When I tell people that I don’t drink, they tend to look at me as though I’ve just revealed, very casually, that I eat children for breakfast. They’re often shocked. Suspicious. A bit confused. There is nearly always a demand to know why.
(It’s strange really, because there are lots of other things I don’t do – I don’t smoke, take drugs or listen to jazz music – but no one seems bothered about any of that…)
Alcohol has become such a big part of our culture and way of life that not drinking is a bit unusual – it can make you stand out. And when you’re going against the norm, you’re far more likely to be judged by others.
The fear and anxiety of worrying about what other people think is the last thing you need in early sobriety. You’re working on something pretty amazing and you just don’t need that kind of hassle! If this is something you’re struggling with right now, try these four steps:
Stop judging yourself.
We have an amazing ability to get other people to judge us for the things we judge ourselves for. When I first stopped drinking, I felt very self conscious about it. I wasn’t really sure if I was overreacting or not, and I didn’t know how long I’d be doing it for. I felt like a boring, sober loser who made other people feel a bit awkward. I seemed to have a neon sign above my head that invited other people to shout, “Oh my god! You’re not drinking?!”
Yet the minute I stopped judging myself for not drinking, I started getting fewer questions about it. When I stopped acting as if it was a big deal, so did everyone else. The bottom line is, we get to set the tone around this stuff.
Don’t chase other people’s approval.
If you’ve explained why you’re not drinking and they still think you’re weird, then you need to stop chasing their approval. Trying to control how other people think and feel about you will drive you insane. You just have to accept that for some people, the idea of giving up booze is a bit like giving up breathing. If they think you’re mad for quitting, then you can’t do much about it. Just remember that their reaction says a lot about them and their drinking, but very little about you.
I know this sounds trite, but it’s really hard for other people to judge you when you’re happy about your decision. So don’t do what I did and hide away in a corner being all apologetic about stuff, acting as if you’d love to drink but, you know, you just can’t. Instead, show everyone what a good time you’re having and how brilliant a decision this is for you. If you have to fake a bit of confidence at first, then so be it. Who knows – if you act like you don’t give a damn, then you might just find you don’t!
Get some support.
You do need people in your life who you can talk to about this stuff. It doesn’t matter whether you find them online or face-to-face, the most important thing is that they get it. When you have that kind of support available, you’ll be a lot less bothered about what other people think.
Now, I’d love to hear from you.
How do you overcome the fear of being judged by others? What do you do to manage the anxiety that comes along with going against the grain? I’d love to hear your best tip!
I’m still figuring out how to tell people I don’t drink and don’t plan on drinking ever again. Currently, I’m just declining drinks. Usually, I tell them about my early morning workout (which is true) and they let it go. I feel like the more I work through my story the more confident I will be at owning it, sharing it and being proud of it.
You can be só proud! I wish I was as confident as you are right now; the mother inlaw and husband make it quite difficult for me, when I order water; I get champagne? I mean why? I will get there, just like you! Keep going, and stay strong! Take care
I am older than most of the Sober is the new black group. I have gotten to a place in life where I don’t care what anyone else thinks about what I do or don’t do. I only care what God thinks
You too x
I feel proud being able to be honest with myself and others concerning my health and wellbeing!
I told my friends and family that alcohol was messing up my new hormone replacement therapy meds and there have been no further comments, just support and concerns about how I am feeling. By the time I “get my meds straightened out,” they (and I) will be used to the sober me! 16 days AF and I’m loving it and feeling so much better and my moods have stabilized. Thanks, Kate for the website and your support!!
Hi! I started to get really bad migraines as a result of perimenopause and that was one of the main triggers for me stopping my white wine habit. I’ve found it’s been readily accepted by others and so I don’t need to go into anything else. 🙂 Seems medical reasons are fine because they don’t press any buttons for others.
Excellent topic! I get so angry when people I thought were my friends give me such a hard time for not drinking! I want to lash out and tell them off but I’ve learned it isn’t worth it. I mean, c’mon, if we told people “we quit shooting heroine into our veins” they’d be congratulatory! But tell them you gave up alcohol?! GASP!! They make me feel like I’ve given up breathing and smiling. WTH? Oh, and don’t get me started on the parties I’m no longer invited to. That said, I have never been happier since giving up alcohol and I’ve taken a closer look at my group of friends and made a few “adjustments.” ALL GOOD STUFF!
You are so right..Well done!!
I just told my sister-in-law that I am no longer drinking, she asked why and I told her. Her response was to tell me she loved me and would support me and my decision anyway she could. Feeling blessed for sure.
