Harv doesn’t drink alcohol, and he doesn’t have a problem with people asking him why. He and Elena speak to numerous guests to find out whether or not they think “Why don’t you drink?” is an inappropriate question. Along the way, there’s a lot to unpack about alcohol’s role in our society and our personal lives.
Additional music by Lucas Bozzo.
By Grace Bevan
Grace Bevan is a Torontonian writer, and illustrator currently studying Media Production at Ryerson University.
Robin is a partner (part-owner) and bartender at PrettyUgly Bar in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood. Robin and bar manager Evelyn Chick developed the bar’s “placebo menu” in response to friends who weren’t drinking alcohol—for health, financial, religious, and other personal reasons. Robin is also a partner at Bar Raval (on College) and Harry’s Charbroiled Dining Lounge (also in Parkdale). He has a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and a master’s in the social theory of health.
Anita is the Media Innovation Editor at Discourse Media and founder of The Other Wave, a website dedicated to covering media from a multicultural perspective. Prior to that, she served as senior editor of Fusion's flagship Justice vertical and as news director at Complex. Anita has also held reporting and editing positions at media outlets across North America, including Mashable, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, CBC and CTV.
Lauren is a digital journalist and current reporter at BuzzFeed News. She works and resides in Toronto, ON.
Ann Dowsett Johnston
Ann is a writer, journalist and public policy advocate. She is the author of Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol. Here in Canada, she is the co-founder and co-chair of the National Roundtable on Girls, Women and Alcohol. She wrote a 14-part series on Women and Alcohol which appeared in the Toronto Star.
Kevin is a data analyst who lives in Toronto. He has been sober for over five years and participates in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
Denise Yuen is a Canadian actor most recently seen in the leading role of Kirsten in Bite—a joint production between Black Fawn Films and Breakthrough Entertainment. Prior to her on-camera work, Denise has appeared in several theatre productions in New York City where she trained and received her acting diploma from T. Schreiber Studios. Her more notable leading roles include Alice in You Can't Take It With You and Kayleen in Gruesome Playground Injuries.
Resources & Other Information
Written by guest Ann Dowsett Johnston, Drink explores both the rise of alcohol abuse among women and Ann’s story of her own recovery.
Written by guest Lauren Strapagiel, this essay explores Lauren’s time and feelings when she took a break from drinking due to a stomach ulcer.
A series of detailed guideline outlining the effect alcohol can have on your body as well as information on binge drinking and how to prevent excessive alcohol use.
An index which gives vivid details about what alcohol is, where it comes from, associated feelings that come with drinking it and all the physical and mental illness that can derive from drinking it.
Using the 12 Steps, AA is a program that recovering alcoholics can use as a guideline and support group during their recovery process.
Detox.com is a network of addiction treatment facilities that provide drug and alcohol detox, support, and comprehensive substance abuse treatment services to the individuals and families struggling with addiction. In addition to offering medical detox in safe, controlled stabilization units, they also offer a wide range of patient care services for ongoing addiction treatment and recovery needs.
Elena Hudgins Lyle: Harv, what's all this ambience? Where are we?
Harvinder Wadhwa: We are at a bar called PrettyUgly here in Toronto. But as you know I don't like to drink alcohol. So take a listen: this is us drinking something different.
[clip of the hosts at PrettyUgly]
Elena: So I'm gonna have the Fauxmaro Spritz because he said you won't like that one, and you're gonna have the Spiced Tepache.
[clip fades out]
Elena: The drinks we were just ordering are non-alcoholic, but they're not mocktails.
[clip of Robin Goodfellow]
Robin Goodfellow: Because I hate the term “mocktail,” I hate “non-alcoholic” or “zero proof,” like these are all comparisons to the to the idea that alcohol is the norm, right?
[clip fades out]
Harv: These drinks are called placebos. So what are they exactly?
[clip of Robin Goodfellow]
Robin: Thoughtful drinks that don't contain alcohol and that are more than sugar, juice and soda.
[clip fades out]
Elena: That's Robin Goodfellow. He owns PrettyUgly and is one of the creators of the placebo menu.
[clip of the hosts and Robin at PrettyUgly]
Harv: I have stopped drinking because I don't like the taste.
Robin: Ah, so we're the opposite.
Harv: So why, why take in calories...
Harv: ...when I don't like the taste? I'd rather drink pop, which I know it's terrible but at least I like the taste. So now you've just flipped it on its head!
