I can’t vs. I don’t


One of the things that used to rope me back into drinking is the fear of social occasions never being the same again. I was also terrified of the reaction of my friends and acquaintances when I quit. What would they think? I thought that by not drinking I would be the dry drip putting a dampener on the party.

I was scared to let everyone down. I was also scared that they would find out how addicted I had become so my excuses were always flimsy at best.

‘No thanks I’m driving’, ‘I’m on medication’, ‘I have Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo’ (This outlandish one I used to get out of a hen weekend where there was going to be lots of boozing) One of my personal favourites I used very often is ‘I’m on a detox/cleanse’.

Looking back now, I know that I was keeping that back door wide open in case I couldn’t cut it sober. I couldn’t possibly be on a detox or cleanse forever. I tried many times so I was tired of failing and perhaps in my heart of hearts I was hoping that an extended break from alcohol would re-set my software and allow me to drink like a normal person. Of course, no matter how long the break of sobriety was I always eventually returned to my usual level and with each lapse, the consumption revved up a gear.

I was ashamed of being the one that couldn’t drink, the one that wasn’t allowed because ‘she can’t handle it’. Why was I the chosen one that turned into the incredible hulk with an insatiable thirst while everyone else has a fabulous sparkly tipsy time? It wasn’t fair, dammit!

I guess if you have an AA coin and you are ‘out’ this shuts people up much more quickly.

Would you like a drink? No thanks I’m, an alcoholic.

—-Insert crickets chirping, tumbleweeds blowing and a look of panic/sympathy/social awkwardness across the hosts face.—-

Perhaps I will get to that point one day where I can say those words in front of anyone. I am just not ready for that yet.

I also used the words ‘I can’t drink’ in my internal dialogue. When I looked at alcohol I would look at it like an old sexy boyfriend that was bad for me, I would still lust after it.

These days something has shifted massively for me. I know I’ve tried before but there is a knowing in me that wasn’t there previously.

‘I don’t drink’ versus ‘I can’t drink’ are two very different statements. ‘I can’t drink’ implies that I am not allowed; I am being deprived of my choice. ‘I don’t drink’ is a powerful affirmation. It reinforces in my mind that I am not making any sacrifices, that I am making the most positive choice for myself, for my mental and physical health.

You may enjoy this article that explores this in more detail:


When I’m offered a drink these days I just say ‘I don’t drink’. I say it with conviction as if I’ve always been a non-drinker (this takes practice and sometimes you have to fake it till you make it)

By starting off in that frame of mind I can answer the following questions from a powerful place of positive choice instead of being rooted in shame.

This is the way the conversation has gone.

Friend: Would you like a drink?

Me: No thanks I don’t drink anymore.

Me: Like forever? Yes forever.

Friend: Why, we used to have so much fun drinking wine together?

Me: I just don’t like the way it makes me feel anymore. I don’t enjoy it at all.

This is met by a quizzical stare and a rapid change of topic.

Of course, my nearest and dearest know that I am addicted and they know the hell it has caused me. It’s important for the people closest to you to know so that they can support you.

Brene Brown talks about people having to earn the right to your hear your shame story. I don’t feel its necessary to go into so much detail with people I hardly know or people that are fair weather friends I used to party with.

The other point I wanted to make is that not drinking isn’t weird. We weren’t born ‘two drinks below par’. We are perfect and complete. We don’t need to pour alcohol down our throats to fit in.

People aren’t walking around asking a recovering heroin addict if they just want one ‘little bit of smack to take the edge off’ Or asking them why they cant just have the one. (Forgive me, I don’t know the heroin lingo, so I don’t know if you even call it smack.)

The fact is that I am addicted to a highly addictive, socially acceptable legal drug. That doesn’t make me weak or strange or unique even. It’s just the way it is, and I choose not to drink anymore because life is so much better and easier without it.


55 thoughts on “I can’t vs. I don’t

  1. Absolutely . 100% . You DONT. Drink. I don’t drink…. and that’s more than ok. It gets easier. I still get sideswiped by thinking that I want to drink, but I KNOW that feeling will pass … fake it if you have too. What will NOT pass is the physical addiction to alcohol (as we both know) … and actually, I don’t miss being the ‘drunk one’ or the hangover, or the shame … xxx🌷

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Lol, I’ve always loved to shock people who can’t imagine that there is another way possible. At first I too thought I should be ashamed or something but after the non stop asking why, are you pregnant, come on you’ll have more fun… I just said it as it is “No thanks, I’m a recovering alcoholic” and that’s that. No more pushing and funny questions (and my social life took a tumble but that’s also what it has to do. I need to start making sober friends. People who are comfortable enough to be sober around their friends. Not friends who are ‘friends’ with you as an excuse to get tanked)

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Great post, thank you. I think the “I don’t’ phrase has the benefit of reinforcing our own identity as a non-drinker.

    Another good tool I’ve found for doing this is for when I have taken a tricky action to tell myself afterwards “That’s like me!” Sounds as corny as hell I know but surprisingly effective and cumulative. Have a fab day! Xx


  4. Its interesting that we all go to great lengths to make others feel ok about our not drinking. I too have lied about being on medicine, doing the detox/cleanse thing, and having a really early morning. I used to think I was doing it to protect me, but now I see I was trying to protect the other person from having to navigate the awkward conversation that would follow an open, honest response like “Im allergic. I CANT drink anymore”
    As always, lovely post.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. One woman persisted in asking me in early sobriety why I didn’t drink. Eventually I said to her ” Because if I do I may end up jumping on you husband” Shut her right up. Seriously though, you don’t have to tell people you’re an alcoholic, I simply say, I don’t drink. End of. I find people in France, where I have all of family don’t even bat an eyelid, whereas here in Ireland I’ve been told, ” I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t drink” ffs. S x

    Liked by 4 people

  6. I agree with you! The power is in YOUR hands when you say “I don’t drink”. As I wrote previously and you commented on- most people want to know why, how, etc. I think that’s because it strikes a chord in them. To be honest, I think that on some, very deep level we all know that drinking is soul killing. It’s just a matter of how and when each person deals with that-or not. Good for you! Self empowerment comes in so many forms!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I love to share my story. I definitely believe Brene when she says not everyone deserves your trust, but I am completely open about quitting drinking and how amazing my life turned out to be.

