When I first quit drinking a couple of years ago, I went at it like I did everything else in my life, wearing an imaginary t-shirt emblazoned with “Nothing to See Here, Everything’s Fine.”
Sure we were in the midst of a global pandemic and my drinking had become the main highlight of my day, so everything was definitely not fine, but social situations were already tricky enough with masks and testing and open windows in the rain—the last thing I wanted to do was further complicate the situation by not drinking, and making everyone feel even more uncomfortable. I kept my bottle of dealcoholized sparkling rosé tucked in the back of the fridge where no one could see it (or worse drink it). I was so hell-bent on everyone else being at ease that it didn’t even occur to me to not serve alcohol to my guests.
As I became more comfortable with my zero-proof lifestyle, and more friends accepted—even embraced—the new me, I also got angrier at the alcohol industry and all of their advertising and product placement (you can’t even watch a mindless rom-com without being bombarded with images of booze allegedly making everything better). I became less inclined to serve that industry, and by that I mean to serve their products or contribute to their profits. Also, frankly, I was tired of all the juggling I was doing when I had people over—cocktails for my guests, mocktails for me, wine for them, AF wine for me, beer for them, and so on… the list was dizzying and I was done being dizzy.
For a while, I dabbled in not serving alcohol at all (pro tip: This goes over better at breakfast than dinner), but that also didn’t feel quite right. I’m happy to accommodate a gluten-free guest, so why not a booze-bound one? When people asked what they could bring, I started saying “Whatever you’d like to drink,” which was a completely workable policy on paper—I don’t have to buy alcohol and they can still have some—but in reality, it felt a little un-hostess-like since historically my refrain had always been “Just bring yourselves.” It was also sometimes confusing—someone once asked sincerely, “Will there be water?” (Yes, there was water.)
For me, the only ongoing difficulty in saying bye-bye to booze is that I miss the feeling of connection when sharing a beverage. I don’t miss the buzz—a fuzzy connection is far inferior to a clear-eyed one—but I do miss the camaraderie of partaking in a communal refreshment. In the end, the question of whether to serve alcohol comes down to what I—or you—as the host feel most comfortable with. If having alcohol in your house, purchasing it, or being around it is triggering or makes you want to drink, then absolutely do not do that. The solution, for me, however, came out of my friendship with my neighbor and a routine we developed as we were navigating the changing “drinkscape” of our relationship after I gave up alcohol. No longer would we be sharing a bottle of wine like we used to, but we wanted to maintain that sense of connection. So we came up with a plan: We would concoct a shrub or a flavored syrup together that we could then mix with soda, water, juice, or a little something “extra”—a favorite spirit for her, a spritz for me. With our new plan, we both enjoyed a beverage, experienced the adventure of mutually creating something, and continued to spend time together.
Since coming up with this plan, I’ve expanded this add-on approach to all of my get-togethers, keeping them alcohol-free friendly while also allowing those who want to imbibe the chance to do so. For large and small groups alike, I whip up pitchers of NA cocktails with flavors that can stand up to the addition of booze or a spritz. I add labels of what’s in each pitcher and then alongside I present an array of leaded and unleaded mix-ins (again, clearly marked) for myself and my guests. Voilà! Everyone’s happy, and I find even the most devoted drinkers like to opt for a mocktail on their last round. In addition to the drinks themselves, this also keeps the experience the same for everyone involved—same glass, same color, same everything so no one is standing out like a sore thumb. I enjoy knowing that I have a nice option for myself and my NA friends and that no one is looking around wondering where they can find some alcohol.
When my liquor-loving friends generously ask what they can bring, I assign them a bottle of their preferred spirit to mix into the featured cocktail. I still receive my hostess gold star by providing most of the drink, but I’m not providing the part that doesn’t work for me anymore. When the party’s over, the drinkers get the extra bonus of taking their hooch home with them (or if you’re OK having it around you can save it for the next time). Once I got this formula down I began to feel at ease as a hostess again and enjoyed sharing these almost-the-same drinks with my friends as we raise a glass together.