I had my last drink when I was 21. I was a senior in college, and believe me, you don't want to know the story that led to my last drink. I'd tell it, but this is a family-friendly website. Just know that it was degrading and painful enough that I got serious about recovery and decided to leave alcohol alone "one day at a time."
The people who'd gotten sober before me told me the first year would be hardest. In those 365 days, I went to frat parties, graduation celebrations and keggers on the beach. I didn't drink, even though virtually every person around me not only imbibed but got blind drunk. It was lonely to be the only sober person on Padre Island during spring break.
It can also be lonely being a sober mom.
We all know being a parent is hard. That's why there are funny memes all over the internet about how, sometimes, we just want our darling angels to shut up so we can drink. Except that's not what I do. I don't lose myself in a glass of wine after my kids are in bed. I don't crack open a beer when I sink into my bed and queue up the Netflix. I don't mind that other people are able to drink socially and happily. But sometimes it gets lonely being the mom who pops a seltzer water at dinner or sips a hot tea when we go out for drinks. It gets a tad awkward when email chains among my mom friends start out with jokes about work or books we're reading but then turn into a long list of things we are going to drink to drown out our frustrations.
The thing is, I don't always know what to say. I'm not prissy about it. I don't need to shelter myself from the reality that plenty of moms can handle loosening up with alcohol even though I can't. Sometimes I think about joining it with a joke about bourbon or margaritas, but it feels too dishonest. Usually, I just wait until the conversation comes back around to things that include me, like complaining about the glass ceiling or my husband's travel schedule.
Everyone stared at me. "Can I order a virgin bloody Mary?"
Recently, I met a new group of moms I really enjoy. As in, these wonderful women are becoming part of my tribe. They all drink and know that I don't. It's not an issue. When an email went around that we should meet up for happy hour, I didn't hesitate. Hey, just because I don't drink, doesn't mean I don't want to hang out and eat half-priced bar food with people who make me laugh. They have every right to oooh and ahhhh over the gourmet martinis and the delicious mixed drinks. None of that bothers me. I long ago learned to function as a non-drinker in a drinking world.
But when the waiter came over to take our order, things got tricky. The special deal of the night was that you could get a half price pizza if everyone ordered a drink. The waiter took my friends' orders: white wine, beer, gimlet, martini. When he got to me, I ordered a club soda. "Well, you can't have the pizza deal unless everyone gets a drink." I told him that I thought club soda was a drink. He said that wouldn't work. Everyone stared at me. I wasn't about to deprive my friends—or myself—that half-priced goat cheese and fig pizza. I thought about making a joke that I was pregnant, but didn't because one of the women at the table who'd just ordered a beer was seven months along.
One of my friends intervened. "She doesn't drink. What can she have?"
The waiter offered a cider. "It's only 8% alcohol." I shook my head. Has this guy never ever served a sober person? I wondered.
"Can I buy my friend a second glass of wine?" Now he shook his head.
Everyone stared at me. "Can I order a virgin bloody Mary? I'll pay to not pour in the alcohol." The waiter accepted that and walked away, leaving me to deal with an awkward silence at the table. My not drinking had never been a topic of conversation and now it was the elephant sitting on the table between us.
One of my friends apologized for the waiter. Another one said we should leave him a bad tip. I shook off the shame of having my sobriety highlighted in a group of new friends who don't know "my story." They have no idea why I don't drink, and for now, that's how I like it.
I don't need the world to change to suit my decision not to drink. I love my friends regardless of what they drink at happy hour. But I do wish I had a few more sober moms in my tribe so I wouldn't be the only one ordering virgin drinks and jeopardizing the happy hour deal.