Follow @neilsteinberg“Red or white?” is the traditional question. When your answer is “neither,” it can throw a wrench in the gears of festivity.
I remember standing in the fancy kitchen of a fancy home before a fancy dinner party. Our hostess, bottle in each hand, realized that she had a guest who, astonishingly, did not drink. She looked desperately around, then ended up sloshing tap water into a cut crystal glass and thrusting it into my hand.
The holidays are upon us. With the biggest drinking holiday of the year lining up with Saturday night, some people are trying to navigate the arrival of New Year’s without ending the weekend in the hospital.
Doing publicity for my new book on recovery, I’ve had a number of hosts — TV, radio, podcasts — ask, “How do you cope with the holidays?” I offer some glib reply, but what I really want to say is, “You know Scott, the very same not-drinking-today strategy I use on March 2 and Sept. 3 also works amazingly well on Christmas and Dec. 31.”
But that’s condescending. And simplistic. I understand it’s hard for many people to get their heads around going to a holiday party and not drinking. It’s like going to the movies and hanging out in the lobby. What’s the point?
Follow @neilsteinbergA few tips.
First, recognize it is possible. People do it. I’ve gone through a dozen dry New Year’s and, let’s see, 24 dry Seders — two a year — and with those God specifically orders you to drink. Sorry God. They were still fun, more fun, to be honest, than when the bottle was parked miserably at my elbow.
It also helps to have a plan. To say to yourself ahead of time, “I’m not drinking.” That way, if you get confused when confronted with an open bar, you can refer back to your plan. (“What am I doing tonight? Oh, right, not drinking.”)
It also helps to have a point. If the point of parties for most is pounding back booze, and that isn’t your point, then what is? I try talking with people.
Yes, that leads to small humiliations. I was at a New Year’s Eve party where the host took the trouble of securing a bottle of non-alcoholic champagne, which struck me as very thoughtful.
“This is very good,” I said at one point in the evening.
He made a face. “How good could it be?” he scoffed.
Ouch. But I made accommodations. His champagne was not non-alcoholic.
Observe instead of imbibe. Drunk people are the best ambassadors for sobriety imaginable.
There used to be a lovely Irish pub on Clark Street called Celtic Crossings. I went there — exactly a decade ago — with a friend who certainly was drinking.
The bar was packed, and we fell in with a bunch of straight-off-the-boat types who were urging us to go with them to a party somewhere. I wasn’t doing that; I was heading for the station to catch the 9:45 home. I thought I’d do my pal a favor and drag him along.
“Come with me!” I shouted. “If you go with these lads, you’ll end up face down on the floor at 5 a.m.”
Which is more or less what happened to him, because he declined. So I’m moving through this crowded bar toward the door and my buddy noticed.
“Oi!” he shouted across the room, pointing, indignant. “You’re doing that SOBER thing!!!”
The fresh air felt good after the beery bar. I smiled and thought, “There are many drawbacks to not drinking. You miss excitement and camaraderie. But one big upside is, you know when it’s time to go home.”
That stroll across Clark Street has stayed with me. Feel free to imbibe and celebrate, if there’s no reason not to. But if there is, you can have more fun if you don’t drink. Give it a try. You won’t regret it. Nobody ever woke up and thought, “Gee, I wish I had gotten drunk last night.” But many people wake up regretting doing so.