March 1, 2021

Sober Inclusion

Drinking is fun for some, but not everyone. Have you tried ice cream?

I received my confirmation email for my law school reunion. It included a suggestion that, in order to get in the spirit for our Zoom, we could make a specialty cocktail featuring an ingredient that rendered this drink Duke blue. Now, that was a clever suggestion, and it got me thinking.

I don’t know why -- age, fitness focus, a tendency in my circle to share intimate things openly, etc. -- but I now have a number of friends who don’t drink. I almost said “choose sobriety,” but I’m not sure that’s the right phrasing given that addiction itself isn’t a choice. How’s this: Many of my friends and associates are sober. Many of my friends go to AA meetings.

I don’t really have any bone to pick with alcohol. I grew up in a low-alcohol home. We had a very elegant 1970s acrylic bar cart in our bright pink and orange living room (really...the grand piano was orange...memories), but I think the only person who ever drank anything from it was my brother surreptitiously in high school. I didn’t drink much in college. My dad bought me a beer at a football game when I was 17 because he was worried that if I didn’t know how to nurse a drink, I wouldn’t fit in. He wasn’t wrong. That beer was the only thing worse than the Dolphins that year and every year since.

I never really cottoned to drinking. I could drink margaritas for 24 hours straight, but it’s the sugar and tartness and salt that drives that passion. The tequila isn’t essential. I like nice wines, but I’m no connoisseur (sorry friends and brother who work at wine companies). As of two years ago, I started taking anti-seizure meds. These rob you of a decent amount of energy. Some people say they feel like zombies on them. I don’t, but I do sleep more, and when I have even a few sips of any alcohol (I’m a lightweight anyway), I have a sudden urge to get horizontal. So at this point, I don’t really drink. I don’t get high for the same reason. I’m taking full advantage of my awake time to be awake.

In any event, as we are all thinking about how things will shift as we gain more vaccine-infused flexibility in our lives, I realized I don’t want to go back to “going out for drinks.” It’s worth noting that the phrase “going out for drinks” is funny in and of itself. It’s the most common phrasing, and it implies more than one drink. People often ask couples if they want to have “kids.” Same thing.

I’m cool if you drink. Have at it. However, I’d like to suggest that everyone get more conscious of how many people have less-than-simple relationships with alcohol. Making imbibing the default just feels off-key these days to me.

I want to be really mindful of phrasing like “I need a drink” after a heavy day at work. I’m in the market for ideas other than “happy hours” for post-COVID, post-work activities. Am I too young for pickleball? I think I would really love pickleball. We did distanced game nights last summer in the park, and I hope we continue those this year with less distance, more friend touch, and just as much silliness and laughter. Ice cream. I really like ice cream. And let’s not forget walking. What an amazing year of walking it has been!

Something about the pandemic seemed to roll time back to the 1950s. The parks were full every night. So many people walked outside. There was essentially zero ganging up in bars (and I know dear friends own bars, but they serve food too, and I really love food!).

I hear people talk about getting back to happy hours as being part of the work culture, and sure. They’re lively, and they’re great ways to connect with colleagues informally. They’re just not the only way. And I want to put more attention on the other options and make it simpler for people who have challenging relationships with inebriants to be part of the gang.

So in a few months, you’ll find me letting off a little steam after work with a feisty game of pickleball. I bet I’ll be really good. The winner buys the ice cream.

Sue Heilbronner

Sue Heilbronner is an executive coach, Conscious Leadership facilitator, and catalyst for change.

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