Staying Cool When You're a Social Teetotaler

By Amy Dresner 12/29/15

Yes it's the new year, yes I like to be around people, and no, I don't drink. 


I thought I had fully accepted my alcoholism as I’m publicly “out” with my diagnosis in print, radio and film (sorry 12th tradition but anonymity has never been my strong suit). However, a throwaway comment from a complete stranger made me question my acceptance of my disease or my illness or whatever you choose to call it.

“Partying” is still correlated with “being cool” and I felt extremely uncool sitting there nursing an iced tea like some granny at a bingo parlor.

I was at some cheesy cantina chain owned by none other than Sammy Hagar for a screening of a short film the other night. There was an open bar of margaritas, wine and beer to accompany a free assortment of deeply fried angina-inducing appetizers. My status as “sober” had just been revealed to one of the actors at our table as he guzzled margaritas. I nonchalantly told him, “I totally don’t care if you drink. Doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Now if you were doing rails of coke off a stripper’s ass…then I might have a problem.”  

“I always feel like I have to ask if it’s okay,” he said. And I went on to explain that my alcoholism was my problem, not his or anybody else’s. Like if I was allergic to peanuts, doesn’t mean you can’t eat a Snickers bar around me.

Just then a tiny garrulous Asian girl scooted into the booth with her gangly buck-toothed British boyfriend who couldn’t shut up about his Jurassic Park obsession. I tuned out as I picked at a crappy overpriced ahi tuna salad. The screening was supposed to begin at 7:30 and by 8:15 I was starting to get antsy, tired from working all day. 

“Let’s get this party started,” I said to no one in particular, referring to the screening.

“Get the party started iced tea?” the Asian girl asked, laughing.

And that was it. I was triggered. My hackles went up. I wanted to launch into a whole tirade, “Oh bitch, you don’t think I can ‘party’? I’ll have a margarita if you want me to fuck your boyfriend and get Ronda Rousey on your ass. Party? Umm, my idea of a party, FYI, is shooting coke in my neck till I have back-to-back convulsions. My idea of partying is staying up for 17 days smoking crystal meth. So sure I’ll have a drink. You wanna see the cops in…oh say 25 minutes? Hope you know a good bailbondsman.”

But I said none of that. Miraculously, I said nothing.  

My boyfriend noticed I seemed tense all of a sudden and said, “Who cares? She doesn’t know you...and she’s Asian." (You must forgive him. He’s a comedian.)

He wasn’t drinking either, a normie who rarely indulges (weirdo) and that comment didn’t bother him in the slightest. He was drinking water. 

And it all got me thinking: WHY do I care? Well, because getting sober was far and beyond the single hardest thing I’ve ever done. Yes, all 9 times. And I cloak my shame about the extent of my addiction in being a “badass." In the program, there is that weird pissing contest; the worse you were, the cooler you are. But that shit doesn’t fly in the real world. In the real world, shooting coke in your dick or your eyeball isn’t punk rock, it’s sick and sad.

“Partying” is still correlated with “being cool” and I felt extremely uncool sitting there nursing an iced tea like some granny at a bingo parlor. I wanted to explain to this complete stranger that I was SO cool and partied SO hard that I had to stop. I partied so hard my partying license had been revoked!  And, listen missy, nothing is cooler than being sober, right? Ugh.

What I realized from her casual remark and my weird overreaction to it is that I’m not comfortable with my alcoholism if I can’t defend it by shocking you with my past horrific antics. I’m not comfortable with being judged as a possible uptight teetotaler. I’m not comfortable not drinking if you don’t understand the myriad reasons why I can’t drink and how hard it was to stop. And I need you to applaud and support me for all of it.  And yes, I know this is all totally ridiculous and it’s ego ruling the roost.

I shared my rage at a meeting and, of course, the whole room laughed in identification. One girl came up to me after and said, “A guy once told me, ‘Live a little.’ And I was like, ‘Oh you mean DIE?'” So I don’t feel totally alone in my insanity.

When I voiced my anger to my sponsor, he said, “It all sounds very trivial, honey. When was this, yesterday? Today is a new day.”

Two days later, I was at another meeting and the speaker told my story. And I wept the whole time. (Not easy to make me cry unless you’ve had sex with me.) Having another person, particularly a girl with a creepily similar background, hold up a mirror allowed me to see my using history objectively: the horror and the sadness, devoid of my humorously braggart posturing.  

My sponsor said this is all a chance to find more humility and compassion. Honestly, I’m not sure where being ashamed ends and humility starts but I’m willing to find out.

Amy Dresner is a columnist at The Fix.

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