Early recovery for me was a scary time for many reasons, with one of the most frightening thoughts being what to do if I were at a party, celebration or wherever – and someone asked if I’d like a drink.


Since I was in no way willing to tell people I was in recovery, I figured this would be the end of the world. I was sure I would need to run away and hide, never to be seen again in North America – or even the entire northern hemisphere.

That was surely much easier than having to come up with some huge excuse as to why I didn’t want a drink at that exact moment in time, an excuse that didn’t disclose I was in recovery yet made it clear that I couldn’t drink or I’d die and vomit (not necessarily in that order).

Subsequently, I didn’t go out much. Especially not to parties, celebrations or anywhere else where drinking was sure to lurk. Staying home was easier than trying to come up with some creative yet believable yet still-keeping-my-secret reason why I didn’t want a drink.

But the dang question got me anyway.

Can’t hide from alcohol

It was a Wednesday night poetry reading I had been attending regularly. The event was held in a Brooklyn restaurant where drinks were on the menu but didn’t cause a concern since I simply didn’t order one.

Yet that particular evening it was one of the poet’s birthdays, which made another poet insist we all share a bottle of champagne.

Not only did everyone get handed a champagne glass, but we were all expected to stand up in a big circle and make a toast to the birthday poet. As the champagne bottle was coming around, I began to sweat. Maybe even shake.

What the heck was I going to do when the bottle got to me?

My thoughts were scattered and skittering as the bottle was approaching. Just as the poet man next to me turned to pour the champagne in my glass, I blurted out “No, I’m good with water.”

“You don’t drink?” he asked.

“No,” I shakily responded, sure the ceiling was about to crash down on my head, the floor was going to erupt in fire, and all poet eyes from around the circle would be directly and squarely boring through my skull.

The silence stretched for what seemed like eternity – until the poet man uttered there little words.

“Oh,” he said, “How odd.”

He then slammed his glass of champagne and went back to whatever he was doing, passing the bottle on to the next person.

This encounter taught me a very important lesson:

  • Most people don’t give a flying squirrel if you drink or not.

They honestly couldn’t care less. In fact, most people don’t even NOTICE pretty much anything we do – they’re all too busy thinking their own thoughts or worrying about themselves.

What a fabulous relief.

That said, there are still times when just saying NO to a drink doesn’t always appear to work. Some folks keep prodding, wanting to know why you’re not imbibing like the rest of the high-spirited crowd.

In those cases, here are a few ways to refuse a drink when you’re in recovery without disclosing you’re in recovery.

Refusing a drink when in recovery

No, I’m good with water. This works with soda or juice or glass of whatever else you have in your hand. Having a drink in your hand, even when the drink is non-alcoholic, seems to deter persistent offers to have a drink because you already have one. Just make sure you don’t use the same type of glasses other folks are using and put your drink down, or you could end up picking up the wrong one by accident.

No, too many calories. I’d rather save extra calories for something like cheesecake or pizza, not waste it on a putrid-tasting drink. You don’t have to include the last part, but the calorie excuse has long been one of my faves.

No, drinking makes me fat and stupid. This one usually gets a laugh, but I’m not sure how effective it is. I used it once last year and it didn’t seem to stick. The person still sent me a wine basket for Christmas. Sigh. Maybe he wanted to see how fat and stupid I’d really get?

No, doctor’s orders. Putting the onus on your doctor, dentist, orthopedic surgeon or other specialist seems to work. It also shows how brilliant you are for taking care of your health and following doctor’s orders. And you don’t have to mention the doctor is a psychiatrist, of course.

No, I’m driving. Providing a reason that shows you need to be in full control of your faculties is a good way to refuse a drink in recovery. This counts for driving, walking your rambunctious dogs, writing a thesis on subway folklore, or operating heavy machinery.

Of course, if you’re A-OK with revealing you’re in recovery, you can simply tack that on to your “No, thank you.” More questions may come, which you can answer politely. And you may even end up chatting with other folks in recovery at the event, giving you a whole little gaggle of sober celebration-goers with which to converse.

No matter how you refuse a drink in recovery, the fact that you’re refusing it is always a reason to celebrate.

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