If you offered me Brussels sprouts and I said “no thanks” and you said, “are you sure I can’t get you some Brussels sprouts?” and I said, “No thank you, I don’t eat Brussels sprouts,” would you ask, “How come you don’t eat Brussel sprouts?”
Probably not. But when I say I don’t drink alcohol, people what to know why.
Why is that? I haven’t figured that out yet, but I have come up with some comebacks for when I am asked.
- “I am allergic to alcohol.” The common response is, “Wow, I never heard of anyone allergic to alcohol.” Another common response is, “Wow, like rubbing alcohol, too?” or “Wow, what happens if you drink alcohol?” – which brings me to comeback #2.
- “I break out in handcuffs.” This explanation is followed by a few moments of silence. I can see the wheels spinning in their heads – “Should I laugh or should I just ignore it?” Either way I follow up with, “Yeah, I’m an alcoholic.” Then there is usually a sigh of relief and we both start laughing.
- If the person asks in an annoying manner, I simply say – fairly loudly – “I am a recovered alcoholic.” Shuts them right down.
- “Why do you want to know?” is another response the usually shuts them down and makes them ask themselves, “Why DO I want to know?”
- “I just don’t like alcohol,” probably the most benign answer, which isn’t much fun. It usually just elicits a shrug and ends the inquiry.
You might think some of my responses are too light-hearted. They are. But trust me, I understand the devastation this illness causes. I get it. But here is why I take this approach.
Stigma. I could rant and rave about the stigma but that would sound like I’m accusing the person of perpetuating the stigma and I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to put them on the defensive.
But when I throw a little humor in the conversation, the person feels comfortable with me and my response. It puts them at ease with talking about alcoholism. That is what we need. We should feel comfortable taking about alcoholism just like we feel comfortable talking about diabetes or high-blood pressure.
Using humor to open that dialogue has worked for me. It lets the person know that I am comfortable talking about my alcoholism. And then the discussion begins:
“I have a brother who has been trying to quit.”
“My cousin has been sober 3 years.”
“I had an uncle who drank himself to death.”
“How did you know you were an alcoholic?”
“How hard was it to quit?”
Party people image available from Shutterstock.