting at a picnic table, I absentmindedly picked up someone’s beer and took a swig. I spat it out like there was a bee in it. I reacted that violently because I was afraid, as if that one sip would undo all the work in the past four years, three months and twelve days.

I don’t like that I fear alcohol. I don’t like that it still occupies my thoughts and actions in the form of strategies for avoidance and coping. I don’t like saying “I don’t drink” like it’s an admission of guilt. I don’t like that I sometimes feel resentful because I don’t drink. I don’t like that I can never sit down and have a beer with my kids.

But one of the reasons I quit was because I didn’t want my children’s memories of me to be exclusively “tipsy dad.” If fear is what it takes to erase that, bring on the fear. Five years of fatherhood not drinking compared to the 20 drunk ones that preceded? I have a ways to go.

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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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85 Responses to No one trusts a sober man, and other things I’ve learned from five years of not drinking

  1. Karen says:

    Cannot like this post enough. If you were a woman, you’d get the question, “Are you pregnant?” every time you turned down a drink, so be glad for that.

    I used to drink socially but to be honest, I never liked the taste of alcohol (are there people who really like it? Give me a Coca-Cola any day), so it’s been easy for me to just stop entirely. Both my husband and I are tee-totalers and also, not coincidentally, adult children of alcoholics.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Well, congratulations to both of you. There is some thought that it’s a cyclical thing, but my parents never drank at all, or at least very rarely. You wouldn’t know it from their kids.

  2. 1SageFemme says:

    I love that you value your children’s memories of you over alcohol.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      It was a good motivator, to be sure. But alcohol is very selfish, so it took fear for my own well-being to force myself to quit. Then I needed reasons not to start again.

  3. franhunne4u says:

    Don’t be afraid that you become unpopular when not drinking – people will always love the one reliable person who keeps them from committing fatal mistakes while they are drunk themselves.

    You are the friend who stops the other to text his ex with some soppy, embarassing SMS, who drives people home so they can keep their driver’s license, who stops a friend hitting on the ugliest person in the bar – because twenty beer have made that person agreeable, you are the one person who can fill in memory gaps reliably, and at the office christmas party you are the one to stop your colleague from insulting the boss …

    If your friends do not value this, they can sod off – they are no friends of yours!

  4. Barry says:

    Thanks Ross. I also don’t drink . . . now and resonated with quite a lot of your post. I am still surprised at how important it is to other people that at some point I hit a dramatic “rock bottom” and how disappointed they are when it isn’t really like that. No DUIs, no jail, no horrifying experiences, just a realization that I wasn’t a better person when I was drinking but actually kind of worse. So now, while my kids have memories of their dad drinking, my grandkids don’t, and won’t, and that’s a pretty good thing.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Right on, Barry. Can I ask if you went into a program, or did it on your own?

      • Barry says:

        For me AA was the key to make this work. It isn’t for everyone, at least one of my co-workers has given up drinking without a formal program and she is doing very well. I have found the accountability to be very useful for me and I think it provides an opportunity for me to let others know that you can stop drinking (regardless of any addiction or problem issues) without having to suffer a catastrophe first.

  5. This post is inspiring to me. I’ve slowly stopped drinking as much as I used to. At my age, even one drink can make me feel crappy the next day. And like sugar, alcohol is addicting and bad for your health when you overdo it.

    So, now I try to go long periods of time without any alcohol. But you are so right about people’s reactions when you say, “just water, please.” They look at you like you’re insane! Now I have a few glasses of wine every other weekend, which is a helluva lot less than I used to drink in my 30s. I hope to get to your point one day. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    Now if I could just kick my sugar habit…

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I would be thrilled if I could manage a couple of drinks on the weekend. But I’m afraid to try. You’re right about age, though. You would think the body would be used to it. Instead, it’s like “enough is enough.” In fact, when people ask me why I don’t drink, I sometimes say, “Because I got my life’s worth of drinking out of the way in the first 45 years.”

  6. I quit drinking for many of the same reasons, in addition to having a long family history of drunks. It’s been about 11 years or so. I can joke that I was a social drinker – that I had to drink to be sociable. Since quitting, I’ve learned that I really can’t dance, that a lot of bar bands suck, and that my antisocial tendencies are endearing (and I’m going to keep telling myself that).