[clip fades out]
Elena: So Harv, you're really not Robin's target audience.
Harv: No, no, not at all, not at all.
Elena: But he was inspired by his friends who appreciate the flavours of alcoholic drinks but who don't drink for lots of different reasons.
[clip of Robin Goodfellow]
Robin: You know, abstaining for religious reasons, pregnancy, addiction or previous addiction. I just wanted them in my bar. I wanted, I wanted these people who who don't drink to come and show up and feel comfortable because there's more to a bar than being drunk. There's music, communication, community, you know…
[clip fades out]
Elena: One of Robin's main goals with this placebo drink menu was to decrease the stigma that people might face for not drinking.
Harv: And sometimes this stigma can be the reason people ask questions. Questions like "Why don't you drink?"
Elena: Yeah, like the title of this here episode.
Harv: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Harv: But before we get into this question, Elena, I am sure our listeners are wondering how these drinks taste.
[clip of hosts trying drinks at PrettyUgly]
Harv: First reaction: you give spice to an Indian, the Indian is going to love it!
Harv: It has a unique taste but it is really very very delicious.
Elena: But does it taste like alcohol to you, as well?
Harv: So, frankly yes. But it's not a fruity drink.
Elena: The placebo has worked on the team!
Harv: No it is amazing, this is amazing.
Elena: Awesome, well you finish that then. Don't let us finish yours for you. Do you want some of mine?
Harv: I will definitely give it a shot.
[clip fades out]
Elena: Well alright, that's enough drinking on the job for us.
Harv: Back to the studio, and this time we can even drive.
Elena: I can't drive Harv, you're gonna have to do that.
Harv: I don't have a car.
Elena: Oh no!
Harv: People are curious and that's great.
Elena: But there are some questions you just shouldn't ask or at least not like that.
Harv: I'm Harvinder Wadhwa.
Elena: I'm Elena Hudgins Lyle.
Harv: And this is Inappropriate Questions.
Elena: Let's get inappropriate!
[theme music ends]
Elena: Harv, as you've said, you don't drink. If someone asks you "Why don't you drink?", how does that feel?
Harv: Normally doesn't bother me, but sometimes it can become a little awkward, particularly when you are in large group and you are the only one who's not drinking and it's a work-related outing. I get the feeling that if you are not drinking then you're not part of the clique.
Harv: Most time I'm just chill with it, I can tell them I don't like it and we move on. And sometimes when I'm feeling a little, uh...naughty...
Harv: I just say “I get very inappropriate after I drink,” so that shuts them down fairly quickly.
Elena: Okay because they don't want to see that.
Elena: "Why don't you drink?" is a really interesting case, so we're going to treat it a bit differently than some of the questions we've been approaching so far in the podcast.
Harv: We'll be speaking to a lot of guests who have different experiences with alcohol and we'll see who finds this question inappropriate and who doesn't.
Elena: Yeah, and who knows, people might fall in between. Or our good friend context might be the star of the show yet again!
Harv: Our first guest is journalist Anita Li. Anita has reported for publications across North America. She is now director of communities at The Discourse. She'll be talking about her experience not drinking for her health.
Elena: Can you tell us about a time someone asked you "Why don't you drink?"
Anita Li: Yeah, usually the scenario is maybe after work drinks, you know hanging out with your coworkers or something. I might order something but not sip it, so people then ask me the question. I think when I was younger I definitely probably just made up some sort of excuse or I said I'd maybe drank before, or I was feeling full, or I just don't feel like it today. I would never really be upfront about the fact that I just didn't like it and it didn't sit well with me.
Harv: What was pushing you to conform?
Anita: I mean...
Harv: Or do you think everybody would want to conform at that age?
Anita: Uh, the culture of drinking is extremely pervasive, especially...I mean like not especially in North America, but globally. So like it's constantly portrayed as part of like a normal experience, like, youthful experience, so it made me feel like I was a bit weird. Which is why I didn't feel comfortable, you know, saying no.
Elena: We're exploring the many different reasons people may have for not drinking. What are some of the reasons you don't drink?
