Drinking Tips for Sober People
By Peet Chamberlain
Not drinking anymore is not fun. Not drinking around people who are having fun drinking is definitely not fun.
A recent study has shown that 100% of people I know consume alcohol except for my dad. Portland loves its booze. I understand why. Drinking is a fantastic activity. The excuses one has to drink are a lot more enticing than the excuses one has to be sober. Just the anticipation of drinking is enough to get you through a shit day at work. But when your Thirsty Thursdays are lasting until Can’t Stop Now Wednesday, it’s probably time to get your act together.
If you’re sober like me and have also noticed that an enjoyable night on the town is as rare as a Billy Ripken “Fuck Face” baseball card, these tips might make the experience a bit more bearable. After all, just because you can’t have fun anymore doesn’t mean you have to be miserable.
Whether you’re at a bar with a large group or a couple close friends, the first trick is to appear to be interested in being there. I took the bitter, quiet asshole approach for years and always came off looking like one. You don’t necessarily have to start a conversation, but don’t blow off people who want to start one with you.
The further into the night you go, the easier this gets. Do not let your sobriety discourage your companions from drinking heavily as early in the evening as possible. This will hasten the transition from uncomfortable small talk to the more interesting world of drunk talk.
Once the people you’re with are properly oiled, they won’t be as shy about approaching you. Common topics include sports, politics and, most commonly, themselves. Try not to be overwhelmed with details. Focus on the topic at hand and the person’s name (e.g. capitalism, Jim). You can get away with providing very little input if you maintain eye contact and nod your head every few seconds.
Yeah, mmhmm, and sure are three key words to remember when talking with someone who’s been drinking. Avoid negative facial expressions and words like no, which can cause people to stop talking and ask your opinion. It’s hard to have a passionate opinion about anything when you’re sober, and starting an argument with a drinker is never a good idea. When I first stopped drinking, I assumed I would suddenly be the smartest, wittiest person in the bar. This has proven to be quite false. Drunk people have two advantages I now completely lack: loudness and confidence.
Heavy drinkers need to make frequent trips to the bar. This is advantageous to you for a couple reasons. First, it ends conversations more quickly. Also, the friends I’m out with usually notice the pathetic glass of water in front of me and ask if I want something a little fancier. Always accept such offers.
Nowadays it’s hard to find a decent pint of beer for under five dollars. Sodas, unless the bartender is cruel, are usually free in these situations. Every time someone in your group gets up for more drinks, make sure you get a soda out of the deal. Whether diet or regular, sodas tend to make you feel sick after the third or fourth one. Don’t stop accepting them, though. Drinking lots of soda will eventually lead to frequent bathroom trips that you can also use as conversational cover.
(Note: Unless you want to spend the next hour with your friends talking about the fact you just ordered a non-alcoholic beer, don’t order a non-alcoholic beer.)
A lot of ex-drinkers like to smoke. If you’re one of them, I’m sure I don’t need to remind you to bring a good amount of cigarettes with you, both for your own consumption and to pay off all your non-smoking companions who become smokers after a few drinks. With all the money you’ve been saving on alcohol, there’s really no excuse for you not to be smoking. Plus, smoking, like peeing, can be a great way to escape, at least for a few minutes.
One of the hardest things to avoid is the heart-to-heart talk. These usually start after someone’s eighth or ninth beverage. Heart-to-hearts are especially tricky because your companion craves an emotional response from you and can easily mistake your sober tone for indifference or even sarcasm. A steady series of yeahs and nodding will not be enough in this situation. Reciprocating these sentiments to anyone has always been difficult for me. Alcohol used to make it easier. I haven’t figured out a way to do it sober without sounding like I’m full of shit. If you find yourself struggling through a heart-to-heart, my only advice is to remember that your friend probably won’t remember the conversation come tomorrow.
Once you’ve mastered being comfortable around your drunk friends, you can prepare to encounter acquaintances. Portland is a small town. People run into people they know all the time when they’re out. There aren’t many things more uncomfortable than trying to catch up with someone you struggled to make small talk with five years ago. Do whatever you can to avoid these people. If cornered, at least try to remember their name. It’s impossible to follow anything someone’s saying when the only thing running through your head is, Is this guy Dan or Dave?
Another type to avoid are former high school classmates. I live only one town away from where I went to high school, so it’s not uncommon for me to run into someone who went to the same school at the same time. This is, more often than not, the only thing we have in common. I’ve learned from hard experience that asking these people what they’ve been doing never leads to an interesting story. I can see how, if you’re on vacation in Mexico and run into an old schoolmate, it would be appropriate to ask, “What the hell are you doing here?” You really don’t need to inquire if you see this person at Amigo’s.
The final and most difficult skill for any ex-drinker to master is the early bar exit. Being sober is exhausting, and you’ll probably be ready to head home much sooner than your friends. I’ve tried sneaking out after a bathroom trip, but always paid for it the next day. Friends would call to complain and I’d find myself nodding my head and repeating “yeah … mmhmm … sure” into the phone. You may even lose friends this way, and you don’t want to be stuck making new ones, do you? I’m 32 years old and the last thing on my to-do list right now is to make new buddies.
I recommend you announce your departure to the group. Saying your goodbyes individually is time consuming and you can get stuck in another conversation. Also, make sure you pee and have one last cigarette before you leave the premises.
Now that you’ve survived the evening without looking like the downer you’ve become, get some sleep. Hopefully, if you’ve followed my advice, you will have tricked your friends into thinking you had as good a time as they did. This is important, because it always matters what other people think of you. And who knows — with enough practice, you may even trick yourself into enjoying a night on the town sometime.