Non-Alcoholic Beers

I am sitting here at a bar in Chicago. My flight abruptly canceled, due to rain (don’t get me started), and so I am stranded for the night. Graciously, my company foot the bill for a hotel, and I am grabbing some dinner before calling it a night.

I gave up drinking “roughly” 8 years, 7 months and 7 days ago. I say roughly, because we always know. Back to that in a second, but ever since then, I have been a Non-Alcoholic Beer connoisseur. Frankly, when I first got sober they all sucked. Borderline undrinkable. But in the last 5 years, brewers have really turned up their games. There are some great flavors out there.

But still, restaurants haven’t done a great job of carrying them. Consider this my loud lobbying into the void to pick up some of the more unique NA beers.

Luckily, where I am tonight has a Heineken 0.0. Not my favorite, but pretty tasty and it will more than suffice. I grab two.

We have two sober guys on our GFW. When I first started going there was one, and he became one of my mentors in this new world of sobriety. I am more grateful than he will ever know for that relationship. But when I first started coming, it took a little extra effort to make sure the sober guy had a drink. I didn’t get it at the time.

Fast forward 5-6 years and now I am in the same boat. Being someone who hasn’t had soda in years already, this left me with the choices of water and tea to drink. Not really a great way to blend in during poker night.

When I first got sober, one of the many exercises I went through (and the one that still brings me the most awareness to my new state), was what is my “sober drink.”

Alcohol is ingrained in our US society. It is what props up most of our social events and pretty much all cooler sales. Every BBQ has the “adult” cooler and the “kid” cooler; a two cooler per capita minimum. As a 35 year old guy, being the one who hangs out near the kid cooler is frowned upon. And while that may be a joke, it is always a stark reminder of being sober when your drink choices chill next to the Capri Suns.

In your non-social career life, you are expected to grow your career at networking events and holiday parties. Here, alcohol is what most turn into their safety blanket. As a young guy trying to break into an industry, when you enter a networking event, you immediately scan the horizon for a familiar face, or make a beeline for the bar. But when you arrive at the bar, many narratives are added to the already unnerving feeling of isolation in a room of unknown people. Maybe others have this mental block too, but for me it was quite a story I crafted:

“I can’t quit, because then I won’t be able to even have a G&T at a networking event. I will look so weird with just water. If I get cranberry juice, I am sure to get some weird looks. How will I answer ‘what are you drinking?’ Come on kid, call your shot, don’t mess this one up…”

And so for these occasions, I settled on a “soda water with lime” costume. Maybe disguise. It took time to accept and love this new identity, but to this day I still reflect on how that guy felt when he first started. Alone for no other reason than his own mental models.

These conversations continue in your head during every social encounter, including a GFW with another sober guy who has already taken you under his wing. I debated how I would look to guys I love and know love me back. I pondered for hours if I could blend in to my truest of true buddies. Pretty sad looking back at it.

But your best buddies, the ones who you know you can keep after getting sober (spoiler: most you can’t), help you blend in without a hitch. They buy you your NA Beer comfort blanket. They protect you from ribbings from the guy who just doesn’t quite get why you aren’t “you” any more. Basically they show you they care by not caring.

Safe communities are the most important part of sobriety. AA and other help groups provide this for millions of people. Frankly, those who either A) don’t find one of these groups, or B) don’t leave their current geography for other pastures, probably don’t succeed in their pledge. I luckily was able to do both, with my GFW group being one of my safe communities. They greeted me with open arms.

So as I sit here at this bar with the last of my NA beer and the second on the way, I think about who I am grateful for helping me in this journey. The ones who silently stand by me, when I am not sure others would. I am forever indebted.

And for all those who are reading this who struggle with sobriety, or just got started, or who are going on year 40, know you always have a community here at GFW. You aren’t alone.


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