Anita: The foremost reason why I don't is because it just, like, it's just bad for my health. I get something called Asian flush, which is—all you Asian listeners out there probably know what I'm talking about. [laughs] You just get this extreme discomfort after you drink, you turn red, you get flushed. In my case, like I have some like skin irritations that would flare up. I would never get the experience that everybody else had, which was like, you know, this fun kind of tipsy, like "Oh yes, like my inhibitions are letting loose." In fact I would become more inhibited, because I was really paranoid about the way I looked and just how I was feeling, and so I would be embarrassed. And I would just also just...I would go from sober, to like either throwing up, or sober to passing out. There was never any sort of in between. And I mean this with, like I'm very serious about this, I'm talking like, I remember like getting sick off of maybe half a bottle of beer or something like that.
Elena: Whoa. [Pause.] Do you think there are some reasons to drink or not to drink that are more socially acceptable?
Anita: Yeah for sure. I think my reason was one of the less socially acceptable reasons, which is it made me uncomfortable, made me sick—which is actually kind of insane, right? Like that's, “Well, I don't care, like, you're gonna drink this and throw up and just for just for my, like, pleasure or something.”
Elena: “Please be sick!”
Anita: I know, “Please be sick,” it's insane actually when you think about it that way. Because people have this weird notion where they're like "We can train you and you will learn." It's like a rite of passage to be able to get good at drinking alcohol for some reason, even though it be better to like pick up up hobby, you know.
Harv: Like watching cricket, or even podcasting, a very nice hobby.
Elena: I'm glad you enjoy it.
Harv: Now that you're not drinking, are people making judgments about you?
Anita: I just think, the judgments that I feared would be made about me was that I was not a fun person, or I was like, maybe hyper-conservative or hyper-religious or something when that wasn't the case. I was just like, it just didn't sit well with me. But I don't think anybody really explicitly, like they would never explicitly say those things, but they would definitely, like, shame in very obvious...subtle ways that were obvious, basically.
Harv: And I wanted to ask you, because you keep describing a work scenario, has not drinking held you back from success at work?
Anita: I definitely feel that in certain contexts and certain work environments, like a lot of your success is predicated on how much you do drink or how much you socialize in those settings, right? So at certain workplaces I've been, that has hindered me from moving up.
Harv: Very interesting. I do work too and when we go out for drinking, we are pretty clear on who wants to drink and who doesn't want to drink, and if somebody says no you get a coke or you get a just a glass of water and we are all fine with it. So I've never ever felt that pressure what you're talking about.
Anita: I mean I'm not gonna speak on your behalf but I would venture to say that people would never pressure you because you're, you're an older man who has like, like a feeling of authority around him I suppose. I think when you're a younger woman like in your early twenties and stuff, especially when you're impressionable, I think it's easier for people to make you feel bad about yourself. I don't know if that makes sense.
Harv: I'm not the only one who drinks less, there are other people within that age group I was talking about.
Anita: I think that's a very specific to your context.
Harv: Is that right?
Anita: Whether it's a school context or work context, and also just conversations I've had with my friends, it's actually a very widespread thing. Which is why there's so much, there's, there's like so many binge drinking that happens among young people.
Elena: Back to the question of "Why don't you drink?" Do you think this is an okay thing to ask people?
Anita: I do think it's kind of invasive, because you know nobody's entitled to know, like why you make the decisions, the personal lifestyles decisions that you make. So for people out there anybody, everybody who's listening, like don't ask that question, it's kind of rude!
Harv: If I ask you "Why don't you drink? Have a drink,” and you say “No I don't want to have it,” “Why?” and you say “I don't,” and then if I'm...I would, at that point I would shut up. But do you get offended if somebody asked you why?
Anita: Like it really depends on the phrasing, like "I'm just curious, like why?" I'd be, you know, I'd be happy to explain it, but if somebody's coming at, coming at you and being really rude, you have every right to be rude back. Why not? They started it. And you know, if people are polite about it and then it's your prerogative to decide whether you want to answer it or not.
Elena: You heard her first, folks.
Elena: Be rude to everyone!
Anita: Yes that is exactly that I'm telling people.
Elena: That’s the new name of the podcast. Perfect!
Harv: So I found Anita's experience very interesting. My experience is somewhat different. However having said that, now, reflecting back, I have been left out in some of the invitations.
Harv: Because I'm not fun.
Elena: Oh no! they think you're not fun?
Harv: Well, I guess so. Having said that, I would still say that it is not significant enough for me to worry about.
Elena: Right, what do you think about Anita's point that it's not your business to know why anyone else makes their life choices?
Harv: And it is absolutely true. However, we are curious, we are curious, and it's not always in an unhealthy way. There's no need to push for an answer. If somebody says that the second time, "No I don't drink," it should be good enough hint to back off.
