Have you ever tried to hide that you’re not drinking?

Yeah, me too. For a long time, I hated nothing more than having to be public about the fact that I had stopped. Here’s what my 22-year-old self wrote in her journal:

“What seems harder is fielding people’s questions [about why I wasn’t drinking] and not actually abstaining.”

I hated telling people I didn’t drink. I hated answering their questions about why I couldn’t just moderate. I hated having to explain myself.

Why? For starters, I didn’t have great answers. I knew that moderating sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t, and I had no idea why. I knew that I used alcohol as a crutch, but I believed it was a problem unique to me. But more than anything, without ever realizing it I had fully bought into society’s predominate narrative about people who struggle with alcohol. A narrative that’s steeped in shame. The fact that I struggled meant that something was wrong with me. I was defective.

I hated telling people I didn’t drink. I hated answering their questions about why I couldn’t just moderate. I hated having to explain myself.

So no, I didn’t particularly like going around and introducing myself as, “Hi, I’m Rachel. I don’t drink because I have a character flaw.” Instead, I tried really hard to hide it.

“I’m the designated driver tonight.” I used this excuse only twice in my life because, well, you don’t need a designated driver in New York City.

“I’ve already had enough.” This works really only at red cup parties where you can sneak into the bathroom and fill it up with tap water.

“I have to wake up early in the morning.” Trust me, the person you use this excuse with will undoubtedly tell you he has to wake up even earlier than you do.

“I’m not feeling well.” Or the less effective excuse, “I’m on antibiotics.” Oh my god. The last one was a huge fail. I ended up listening to a bunch of people tell me how they mixed antibiotics and alcohol with no problem.

Here I was, brand new to the city, looking to make friends and meet people, and I started to dread going out. I already knew that I used alcohol during college to feel at ease in social situations, to make myself feel less awkward and out of place. Now here I was trying not to drink and feeling more awkward and out of place.

It made me want to run and hide.

I became fixated on the idea that if only people didn’t ask me about my status as a non-drinker I wouldn’t have a problem. It was everyone’s questions and comments that were making me feel terrible. If people just would accept my decision, this wouldn’t be so impossibly hard.

I became fixated on the idea that if only people didn’t ask me about my status as a non-drinker I wouldn’t have a problem.

Or so I thought.

After a year of trying to dodge people’s questions and made excuses, I finally decided it was all just too much. It would be so much easier to start drinking again and go back to blending in.

In retrospect, I know something really powerful. The questions weren’t what made me feel bad. It was what I was making those questions mean about me that was doing the damage. It wasn’t the predominant shame-based narrative about people who struggle with alcohol. It was the fact that I had bought into that narrative hook, line, and sinker.

You don’t have to make people’s questions about why you’re not drinking mean anything about you. You don’t have to buy into a story of shame. Frankly, you don’t even need to have people support your decision. The only tool you need is one that helps you manage your thoughts.

Let me show you how.