I’m 26 years old, married for two years to a wonderful man. We’ve been invited to a New Year’s Party with his old gang of college friends. Most of us are coming in from different states. I’ve come to love his friends like brothers and sisters, but they are a pretty partying bunch, lots of drinking.
The thing is, I felt I was doing too much drinking so I stopped altogether last year. I’m not in AA, but I just thought it would be healthier if I don’t drink. My husband still drinks sometimes in social situations, but he’s been supportive of my decision and hasn’t pressured me about it. When we go out, our friends here aren’t particularly heavy drinkers anyway, so it no one seems to notice or care that I’m drinking soda instead of beer.
I don’t know what I’m more afraid of, being with them and lapsing into drunkenness, or being with them as the only non-drinking person and being teased as a party-pooper. I’m also worried that my husband will drink too much when he’s with them (I’ve seen it happen), and I’d feel even more alone.
I really want to go but I’m having a lot of anxiety about this. Do you have any suggestions?
Dr. Chalmer answers:
Lexi, kudos to you for taking care of yourself, and kudos to your husband for being supportive.
You’re feeling anxiety about this for good reason! That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go—it just means that you’ll need to tolerate some anxiety if you do.
So here are some options.
You could decide to not go, of course. That would avoid the drinking issue, but it sounds like you don’t want your decision to stop drinking to cost you those friendships.
You could decide to go and drink, hoping (but very possibly failing) to keep it in moderation. That would avoid the issue of being perceived as a party-pooper. But you stopped drinking for your own good reasons. Your worry that you might lapse into drunkenness is (presumably) based on painful experience. Giving up your sobriety for the sake of a party sounds like a bad trade.
So let’s say you decide to go and remain sober. You could hope no one bothers to ask you about why you’re not drinking. If someone does ask, I think the most likely question you’re apt to get is, “Are you pregnant?” You could use that as an excuse (or some variant, like “I’m not sure, so I’m being cautious”), but lying tends to have repercussions down the line—do you want people to start assuming you’re trying to have kids at this point, whether or not you are? If you are simply honest—”Not pregnant, I’m just not drinking these days”—then all you can do is hope that people aren’t jerks about it. I hope that they wouldn’t be jerks about it, but drunken crowds aren’t always known for being unfailingly respectful.
Then there’s the problem of your husband’s drinking potentially getting out of hand, which you’ve seen happen before. You can hope he’ll rise to the occasion, but you can’t guarantee it. So you might have to deal with being the only sober person in the room, with your husband not available. If some people do turn out to be jerks about your not drinking, you might have to deal with it without a lot of support from your husband. And that can have nasty effects on your marriage.
And finally, there’s a chance that being the only sober person in the room just isn’t much fun. You might see a bunch of otherwise intelligent people acting like idiots, and wonder why you bothered going.
See why I think your anxiety is reasonable? Pretty much any option—even not going at all—has some potential discomfort associated with it.
So what should you do?
Whatever you want—but you’ll have to tolerate the inevitable anxiety without freaking out. (Shameless plug alert: I talk a lot about tolerating anxiety in my forthcoming book.) When you accept the uncertainties, you can have faith that you’ll figure out how to deal with whatever happens, even if you don’t know exactly how. You’ll recognize what you can and can’t control, and be responsible for your own decisions.
If you go, I hope your friends—and your husband—will turn out to be respectful of your choices, and I hope you have fun. Let us know what you decided!