Sober people are losers! Look, I’d like to tell you that my opinion wasn’t this superficial, jaded, prejudiced, narrow, misinformed, misguided, misintellectualized, bigoted, arrogant, and just plain asinine, but it was. I thought people who didn’t drink alcohol, for any reason, were losers.
This included my own mother for quite a while. God, how shallow and despicable was I?
And I’d like to tell you that my opinion changed when I started exploring sobriety, or at least once I was sober myself. Nope! I continued to consider people who didn’t drink alcohol to be losers, I just tucked my tail between my legs and joined their pathetic ranks.
Alcoholism is the disease of shame. So when I got sober, my shame continued. The point from which the shame emanated just shifted. Instead of shame for my drunken antics, I became ashamed that I was the only sad-sack who couldn’t drink at the party. In my writing, I described it as shame for a lack of moderation ability. The truth is, I was ashamed to be a teetotaling loser.
And the stigma wins again! I was raised to revere drinking as a celebration of adulthood, and especially manliness. Everyone with whom I associated was a drinker, and most of them were heavy drinkers. All business, social, community and even religious functions I attended were centered around booze. Two plus two equals four. If it walks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. So, if everyone was drinking everywhere I looked, you had to be a loser to abstain. It was science. Don’t blame me.
Do you remember the Miller Lite vortex bottles from a few years ago? These marketing losers actually thought that if the beer gave itself a swirly on the way out of the bottle, it was somehow better. Of course, they were competing against Bud Light’s superior drinkability campaign, so they weren’t exactly targeting the high IQ end of the beer drinking population. I thought anyone who bought what either of these two pitches were selling was a loser. But not as big a loser as someone who was sober.
On a recent episode of the Untoxicated Podcast, I was talking about how everyone I ever knew was a drinker, and my wife interrupted me to tell me I was incorrect. She explained that I had a few co-workers and a few neighbors over the years who didn’t drink. As soon as I gained knowledge of their abstaining ways, I didn’t bother to get to know them. Looking back, she’s right. Why would I invest any time in befriending a loser?
Let’s just look at the terminology assigned to sobriety for a minute. You can abstain from murdering or raping people, and that makes you pretty cool. But if you abstain from alcohol, well, you know – loser! And the word abstain is to alcohol like Kleenex is to facial tissues. You don’t even have to say, “abstain from alcohol.” The one pathetic word will do the trick. How about teetotaler. Now that’s a name that brings to mind pride and strength. “I’m a teetotaler now, but I’m hoping to grow to be a nigglewriggler or a tittytwister.” What are we, four? How is that word still in prevalent use? Then there’s my favorite. When you fail at sobriety, what do you do? You fall off the wagon. So you’re a loser and a failure. That these words and phrases are still in lexiconical service today is as befuddlingly useless as poop on a pump handle, Billy Jo Jim Bob!
And the reason for your sobriety wasn’t a mitigating factor for me and my narrow opinion. Alcoholic? Loser! Trying to be healthy? Loser! Family history of alcoholism, medical condition, on a cleanse? Loser, loser, LOSER! Don’t like how alcohol makes you feel? Oh…biggest loser! Pregnant? Hurry up and squeeze it out so you can drink you fat loser!
When I prioritized alcohol over everything else in my life, even when I didn’t realize I had done so, and would have denied it vehemently if confronted (and I did deny it when my wife pointed it out), how else could I possibly view people who didn’t drink. Look, you can choose the chicken or the fish at the wedding reception, and I could not care less about your decision. But if your wine glass is empty, you are a loser!
Then something unimaginable happened. I met some sober people. You’ll never believe what I found.
Not only are some of them really smart, they are funny and engaging. And some are really successful with beautiful spouses and darling families. Many of the sober people I know are even…wait for it…charming! Can you believe it? How can anyone be charming without a two-drink buzz? Who would have seen that coming?
Honestly, I was terrified about making friends in sobriety. All my friends since the start of high school had always been drinkers. Now, I was relegated to sitting in a circle on cold metal folding chairs and chain smoking cigarettes while drinking bad coffee and whining about my lot in life? That was the new fun? Those were going to be my new friends? Thank you very much, but no thank you.
The stigma won again. I wasn’t prepared for the truth I would find in sober socializing. I didn’t expect industry leaders, brilliant philosophical minds and inspirational thinkers and doers. I expected sweaty wife-beater t-shirts and those lip wrinkles that come from decades of chain smoking. Weird. I’ve met a ton of sober people I admire, and even envy. Who saw that coming?