I think this article made so many great points. I think that a lot of time people ask, and they are not trying to be rude. That is why I don’t mind being asked, although I struggle with how much is “polite” to divulge. At first, I didn’t really care about my “reason” and hadn’t had anyone really ask. I think that is because I was mainly around my family and closest friends who all knew my true reasons because I had conversations with them about it. But lately, I have been getting more questions, as I start to do different activities again with new people. My father is an alcoholic, and so are 3 of his siblings. That is one of the countless reasons for not drinking anymore, watching what it has done. The only way to guarantee I don’t become an alcoholic too is to stop drinking. But, that really brings a party down. So I think I am going to just say I feel better when I don’t drink, which is the honest truth. I tried saying that I was on antibiotics, but that actually lead to more question and is untruthful.
Your attitude totally sets the tone. The bigger deal you make of it, the bigger deal it will be to other people. But it does help if you are totally sure of your decision. Once you prove to yourself that you don’t have to drink to have fun, it is a lot easier to be confident. After you learn that, you start to care a lot less what other people think about your decision. Sometimes you might be brought down by someone’s comment, but that’s life. I will say, I have noticed I am quicker to remind myself how great it is for ME, and those comments mean less because I know this.
I love this blog, I think that it does a lot for talking honestly about alcohol in our culture. I think that we need more positive conversations about choosing not to drink alcohol. I love that this website is doing something to change things!
I don’t have that problem at all, probably the opposite! When I tell people I am not drinking anymore they are happy! Every single person has said “Good for you” or “congrats!” Probably because they know how poorly I handle alcohol!
I am similar to you, Kate. I am 3 years sober so no more questions really because everyone knows. I look and feel better ( even though I am on chemo at the moment) and I am quite happy to say I was drinking too much and wanted to see what life was like without it and because I found it suited me, I stuck with it. Many of my friends say they would like to do the same as me and admire my will power. It becomes totally normal after a while and the “shall I or shan’t I?” disappears and so do the guilts. I love being sober and I feel much more like the real me!
Exactly! I love being the real me too. I hope the chemo goes ok Laura and you feel better soon.
Today’s blog comes at the perfect time! This afternoon I have a get together with some ladies from work. We have all been off for the summer (American public school) so haven’t socialized with most of them in quite a while. The invitation was to “bring your favorite bottle of wine”. I am 125 days AF. My day to day struggles have mostly gone, but the “occasions” are still challenging. I want to go in confident and make it no big deal because I don’t want the whole school staff to know my story! I agree it is strangely backwards to have to explain why you have chosen not to put drugs in your system! For awhile I was going to use the medication excuse (which technically is true since I am not supposed to mix alcohol with medicine I take, but always have done so), but now I think I want it to just stand on its own. I have stopped drinking because I feel better without it (also true!). The get together today is short. Just two hours, and I know I can just leave if it gets too hard. I love my new life and at this point, feel passionate about fighting to keep it.
You sound like you have the right attitude Bridget. Good luck today – I’m sure it will go well. And congratulations on your 125 days!
Good for you! I don’t want to make up an excuse such as medicine or an early workout for why I’m not drinking! I understand it may be easier for others and that is fine for them but for me, I am proud to be AF and have never been happier – why should I lie or make up stories for that? Why should WE, the ones that have chosen to live a healthy life and not put drugs into our bodies, be the ones feeling awkward in this situation?
Another good topic for a future blog is why do people, once I tell them I don’t drink, feel the need to tell me how “little” they drink…as they are slurring their words and sloshing their drink down the front of their shirt?? My answer is usually something like “ummm….ok, thanks for telling me that??” (They are drunk, they never pick up on, or remember, my sarcasm! A sober girl has gotta have fun ya know!? 🙂
Ha ha – I’ve been there! Often it’s the most drunk who are the most keen to tell you they really, really don’t drink very much…
This is timely for me. I am remaining AF and the occasion thing for me is around work dinners. My team is made up of all men and big drinkers. In the past I have been right there with them but I’m done with that. I have a dinner tomorrow night and committed to my plan. Not sure yet that I will say anything and just order soda water. If they say anything I’ll simply say not tonight. Thanks for the added support !!
I’ve been to 2 weddings recently, and this blog has really helped me to be more lighthearted in my conversations regarding drinking/not drinking. The bartender is usually very happy to open some sparkling cider or stock some Odoul’s in the cooler for me. When offered alcohol I just say no thanks. When asked why I am not drinking, I try to keep things simple and positive. I just list the things which are better in my life when I don’t drink. I tend to say, “Well, I just feel so much better when I don’t drink. I have so much more energy and clarity of thought. My body feels better. I still have so much fun when I’m not drinking that it’s no big deal for me to do without it.” Most people respond by saying “wow, I wish I could do that” and thinking a bit about it. I know that I shouldn’t drink, but they don’t need to know all of the details about my sordid relationship with alcohol. Lighthearted is definitely the best approach for me. Thanks Kate!
