Editor’s note: This piece was written in 2019, when we could safely do fun things like attend weddings. The message is still as important and valid as ever.
This weekend I went to a wedding at a friend’s house. As we chatted with fellow guests, my partner and I stood in line at the bar.
“What can I get you?” the bartender smiled. “We have everything!”
“Great!” I cheered. I was thirsty. “Something non-alcoholic please.”
The bartender’s cheery demeanor immediately turned to one of perplexity. He wasn’t expecting this, apparently. Befuddled by my request, he told me there was juice and water bottles in the cooler around the corner. So… the kids cooler.
Yeah, I know the drill. I’ve been sober almost two years and I know all about the kids cooler. And yet I go into every social gathering, every wedding, every restaurant with almost a Pollyanna hope. Maybe the sober curious movement is making a ripple in the food and beverage industry. Maybe this time they’ll have the non-alcoholic (NA) beer they said was out of stock last time. Maybe they’ve finally updated their menu to have NA options that are fun and flirty and celebratory.
But we still have a long ways to go, don’t we? And at every social gathering, I still ask for my drink in a wine glass or a tumbler. And I ask for a lime wedge because, yes… it’s more fun. And yes… it makes it look less like a kid’s juice box and more like a grown up drink.
And yes, I don’t drink but that doesn’t mean my taste buds died. I still like festive drinks in fun glasses with pretty colors.
Yet more often than not, I wind up digging through the ice of a kids cooler, looking for something NA besides apple juice and Capri Sun.
You stand out if you’re not drinking. You get questioned if you’re not drinking (“are you pregnant?”). You look and feel out of place, especially if you’re new in your sobriety. Sometimes… you even get ridiculed or pressured to have one.
Being sober in a world that idolizes booze feels like a target on our back. A target I never asked to be there. A target I never expected.
Quitting drinking was hard. But navigating in this boozy culture as the only non-drinker at almost every event, networking party, every wedding? That’s harder.
A little inclusivity would go a long way. Offering NA options at your party. Throwing out non-alcoholic suggestions when you offer to buy someone a drink? It’s an easy, inclusive concept that might make a big difference for someone newly sober and struggling.
Time to change the narrative. Someone’s reason for not drinking is none of our business. Let’s offer more NA options and less sideways glances. It would go a long way.