When I first got sober, I was awkward with people who weren’t recovering alcoholics and addicts. I was a working musician and had to be in clubs to make my living. I was in a club only a few days after moving into the recovery home. The thing was that the music/clubs/drugs thing was all intertwined and I wasn’t sure if it was smart for me to be going into bars when newly sober. Now, at sixteen years sober, I can tell you that it was amazingly dumb, but I needed the money then and this is what I did for a living and I was just like most new recovery people—I thought I knew everything.

Obviously, the main thing in clubs is alcohol. I didn’t really drink too much in the clubs during the last few years of my getting loaded because I didn’t like to mix the alcohol and the speed. So when I started playing gigs sober, there wasn’t a huge temptation for me to drink. Mostly it was strange for me to be the one guy in the band who didn’t make a mad dash for his car during the break to get high (because it was always me leading the charge before). It was definitely strange to be playing music sober.

There were always lots of people who wanted to buy you drinks. Mostly they bought rounds of drinks for the band. The first time I was at a club sober when someone bought the band a round of drinks was a little odd for me. We always toasted the person who bought the round, so I did just like everybody else and toasted the man with the shot glass in my hand, but this time I gave it to the bass player.

Anyway, after a few nights of wandering the club during breaks, a patron cornered me and offered to buy me a drink. I hadn’t rehearsed what I was going to say on the subject of why I can’t drink, so I just blurted out a long sentence, “Got busted meth lab recovery home don’t drink.” And then I felt like an idiot because this guy just wanted to buy me a drink. He didn’t need to hear my life story. But he listened patiently and said the obvious, “good for you,” or “glad to see you’re doing well,” or “stay on the right track.”

I have to admit, it was strange to hear words of encouragement from a guy with a scotch in his fist. I really felt like I needed a better response to the drink question.

One of the things I learned from my sponsor was, as an alcoholic and addict, I am sometimes more concerned with what other people think of me than I am with what I think of myself. This was very enlightening. I realized it was important for me to be liked by the people who wanted to buy me drinks. Truly, they didn’t have to like me so much as like what came out of my sax, but I didn’t get that early on. I was a people pleaser and didn’t want to appear weak or different to anyone.

I can’t say I figured out what the right answer was very quickly. It probably took me a year or two before I figured out that all I had to say was, “I don’t drink.” If someone has a problem with that, then it’s their problem.

It also wasn’t just clubs where the drink question came up. The most difficult time was at family functions. I consider myself an alcoholic as well as a drug addict, but alcohol wasn’t the thing that brought me into the rooms of recovery. So I can’t just brush off a family member when they tell me, “You aren’t an alcoholic. You’re a drug addict. You can have a drink.” In this case, I have to explain that it doesn’t matter what the substance is. I can’t have any drugs or alcohol. Ever. Most of the time it was left at that, but I remember explaining why I can’t have a drink at least a dozen times to different family members.

In the Big Book, it says something about our missing the conviviality of friends and remembering the fun we had while drinking.

Even after some years, I still look at the fun my family is having (drinking and toasting) at functions and I miss partaking. But the program of recovery outlined in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous is, I believe, divinely inspired. How could I take some of it and leave the rest? The program says no drinking so I don’t drink. I’m a smart man, but I’m not smarter than the program. I’ve also seen far too many “drug addicts” turn into full blown alcoholics or have alcohol lead them back to their drug of choice to deny the obvious evidence right before my eyes.

So what’s the answer? Being able to tell someone you don’t drink without thinking there is some stigma attached to it doesn’t always come to us quickly. We don’t need to explain ourselves. When asked, we answer (if we want) with honesty and integrity. More often, the person we’re talking to has had some direct or peripheral connection to drug abuse and alcoholism. I know that if I’m asked to help them or someone who is having problems, or still using, or a parent or family member of someone who is still using, then I am always available for help. That’s what I do. That’s my covenant with my higher power. That’s my purpose in my recovery life. I guess the answer is to be at ease with telling someone that I don’t drink and always be ready to help when asked.