Why we need to stop apologising for not drinking

Myles Sexton | April 2022 | 8 minutes

The multi-talented Myles Sexton - creative stylist, make-up artist and self-proclaimed queer fashion nomad tells us how they no longer apologise for their sobriety, but celebrate it.

I started trying to drink less in my mid-twenties. As part of my career, my evenings were full of events or dinner parties, where alcohol was mostly free. My strategy was to avoid the waiters walking around with bottomless trays of champagne. But this game of hide and seek would quickly fail as somebody would say ‘You don’t have a drink!’ and before I could blink or respond, they’d thrust a drink in my hand.

Trying to reject a free drink at such an event tends to result in people looking at you like you have three heads. Question marks fill their eyes - and sometimes their mouths too. I would quickly and anxiously respond with “I have to work early in the morning.” Or if they really pushed me hard, I would have to pull from the pit of my stomach and say, “I’m sorry, I’m not drinking.” Then they’d say, “Girl, just have one, it’s no big deal.” But I couldn’t have just one. One would lead to two, to maybe three, and the next thing I knew I was drunk on a Tuesday with a 7am alarm set for the morning.

After many failed attempts, I’ve now been sober for four whole years. And I reflect a lot these days on why I apologised so much for not drinking. Not drinking has impacted my life in the best possible way. Mentally I have clarity since I actually process my emotions rather than numb them with drinks; physically I am active and eating healthily almost every day; emotionally I’ve been able to heal from much shame and trauma. Why am I apologising to everyone for something which - for me - has been incredibly positive and life-changing?

I realised that this impulse to apologise comes from my child self; the self who grew up as a queer person in a small North American farming town, the child who never felt like they belonged, and just wanted to fit in. Back then, I used techniques like drag to try and camouflage myself. I tried to act like other people. And now I find that the same shame and stigma around being different gets triggered when people challenge me on why I choose not to drink.

It's taken years of practice to understand that this urge to fit in doesn’t serve me joy. It’s not always easy to move through these emotions though. To ask what I’m feeling, why, and then send the resulting child-like survival behaviour on its merry way.

Nowadays, when I tell people I’m sober I make it a celebration. By not apologising, I keep my own power, rather than giving it away to the questioner. I make sure to note that this is my personal journey, and not for everyone, but I’ll maybe even mention the wonderful impacts it’s had on my life. I’ve now realised that people project their own emotions onto my non-drinking. My non-drinking triggers a reaction within them which is nothing to do with me.

I recently started dating someone again after a long relationship hiatus. Suddenly, I found myself in new social circles of people who didn’t know I was sober. I wanted to avoid those awkward conversations - that feeling where you have to educate strangers on your sobriety - so I asked my partner to fill them in before I met them. That really helped.

Now I have a question for you all. Have you too asked someone ‘why aren’t you drinking?’ Or said ‘just have one’? Just for the record, I was one of those people who was all over social media saying TGIF and *insert wine emoji.* But why do we do this? We would never ask someone ‘why aren’t you smoking?’ or push them to ‘just have one’ hit of a drug. It’s simply because of clever marketing making alcohol sexy, cool, and normalised, whereas there are entire health organisations fighting to educate people on how bad for us other drugs are.

It's time for us to stop apologising. Even if you’re not sober, and you just feel like not drinking that night, you have the right to. It’s time for us to explain how much better we feel not drinking. If people still come for you and try to make you drink then it’s time to serve them a hair flip, and let them enjoy the view as you walk away.

Follow Myles Sexton - queer fashion nomad and sobriety and HIV/AIDS advocate @mylessexton

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