Navigating networking occasions as a person who doesn’t consume

“Are you absolutely sure you just want a Diet program Coke?,” a colleague says to me nearly just about every time we’re at a networking event, motioning towards the bartender or glancing at the glass of wine in their hand. This plan is pretty popular to me: Get a drinking water or a Diet plan Coke, chit-chat with a person I haven’t noticed in a even though, and then inevitably be questioned why I’m not drinking alcoholic beverages. 

I like to be in regulate in qualified configurations, and I never essentially enjoy ingesting alcohol the way some others do, but I really don’t disclose this to my colleagues. Social predicaments are nerve-racking enough for me because of my autism: They are loud, crowded, and generally too much to handle. They are also inaccessible at times. I’ll refuse to drink at them due to the fact I’m anxious that I could possibly say a little something out of transform, violate some social norm, or unintentionally say a little something inappropriate if my judgment and coping abilities are impaired by liquor. I also have safety considerations. I would instead be absolutely conscious of any likely awkward or hazardous interactions. 

I would somewhat be entirely aware of any probable uncomfortable or unsafe interactions.

But I don’t want to convey to my colleagues the way that my incapacity may possibly interact with alcoholic beverages or the pressure I facial area to be provided socially and professionally at periods. Autistic folks by now will mask or consider to go as neurotypical in do the job conditions we are historically underemployed or unemployed, can sometimes be bullied or harassed at do the job, and the natural way connect in a different way. Even when I smile and say “No thanks,” nonetheless clutching my soda or water, there is practically always a silent judgment or fast follow-up problem about the nonalcoholic beverage in my hand. 

The echoes of “Come on, it is just a person drink,” or “Why really do not you have a beer or a glass of wine with us?” normally follow me from dialogue to discussion, as I shake fingers and give out business cards. Networking is currently sufficient of a uncovered talent and outdoors of my convenience zone, different from the simple fact that I’m habitually violating this predicted norm.

Folks don’t drink at skilled situations for a selection of reasons, most related to disability. Some, like me, fret about highlighting pre-current social deficits. Some others may possibly be taking remedies to handle signs and symptoms like long-term ache, depression, or nervousness, and these medications don’t blend well with alcoholic beverages and could lead to a significant professional medical crisis. Conveying the drugs you take or disclosing a incapacity can be a sensitive subject matter dependent on the man or woman and predicament, and potentially a networking event isn’t the right place or time to mention possessing a continual situation. Some may perhaps be expecting and not prepared to share the information nevertheless. Somebody may possibly have alcoholic beverages use problem and be in restoration. Or a individual may well consume for moral or religious motives. 

In spite of the point that a third of employees would like not to consume in professional configurations, numerous networking activities are even now stubbornly centered all-around liquor. There is a unique pressure to consume, even when you have a disability. There is a want to suit in, to keep away from the complicated questions, suit in, or impress a person who has influence in your business. It is in particular evident to me, as anyone who typically goes to events in the authorized field, in which alcoholic beverages tradition is prevalent.

While it would be nice for occasion planners to provide lots of fun nonalcoholic solutions and for persons to understand that their “curiosity” about someone’s connection with alcohol is not constantly wise (or expert) to carry up, the onus sad to say normally falls on the particular person abstaining from drinking.

The issue is, you really do not owe everyone your health-related record or disability status.

Everybody has diverse coping mechanisms for handling judgment and curious questions. Some folks are really open about sobriety journeys, their psychological well being, or the medications they are using. Some men and women come to feel great just saying a consume can affect their temper and wellness in a way they’re not comfy with. The detail is, you don’t owe any individual your health-related record or incapacity standing. 

With persons I just satisfy, I just shrug and say I’m very good, many thanks. With somebody I’m additional at ease with, I could possibly be ready to share additional about how I desire to experience socially knowledgeable and much better in a position to gauge how other people may perhaps be imagining and feeling, while I do not want the interaction to center my autism. (I’d sometimes instead not quickly emphasize the points that are complicated or a lot less purely natural to me, which include neurotypical social cues). Other occasions I’m all right with it, mainly simply because I primarily do neurodiversity consulting and it’s a natural segway to the conversation about my career trajectory. 

For other folks, a basic “I really don’t drink” suffices, because they are well prepared to shut down the normal inclination for a stick to-up concern inquiring why, recognizing both the simple reaction is good ample or they really don’t feel obligated to give specifics. Often the toughest part is just getting relaxed and collected, averting sounding as well defensive, and quickly transitioning the conversation to anything else you’d fairly be talking about. 

If you’re shy, the vintage trick of what my close friends in college or university utilized to do can occur in useful: Order an alcoholic consume, but just maintain on to it without at any time having a sip. For my autistic self, this can be a rapid pinch alternative, in particular if there are no other nonalcoholic selections. This could possibly be far more hard if you’re in recovery and the temptation is there, but for individuals with other explanations for their sobriety, this is an quick way to steer clear of the awkwardness and curiosity completely. 

When I still discover myself smiling and steering clear of the vulnerability of speaking about my autism and how it affects me when I’m in networking scenarios, I’ll proudly buy a Eating plan Coke at the bar. It’s my preferred consume in any case, and I know I am honoring what is best for my brain and entire body whilst letting myself to sense risk-free and self-assured. 


Haley Moss is an autistic attorney, writer, and neurodiversity advocate.

Networking