    Quitting drinking was much like going vegan for me. Not much fanfare and it turned out not to be as difficult as I imagined. Other people make a bigger deal out of it, which serves to embarrass me and makes me avoid them all the more.

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Ross.

  7. Paul says:

    Your honesty is striking Ross. It does my heart good to know there is at least one honest person out there. I still drink occasionally but it is binge drinking and then nothing for a month or two or even 6 mo and then binge again.

    As an aside Ross, I posted a guest post over at Blog Woman!!! http://blog-woman.com/2016/03/07/with-a-little-help-from-my-friends-guest-post-paul-curran-the-invisibles-part-1/ Part2 is next week. If you have the time and desire I would be delighted if you dropped by for a read. Thank You.

  8. freebutfun says:

    Good on you, no point in wasting life drinking if it has any negative consequences!
    I know I don’t drink as much as I used to, guess it comes with kids but also just can’t be bothered with the hangovers, feels like loosing time that could be used in a much better way.

  9. Marc says:

    Hey Ross, thanks for this. My partner and I also are non-drinkers, and feel much better for it in all ways, except socially, of course. We are learning to stick out in that respect, as we’ve learned to stick out in so many other ways before. I am not advocating for everyone to join us, but am getting a bit tired of the understanding/condescending tone that drinkers adopt when when “accepting” that we will not drink. We are still learning not to feel bad for adopting an “alcohol-free lifestyle”, as MP Seamus O’Regan likes to call it. Lead the way, Ross and Seamus!

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Hey, Marc. It’s weird, eh? That sense of embarrassment when you say, “Uhh, I don’t drink.” Usually I just say, “No thanks” or “Nothing for me.” Then I watch their eyes go, “Weirdo.”
      Keep on sticking out, brother!

  10. Gemma Gallant says:

    Hey Ross,
    I was thinking about past days at ARHS and don’t remember you being a real drinker. But we graduated 32 (OMG!!!!!) years ago and all of us have changed. I too don’t feel the need for alcohol… although I do have an occasional one. I no longer have a constitution that can accept large amounts of alcohol.. Its as though my body is saying “OK enough for your earlier years I tolerated the polluting of my liver.. now its my time!” So good for you and the all in philosophy… me I’ve always been a can only give a 75% kind of girl!

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Hi Gemma. I didn’t drink a lot in high school, just enough to be stupid. My one and only fist fight? Alcohol. Over time, it just kind of crept up on me until it became a habit. With age comes maturity, right? Somebody say “right”… Gemma, we’re all turning 50!

      • Gemma Gallant says:

        yeah 50!!!! WOW! I still remember being in grade 10 and thinking the year 2000 was so far away and i would be almost 35… For me I’m hanging on to the next few months of the blissful age of 49!

  11. Ned's Blog says:

    As I think you know, I come from a long line of heavy drinkers. I didn’t touch a drop until I was almost 30, for fear of tripping some kind of genetic switch. I came to realize that it has no hold on me, although during my divorce many years ago I dumped all the liquor in the house just to be safe. I applaud you recognizing your own trigger, and especially for wanting to do the right thing for your kids. I have a lot of “tipsy dad” memories. The example you are for your kids is the kind of memory they will carry with them, as opposed to burrying later in life.

    I would be very happy to have a shot of tap water with you, my friend (but not in Mexico).

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Life is full of “what if, what if…” My parents didn’t drink at all, so I had no first-hand education on that front. My brother has also had alcohol problems (he went the AA route). I don’t know how or if I’ve influenced my kids. The older ones certainly aren’t teetotalers, that’s for sure. I’ve seen the videos.

      • Ned's Blog says:

        All true. But in the end, regardless of whether they become hard, social or nondrinkers, your choice has made you someone relatable on all fronts. And trust me, as a child who was around a lot of drinking at a very young age, your choice is in their psyche somewhere. They’ll draw from your example at some point, even without realizing it. Just like most of today’s movies…

  12. vsvevg says:

    Fantastic post, funny honest and moving. Thank you so much for sharing, I still drink but I sure hear this. maybe I should have some kids 😉

  13. sweetsound says:

    Never been a big drinker but can’t quit the sugar for my life. You said sugar is meaner but if it’s at all similar then I say congratulations!!