Harv: Again, it is not a big deal.
Elena: Perhaps for you Harv, but maybe not for all of our guests.
Harv: Fair enough, fair enough.
Elena: Well Harv, you weren't in this next one, so you're gonna hear me flying solo for a bit.
Elena: As I talk to Lauren Strapagiel. Lauren's a reporter for Buzzfeed News and she does drink alcohol. But back in 2016 she had to stop, and the break she took showed her just how alcohol was impacting different areas of her health and her life. Here's my conversation with Lauren.
Elena: We read a personal essay of yours about a month where you decided to take a break from drinking alcohol. Do you want to tell us a bit about why you did that?
Lauren Strapagiel: Yeah so the reason, I would love to say was like "I'm going to like try this and see what it's like to be sober" but it was because I was diagnosed with a stomach ulcer. I'd been waking up in the middle of the night and vomiting for several weeks and I was like "Uh I should see my doctor." She gave me medication but she was like "Look, if you want this to get better you should really maybe not drink, and maybe don't have coffee." I'd actually been kind of considering going, trying to be sober. I was at a point where drinking wasn't feeling that fun anymore, and now that I'm like over 25, hangovers are real now, and they are not fun! And yeah, it's just, it wasn't, it didn't feel as fun or as good as it used to, and I wanted to see what it would feel like to not.
Elena: A great image that you wrote about that kind of sticks in my head, was you drinking tea at like a soiree with some friends, and basically when people would come up and see you with your tea you would explain the ulcer right away before people could even ask the question. Why do you think people feel kind of the need to know why you're not drinking, when they see you there at a party with your mug of tea?
Lauren: Well you stick out, I mean it was interesting because I always felt like the social consequences of not drinking seemed like a bigger deal to me than like, not being able to personally have a drink or not being able to get a little tipsy. At this age and and the social circles I run in, that's what we do when we get together, we drink. So if you're not drinking, it's weird, like you better have a really good reason for it. So I always felt the need to be like "I have an ulcer, I'm not like worried about my alcoholism or anything like that. I have an ulcer, it's tummy tea time!"
Elena: Are there any assumptions that people made about you when you weren't drinking?
Lauren: I think, I don't think anybody did but I think that's what I was worried about. That's why I felt awkward, I thought people might think that I thought I had a problem, or like, I was taking a step back because something had gotten out of hand. Like I lost control of something—which is a really scary thing for other people to think about you.
Elena: So do you think there are some reasons not to drink that are kind of harder for people to process or for yourself to admit to than others? Are the ones that people are more judgmental of, or society is?
Lauren: Yeah there's definitely a judgment of alcoholism, because it's like...because to me, what I kept thinking is like it's an admission that you can't handle this very normal thing that everybody else seems to do healthily, which I don't think it's true at all. There is a history of alcoholism in my family, very strong history of it. So it's always been in the back of my head that that is something I might be more susceptible to than others.
Elena: After this experiment was done, did you feel...has this changed your relationship to drinking nowadays? Is there something that lingers from it?
Lauren: Oh so much lingers from it, I think I drink completely differently now. There's a few like revelations from it. One is how alcohol affects my moods. So I'm actually bipolar type 2, so my moods are pretty like, they kind of go where they want to, and alcohol can actually have a big impact on them in a way I hadn't realized before I was sober for a month. So after you have, I mean alcohol is a depressant, after a night out, if you'd been binge drinking, the next day...I also was really sad and down and for some reason I never made the connection that part of that was related to my drinking, which now seems so stupidly obvious, but it wasn't until I stopped that I realized like, "Hey, maybe I'm happier generally if I drink less."
So I do definitely drink differently now. I still drink but for example, I don't drink by myself. Typically if I'm going to drink it's because I'm at a party, out with someone, hanging out with my girlfriend, whatever. I never just go home and have a glass of wine anymore, like that’s just not part of my routine. And yeah, I think mostly what I've learned is that I can I personally cannot treat it as this totally casual thing because I know how it affects me and how it's affected my family and I have to take that seriously.
Elena: We're talking, on this episode, about the question "Why don't you drink?"
Elena: Is this a nagging question, is it inappropriate, or is this maybe a good way to start conversations?
Lauren: I think it's not a question you should ask people, and this is something I've learned coming from a family with you know alcoholics in it, is that if someone's not drinking, asking them can be...sometimes it's an ulcer, sometimes they're struggling with something. And it’s not your place to bring that up for them. If they want to talk about it that's totally their call, be an ear for them. But you don't know how deep those issues run, and I think it's better to let people come to it themselves.
