I’ve been asked if I’m a monk. I’ve been asked how I raise three children without alcohol as if I’m doing it without oxygen. I’ve been given the side eye or the suspicious up and down glance that only comes from telling someone a fact and then they immediately become suspicious of you. But what I suppose bothers me the most about not drinking is being left out.
So, here are the facts. I don’t drink. This isn’t to say that I’ve never drank. I did, years ago. Mostly in high school, and a little bit in my 20s. I can’t say I ever really enjoyed it, although that doesn’t mean I can’t understand why others enjoy it. There are days when the kids make me want to light it all on fire, and I think to myself, I could use a drink.
And yes, there are reasons I don’t drink. The first, and usually the one most people want to discuss, is my Mormonism. I started practicing the religion in my mid-20s, and now I’m 36 and still active. But I actually stopped drinking before that. My father was addicted to painkillers and alcohol. He died when I was 19 because of his addictions, and I must say, watching your father die from substance abuse really ruins the party. He missed out on my kids. He didn’t see me graduate from college or get married. He should still be around, but he’s not. It’s pretty difficult for me to separate drinking from memories of my father, and shortly after he died, I put the bottle on the shelf and never took it down.
I think both are good reasons not to drink. Both are personal and easy to explain. But for whatever reason, for some people, a lot of people, there’s never a good reason not to drink. Now, check it out, I don’t understand that logic. I can’t. I don’t think I ever will. But the reality is, when asked if I’d like a drink, or to get a drink, or if I’d like something a little extra in my Coke Zero, and I say “No.” This isn’t a personal attack against you. It isn’t me judging you. And it isn’t a reason for you to exclude me, my wife, or my children from your social function. We can still party. We are still fun to be around. We can still engage in conversation and enjoy a meal with you, all while being sober.
Listen, we can still be friends even though I don’t drink, okay? We can. I promise. I’m not going to judge you. I’m not interested in convincing you to not drink. And I’m not a buzzkill. I don’t think I’m better than you, and I’m not bonkers or strange. I’m just a father of three, with a job and a mortgage and a pretty solid sense of humor. I like good conversation, and chances are, we have a lot in common once we all get past the fact that I’m always the sober one in the room.
I’m happy to drive you wherever, and I will laugh at whatever comes out of your mouth, sober or not, as long as it’s funny. If you are an irritating drunk, I won’t judge you for it. I just won’t sit next to you. Once again, not personal.
Just last week I was at a conference, and many of the attendees started drinking mid-afternoon, which is understandable. I must have been offered a million drinks and said no a million times and received a million suspicious looks that were unnecessary. But once we got past all that and everyone realized I wasn’t a cop, we all had an enjoyable time. We laughed and joked and it was wonderful. I wanted to scream, “See! I’m just like all of you!”
I’ve lost friends because I don’t drink. And that sucks. There’s no reason for it. Honestly, if you have a non-drinking parent friend, realize that they made a personal decision. They decided to not drink, and you should respect that. They are not strange, odd, or untrustworthy. You don’t have to try to trick them into drinking because you are 100% sure that if they just tried it, they would see the light and loosen up. They don’t have a stick up their ass. They don’t think they are better than you. They are not a person who doesn’t know how to enjoy themselves.
They simply don’t drink.
It’s all cool. Invite them out. Be their friend. Don’t comment. Don’t gawk. Don’t offer to buy them a drink over and over again. Just accept it and move on. The fact is, they have their reasons, and whatever they are, they are good enough. Then, once you’ve processed it all, be friends.