Sober people don’t tell the same stories over and over. They don’t laugh at jokes that aren’t funny, and they don’t spit a little when they scream-whisper in my ear. They can make it through a whole day and night without spilling anything, and they don’t say or think, “fuck it,” on a daily basis. Who are these people, and where did they come from?
I’m a Christian, and sometimes I’m embarrassed to admit it. When Jim and Tammy Faye became pop-culture media stars, then robbed parishioners blind to feed their own greed and finance her massive mascara addiction, they gave Christianity a bad name. When evangelicals turn their backs on 98% of their beliefs to ensure anti-abortion judges get supreme court nominations, I want to dig a hole and climb inside. When priests touch little boys, and other priests cover it up, man – that’s a tough tribal banner to carry without suicidal inclinations. There’s a developing stigma associated with Christianity, and it’s driving people away from the faith.
I’m ashamed to be an American sometimes, too. Listen, I’m as patriotic as they come. Tears stream down from behind my sunglasses during the Memorial Weekend ceremonies at the Indianapolis 500 each year, and my greatest regret (even more than my alcoholism) is that I didn’t serve my country when I had the chance. But when I hear comedians tell jokes about slovenly Americans vacationing in Europe and trudging around with buckets of ranch dressing looking for fried foods to dip into them, I don’t exactly swell with pride. When one elected official wearing a tie uses a bucket of chicken as a prop when conducting an investigation against another elected official wearing a longer tie, all I can do is hold my head in my hands and cry (see what I did there? – that was a shot at both parties, so don’t accuse me of partisanship in my shame for our leaders in Doofusville, D.C.). The pride of American exceptionalism is being replaced rapidly by the stigma of American laziness and stupidity, and it’s embarrassing, no matter what color your hat is.
Do you know the association in which I feel the most pride? It’s my sobriety. When I was getting sober, I could not have begun to imagine my shame in teetotaling would someday trans-morph into a pride that would eclipse my pride in faith and country, but it did. That’s an amazing feeling.
I called a friend from our SHOUT Sobriety group last week, and we talked for about an hour and a half about everything under the sun. He’s got a great sense of humor, and we laughed a lot even as we pondered the challenges of the pandemic. We also went deep in conversations about our romantic relationships and hopes for the future. I had planned about 30 minutes for the conversation, talked for three times as long, and wished we could have talked all night. We went places inaccessible by me and my drinking buddies back before I was sober. A 90 minute conversation over beer would have been repetitive and sloppy.
I have a call planned today with another good friend from SHOUT Sobriety. I can’t wait to talk to her because she always makes me laugh, makes me think deeply about stuff and helps me work through something I didn’t even realize was bothering me. Her friendship puts a bounce in my step. I’m glad we didn’t meet when we were both drinking, because the bond would not be the same. I’m 100% sure of that.
Here’s the kicker: If I had to choose between spending the rest of my life surrounded by only sober people, and becoming magically able to drink moderately and return to my once enviable drinking status, the choice would be easy. I wouldn’t hesitate for a second. I’d commit to a lifetime of sober losership.
Sometimes, we don’t know what we think we know. I thought I was a proud Christian, until I realized I align with the belief system, but can’t own the associated human behavior. I thought I was a Republican, until Donald Trump convinced me I’m not (and Representative Chicken Bucket (I don’t even have enough respect for him to ask Google his name) convinced me I’m not a Democrat, either). And I thought I was proud to be a drinker looking down on the despicable class of weak and pathetic teetotalers, until my disease forced me to reluctantly meet some losers.
I was ashamed to be an active alcoholic. Then I was ashamed to be a sober loser. Now, I take great pride in understanding that a poison with a toxic relationship with my cranial matter doesn’t make me funnier, smarter, sexier or friendlier.
Who knew? Thanks to the stigma, the secret’s safe with my teetotaling loser friends and me.
Are you confused? Does my assertion fly in the face of your lifelong beliefs about sobriety? Do you love someone who prioritizes alcohol over you despite his denials? Do you want to meet some people with pride in their new perception? Check out our SHOUT Sobriety program for people ready to tackle early sobriety, and our Echoes of Recovery program for loved ones of alcoholics and heavy drinkers. If you decide to join us, you’re going to have to leave your preconceived notions at the door before you come on inside. You might just meet some people that make being a loser pretty darn cool!