Sober Yellowknife: Strategies for Staying on the Wagon

Yellowknife is not an easy place to be sober. The North, in general, can be a place of easy temptation when it comes to alcohol, and Yellowknife, with its young transient population, cold weather, multitude of bars and streams of disposable income, can be particularly challenging for those on the wagon.

When we started talking to people about the idea of choosing a sober lifestyle in our city, we were met with quite a few laughs, scoffs, winces and even the response of, “Two words: almost impossible.”

Sobriety can be a temporary choice as part of fitness training, a health challenge or cleanse, an elimination diet or even pregnancy. The choice can also be lifelong, made for medical reasons, reactions with medications, mental or physical illness, or in response to a genetic disposition to – or history with – alcoholism.

Friendships may change, and your own interests may change as well. That’s all well and good, but giving up alcohol doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy your life in Yellowknife.

Chances are, the decision to give up alcohol means that you’ll go through some major lifestyle adjustments. Friendships may change, and your own interests may change as well. That’s all well and good, but giving up alcohol doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy your life in Yellowknife.

While it may be tempting to avoid any possible temptation by withdrawing from your social life, doing so can create an unhealthy relationship between fun and alcohol. By building up a support team, keeping your convictions strong and planning ahead, you will be able to face the unavoidable challenges knowing they won’t be impossible to overcome.

EDGE assembled a panel of six Yellowknifers who have chosen to keep things dry at some point and asked them what advice they might give to others navigating some typically triggering situations.

Situation: Wedding Season

Being part of a group of misfits thrown together to celebrate your common loved ones, combined with the emotions that can arise from witnessing a patriarchal construct – ahem, vow exchange – might initiate a knee jerk reaction to head for a bottle of social lubricant. But fear not. Just because there’s a dance floor and an open bar it doesn’t mean you’ll have to end up cursing yourself with a monogrammed wine bottle and half-eaten cake on the bathroom floor at the end of the night.

Benefits of Staying Sober:

There won’t be any sloppy speeches, breakdowns or random hookups with members of the bridal party to regret (unless that’s just how you do weddings – no judgment). There will also be no embarrassing footage of your slips, falls, dance floor high kicks or gropes recorded for everyone on Facebook’s amusement the next day. Sober you will have been present enough to have the bridesmaids delete that nonsense straight away. Unless you made it all look impressive, which you probably did. Well done.

Strategies:

Dance. Dance like you mean it. Dance because everyone’s likely too worried about their own dancing or drama to care. If they’re watching, they’re probably wishing they were you, killing it out there, but they feel like they’d have to drink more to get to that level of perceived freedom. Be a hero and start a conga line.

Also recommended and highly achievable at such functions: Dance with kids and grandparents, because the guaranteed giggle fits and joy that will spark is contagious.  

Situation: The House Party

This may be your most typically encountered YK danger zone, especially during our city’s coldest months (which is most of them). A few close friends try to get all their other friends together to see how they mix when they add music, alcohol, the weekend and someone else’s house. These interactions can create excellent bonding opportunities and kickstart new friendships. On the down side, the house party interaction can be the most difficult for the non-drinker to maneuver, causing them to question whether or not these kinds of intense weekend friendships can be forged through anything other than the euphoric powers of beer. 

You can enjoy genuine conversation with people who are in a collectively fantastic mood, or appreciate the magic that is an impromptu Old Town jam session for all that it is.

Benefits of Staying Sober:

You can focus on the quality of your interactions with the good people you know and be present and open to those you could get to know. You can enjoy genuine conversation with people who are in a collectively fantastic mood, or appreciate the magic that is an impromptu Old Town jam session for all that it is. After all that, you can drive or paddle yourself home safely and without worrying about where you left your vehicle or phone, or how you’ll get across town or back to shore in the morning. You’ll be home in time to watch some syndicated SNL.

Strategies:

Most of our panelists breezed through this one, agreeing that as long as you bring a good non-alcoholic beverage and drink from your own cup or water bottle, no one will know or care what you’re drinking. If you’re around good people, no one will make a fuss, and if you’re a good person, you probably won’t either. Midnight, however, can be the witching hour: when interactions between those drinking and those staying sober become completely unintelligible. It’s at this point that you may have to bow out and hear all about the rest of the night’s adventures in the morning.

Big suggestion: Make your own house party that isn’t centered on drinking, like games or art nights. Plan other opportunities to interact with friends outside of the party scene. Get outdoors or involved in things that focus on your hobbies and interests. You’ll get all of the benefits of friendship without the liquor sads/emotional hangovers.

Situation: Folk on the Rocks

The annual Yellowknife Summer festival features seemingly everyone in town gathered in their flower child garb, getting sun-drenched and dusty while listening to music by the water. For some, it’s an opportunity to let loose and be blissfully day drunk all weekend, in the beer garden or tailgating in the parking lot. The festival can easily turn into a blurry memory of a weekend spent entirely sipping back booze.

