I was shit-tired, relaxing at a work get together, drinking a can of Red Bull, when a colleague noticed I was neither A) drinking booze, nor B) enjoying myself as much as everyone else.
I was having a good time. It was a Friday evening, at least, so I guess I was in good spirits. I was smiling, I think, or at least I was trying to, it’s just Friday evenings don’t have the same joviality and sense of release they offered when I got shitfaced. Come to think of it, he probably didn’t notice the latter at all. I was imagining things. It was the can of Red Bull that gave me away. Now that I think about it, if I’d had a can of beer in front of me, or if I’d been standing on a table, a half-drunk bottle of champagne in my hand, singing ‘Lady In Red,’ I may have been a little more conspicuous.
Whatever it was, the guy turned to me and asked me why I wasn’t drinking. It’s probably worth noting at this point that he did so in Norwegian, the language they funnily enough speak in Norway, my place of residence.
The reason I mention it isn’t to add color to this story, or to show off about my being bilingual, it’s because to answer that question from an alcoholic’s perspective is a little more problematic in Norwegian. In English, I’d say, “Because I don’t drink,” and the person who asked the question would be able to fill in the blanks. They’d either assume I was alcoholic or one of those people who no one can relate to at a party who “doesn’t like the taste of alcohol.” But in Norwegian, you’d say the same sentence if you meant you didn’t drink at all or if you meant you weren’t drinking that evening. Or maybe my Norwegian just sucks, or my communication skills in general.
After I’d responded, probably getting the pronunciation all fucked-up, there was a moment’s silence, and then he asked, “Just tonight, or…?” It was one of those long ‘ors’, with the pause before it you could peel a banana in, the type that asks fifty questions all at once.
Let’s back up a bit. There’s a bit of exposition I left out. Part of my routine for staying sober is to listen to sobriety podcasts, to regularly reinforce and remind myself that drinking’s not for me. I suck balls at it. A drinking session for me starts with a beer in some bar in Oslo, and ends with me waking up in a boat off the coast of Poland, sleeping next to some fisherman’s dog. On one of these episodes of one of these podcasts, the host said nobody would notice when you’re not drinking at a party, or if they did, they wouldn’t care. And if the stars were aligned just right, or if it were a blue moon or some shit, and they did notice and happened to care, they definitely wouldn’t ask you about it.
But here I was, finding out that isn’t the case. At least where I live, on that certain evening, sitting next to that specific guy. Sure, the guy hadn’t asked me about it outright, but with that long-ass ‘or’ he may as well have asked me if I was prone to slapping my wife around when I got shitfaced on a Friday evening. At the least, it was one of the fifty questions he’d asked me.
I just came out and said it: “I don’t drink alcohol.”
Turns out I was wrong about what I said about Norwegian and its grammar letting down the alcoholic in that situation. That’s what I should have said. I don’t drink alcohol. But to be fair to me, in that social setting, with everyone else drinking at the table, and the way I shifted in my seat before I said, “I don’t drink,” the words Red Bull may as well have been replaced with Degenerate’s Pick-Me-Up.
Not that he’s to blame for this awkwardness. I’m the guy who ruined booze for myself. He didn’t force me at gunpoint to drink eight or nine or ten cans of beer every Saturday for as long I can remember. From his perspective, he’s just getting to know a colleague a little better, and the few beers he’d drunk had made him brave enough to do it. But from my perspective, with the fucked-up relationship with the shit he can put down just as easily as he can pick up, he may as well have been asking me what subgenre of porn I enjoy.
Tentatively, he asked something along the lines of, “Would it be intrusive to ask why?”
I thought a second, and then surprised myself by blurting out, “Yes,” before laughing to diffuse the awkwardness. Clearly, I’d handled this situation without embarrassing either one of us. I’d have one less person who’d bother to make small talk with me at the next work get together.
I’ve been thinking about this situation now and again the couple weeks since it happened, and how I can best handle it the next time I trade some shitty movie on a Friday evening for socializing with my work buddies. The coward’s way out would be to decant a can of non-alcoholic beer into a glass and hide the empty bottle under a shit-ton of toilet paper in the bathroom waste paper basket. But I didn’t manage to get sober by following the path of least resistance. I got sober precisely because I didn’t want to be a coward any longer.
And even if that were an option morally and spiritually, non-alcoholic beer isn’t my bag. The baby needs his bottle on a Friday night, and his new bottle is laced with eye-bulging levels of caffeine.
I have to also consider that I don’t exactly want to advertise in a work setting that I’m shit at drinking moderately.
The best response I can come up with when someone asks me The Big Question is this: Smile, pause a couple seconds—the length of time it takes me to work out how to prepare a mango—and then say “or…” with a creepy look on my face.
Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to follow Hilariously Sober by filling out the form at the top-right corner of the webpage. And if this post made you laugh out loud at least three times, don’t forget to feel mildly obligated to share this post with your friends on social media.
My works of fiction can be checked out here.
My mustachioed face can be looked at in greater detail here.