  14. I come from a long line of francophones who started their kids with watered wine at age 6 (or maybe younger, who knows). I have never had a problem with it but my son did – he went to rehab after a nasty incident involving drinking, a car, a girlfriend, and a loaded handgun. One of THOSE stories. The parental guilt has been enormous – did we help this along, bad examples, all that.

    It never ceases to amaze me how people decide to judge others for choosing to do or not do whatever it might be Keep going, Ross. 🙂

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I don’t think it’s a problem with individuals, most of whom are compassionate and well-meaning. It’s the social expectation. Alcohol is positively integral to social interaction.
      As for your son, I’m reluctant to draw a direct link between this action and that result among children. As I’ve said elsewhere in these comments, there was virtually zero booze in my house growing up. I have no one to blame but myself.

  15. Samara says:

    This is fabulous. Good for you!

    I rarely drink, because I’m a lightweight and get drunk far too easily. I don’t hang out with people who are heavy drinkers. Quite honestly, we’re all at an age (late 40’s) where it wreaks havoc on our health (and looks, if I’m being completely honest here.)

    And that slurred, high decibel conversation? It’s not that attractive. That “hold my hair back while I puke” thing is not cute when you’re pushing 50.

    Please don’t remind I said all this when I’m loaded at the next blogging convention; that’s a different story. 🙂

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I’m seeing a recurring theme here: the body just can’t handle it passed a certain age. I thought it was just me. So in a way, I’m glad.
      The puking isn’t cute at 20 either. At least I keep telling my kids that.

  16. Yahooey says:

    I don’t trust those that don’t trust the not drinking. I drive myself home often enough that I’ve seen how some people react when a drink is turned down. I start to question their drinking.

  17. byebyebeer says:

    Congrats on 5 years and, yes, good for you! I get everything you say here. My husband still drinks, I love the candy, and messy drunk people are hard to be around. The counting days thing was funny though sometimes after one of my kid’s birthdays I do wonder “now what?!” Movies actually improved for me but cooking is not as fun. Anyway, I do love the not-drinking life and knowing I’m in such good company.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      And thank you for being a source of support for me these past five years. It was great to come into the blogging community and find that there were people going through the same thing. I didn’t write about it much, but it doesn’t mean I wasn’t thinking about it.

      • byebyebeer says:

        Likewise, it’s been helpful to see someone who doesn’t use the lingo and is still committed to a better version of himself. That’s what it’s about for me. I’ll hit 5 years in June. Water is good stuff, but you deserved a shot glass of the world’s finest cake, my friend.

  18. Corinne Smith says:

    This. Yes. Thank you for sharing this, Ross. Apart from my body rebelling every time I had more than a couple glasses of wine, it was something one of my kids said, about mom liking her wine. It made me cringe. So these days (at just-turned-50 and with both kids living on their own) I listen to my body: no coffee (heartburn), very little sugar (because SUGAR) and almost no alcohol (and I’m working on the almost). Thanks again.

  19. Liz says:

    This is so wonderful, thank you for sharing! Here’s to many more milestones for you and your beautiful baby, Sobriety…nearly school-aged now!

  20. pinklightsabre says:

    I wonder if the people who don’t get it (the fact you’re not drinking), or don’t acknowledge the value of it, are those who never tried to quit, or never knew anyone who did, who are just ignorant like that. Because yes, you definitely get strong reactions from drinkers when you tell them you don’t drink, and it’s sure not nice, sometimes mean…I say this from limited spells of not drinking, and probably referring to the people in my life who knew me as a drinker and want to keep hold of that part of me for themselves, obviously. Thanks for sharing this personal post Ross; it’s real good for your kids, your wife, yourself, your writing.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      You may have hit on it, the idea of losing the old fun me. Who wants to lose their friend? But really, most of my friends are cool about it now. As I wrote in a section I deleted, part of this process is understanding that I’m not the centre of everyone’s universe.
      I nearly didn’t post this — Emperor of Second Guessing. I didn’t think it would add anything new to the conversation. But as I’m seeing from the comments, sometimes people just like nodding along in recognition.

