beliefs can feel like a bolted and padlocked door – immovable, intransigent. we can sometimes see the beliefs of others better than we can understand our own.

I had a committee meeting last week where refreshments were to be served beforehand. having realised this I’d taken a herbal teabag tucked into my purse and helped myself to hot water from the urn, cheerfully declining offers of a glass of wine. so far, so usual.

what wasn’t usual was what happened after the meeting. I was talking to another committee member when the chairman of the meeting – let’s call him Tom – came up with a re-corked bottle of wine and asked the woman I was speaking to if she’d like to take it home with her, as otherwise it would go to waste. She looked at him and said,

“Tom, I don’t drink.”

to which he said, “Ah yes, that’s right” and then offered the bottle to me. which was slightly confusing, since I thought that Tom and I had already had That Talk, but he’d obviously forgotten. So I got to have a fucking amazing sober “I’m Spartacus!” moment by repeating,

“Tom, I don’t drink.”

he literally stepped back in consternation at this response, and I added, “I thought you knew that, Tom, I talked about it to you when we came to dinner at your house, if you remember?” 

Tom’s wife is nodding in agreement with this beside him, and then Tom asked,

“Have you never drunk, or did you used to drink?”

which is a beggar of a question, with all sorts of stuff behind it. what difference does it make either way? it only matters so that Tom can put a nice tidy label on my head – either ‘weird person who doesn’t enjoy the taste or effect of alcohol’ or ‘person who HAD A REASON for stopping drinking’. and the only person who cares about that is someone for whom alcohol is quite important, actually, and they Need To Know.

I replied quite carefully by merely answering the actual question, saying that I used to drink but that I don’t drink now. and then the conversation widened into Tom mentioning another person who he knows who used to drink but doesn’t now – and why – and the woman next to me explaining why she doesn’t drink, and I couldn’t be arsed with the justification, to be quite honest, so I let them all talk about why other people don’t drink and said nothing about my Big Why, because actually it is no-one else’s business but my own and no-one was asking me in the right way (the right way is hardly ever in a general conversation, incidentally, but usually in a one-to-one chat in which you can gauge why the other person is asking and therefore which of stock answers A, B or C one wishes to give.)

it is rare for me to bump up against the Big Why question from another person these days. most people close to me know I don’t drink and I have talked to them about it at a level appropriate for both our relationship and for their relationship to alcohol.

the best answer I can give nowadays is the empirical one.

that I have tried drinking, and I have tried not drinking, and my life is better when I don’t drink, so I don’t drink.

that when I don’t drink, I use other ways to change how I feel, and those other ways work better.

to borrow another sober blogger’s phrase: that I am happier like this.

I was going to write a post about labels, and whether or not the word alcoholic is useful, but then Laura wrote such a splendid one on this very topic that it spared me the trouble! go and read it here if you haven’t already. in that post she also links to Aiden Donnelley Rowley’s writing. Aiden is another empiricist. she has been writing and asking and living questions about her life, including her relationship with alcohol, for a while. I read her blog when she did a year without wine but lost touch with her after that. I am so glad she is continuing to write and to gather evidence. here’s a post of hers on choosing the dry life – a great read. and not because she has come down on the side of not-drinking – I am far less black and white about that than I used to be – but because she is finding out what is right for her, and that is the only thing that matters, not what others think or say or do.

the other thing I wanted to record for myself here was how unrattled I felt by the above conversation. how comfortable I felt in my own skin, stating my truth, not feeling obliged to over-explain or apologise. in my first months of sobriety that level of sang-froid seemed like something impossible, unachievable. facing questions as to why I wasn’t drinking seemed excruciating, revealing of what I perceived then to be my secret flaw, my dark secret. it is not given to us to go back in time machines and tell ourselves these things… but it is possible for us to speak our truths so that others may hear and perhaps believe that it might be possible for them, too.

here is my truth: I have learnt that our own beliefs about ourselves and how the world works can change.

if you are struggling today, please know that doors can be opened. what seems impossible can come with time and effort and persistence. that perhaps all I ever had to do was turn the handle and take that step through the doorway.

‘Still Standing’ by Dominic Walter

have a great weekend, sober warriors! Prim xx