I recently had a dinner with 3 of my nearest and dearest friends (aka, my “Tribe”). A couple of them I have known since I was around 5 years old. We laughed for hours, and caught up on old times. They know I no longer drink and that I am an alcoholic. During the night they proceeded, with a slight caution (which I missed), to have a couple of drinks. During our conversations one of my friends brought up the topic of drinking in front of me. She wondered if it was ok, and wondered how it made me feel. It was at that point that I realized something I had not thought of since quitting drinking; do I need to reassure those close to me in certain situations that it’s ok to drink in front of me and not just assume that they know?….
I have thought about that question a lot since that night. I don’t go out a lot, so I am not very exposed to situations where I am with others who are drinking. I remember being really nervous of these situations in early sobriety. One of the first times I was at a coworkers party. I bought grape juice and hid it in my purse, and when I was poured a glass of Merlot, I went into the bathroom, poured it out, rinsed the glass, and replaced it with the grape juice. That was exhausting, but it was where I was at in my sobriety at that time and I had to do what I had to do. As I have gotten more comfortable, I simply ask for an iced tea or water and use one of my prepared responses if asked why I’m not drinking (I’m not feeling well, I have to pick up my kids, I’m on medication, etc.) and that typically does the trick. Sometimes, more so now than before, I simply respond with “I don’t drink” and I am comfortable with that. One time when out with my husband’s friends, I ordered my iced tea and his friend’s wife blurted out, “What is going on, are you an alcoholic or something?” That one stumped me for a brief moment as I hadn’t had anyone yet come right out with it. I briefly paused (I am sure I had a stunned look on my face) and said, “Yes, I am an alcoholic”, partially because it happened so fast that I didn’t have a lot of time to think of anything else but the truth and also in part because I knew we’d be seeing them a lot and I may as well just put it out there. She ended up telling me that her late father was an alcoholic and asked me a bunch of questions. In a way I felt I helped her that night and perhaps that was what was meant to be. Maybe I was needed to be open and honest so she would understand the disease better?
No matter what the scenario, the question that was asked to me the night with my Tribe made me think more about this topic. The difference with this group of women is that they have known me since childhood up to my active alcoholism and everything in between. They each tried with all their hearts to get me to stop drinking during the depths of my disease and I turned away from all of them, because at that time, I had surrendered to drinking and that was the most important thing to me, at any cost…including friendships. Now, to have these women back in my life on better terms means the world to me. I assumed that night that they just knew I wasn’t going to drink because they know I’ve been sober for almost 3 years and they always have my back. What I did NOT consider is that they may have been confused and unsure of what to do, if having drinks in front of me would be uncomfortable or maybe even a trigger? I am so used to thinking about how I am going to handle situations with alcohol, that this time I needed to get out of myself and think about how they may feel and not just assume. I am lucky enough to be able to continue to make living amends to them and part of that is letting them know that it’s ok for them to have cocktails, they aren’t the alcoholic, I am. That although I still have the “isms” of the disease, the desire to drink has been lifted and it would not offend me at all for them to drink. That proactive approach is new to me, but I will use it with those where it is appropriate, because it may be on other people’s minds in future scenarios and sometimes it helps to lay the cards on the table in the beginning.
The way I see it, there are always going to be times where I have to decide which path I am going to take around people in drinking situations. For me, each may be different depending on the audience and that’s ok. But I was so thankful to my friend for broaching that topic with me because it really made me think. This disease can be selfish, and in sobriety, I have to remember it’s not always about me. So my answer to the question of “Is it ok if I drink in front of you?” will always be “Yes, please help yourself” and THAT is the truth.