My head is still foggy after my midnight flight back from Melbourne yesterday. I was there to surprise my oldest mate for his 40th birthday lunch. I was only in Australia for a day and a half but the travel has taken it out of me. I'm struggling to catch up on the sleep I missed and my brain is functioning at about 60% capacity. I had a great time catching up with my friend and his family. They were a special part of my early life, and still are. I didn't miss alcohol. Drinking would only have detracted from the purpose of the visit, to spend quality time with a friend I don't see often enough. I'm grateful I didn't fly back into the country with a hangover. In fact, I haven't had to recover from an alcoholic hangover in 137 days (if you add my few months of moderation, when I hardly drank, I haven't had a hangover in more than seven months).
That is something to celebrate.
I'm reluctant to drag the details of my mate's 40th into this blog, because I don't want to be seen to criticise his or other people's view of alcohol, and their view of people like me who don't drink. They are still on the other side of this, in the world where alcohol plays a role in their life, where they haven't questioned drinking to the same degree as I have. They may not need or want to question it and that is fine. It's up to them, not me.
It wasn't a particularly boozy affair. A few quiet drinks passed a few thirsty lips, but it wasn't a piss up. However my mate did notice I wasn't drinking, and I told him I'd given up. He then asked what I had been drinking at my own 40th which he came to a few weeks ago, and I replied:
"A couple of virgin mojitos, a couple of ginger beers and water."
He had just assumed I had been drinking that night.
Later, after everyone had left and there were just a few of us around the table talking, and the top was taken off a particularly potent smelling Chinese spirit called Dragon's Blood. A box of delicate coloured shot glasses were produced and my mate said: "You'll just have a little bit won't you?"
I called this post "when no means no" because I've found that often when you tell people you've given up drinking completely, they think that you must still have some from time to time, that you surely haven't given up totally. It's not like I was ambiguous when I told my mate I don't drink at all. Maybe he was struggling to separate the old drinking me from the new non drinking me. He has known the drinking version for a lot longer after all. Maybe he thought I wasn't being totally serious. Maybe he didn't completely understand the depths of my decision and the level of commitment I have to it - and how could he? Only I can truly understand what it is that I'm doing.
I drank shots of tap water as the others sipped the potent Chinese fire water. As his partner snapped photos of us clinking our glasses I wondered about how a photo of me seemingly drinking spirits would go down among my sober friends.
Perhaps because of my non-drinking, conversation centred on alcohol (specific types of drinks), drinking stories and even one of my own drinking follies, for what seemed like an unnaturally long time. I felt a little uncomfortable, but it wasn't consciously done to make me feel that way. It's just part of living sober in a world where most people drink.
In the morning it came up again and I had the opportunity to talk more about the benefits of my sober life, and the reasons for it. It was good to be able to add a bit of context in a sober environment.
It's interesting, because back in the day when my teenage mates and I were rushing headlong into copious amounts of beer drinking, this particular mate only ever had one or two or none. He was always a bit of an outlier in terms of not-going with the crowd in stuff like that. I admired him for it. He was far more wise and mature than the rest of us.
Far from feeling confronted, criticised, or undermined about my sober decision, I came away from the weekend feeling stronger about it. I accept that alcohol is a part of other people's lives. It is going to be at probably all of the big celebrations I attend in my life. I'm comfortable with who I am. And I don't mind shining a light on my sobriety if someone asks me about it.