By AJ Lamarque
I’ve been sober since roughly 2018 for a very simple reason. And that’s because I think spicy grape juice and fermented hops taste bad, are way too expensive, and give me headaches. Sidenote—most people associate my saying I’m sober with a religious context or that I went too hard once and had to pull back to save my life. Neither of those things are true. I just don’t like drinking, so I stopped.
That in theory should be quite a non-event thing to say. I don’t like drinking so I stopped. But, and I’ll only talk about the Australian experience, I find it more difficult coming out as sober than gay. I know that as soon as I’m in a social situation and I tell someone that I’m sober, they’ll treat me differently in a way I can’t come back from.
We all know that drinking alcohol is entrenched in Australian culture. I wouldn’t have a comedy career if people couldn’t buy drinks at the venues I perform at. I’m not stating anything that we don’t already know. But when we talk about how pervasive our drinking culture is, it’s usually at a societal level, not an interpersonal level.
That changes when someone like me is dropped into a real-life social situation. By being sober and talking about it, I often feel like I’m the circuit-breaker in our assumption that drinking alcohol is as integral to daily life as breathing or taxes. And despite genuinely not caring how much people drink around me, by being this social “provocateur”, I have to deal with the consequences.
Sometimes I’m seen as a prude or overly pious. People often feel like I’m judging them for their drinking habits or I’m “not on the same wavelength” and will either apologize throughout the entire night for their behaviour or avoid me all together. I’m less likely to be invited to kick-ons, parties or other social events. And, especially in a career context, I’ll be excluded from networking events where people build vital relationships that see them get work and build connections.
And on a deeper level, I think alcohol has become so ingrained in Australian culture it’s become a compulsory form of social currency. It’s not just about propping up the nighttime economy but by rejecting alcohol, I’m essentially sticking my middle finger up at those who extend their hand in friendship. It’s not just a personal choice by default, it’s a trespass against amicability itself. So I’m not just sober, I’m rude.
Sometimes to navigate this, I’ve enlisted a few tricks to hide my sobriety. Occasionally I’ve washed out empty beer bottles and filled them with apple juice to create the alcohol illusion. Other times I’ve just acted drunk to assure people I’m not a threat (give me an Oscar please!). But I’ve now shot myself in the foot by even publishing this article, so there goes those attempts at fitting in.
I’m aware there won’t be a fix for this anytime soon. Until I’m in the age bracket where my friends are so old that they physically can’t drink alcohol anymore, I’ll always try to prove myself as a sober friend, not a sober foe. But I hope for anyone reading, that you understand that your sober friends are just friends and that they’ll definitely remember where you drunkenly put your phone and forgot. We have superpowers too.