Monday, June 15, 2009

Reader Query: Alcohol

Dear Om Gal:
Hopefully the subject of this question doesn’t lead you to believe I should be in AA. On the contrary, I’m super active (yoga/running/outdoors), in a health care profession, and trés social. The last part has challenged me as I'm trying to up my mileage and train for this half marathon in September.

I love my friends, and we have a great time when we "go out," but I'm at a point where I kinda don't want to drink—for like, A WHILE. I've taken weeks off and still gone to restaurants/bars with friends and just had water or tea but never done it for more than a week or two. I'm just worried people are going to be like, "Where is Julie?!?!?" (I know, I know, I'm not freakin' Carrie Bradshaw, but there is a "scene," and with disdain and humiliation, I have to say I am in it and kinda don't want to be totally ousted). It's not like my whole social life revolves around drinking; I have friends I go to yoga with, a friend I run with, a few girls who will hit up a random Zumba class or art thing with . . . but in general I feel like my friends rely on me to "go out hard" every once in a while.

Do you have any advice on how to lay off the booze and keep my social network intact over the period of a month or two? I'm thinking of doing fast/cleanse/spiritual thing in the next week or two, which would be the starting point of a longer no-alcohol thing.

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance,
Julie, 24

Hi Carrie Bradshaw, I mean, Julie:

I understand your dilemma and can offer a very simple resolution: Pretend you’re pregnant. I do it all the time.

OK, I’m kidding; however, I agree that being a non-drinker in certain social circles can require some creativity. While my closest friends are mostly yogis and athletic types who opt not to drink much, I also work in media by day (translation: an industry wherein some all but keep flasks in their file cabinets), so I can empathize with your fear of being socially “ousted” if you choose a path sans the sauce.

It’s a commendable and important practice to be able to oust alcohol from your life at will and for any given amount of time. At the risk of sounding incredibly reductive, the bottom line is this: If you don’t want to drink: Don’t. Furthermore, if your friends don’t think you’re fun or fabulous while sober, then- you guessed it- they’re not real friends. Nothing is sadder to watch than a group of friends who are incapable of socializing or bonding with one another without booze.

More than likely, your friends will be fine with your decision to detox, as long as you’re fine with it. If, on the other hand, the sober version of yourself finds your pals’ tipsy antics unbearable, then you’re better off sticking to social activities that don’t involve alcohol, such hiking dates and Zumba classes, at least for a while. Remember, it’s a personal decision not to drink; your friends should support it, but they don’t have to emulate it. If your pal wants to put a lampshade on his head and sing an off-key rendition of Po-Po-Po Poker Face, then let it ride. Preaching to drunk people that they shouldn’t be drinking is a lose-lose situation. You’ll become frustrated, and they’ll think you’re a total drag.

The bottom line is that if you’re secure with your decision and able to let loose and have fun without alcohol, then by all means, put on your sassy sling backs and hit the club Carrie Bradshaw style!

Initially, it might take some fancy footwork to dodge the free drinks sent your way by the Mr. Bigs of the world, but over time, it will be a breeze, with the rewards FAR outweighing the sacrifices. In the interim, here are a few tips on how to stealthily skip the booze:
  • Be the D.D. and volunteer to drive. If your pals know they’re benefiting from your sobriety, then they’ll be less apt to complain about it.
  • Choose your signature “cocktail.” If I’m in social situations where there’s pressure to drink, I’ll order a club soda with lime but request that the bartender put it in the same glass as a cocktail so that it looks like a vodka soda or gin and tonic (often sodas are served in larger, more conspicuous glasses). Bartenders are happy to interact with sober people for a change, so they’re always willing to oblige. At a recent work event, a kindly bartender “mixed” my drink of choice, slid it across the bar, and even sent me on my way with a convincing, “Go easy on that one; I made it pretty stiff.”
  • Participate in the revelry. Just because you’re not drunk doesn’t mean you can’t let your hair down. Plus, at the point in the night, err, early morning when your crew is at their silliest, they can’t tell who’s been drinking anyway. In my experience as an observer of drunk people, some are happy drunks; some are mean drunks, but nearly all are egocentric drunks, which is not the same as being egotistical. It simply means that people whose senses are impaired by alcohol tend to focus their attention more squarely on their own personal experience: I am having fun. I want pizza. I think it’s a brilliant idea to steal Mike Tyson’s pet tiger. (While we’re on the topic of drinking, go see The Hangover, it’s hysterical, and the tiger reference will make sense). In other words, the more your pals drink, the less they’ll care how little you do.
  • Plan your exit. It’s likely that as your drinking decreases so will your tolerance for drunken behavior, which is why it’s important to have an exit strategy. Therefore, if you’re not interested in being around for last call or hitting the after-party or the after-after party, be sure you have the ability to duck out without stranding anyone or hurting feelings.
To borrow your terminology and in the interest of disclosure, I haven’t "gone out hard" in years. I'll have wine on occasion or a beer at a summertime BBQ or Sox game (that’s Red not White Sox, Ms. Chi-town). For me, this was a gradual decision that felt very natural, and to be fair, I was never a huge drinker to start. Moreover, the longer I practiced yoga, the better care I took of my body; the less sense it made to feed it with unhealthy food and drink. That’s not to say that I don’t have my vices (chocolate and caffeine, please!) or that my path should be your path, but I can relate to your desire for a new direction.

I wish you much luck and clarity on your new path and hope that you walk it in absurdly fabulous heels, just as Carrie would. Remember, "the scene" is about fun and connection, and as long as you're having fun, your friends will feel connected to you no matter what you're sipping.



Eco Yogini said...

great advice. I think it's too bad that this sort of 'peer pressure' for lack of better terminology still exists. I have several friends who 'opt out' of drinking and there's never been any issues.
While living in BC there were several pressured moments to smoke (it's very accepted in British Colombia- although still illegal, everyone and their dog smokes weed), and it was a weird feeling. Like being in high school again. Mostly, I just stood my ground and it turned out fine.
Real friends won't drop you because of your life choices :)

Anonymous said...

Great advice RRP. Ordering a soda water and lime is a great call, I have been doing it for years.