The empty wine glass

Nothing for me, thanks…

Saturday night I felt like I was at the kids table. Everyone in our group over 21 had a glass of wine. Except me. My niece had a ginger ale and my nephew had a root beer and I had a club soda with lime. 

Everyone else had a Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet or Chardonnay. They were able to pair the steak with a red, the fish with a white, etc. Club soda’s a difficult drink to pair with a meal because it’s so… plain. The waitress asked if my nephew and I would like refills. Nobody asks if they can get you a refill on the wine (at least not in a halfway decent restaurant- it’s always “Another glass?”). Nothing can puncture the idea that you’re an adult out to dinner quite like a bendy straw in your drink.

There are times when not drinking is easy for me and times when it’s really hard. Saturday night was really hard. Though nobody was doing it on purpose or with intent, I felt excluded from the adults. It wasn’t fun. And then I just wanted to leave. But it was a restaurant at the south end of the lake. We took the boat down. Everyone ordered dessert. So I got to sit there and think about how difficult it would be to excuse myself to the bathroom and order a drink at the bar and quickly toss it back (just to take the edge off, you see…). I didn’t. But I thought about it. I definitely thought about it. 

When you’re an alcoholic you don’t need any help or pressure to drink, so when you feel it it’s that much harder on you. At the same time you’re the one who has the problem and you don’t want to disrupt the fun others are having. It’s such a tricky balance. 

When we finally got home it was about ten, and everyone wanted to stay up and play cards. Not me. I excused myself to bed and cried myself to sleep. At the time I was ashamed at myself for wanting a drink and for thinking about sneaking away. But in the morning I didn’t have a hangover. I had another day sober. Wanting a drink isn’t necessarily something to be ashamed of, but resisting and not having one is something I can be proud of. Even if it’s not right away.

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4 thoughts on “The empty wine glass

  1. Obviously you’re right that it’s a tricky balance to go out with people who are drinking and not drink, but not disrupt their drinking, but I think it’s possible you’re selling your potential support system short. This isn’t a perfect analogy, but bear with me a little.

    Until he recently moved away, there was a guy in my friend group who is a very devout muslim, especially when it comes to alcohol. Not only does he not drink, but he won’t sit at a table where there is alcohol on the table. When we ate out with him in a large group, we’d opt for pulling two four-person tables together instead of one eight-person table, and we’d leave a several inch gap between the two. The people at his table would simply not drink that meal, and the people at the other table felt free to order alcohol.

    There wasn’t a set group of people who ate with him, of course. We all kind of rotated. Some days I’d really feel like having a beer with my meal, somedays I would if everyone else was doing it but I really didn’t care. We never had a situation where there weren’t plenty of volunteers willing to sit at the no booze table, because everyone liked this guy and supported his personal decisions. Obviously a religious decision to avoid alcohol is different from alcoholism, but respect for your friend’s and family’s needs shouldn’t really care about the differences.

    My point is: Everyone who was there was drinking. And you’re right, it would probably be inappropriate of you to ask everyone to not drink. But I’d wager that if you were open with the fact that being singled out as the lone adult non-drinker is difficult for you, that at least one person there would offer to skip the alcohol and drink soft drinks with you. From this and your other writing, it seems like you’re OK being around other people drinking, just not when you’re the only person abstaining, so talk to the people who care about you and let them know that.


    1. Jeff,

      That’s definitely sound advice and I don’t doubt that if I asked anyone there that night would have gladly volunteered to sit that one out, if you will. It’s a strategy I’ve used before and it does help soften the blow somewhat. But, as I said, some nights are easier than others and I can’t always predict how I’m going to feel. I suppose in retrospect there are a few things I could have done to manage it a little differently, but last week we were at the same restaurant (though a smaller group with no kids) and both of my parents had wine and my sister had a vodka soda. And I was OK. I went to a friends birthday party a few weeks ago and was the only one not drinking and made it through OK.

      You’re right though, going forward it makes sense to have those conversations with someone first.

      Thanks for reading and staying in touch!


      1. Two other points I thought about after this.

        1) This may be less obvious to someone struggling with alcoholism, but being able to drink alcohol at dinner is less important to some people than others. I know people who would be put out if I asked them to abstain on my behalf. I know people who would consider it an imposition. That’s fine. The existence of these people is why I agree that asking everyone to not drink while you’re with them is impractical. Just remember that not everyone sees alcohol that way. I enjoy a drink, but I also really enjoy Coke, and it’s not a big deal to skip alcohol for a meal with me, and I know I’m not alone.

        2) I’m not saying there needs to be a group discussion before every meal where you all figure out who is going to drink soda with Paul. That would probably be embarrassing and awkward for everyone. What you could easily do is just talk to 2 or 3 of your closest friends and let them know to keep an eye out and make sure someone is with you. If they’re ordering first, they can say “Come back to me, I’m not sure” and by the time it gets to them, they’ll know that everyone else has ordered booze, and abstain with you. It doesn’t have to be awkward.


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Erased, but not forgotten. A frenetic account of memories, events, and ruminations.


An honest look at living with bulimia.

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