A reader recently wrote to me with concerns about recurring social events as a non-drinker. “My book club will not understand,” she fretted. “They are all about the wine! I am scared to even go because I will feel like an outsider.”
Ah, book club…That wonderful excuse for midweek socializing freed from scrutiny by the pretense of an intellectual discussion that mostly never happens. Gift shops are full of cutesy items referencing the connection between book clubs and wine drinking, selling everything from cocktail napkins to shopping totes with slogans like, “My book club can drink your book club under the table” and “My book club just reads wine labels.” Back when we were drinking, we were in on the joke: women are so busy that we even have to multitask our socializing. Book club ticks several boxes at once (see friends, wear something cute, have a night out, talk about books — even if you didn’t have time to read one, and cut loose).
Is it possible to continue enjoying all the fun of book club without partaking in the wine? That depends on the book club. Is alcohol really that important to other members of the group or did we simply assume so because it mattered to us? Do other aspects of the evening like conversation, activities and personal connections overshadow the alcohol? Are there relationships within the group worth maintaining that will be supportive of your decision to live alcohol-free? And perhaps most importantly, is it truly safe to be at drinking events? Each person must assess her own situation.
We should remember that the alcohol-infused humor aimed at book clubs is largely the product of alcohol and gift retailers who have a vested interest in perpetuating the connection between book clubs and alcohol. It does not mean that all book clubs revolve around alcohol. Shortly into my recovery, I cautiously joined a book club and was delighted to find that most participants prefer water or coffee. The laughter and friendships that have arisen from that group actually strengthen my recovery, even though it is a mainstream club.
Consider organizing a new group entirely. I recently worked with my local library to create a recovery book club for women that focuses on self-help books. These discussions have been fascinating and compelling, and since they are held right at the library, refreshments are limited (alcohol is not an option). Our group includes people in recovery from addiction, mental illness, eating disorders, trauma, grief, workaholism, you name it. The process of recovery is so remarkably similar for many of us and by sharing our insights and resources we encourage each other to keep moving forward.
If you do belong to a book club that serves wine and wish to continue attending, I encourage you to proceed with caution. Choose one or two members of the group whom you trust and arrange a private discussion to explain your situation. Ask them to help buffer you within the group, perhaps also agreeing to avoid alcohol or to guide the conversation positively if you should mention that you are not drinking. Bring your own beverages to these gatherings (always a good plan!) and keep your glass filled (which prevents offers for alcohol). If possible, bring your own vehicle so that you are free to leave if you feel uncomfortable. Book clubs are truly wonderful gatherings full of friendships, great discussions, laughter, new ideas and delicious canapes. Sobriety does not mean giving up the good aspects of the activities we enjoy, only rethinking the approach.