How to Talk About Addiction Without Ruining the Party

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How to Talk About Addiction Without Ruining the Party

By Emily Redondo 12/17/18

It's hard to know how to talk about addiction. But sometimes it isn't so much what we say, but how we show up, sober and accountable. We can ask ourselves: What message do I want to carry?

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Two women talking on a couch, one has a drink in hand. How to talk about addiction.
Most days don’t turn out exactly as planned, but I show up anyway without needing a drink to do it.

Party Time

Holiday parties are fast approaching, that time of the year when my “normie” friends like to throw parties and bring out the booze. I used to think everyone would notice I wasn’t drinking but the truth is, they don’t, but those who do notice are curious. What am I supposed to say to those people? How do I respond to their questions?

Depending on where I was in my sobriety, I handled holiday parties differently. Sometimes I didn’t go, other times just the smell of alcohol had me heading for the door. Now? I’m in a different place today and want to make sure I’m not crowned Ms. Party Pooper because I’m in the corner spewing off a drunk-a-log, ruining everyone’s Christmas buzz.

Should I Mention the Word Alcoholism?

How do I talk about a heavy subject and keep it light? Do I even want to bring it up? I don’t force the topic of alcoholism or addiction, but if it enters into conversation, I talk about it. It can be uncomfortable to start, but the majority of people I’ve spoken to are intrigued, especially if I keep it casual. 

Alcoholism and problematic drinking are common. How that came to be is too complex for party chit chat, but to put it simply, it’s a disease. I try to explain that “we” aren’t bad people, just sick, with an illness that centers in our brain. I’m not programmed like the average joe, and my body (receptors in my brain) responds to addictive substances differently than some folks. And that’s just the way it is. Untreated, chronic addiction can progress to fatal illness. 

What Is an Allergy Anyway?

Walnuts. It may sound strange, but that’s how I explain the allergy concept to normal drinkers. My sweet daughter Stella is allergic to walnuts, and sometimes they are in desserts. She knows that if she eats them she’ll break out into a rash, every time. That’s a fact. However, when staring down a delicious looking cookie, there are moments when she isn’t thinking about the allergy or its consequences. She wants the damn cookie, so she’ll eat it. But once she does, she can’t stop what happens next. That rash that breaks up her perfect skin is coming. She can’t pray it away, wash it off, cry, wish, reverse it, nothing. 

It’s the same with alcohol. I’m allergic. But in the past, I didn’t think about the consequences of what would happen after I took that first drink. It looked like a good choice in that moment. Sometimes it looked like my only choice. So I’d drink. And the alcohol would hit my bloodstream and work its way up to my brain and trigger the obsession and craving for another. All bets were off. I couldn’t will-power through it, wash it off, beg, cry, reverse it, nothing. It was bigger than me. 

Addiction is tough to explain. I have the disease, I go to meetings almost every day, and I still have days I’m at a loss for words. Most average people don’t talk about drinking, at least not in the ways that I do. But I’m also fully aware that practically every house in America has had some sort of connection with alcohol or drug abuse, whether through family or friends. 

My Love for Cucumbers

More than just a veggie, cucumbers are actually used to make pickles. Not everyone knows that. I didn’t realize that’s what happened down in my grandma’s creepy cellar. I just remember the cucumbers never came back, and my cousins and I would sneak down to stare at the mason jars, expecting to see strange animal parts but only finding pickles and jam.

I also remember being 16 years old, sitting in a speaker meeting with my sober mom on a Friday night. This man talked about being a cucumber himself for 35 years. It was his drinking analogy: one day a switch flipped for him and the way he drank. He became a pickle, and he’ll never be a cucumber again. Damn. I thought about that for years, despite the cheesiness in his analogy because it is easy to digest. There’s no shame in it. So when I’m faced with the daunting task of discussing alcoholism with curious people, this is great. Not everyone is destined to become an alcoholic: some of us stay cucumbers forever, and that’s terrific. You don’t have to hide your drink from me. In fact, I love cucumbers just as much as I love pickles.

But sometimes, for whatever reason, we find ourselves in our own mason jar, stuck in a dark place. That’s okay, too. I’ve had my turn in the cellar, more than once. At the time, I thought my life was over, but now it’s looking delicious.

The Happy Life in Sobriety

I don’t look so great on paper. I’ve got plenty of evidence of what a life wrapped in alcoholism can look like. Do I need to dish that out during casual conversations? Probably not. I’m already up against old images of drunks under bridges with brown paper bags when I bring up the topic. There are already plenty of warnings out there, whether it be in headlines, statistics, or personal experiences. I’d rather be an example of what recovery can look like. 

I’m still out here living life and having a great time doing it. I haven’t joined a cult or started wearing more sensible shoes. Most days don’t turn out exactly as planned, but I show up anyway without needing a drink to do it. I’m even hanging out with friends and family who enjoy my company again. 

Sometimes it isn’t what we say through words to others about alcoholism or the disease of addiction, but what we show them about our sobriety. In the end, I never truly know who is listening or watching, but I still remember when I was that middle-of-the-road drinker. Someone over the holidays might be paying attention. What message do I want to carry? I think I’ll keep it simple, spread some cheer, and throw in some hope just in case someone listening needs it.

Do you disclose your alcoholism or recovery at parties? How do you explain why you're abstaining? 

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Emily Redondo writes with wit and raw honesty about life as an alcoholic mother and her experiences being an active member in the recovery community. She’s been published on Genius Recovery, Medium, and is a contributing writer for Light Hustler. Visit her on Instagram or www.therealemilyredondo.com.

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