What will I drink if I can’t drink alcohol?

One of the things that I worried about, before I stopped drinking, is what on earth I would drink if I didn’t drink alcohol. It’s a common query; all the sober communities I know of have this question as a recurring topic, and we trade tips about sparkling elderflower cordial and dry ginger ale.

These days, conversations like that seem, if not boring, at least completely irrelevant.

Last night, LH and I had a ‘date night’ dinner of nice cheese, olives, smoked salmon and other nibbles on a platter. He drank red wine and made me a complicated mocktail of pomegranate juice, freshly squeezed lime and tonic water. He’s a sweetheart, my LH, but it made me realise how unimportant the whole ‘what to drink’ thing has become. I drink a lot of Diet Coke, these days, because it’s the only diet soda that doesn’t taste entirely of aspartame, and I drink a lot of coffee, and I have to remind myself to drink enough water in a way that I never did in my dehydrated drinking days.

Complicated mocktails are all very nice, but the effort involved seems disproportionate to the importance. I mostly enjoyed it for the gesture it represented, although the combination was delicious.

The process of giving up alcohol, for me, has largely been about discovering how completely unimportant alcohol actually is. I want to draw an analogy with the little man behind the Great and Terrible Oz in the Wizard of Oz, but that’s not right. It’s not right because behind the curtain is real sobriety, the thing we were afraid of, and sobriety isn’t a sad little man; it’s great and glorious and bigger than any terrible fear can be.

The mythology of alcohol is so powerful, though. Different drinks have a different effect on our moods (this is not borne out by science, by the way), there are special glasses out of which each drink should be drunk, some drinks are for certain occasions. What you drink is part of your social identity, like which football team you support or what clothes you wear. If you’re writing a hard-boiled cop character, you don’t describe him sipping Lambrusco from a stemmed glass; the latest It girl is unlikely to be drinking Jack Daniels and Coke unless she’s doing it originally; port is the sole province of musty old gentlemen in book-lined studies.

Who remembers back when smoking was still glamorous? Sobranies were the ultimate in glamour because they were long and slim and black; stylish women used cigarette holders; cigarettes didn’t live in packets but in special boxes; lighters were collector’s items. The paraphenalia of smoking is mostly gone now, but at the time it added to the allure. Alcohol has that going for it, too. It is not just about the drug, but about its accessories.

When I imagined myself as a non-drinker, it always seemed as if I’d be giving up a whole world. What would I drink with dinner? Should the answer change depending on whether I was having fish or beef? If I wasn’t holding a thin-stemmed glass, and instead my sparkling liquid was in a tumbler, did that infantilise me? So many little losses, so many little griefs.

What I realise now is this. When I asked ‘but what will I drink if I don’t drink alcohol?’ what I meant was ‘but who will I be if I am not a drinker?’. I no longer worry about what to drink, and I no longer worry about who I am. I just live.


10 thoughts on “What will I drink if I can’t drink alcohol?

  1. Reblogged this on club east: indianapolis and commented:
    Isn’t this one of the questions that pops up for any of us who have been sober just long enough to think we have some of our self-respect back in place? Allie does simply a yeoman’s job of putting honesty before feelings in this brutally honest post.
    “The mythology of alcohol is so powerful, though. Different drinks have a different effect on our moods (this is not borne out by science, by the way), there are special glasses out of which each drink should be drunk, some drinks are for certain occasions. What you drink is part of your social identity, like which football team you support or what clothes you wear.”
    Read the whole thing, particularly the killer closing ‘graph that puts everything in perspective where it belongs.

  2. I like what you said about it being who will I be if I’m not a drinker. I was terrified to find out. I was a closet drinker but it was so much a part of me that I didn’t know who I was without the booze. It truly defined me. Blessed with a great support system and an awesome sponsor, I faced and walked through the fear and found the “Me” I was supposed to be. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I stressed about this for ages, as I’m not a sweet tooth. I don’t like soft drinks. The act of making a mocktail doesn’t excite me, and I found I needed to get rid of “needing” to have a drink the moment I got home from work, so replacing it with nothing was the answer. It really doesn’t matter what you are drinking. It’s who you are without drinking.

  4. I never said much on the blogs where people were discussing their fave mocktails and talked about the glassware that they would pour their edlerberry sparkling beverage in, etc. because I had a strong opinion about that stuff at the time. Not sure how much it has softened for me, but suffice to say that replacements aren’t the way to go. Listen, some people don’t like coriander. Hate it. But guess what – only coriander tastes like coriander. You can dress watercress and parsley up all you want, but they aren’t coriander. So you go without coriander.

    Having a replacement is a slipperly slope for me. Like NA beer. In all those cases, I feel (just my opinion), is that we are drinking vicariously. And that’s not good for folks like me. Because I want the REAL DEAL. So I go the other way. Trash the stemware. Have water, sparkling water or the ocassional Coke. Sure those fancy mocktails can taste good, but I’d sooner put it in an old Gatorade bottle than dress it up like booze.

    Just sayin’ 🙂

    Great stuff.

  5. I’ve been sober for over 2 years. I miss having a drink but not willing to slide down the. “Slippery pole called life.” Sobriety is the best decision I’ve made, so far, and I’m not willing to toss that. I too drink too much diet coke, bu it is what it is.

  6. This post is so timely for me. After repeated Day Ones I’m trying a different tack and am going to blog every day for 30 days to try and get past the early days crash. Will you check out my blog (annieuk101.wordpress.com)? I really struggle with this what to drink instead of alcohol thing. I bought a really expensive bottle of wine last week because I thought I would drink it more slowly and appreciate it more. You can imagine what happened there. In these early days, I probably will make some mocktails, but in the long term I want to examine what these drinks have meant to me and your post helps me think about that. Annie x

  7. just starting out, and totally agree. Who will I be? What will I look forward to? As far as I’m concerned if I’m giving up alcohol then nothing else is off limits but nothing holds quite the allure. I still hold that romantic vision of drinking. And besides that, I love drinking, even out of a coffee mug to hide the evidence. What a long strange trip this is going to be.


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