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Carolyn Hax: Sober friend bothered by drinkers’ ‘backhanded’ support

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
3 min

Adapted from an online discussion.

Hi Carolyn: I got sober a couple of years ago because of a medication I was taking. I had to take it for three months, and in that time I realized I loved this new non-drinking me. Lots of health problems disappeared, I was sleeping better, had more energy, etc. So I kept it going after the three months were up.

My primary friend group contains drinkers with a capital D. And I get it; I used to be that, too. Now I don’t go to as many gatherings, but I go to some and I bring my seltzers and hang out and laugh with everyone. I honestly don’t notice the alcohol; I don’t judge or condemn … I used to be one of them!

My issue is as follows: Sometimes, a friend will pull me aside in a group and tell me they really admire me for being sober. I remain very neutral every time this happens; I don’t preach or make a big deal of it. They’re the ones who bring it up. But they ALWAYS end the convo with: “It’s great you can do it. I NEVER could, but good for you.”

It just kind of stings. Not that I want everyone to be sober. (I don’t.) But why even tell me these things? I’m not out there fishing for compliments, and especially not backhanded ones. It makes me feel so alone. This happens to me regularly.

One good thing about my sobriety is that it has really mellowed me out and made me not very reactionary, so that’s cool. I know I’ll never snap when this happens, but it’s sort of driving me crazy inside.

— Good for You, Not for Me

Good for You, Not for Me: Eh. They’re talking about themselves, not you. I realize the effect is to feel as if they’re “othering” you, and it’s not a warm-fuzzy moment. I won’t minimize that. But a drinker “with a capital D” who feels the need to say out loud that you were only able to stop drinking because you are different is a cap-D drinker who is processing their own stuff — or, I should say, someone in the early deny-and-deflect stage of processing stuff.

Regardless, I hope you say out loud (calmly!) that it really bugs you when people say that. Wouldn’t you let your friends know, just like that, if they were harping on some other point that got on your nerves? No need to tiptoe just because it’s about alcohol.

You can also say volumes just with sympathy. “Yeah, I used to think that, too.”

Re: Sober: This reminds me a bit of the bald “joke” discussion from a few weeks back, when one poster observed that the comments he got were from people using his baldness to deal with their own fears or issues with baldness — I’m paraphrasing badly — and also of something I was told many years ago, that 95 percent of what we do is projection.

But why not say a version of what you’ve said here: not only that it bugs you, but also that you’re just here, living your life, not asking for any sort of praise and not rendering any form of judgment?

— Anonymous

Anonymous: Works for me, thanks. No one likes to be judged, but it’s the worst when we’re judging ourselves.