May I just say this once and never have to revisit it again?

I am not an alcoholic.

Just because I don’t drink, it doesn’t mean I have a problem with alcohol … even on religious grounds.

I just don’t drink.

You would think that anyone would be thrilled to say such a thing. But I find it distasteful to object too strongly because of what it says about people who are alcoholics.

Alcoholics have a disease; this does not make them bad people.

Recovering alcoholics have a disease, but they have 10 times more resolve than I will ever have. Amazingly, they don’t drink even though the disease is still there.

So, on the one hand, I don’t want to insult those who haven’t been able to wrestle their alcoholism to the ground; yet, on the other, I don’t deserve the respect that should go to recovering alcoholics.

The truth is that alcohol gives me heartburn. That’s it.

Well, it did 25 years ago and my doctor told me to quit drinking if I didn’t like the pain. My friends freaked and encouraged me to go to A.A. You see, I used to drink for the wrong reasons and always to excess.

I went once, that first day. The stories I heard made me ashamed to be there because I had experienced none of it.

Sure enough, Day 2 and Day 3 passed with no problems whatsoever.

By the second and third months, I was liking this new freedom of mine. I liked having the extra cash in my pockets. But, more than anything, I liked being the responsible one.

When my friends were in trouble, it was me they turned to. Regardless of what time of night, I was clear-headed and ready to offer a drive or an ear to listen.

I would order soft drinks in bars and receive them for free because, as always, I was the designated driver. But more and more, I really did not like what alcohol did to people around the table. Conversations got more silly and angry.

Today, there is a wonderful little pill that prevents heartburn and I probably could drink again. I have a choice – a real choice not influenced by a physiological dependence or shallow friends who need a drinking buddy – and of course I choose not to drink.

Who would choose to drink if they had a real choice? Who would want to be unable to drive themselves home or be susceptible to saying things they would not normally say (often for good reason)?

There are three things that truly scare me. Harm coming to my children is the obvious one; regret is the other, and losing control is probably the most pertinent here.

Alcohol has the ability to make all of my main fears come alive so I doubt I will ever drink again.

I have learned how to relax without alcohol and I have learned how to blend in with a crowd of drinkers.

But I haven’t learned how to respond to people when they assume I am an alcoholic.

I was talking to a couple once and a mutual friend came up in the conversation. I said we had first met when we went to the same parties. I could see the looks on their faces change when I said that (our friend having recently become sober), but I could not find a way to distance myself without insulting him.

Others have told me of their battle with the bottle, and I have let them continue assuming I had the same problems because I didn’t want to embarrass them. But I could still speak to the wonders of a sober life and, hopefully, offer some incentive for them to make the effort.