Elena: If you want to read the essay Lauren wrote for Buzzfeed about her month being sober, it's called "I tested the sober waters and didn't drown."
[music fades out]
Elena: So far our guests have brought up society's relationship with alcohol as part of their own experiences, but we haven't really broke this apart as its own thing.
Harv: So for an expert's perspective on our society's relationship with alcohol, we reached out to Ann Dowsett Johnston. She is the author of Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol. Just a warning: Ann talks openly about her experience with addiction which might be triggering to some.
Ann Dowsett Johnston: I've been focused on alcohol since I was a really little girl. My mother, unfortunately, was a beautiful woman who was a very severe alcoholic. And I spent my childhood thinking about alcohol wondering why people drank. And then lo and behold in the middle of my life, I unfortunately got into trouble with alcohol myself.
In my case, I didn't think I was anything like my mother because I was high-functioning, I was highly educated, I was highly successful. And yet alcohol became a problem for me too. I stopped drinking because I had been medicating depression. And when my son confronted me, when my partner, my sweetheart, confronted me and said my drinking was bothering him, I actually took myself to rehab and it was the best thing I ever did.
The first thing you notice when you don't drink and you say you're not drinking is that other people start minding your business for you: “Why don't you drink?” “oh come on, just have one!” “It can't hurt you, it's Friday night!” And usually I find that it's the person that has a problem with their own drinking or a focus obsession on their own drinking that has trouble with how you're behaving. Usually I just fill my glass with something, make sure that I'm always imbibing something so that people don't pay attention, but people do pay attention. They pay attention and take it very personally if somebody says they’re not drinking.
My opinion is that we are alcogenic or alcocentred in our culture, I should say alcohol-centered, in a way that we focus on...Drinking is our favourite drug. In fact in Canada, 79 percent of those 15 and over drink, which is a very high proportion, much higher than in the United States.
And we are basically peppered with surround-sound messaging, and the messaging goes like this: if you drink the right drink, you will find yourself at the perfect cottage on the perfect weekend with perfect friends. You will find yourself across the table from a perfect lover on a perfectly romantic evening. And no one ever shows the runny mascara or the sore stomach the next day, or the sitting on the side of the bed wondering who did you text and who did you call last night.
Most of us think we don't have a problem, until we do, and if we do, we are totally othered by society. It's a very complex relationship that we have with our alcohol.
I get asked why I don't drink it less so than before Drink came out and the whole world knows that I have a drinking past. I don't have trouble saying because I'm an alcoholic, because it won't bring out the best in me, and usually people just, you know, look at me and say that's very brave.
Elena: Because a common reason not to drink is having a history with alcoholism, we wanted to speak to someone who's in recovery and hear about what getting asked "Why don't you drink?" is like for them.
Harv: We are speaking with Kevin, for privacy reasons we are not using his full name. He has been sober for over five years and participates in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
Elena: Just a warning, Kevin talks openly about his experiences with addiction which might be triggering to some.
Elena: Can you tell us about a time someone asked you "Why don't you drink?" or something similar to that?
Kevin: I guess it's funny because I did not drink when I was a teenager and so I got that question a lot, went from the time I was 16 to the time I was 21 when I actually had my first drink. And I was going out with my friends to bars from the time I was 16 and they would always be "why don't you want to have a beer, why don't you want to have a drink" and I didn't because my father had a drinking problem—he wasn't a full blown alcoholic at the time—but he definitely had one and I could see the problems that was causing around our house and so I just said "I don't drink, I don't drink." When I was 21, I had a series in the space of fourteen weeks: my best friend from high school died, my mother died, and I was in a severe car accident. And I was lying there in the hospital and thinking to myself you know I've been a goody two shoes and all my friends are having fun and what have I gotten for it? Everything, you know, that was important had been taken away from me just like that bang bang bang.
So I decided when I got out of school—out of the hospital that maybe I would try drinking and so I did for a while and it was fine and then later on in life it got worse. Then I crossed the line somewhere. You know there's a saying first the man takes the drink and then the drink takes the man and that's pretty much what happened to me and so I wasted 13 years of my life and now when people say you know why don't you drink I just go you know "I can't, I don't, don't want to" I like I never go into the reasons I don't tell people I'm an alcoholic or anything else like that I just shake my head and say no and luckily these days it's it's much easier to say that when you're out and people just assume maybe you're driving, you've got some kind of a medical condition but it's not it's not an issue for me the way that it was when I was 17 and 18 because then people were very aggressive “why don't you drink, come on be a man, have a drink.”