    I would say I verge on evangelical. But I never get anything back other than high fives and amazement.

    I own it 100%. Somehow, for me, that’s where the freedom lies. I just don’t care anymore what others think. I KNOW my life is better.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I can’t definitely isn’t a positive way to say it. I don’t drink, I don’t like drinking, or just a plain old no thanks works just fine. Great post and totally agree! Not drinking is a positive not a negative. We don’t want to drink… or can we can, but we’d rather no. We’re good ✌🏼

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Dammit typos! Wish I could edit that lol. The last part should read *Not drinking IS a positive, not a negative. Of course we “can”, but we’d rather not*

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I agree. I have always found that forbidden fruit has the illusion of tasting the sweetest. I CHOOSE not to drink fermented fruit anymore. 😉 It’s a life-altering shift and it’s WONDERFUL! Good for you!!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. “earn the right to hear your shame story.” Yes. I love that. And the notion of embracing the better life choice not to drink as opposed to feeling all left out and deprived as “can’t” implies.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I tend to tell people less rather than more. Because for most people my inner workings are NOTFB. Most of my friends don’t drink or are normies who don’t give a tin shit whether I drink booze or tea, but when I go to a restaurant I have to shut down the server from wasting his/her breath on the drink specials. I like to let them know UP FRONT that the bill is going to be half of normal because I won’t be buying alcohol. SORRY. LET’S MOVE ON, SHALL WE?
    So my go to is “I don’t drink alcohol” which is accompanied by a look that says, “and you do?? Gross!!” further enhanced by my body language which is a bit judge-y I’m afraid. Sometimes I refer to it as “that demon alcohol” but only when I’m feeling particularly sassy.
    HOWEVER, “no thank you” is always in order.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. This is a great post and I love that you feel confident in saying that you don’t drink, as opposed to you can’t drink. This was a major mind shift for me to. I actually just used the ” I don’t drink ” line last night for the first time and it felt good and natural and just. right.

    Weirdly enough, I said it in front of people that know I was a major drinker and they looked at me like I was nuts. But I said it and I stood by it and that was that. I assume the more we say it, the more the people around us will realize it’s true and start to leave us alone. =)

    Thank you for sharing your story!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. I know that situation can be a bit tricky. The sthink is I’ve stopped so many times my friends that know I used to drink a lot dont even bat an eye. They are probabaly just waiting to see if it lasts. xxx


  14. Great distinction. I feel like sobriety and other boundaries are more accepted and supported now than they were when my dad started his sobriety. I remember the first time I quit smoking thinking ‘I can’t smoke’ vs ‘I don’t’. I don’t feel the same way about not eating meat or processed food. Things that make you go hmmm 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I have used the “I am an Alcoholic” card once or twice. It is drastic but works quickly. Not sure that I like the thoughts about what people may say behind my back after I have blurted that out but hey, it is what it is.
    Seven months sober yesterday and still I shock myself by my own actions. Ordering some drinks at the bar whilst dining out with the family the barmaid questioned my order of tonic water. ‘Do you want gin with that?’ ummm, well yes I do actually is what my brain is thinking but thankfully the words don’t come out and I smile and say ‘just tonic thank you’. I hope that one day the brain won’t even think like that, that the desire will be dead. I wonder how many months/years sober before that happens.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. I often say “I don’t drink” and that pretty much stops things right then and there. I don’t say in a confrontational or hard way. Just a fact, like “I’m diabetic” or “I’m fasting” kind of deal. Sometimes I get “not at all?” and I reply “Nope”. And that’s it. I agree that I don’t need to spill my story to every person who asks me. In fact, I have rarely (if at all) mentioned my alcoholism to anyone in 6 years (other than family and close friends of course). None of their business. But if I am feeling silly, I will say “I am retired” or something like that.
    Great post!

    Liked by 3 people

  17. Hip Hip Hoorah!

    My own answer to that dreaded question has changed a lot. I start simple, like you, with the “I don’t drink.” And if people press, which invariably and annoyingly they do, I say, “I’m allergic.” Then they’re usually like huh, ok. And lay off the full court press.

    Great post, Hoorah

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes why all the questions?. One of the most nerve wrecking things about stopping drinking is that you ahve to mentally prepare for all the third degree questions when you are out. Society is really warped about this stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Wow. Thank you for this! I, too, love Brene Brown’s work on shame, and feel strongly about just who hears the shame story, but man it can be hard when you are surrounded by people who drink to excess. But at this point I’d rather be lonely than to go back to drinking.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Drinking makes you lonely. In the beginning when you are surrounded by other heavy drinkers you think that abstaning isolates you. However when you examine it more closely you will see that the connection heavy drinkers have is false. Its drug addiction pure and simple. It may appear as though everyone is connecting and having a good time but after the 3rd drink they are too inebreated to have any form of meaninful connection. Also, you face that that bathroom mirror alone in the morning and that is where my worst salf hatred, shame and isolation happened, the morning after.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Spot on! Thank you for sharing that perspective; I get where your coming from. Thank goodness that the longer that I stayed sober, the stronger I became. Also my over-concern with what other people thought of me became less and less. There is no down side to staying sober!!

    Liked by 1 person

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