Completely agree – keeping things simple, light hearted and positive is the way to go!
Thank you for creating such a positive site for women who want to live alcohol free. I stumbled across your old blog, read every word, and then moved to your sober school site. I have been encouraged and motivated by your writings and kindness. I too, am on an AF journey. Today’s topic, overcoming the fear of being judged by others and managing the resulting anxiety is a huge issue for me. I have always been a people pleaser and fear negative appraisal of others. I had a very negative experience in the huge 12 step program, which only intensified this irrational pattern of thinking. At this point I try to remind myself that it is impossible for me to please everyone, and that other peoples opinions are not necessarily of much value to me or to my journey. I do not say this with a mean spirit, but to put things in their proper prospective. As for telling others that I don’t drink, the people in my life that are most important to me, my husband, and my adult children, know that I am on this path. If offered a drink, I ask for water; I don’t owe anyone an explanation. If they pursue I say “I’m fine with the water, thank you.” I look forward to my Monday emails! Have a great week. 🙂
I am so happy I have found this wonderful school. I lefted school at a very young age having to look after myself. My education came from travelling for a few years to find myself. Sounds crazy but I’m grateful for the difficult times & the incredible people who came into my life. The only downside is the wine witch. Have been drinking since I was very young on & off for 35 years, scary! thankfully I don’t care what people think if I don’t drink but I’m trying to take a good look at myself as I’m not caring when I do drink. We have friends who don’t drink & friends that do. Grateful that nobody cares who does or doesn’t drink. I love the saying “It’s not my business what people think or say about me” I’m looking forward to being part of the school & learning how to say NO xxx
Feeling lost and lonely at the moment and not sure who I am or where I fit now I have stopped drinking. It’s hard! Good to see I’m not alone though X
Hey Lucy. I’m starting my journey too, well that’s how I’m going to look at it. I’m sure we will fit in life somewhere but we’ll just be a different piece of the jigsaw puzzle. I have felt terribly lonely encased in my habitual drinking but I’m hoping that once I no longer drink there will be no reason to shut myself away with alcohol. What’s more I will be sober and able drive! Not sure I’ll have the confidence to start meeting new people straight away so planning a drive out and maybe a walk by the sea. You’re not alone ☺ let’s stay strong
I can totally relate to all your comments it makes me feel like I’m not alone and it’s possible to overcome
I love this website! Bit late commenting on the blog… I am only on day 10 and already feel so much better and brighter. I can’t tell you how many sleepless nights I’ve had after drinking too much – feeling guilty and thirsty. This weekend I’m going for dinner with friends and I’m dreading refusing the ‘glass of fizz’. Over the years, it has defined me, and they associate me with being fun and having a drink. I think they will all change their opinion of me and tell me I’m being boring when I refuse… there will be a lot of ‘oh, really, aren’t you even going to have one glass with us’, like I don’t care about them and I’m not prioritising the evening. Difficult.
That’s the biggest problem for me too Susie – I’m on day 8 but know i need to make this permanent. I figure the next day we won’t regret not having drunk!! Good luck.
Great advice. I definitely felt awkward about it at first. My excuse is “I’m training for long distance race x” And I always make sure x is within a forth night. it’s almost true, as I do race a triathlon or 10 miler or half marathon roughly once a month during the season. I’m not sure what I will be saying in the winter, but since eI’ll have lots of clothes on, people will probably jus assume I’m pregnant after I don’t give a reason. I have told maybe 4 closest girlfriends that I quit. They were very supportive of my decision, though one of them asked how my husband is putting up with it. WTF? Oh, because we had are first date at a wine bar. Ugh..
Hi everyone. I am a 40 year old woman who simply just had enough of all things associated with drinking. I was always the party girl since as long as I can remember, and although getting married and having two children slowed me down, it sure didn’t stop me. I never drank during the week, and saved it for my Saturday night “binges”,where I could easily down 7 or 8 drinks. The hangovers, embarrassment of how I acted, and exhaustion from not being able to sleep when drinking was just enough. The “boozy blues” would carry me into Monday, and I would feel like the worse wife and mother. This website has helped me so much, so thank you! My favorite post is “Weekends are more than one day”. So today it’s Sunday and I’ll be hiking with my family instead of puking and sleeping all day! I also am reading “Almost Alcoholic” which was a great recommendation.