“Hey, want a drink?”

I’m probably the most negative, positive girl at the party, because my answer to that question will always be some variation of “No," but I’m still determined to have a blast. While I will never be the girl puking in the bathroom, I will still be one of the girls dancing on a table. Because I have danced on a table. Once. Sorry, Mom.

What I Didn't Know About Sobriety

coffee, cake
Honorata (Nora) McIntyre

I can’t remember exactly when I decided I wouldn’t drink or smoke, but I can say I never expected my decision to teach me so much about self-confidence. When I made that decision, I was younger and admittedly naïve. While I stand by my decision to stay sober in college and beyond, looking back there was so much I didn’t know at the time because I hadn’t experienced what partying really meant. It took me a long time to figure out the right balance of my sobriety, how to embrace it and how not to flaunt it.

It never occurred to me that my sobriety could make other people uncomfortable. But occasionally, it does. 

I would get invited to a party and respond with, “I’ll go, but I won’t drink!” Immediately, I would receive a noticeable twitch of discomfort in response. I’ve learned that there is a frustratingly unequal playing field between drinking and non-drinking. A person who drinks can brag about how drunk she got, or laugh about the bad decisions she or someone else made while under the influence. However, if I start talking about how sober I was, or my sobriety in general, the conversation takes a sharp turn towards awkward.

Getting Comfortable With People Who Aren't Sober

cake, beer
Honorata (Nora) McIntyre

(Above: Darties (daytime parties) are very popular on my campus. This is a "mimosa" but there is no champagne. Not that anyone has to know.)

It took me time to get comfortable with other people’s decisions. I didn’t know much about what it was like to be drunk or high, and so when someone started to drink, I would become paranoid and anxious about their behavior. I felt myself questioning what my drunk friends were saying. While part of me wanted to trust them, another part of me was skeptical about how much of their general conversations were their true feelings, and how much of it was simply alcohol-induced.

I would try not to take whatever they'd say drunk seriously, but at the same time, don’t they say that alcohol is liquid courage? Maybe what people were telling me was true and their alcohol had given them the courage to speak their mind.

The Glass Ceiling You Didn't Know About

lemonade, juice, ice, lemon, cocktail, sweet
photo by Max Bartick

I’ve been sober awhile now. In fact, I've been sober at every party I've ever attended, and I’ve definitely grown in my sobriety. I don’t flaunt it like I used to — not that I am hiding it, or that I’m ashamed. Rather, it's simply that it's my decision alone and I don’t need to justify it or show it off like society seems to feel about alcohol and drinking culture.

It took me some time, but I learned that just like in careers where there may be glass ceilings, there is a glass ceiling in party culture. There is a socially constructed, and often unacknowledged, barrier between those who let loose and those who seem to be on the sidelines — those who dance on the floor and those who dance on tables. But if those who got on the tables believe alcohol was their ticket to this elevated state, will I ever truly belong next to them? By default, should I accept that the way I live my life is just less impressive?

graphic by Spoon University

To answer my own question — absolutely not. The glass ceiling around partying, and subsequently breaking it, is totally mental. The trick to being sober, if there even is one, is to let yourself get out of your head. Maybe alcohol helps break the barrier, but the idea that anyone needs alcohol to do that is the reason sobriety is considered lame and partying is the ultimate release.

coffee, beer
Honorata (Nora) McIntyre

I've had mixed reactions to my sobriety. A friend responded, "Wow, I could never do that," and a recent Tinder match called me a unicorn. I don't think dancing to loud music without alcohol is a superpower, but if you decide you need alcohol to do it, I'm not going to judge you.

All I'd ask is to try it without telling anyone. Grab a solo cup, some Coke and "do you." Enjoy everyone around you and remember all of the crazy dance moves and drama. Plus, relish in the fact that you'll wake up with memories that might last you a lifetime and the underrated blessing of walking up entirely hangover free.