Elena: Why do you think people make less assumptions that are less aggressive with that question well these days or now that you're older?
Kevin: We’re much more aware I think of the negative effects of alcohol now in our society than we were when I was younger. I mean you know drinking and driving, when I was at university there were certain members of my fraternity who used to say “let's go drinking and driving” and that actually happened.
Kevin: I honestly think society’s approval and attitudes towards alcohol have changed dramatically over the last forty years.
Elena: Could you take us back to the time you started drinking more heavily, what was going on in your life at the time?
Kevin: Oh, I'd come home from work and I'd be frustrated or what was going on at work and and frustrated about what was going on in other parts of my life and at the end of the night when I couldn't sleep it was like you know initially I’d have a couple of drinks and you’d have a couple drinks, you’d fall asleep and that’d be fine and that's fine for a while but your body develops a tolerance, you begin to drink more. As you begin to drink more, it begins to affect the rest your life. Things begin to screw up more, you get even more upset, you get even more worried and then you start realizing “oh my god it’s because I'm drinking” and then and then you're in this sort of never ending cycle where it's like if you're conscious and you’re coming out of it, your brain starts to realize all things that you've done and you get so filled with self loathing and anger and bitterness and vitriol that the that the bottle is the easiest, fastest solution.
So at one point my life, boy if I wasn’t numb, I was ready to kill myself.
Harv: So Kevin, if I'm getting it correct, this was not an outside influence for you to consume excessive alcohol? It was more you?
Kevin: My pride which was excessive beyond belief refused to let me admit that I was an alcoholic, refused to let me admit that I could not do this on my own. The first night I walked into this meeting, five years ago, and and said you know “my name's Kevin and I'm an alcoholic” I felt this weight lift off my shoulders because all the lying I've been doing for twenty years, that I didn't have a problem with alcohol, finally I can admit I had a problem and then once you admit it and you accept help it's been relatively easy since then. I’m not going to say that I've never had cravings and never been tempted to, it happens, but it hasn't been that hard but it was getting over me— I was the biggest stumbling block, I was the guy that was stopping myself from getting sober because I was too proud to admit I was an alcoholic.
Harv: What was the motivation to change? Was it your health? Was it your family life? Was it your career?
Kevin: Actually it was my current girlfriend who I've been with for almost five years, I was drinking when I met her and we were supposed to meet and I was drunk so I was hiding in my awful apartment. And she came up and dragged me back to our house and and you know we had a long talk and it was like “are you going to live or die? If you’re going to die, I'll take you back home you know a stop the liquor store and buy you all the booze you want and you can just go and drink yourself to death.” And that's when I realized “no that's not what I want out of my life.”
I had a very hard time that first three days and then when I could finally walk, I went to my first a meeting and things have changed. So.
Harv: You're much happier now.
Kevin: Yeah, I am.
Harv: And less stressed.
Kevin: Yeah and I can sleep now because I don't have the guilt, I don't have the anguish I don't have the torment, I don't have the worry of all these things that I had before that were all gifts from alcohol.
As they like to say in AA you know “try us for thirty days, you know if you don't like it, your misery will be cheerfully refunded.”
Elena: Did they actually say that?
Kevin: They actually say that.
Harv: I love that quote. Since you stopped drinking has your social life changed? You said you used to go to bars, do you still do that?
Kevin: Um. We went to Sandals a couple years ago, my girlfriend and I, and I didn't really enjoy it. That sense of abandon that you have when you go out and you have a couple drinks and things like that that's gone. I just find it hard to have as much when I'm out with other people who are drinking, I find it hard to have fun in that kind of way so I don't enjoy going out to bars anymore, I don't enjoy going out. Honestly we went to Australia, a couple months ago and most of what we did was hiking and nature hikes and going into the ocean and things like that. I don't think we stepped into a bar in the three weeks that we were there.
Elena: What are the best ways that you can support someone who is starting their process of becoming sober?
Kevin: Well, do they want to become sober? That's the very first question, right? Are they doing it because they want to or they doing it because their wife told them, their boss told them, you know their friend told him, the mother told them or something like that but really they want to keep using. Because that's the big question, you have to want to stop and that will has to be greater within you than the will to use. You know, we say in AA “one day at a time” and that's true, that's what it is. If you don't drink today, it's easier not to drink tomorrow and if you don't drink tomorrow then it’s easier to not drink the day after that.
