How to Get Married Without Getting Drunk

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How to Get Married Without Getting Drunk

By Melissa Petro 11/03/16

Funny how anticipating a sip of champagne on my theoretical wedding day had been one of those things that initially kept me from getting sober.

Image: 
A couple in formal attire dancing, shown from the neck down.
Celebrating commitments.

When my fiancé and I sat down with the restaurant we had chosen as our wedding venue, I expected to talk kale salad and crudité, but the manager had something else in mind. First, he touted the restaurant's full bar and creative cocktail menu. Next came a promise of a champagne toast. It was after the fourth or fifth time he tried to hard sell a special mixed drink in our honor that my husband-to-be all but shouted: “she’s a recovering alcoholic!”

Funny how anticipating a sip of champagne on my theoretical wedding day had been one of those things that initially kept me from getting sober. Nearly 10 years later, when I was planning my actual wedding—thanks, in great part, to sobriety—alcohol had been barely a thought.

For many brides and grooms-to-be—particularly those in early recovery—I know this isn’t the case. From the engagement party to stag nights and showers galore, getting married is the Russian doll of momentous (read: stressful) occasions. All this culminates into the "big day," with everyone from your fourth step there in the same room, watching you make one of the biggest decisions of your lifetime. (No pressure!) Also in attendance, possibly, your old best friend, Booze.

Considering the trend of signature cocktails, and when an average couple’s bar bill comes in around $3,500, alcohol is an integral part of most weddings—much to a sober alcoholic’s dismay. According to one study, guests drink a week’s worth of alcohol in a single night. So, just how do we sober folks make it through without one drop?

“I smoked like a million cigarettes that day and probably gained 20 pounds from stress-eating the weeks before,” says Matt, a grad student, who got married two days after his fifth sober anniversary. He and his wife had a destination wedding in a small town in northern Italy, where he says “wine was almost cheaper than water.”

Matt says he stayed sober on his wedding day by focusing on others. “[I tried] to be of service to my wife,” he said, “and make sure everyone was having a fun time.”

For Matt, watching his intoxicated relatives’ “tomfoolery” was an incentive to stay sober. But other couples aren’t having it.

Amanda, 28, who works in the fashion industry, says she made a very difficult decision to not invite one of her closest childhood friends because he’d gotten drunk and made a scene some months before at a mutual friend's wedding. 

“It might seem somewhat drastic,” Amanda said, “but I had an intimate dinner party and I wanted the atmosphere to be really calm and safe, without the threat of someone throwing me off balance.”

The desire for a calm space is just one reason why some couples opt for a dry wedding.

Both my husband and I are sober,” said Rebecca, 35, who works in criminal justice, “so when it came time to whether or not to serve alcohol, we decided against it.” For Rebecca, the decision to have a dry wedding was less a fear of temptation than it was an issue of cost. “I wasn’t going to shell out 5K for something I didn’t drink!”

Cade, 36, works at a property management company. She and her partner, Max, are also choosing to host a sober wedding. 

“I initially thought, oh, of course we would have booze at the wedding because I don't care and my fiancé loves champagne,” Cade says. “but it was actually he who insisted [we didn’t]. Max said, I want you to be able to eat and drink everything at our wedding.’”

Cade says the decision was made easier because most of her friends are also sober. “His friends are younger and I think they might need convincing,” she said, “but he knows how important my sobriety is to me and really to us.”

Alyssa Mooney, from A Practical Wedding, reminds couples considering sober receptions that it’s their wedding. She says, “Even if the reason is monetary or just personal beliefs, there’s no reason you have to have alcohol.”

One way around the awkwardness of throwing a sober wedding may be to choose a venue that prohibits alcohol. Religious institutions and public parks, for example, generally don’t permit alcohol to be served. Sometimes venues prohibit alcohol for liability reasons. Others disallow drinking because they just don't have a liquor license.

If you’re not drinking and don’t really expect many of your guests to drink much either, you might go with a cash bar or limited service. Otherwise, be prepared to pay—whether you (and your guests) drink or not.

“The restaurant I chose had a requirement that we pay for a ‘drinks’ package per person per hour,” Amanda said. “This really annoyed me because half my guests were sober, too, and wouldn't be drinking anything nearly as expensive as the per hour fee.”

Kelly, 31, a writer, is getting married in February. At three-and-a-half years sober, her big concern, she says, is “making everyone happy”— drinkers and non-drinkers alike. Her solution is to have a variety of options for everyone, including mocktails and non-alcoholic beer.

Kelly informed her wedding planner that there’d be both drinkers and non-drinkers in attendance, and that she specifically doesn’t drink. “I don’t want to be given a glass of champagne on accident or drink a regular beer instead of an non-alcoholic beer by mistake,” she says.

That’s exactly what happened to Katherine, 29, surgical coordinator, who says she was offered a champagne cocktail straight after walking off the aisle. “I basically shouted ‘I'm pregnant.’" Which she was. “[It was] the most legit excuse ever!”

So what if you’re not pregnant, and you don’t necessarily want to out yourself as an alcoholic? When it comes to weddings, you can get away with just saying you’re not drinking that day. Most people (except, uh, maybe alcoholics) won’t think twice.

Randi Newton, who authors a column all about being divorced and dating sober, said she and her now-ex deliberated over whether or not to have booze at their very small ceremony, ultimately deciding to have a bartender with a small bar. “I drink La Croix likes it’s going out of style, so I always have one of those in my hand,” Randi said.

Randi says it helped that both she and her partner, who was also sober, had a lot of time in recovery. (She had five years, he had over 10.)

Having time helped me, too. As with any ‘big day,’ I knew to keep it simple and lower expectations. When it came to our wedding, my fiancé and I envisioned a festive dinner and chose a restaurant based on its location and menu. Our priority was that everyone had an enjoyable and memorable night.

With nearly a decade of recovery, I know how to ride out uncomfortable feelings. I know how to keep myself busy and be of service. Interestingly, I learned that weddings trigger all sorts of complicated feelings—not just for the couple getting married, but also for the guests. Just because I was the bride didn’t mean I couldn’t also be a good daughter, sister, cousin, and friend.

Even if people know you’re sober, chances are someone won’t, and you’ll receive at least one celebratory bottle. When this happens, my advice is to be gracious. The night before my wedding, the hotel surprised me at the door of my room with a congratulatory bottle of wine. Not that it was a temptation—still, I was anxious and all alone. After awkwardly blurting out to the bell hop that I didn’t drink (as if he cared), I accepted the bottle, knowing I wouldn’t drink it but it wouldn’t go to waste. My husband and I served it some weeks later at our first dinner party as a married couple.

The next morning, my bridesmaids enjoyed mimosas while I drank a fancy coffee as we got dressed. Later, throughout our dinner reception, my partner and I socialized with our guests. I barely found time to sit and eat, let alone get wasted like I would have had I not been sober. The fact that there was no dancing after dinner was mostly due to the venue we chose, but in retrospect I realize this kept me from having to watch the wedding party get progressively drunker. Near the end, my husband was invited to take a congratulatory shot. While he did that, I ate his cake.

All the while, I was surrounded by my sober support system. Understanding people will help you keep your cool, and your sobriety, from first tasting through last toast. 

My wedding day—like every day for the past near-decade, really—was so much better sober than if I had been drunk. I wish I had known that in the beginning, when I was struggling to say “I do” to sobriety. 

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