Benefits of Staying Sober:

All day sunshine combined with all day alcohol equates to maximum dehydration and possibly several days of hangover spilling into the work week. Avoiding alcohol during festival weekend also means no time wasted waiting in long ticket lines followed by long beer lines and bathroom lines, meaning more time spent listening to great music, hugging friends and taking dips in the lake. The amount of money saved means more money freed up for the merch and market tents – and maybe another music festival this season. Also, not drinking all day means there’s no need to wait for a cab or crowded party bus at the end of the night. You can be the hero DD (if you choose*) or bike home safely on an endless sunny summer evening.

*Says one panelist: “Being sober does not obligate you to drive anyone anywhere. That’s what cabs are for.”

Strategies:

A few of our panelists described this scenario as “one of the most non-alcoholic friendly events around.” Just stay out of the beer gardens. No, no, we’re kidding; that’s impossible. There’s great music happening and a lot of your friends will be there mingling at the picnic tables or kicking up some sand near the stage. Make a beeline to them and focus on the music, friends and your water bottle. Otherwise, “Folk on the Rocks is a great opportunity to act like a kid, and even side step the beer garden entirely,” says one panelist. “Clearly, they’re having the best time out of all of us there, playing in the sand and water, tromping around in face paint and dancing like crazy at the side stage. Children are…total role models at Folk.” There really is so much more to soak in beyond the beer garden; that is, about three or four other stages.

Situation: After Work Drinks

AKA: BK Friday at Five. Sometimes there is no better way to blow off some steam with people you’ve shared tension with from 9 to 5 all week than clinking glasses together immediately after a busy work day is done. This is an important bonding ritual, especially among downtown office workers, where a change of atmosphere and the likely addition of alcohol means everyone can lighten up a notch under the mutual hope and trust that those lowered inhibitions won’t lead to fireable offences by the end of the night.

Benefits of Staying Sober:

You’ll be able to keep your head about you while chatting up the boss, the HR lady you need on your side or the new co-worker you’re trying to impress. The risk of ruining your career by letting something slip about that file you forgot to send or the stapler you’ve been ‘borrowing’ for years is lowered significantly. Not eliminated, but lowered.

Strategies:

Order soda or tonic water with lemon or lime. Don’t mention the sobriety. Most work-related situations won’t get that personal, but it’s advisable that you mention your choice to some trusted co-workers in private beforehand. Eat. Drink. Be merry and social. Again, no need to mention the sobriety bit here unless someone notices and decides to push the issue. Note that if you’re female and a co-worker follows this up with any kind of question implying that it must be because you’re pregnant, this is also likely the co-worker who sends chain emails and jams the photocopier every day. While cautioning that it’s never advisable to lie, if a pushy person just won’t stop prying, you can offer up these surefire lines offered by a panelist: “I’m on antibiotics.” (No one wants to know about your gross bacterial infection); “I’m on a cleanse.” (No one cares); “I have to wake up SUPER early.” (Just can’t argue with that.)    

At least someone will be able to recount some of the stories from the night’s adventures.

Situation: The All Nighter

Here it is, one of the most challenging social scenarios to navigate while sober. What we’re describing here is the ‘go hard or go home’ kind of night that’s treated like it might be the end of the world, and the only way to fully bond and validate one another is through consuming massive amounts of alcohol as a collective unit. Your buddy might be back from camp for the night, or there’s a friend passing through town and you want to show them the greatest night of their lives. Your plan to visit every bar in the city may have come up earlier that day – or just after that third shot of Burt Reynolds – but at some point you realize you’re in for it tonight, and tomorrow won’t be pretty.

Benefits of Staying Sober:

At least someone will be able to recount some of the stories from the night’s adventures.

Strategies:

Laugh. Bond with your friends. These are still your friends, after all, and you’ve been invited out because they think you’re fun and want to spend time with you. You are not a pariah and you are still allowed to go out and have a good time. Keep a non-alcoholic drink in your hand throughout the night so you’ll still feel part of the ritual. ‘Near-beer’ in a glass can do the trick, or get the bartender to whip up something fancy-looking, our panelists suggest. Just be sure to tip your server well in any restaurant or bar scenario. They won’t be making as much money from your non-alcoholic bill, so it’d be kind to help compensate. Take care of your friends. Share some laughs with them until the ‘witching hour’ mentioned above, and catch up with them in the morning for the hungover recap. Maybe bring coffees.

As a final note, when in doubt please remember the advice of a panelist’s mother, who wisely said: Nobody actually cares about you [being sober]. They’re not paying attention. As much as you feel like the centre of attention because you’re the only sober one in the room, you just aren’t. Everyone is the centre of their own attention.”

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