Fight it today, fight the battle the one day win that, move on to tomorrow. And if you can get the person in that mindset, I think they can cure themselves from anything but they need the support.
Elena: For alcoholics out there looking for help or looking for those resources to get started on their process to recovery, where should they look? What are some, that you know of, what are some resources or places they can find help?
Kevin: You can get to an AA meeting. There's other groups, there’s a group called Smart Recovery that works on something else. There is a book called The Naked Mind that some people say is great at helping you, there's a great Reddit sub called stop drinking that I go to almost every single day and try to help people out there. But yeah it's try to get as many avenues of support as you can depending upon where you are and what you want, there's something there but you have to want it. That's the biggest thing, you have to decide.
Harv: And there is no way you can be encouraged to?
Kevin: Well, what do you mean by encourage? I mean I had lots of encouragement, I have my ex-wife crying, I had my children begging me, I had—I had friends asking me “you know what the hell are you doing” I had people, I had doctors telling me “you know this is, you're gonna kill yourself.” I had all those people encouraging me not to drink and none of it worked until finally I looked at the abyss in front of me and said “I'm either gonna spend the rest of my life down there or I can make a change now” and that's the moment. We all talk about it in AA like the moment when you had your moment of clarity, where you realized it's either keep doing this and die miserable and alone and sick and without friends, without anything or stop and rebuild your life.
And that's I'm doing now, you know it's not, it's still a work in progress but it's gone an awful lot better and I'm much, much happier.
Harv: Thank you Kevin, for sharing your experience with us.
Elena: Yeah, thank you so much we really appreciate it.
Harv: So what I understood from talking to Kevin, is that alcohol can sneak up on you.
Harv: In his case it was a perfect storm he had some personal tragedies and then a lot of pressures and just out of convenience, he tried to, to the help of alcohol.
Elena: Right, a lot of people have described it as an emotional crutch.
Harv: And not too long before that, he didn't even touch a drink. So what I am trying to understand here is that even though people have no such intentions, they may end up in that situation.
Harv: Another thing is that Kevin never mentioned that it was not his fault.
Elena: Right even though I've heard a lot of people describe alcoholism as a disease and yeah diseases aren't someone's fault.
Harv: Exactly and we are very quick to jump to conclusions that it is somebody's fault.
Elena: The stigma there is huge.
Elena: Having a difficult relationship with alcohol can be really hard to talk about openly and especially publicly Denise Yuen is an actor and speaker. She went public to her thousands of followers about her decision to become sober, here we are talking about that decision.
Elena: Did you have any misgivings going into it? Were you at all afraid about being so vulnerable?
Denise Yuen: No, I think I'm kind of past that now. I think that the reason for a lot of the substance dependencies I had in my twenties was really because I lived with a lot of shame and I like I hid a lot. And so that was those things were kind of my crutch to fit in, you know alcohol is a social lubricant and all of that stuff other people are doing it so I want to do it too. And now that I'm a little bit older and I've evolved past that, I'm really very okay with really being myself and being honest and authentic about who I am.
Elena: Right, how did some others react to your post?
Denise: Very supportively. I had this one gentleman who is in AA right now and I just remember a lot of back and forth messages about how much he appreciated my sharing and that's kind of why I do it so that other people can realize that they're not alone.
Elena: Right. You're an actor, you have to network a lot I'm assuming and with your various projects, you have to meet people, you have to go to functions probably parties where there is alcohol everywhere. Has your decision changed your social life at all?
Denise: It might have changed my social life and that kind of awkward period of transitioning but only because I let it. So you know, I would be like “oh I don't want to go to a bar because everyone's drinking” or “I don't want to go to a party because everyone's gonna ask me why I'm not drinking” and so it was kind of all in my head and that did affect my social life because I let it. So now, I'll go to a bar, I'll go to a party, I'll go to where all my friends are at all just order a soda water and with lime and just drink it like a vodka soda and no one even notices.
Elena: Yeah, on your actor Instagram account you even specifically said like “don't stop inviting me places, I'm just gonna be there with my soda or whatever”
Elena: Having the same amount of fun as you. Did not drinking change your relationships with your friends at all?