  21. List of X says:

    Let me start with “Good for you, Ross”, even if many other commenters already covered that in different ways. But validation isn’t alcohol and you can’t usually have negative health impact or lose your driver’s license from too much validation.
    I do drink, but only socially, and half the time not even then, so I also get a lot of questions about why I’m not drinking, or not drinking enough. In which case pouring some wine or vodka into my cup and taking a microscopic sip usually answers the question.
    Since it’s probably not an option for you, I suggest that you respond that you just had a horse-riding under influence arrest and are now pregnant with triplets. As an added bonus, they won’t be able to tell you that you’re not fun anymore.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I haven’t thought of lying. Why? I do it all the time in my creative life, why not real life? I like it!
      Wasn’t really looking for validation when I wrote this. I asked myself why I wrote it at all, actually. I think we like to mark anniversaries. And, of course, lists. Thanks, X.

    • Paul says:

      Yeah but X I understand you’re Russian – and they are born with 27.3% Столичная in their blood. Any time they go lower than that during their life,they lose consciousness. Здравствуйте!

      • List of X says:

        Cheers! Actually, that’s another thing – Russians aren’t born with Stoli in their blood, but I think they get a higher natural tolerance to it. With that, and my lack of interest in alcohol in general, and my above average weight, I get bored with drinking before I get enough alcohol in me to get drunk.

        • Paul says:

          Bwahaha! that’s what the last Russian who drank me under the table said – “I’m bored.” Bwahahaha! Where I was safety manager last for a tanker company we had one Russian who came to work for us – hardest damn worker I’ve ever seen. Wasn’t long after we had about 10 of them. Bwahaha! Awesome guys. Andre was the first and he was ex Spetsnaz and was built like a T-90 Russian Battle Tank.Ha! he learned to drive tractor-trailer in Siberia hauling missiles for the Russian military.He tells of when he was a new soldier and a driver and was travelling a dirt road with a missile on a flatbed and his officer in the cab with him. There were no road signs and Andre missed a turn and got lost. The officer woke up from his nap and freaked out and hit Andre in the side of the head with his fist. Andre’s head banged off the driver’s window and knocked him unconscious. When he came to the truck, missile and all were in the ditch and the officer was blubbering an apology. Ha! Here’s a picture of Andre, no neck:

  22. Lynn says:

    As a child of an alcoholic, I applaud you for recognising that you & alcohol do not mix. I suspect your children will have way more “fun” memories of you sober than they ever would if you were drinking.

  23. Carrie Rubin says:

    This is a really great post. So honest and real. I don’t have anything to add but wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed reading it.

  24. This is a great post. Both of my parents died from complications of liver disease. It’s a slippery slope. My most profound memory of my dad was when he told me he didn’t think he was fun if he didn’t drink. Sadly, he couldn’t have been more wrong.

  25. walt walker says:

    I’m getting close to this point, I think. I’m not there yet. I’ve dabbled in it. I’m not there yet. Actually, I think about it often. But usually at the end of the day, I say ‘not today.’

    That’s my way of saying I get it, I get what you’ve done and I respect it, and I’d like to do it too but I haven’t. Yet. I had a friend once who really put the pressure on when I was dabbling. Not very cool. I get that, too, it’s understandable, I can’t fault him. It’s hard all around.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      It’s not easy but it gets easier. I went a month once, then three months another time. It’s so easy to fall back into habits. It’s something you really need to want or something needs to trigger it. I made light here saying there was no rock bottom, but the decision-maker for me was a severe panic attack that kept me up most of a night. I’d had anxiety after drinking (withdrawal symptoms) but never during. Thinking your heart is going to explode turns out to be a wonderful motivator.

  26. gavinkeenan says:

    Great post. You are the real deal.

  27. Hey! I saw that!

    -Augusten Burroughs

    Yeah, but from a distance, it doesn’t look like tap water. Image is everything.

    This is actually a very interesting idea to address. Where’s the glamour in quitting drinking when your family is still in tact and you are gainfully employed? But there’s a heroism in that. You’ve hit on something here, pallie.

  28. Pingback: Silver and Gold: Blogging Gratitude | The Green Study

  29. Jill's Scene says:

    This is a post I’m going to remember for a long time. I reckon avoiding alcohol without avoiding people is a lot like trying to live without drawing breath. There are messages everywhere that alcohol makes life better, easier. It doesn’t. As one of your readers commented below: It’s a slippery slope. Getting off it, isn’t easy.

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