Denise: Yeah, you know what the biggest thing is that I've actually come to is that what I was very, very worried about was losing certain connections in my life. So having really close friends that I had bonded with over the years, in situations where we were always partying and drinking and you know all of that and feeling like if I stop doing this—which is in essence a way that we bond—I'm gonna lose all these connections.
Denise: And to this day, I have a couple of people that I actually can't really see anymore because that was kind of the basis of our connection or at least the context of it a lot and there were a couple people that I lost but you know what I have to choose the kind of life that I want and if they don't fit into the, you know the new person that I want to be—this more hopefully evolved person that I want to be—then you know the people who are aligned with me just have to fall away.
Elena: So it was more than giving up alcohol, it was losing some things that were connected to that?
Denise: Yeah I think that might be a big one for a lot of people actually because for me, that was the part that was the hardest. Was thinking that I would lose some people and the, you know, my real friends that I really connected with on a level that was a you know, so much more substantial and real I didn't lose them. But there are some other friends that maybe, you know, losing that connection made me think twice about the kind of friendship that we really had.
Elena: Is why don't you drink, in your mind, an inappropriate question?
Denise: It can be inappropriate depending on what the intention is behind the question so if the person is asking with judgment, then yeah that's inappropriate. But if the person's asking just because they're genuinely curious about why you don't drink, maybe they feel like they can learn from that, maybe they are secretly actually trying to move away from alcohol too. So I think more and more, I’m meeting people who are curious about what that lifestyle is like “like what is it like to go to a party and not drink” and “what is it like to not drink at all in your life, to not even have a drop of alcohol, is it hard?” Like all these questions that you're asking me, I think that a lot of people, they want to know because all they've ever known is this culture of drinking and if you're younger or you know are in a fraternity or something you know, it's it's a culture of heavy drinking right? So I think sometimes people just aren't exposed and they want to learn things that they're not exposed to and they wanna know if it might be a lifestyle that works for them.
Elena: Shout out to all the frat boys who listen to this podcast, I know there are many of you.
Harv: So Elena, after listening to all these stories I have learned a lot and one of the things I would definitely say is that when we start blaming the people who are having that addiction,
Harv: That is definitely not very helpful.
Harv: In addition, the change has to come in within you, until it comes from within yourself it is not going to, it is not going to be possible for you to get rid of addiction. No other thing will be able to motivate you.
Elena: Overall Harv, from everyone we listened to, do you still hold fast to your opinion that this is in lots of contexts an appropriate question?
Harv: It is an okay question but again we keep coming back to the same thing, context is everything.
Elena: Our friend context.
Harv: We can ask that question but then we should know where the limits are, when we should, when we need to stop.
Elena: Right, I totally see where you're coming from I think back to a time when, you know, I was talking to my little brother and I feel like I almost, without meaning to, pressured him to drink. He was turning 19 and we were going out for dinner and I was like “oh my god, are you going to have a drink?” and he was a little reluctant and I didn't cool the jets, I was just kind of like “yeah but like don't you want to” and it eventually came out that he is worried about drinking because of the alcoholism in our family history, becoming like my grandfather in particular who, his family was really impacted by his drinking. So anyway, all that to say it may be my go to is going to be not pressing.
Elena: And not kind of like digging into someone's reasons unless they openly share that with me.
Harv: And that's not just for alcoholism or alcohol, it's for everything.
Harv: Let people be who they are, just know your boundaries.
Elena: Yeah, yeah boundaries is a good one. I was going to say “Lay off! Don't bug people.”
Harv: Fair enough.
Elena: “Don't talk to humans.”
Harv: I'm Harvinder Wadhwa.
Elena: And I'm Elena Hudgins Lyle.
Harv: Thanks for getting inappropriate with us!
Elena: Thanks to our guests Robin Goodfellow, Anita Li, Lauren Strapagiel, Ann Dowsett Johnston, Kevin, and Denise Yuen. The webcomic that goes along with this episode can be found at iqpodcast.com. This episode it was done by Grace Bevan, you can find more of Grace’s art at mostlyyescomics.tumblr.com. Follow us on all the socials at IQ_Podcast and talk to us!
Harv: We want to hear from you!
Elena: The magical unicorns behind this podcast are Sabrina Bertsch, Erin Guerette, Cindy Long and myself.
Harv: And thank you to our interns and associates Nuha Khan, Pia Araneta, Fariha Ahmed and Hailey Krychman. We are supported by the Ryerson University Transmedia Zone.
An inappropriate question is like being stuck in the middle seat on a long-haul flight.