Typically, the fact that I don’t drink doesn’t intercept much on my life. I just go about my day, same as anyone, only difference being that I do it completely sober. Pretty much the only time that I start to feel awkward about not drinking is when there’s something to celebrate, and as I and most of my peers are winding down the school year and preparing to graduate now, I’ve gotten pretty accustomed to going over the same exchange lately.
Person: “Aren’t you getting a drink?”
Me: “No, I’ll just have a water.”
Person: (Looks at me like I suddenly sprouted a new head)
Me: “I don’t drink.”
Sometimes they’ll leave it at that and move on. Sometimes I’ll get the typical “you’re already high on life” comment, and I’ll laugh and agree with that. And then sometimes there will be this lingering awkwardness that follows, and I’ll feel the need to explain myself.
Me: “I just don’t find it fun.”
And that’s true. Every time that I’ve taken a drink in the past, it was only because the people around me were drinking and I felt expected to join in, or that it would be rude to turn it down. After all, alcohol was just supposed to be fun, right? They were just trying to have fun, and I felt like saying no to alcohol was taking this abstract concept called ‘fun’, tearing it down, ripping it up, and stomping on it for all to see. If I didn’t drink, then I was a prude, or stuck-up, or a buzz kill, something along those lines, and nobody wants to be that. So I’d drink this beverage that I never really acquired a taste for (I’m the sort of person who would prefer my alcohol to taste as little of alcohol as possible, please and thank you), and I’d get drunk very quickly because I’m a lightweight, and then I’d very quickly come to regret it. I hated the feeling of being drunk, because I hated having no control over my actions like that, and I hated the feeling of waking up the next morning wondering why the fuck I said that, why the fuck I did that, how do people actually enjoy doing this regularly?
And I know, I know, the solution to that problem is simply to not get so drunk that you have no control. Moderate your drinking, make sure that you’re just reaching a place where you’re goofy and having fun and then take it no further. And all of that would be well and good if I simply had the interest, but I don’t. Like I said, I don’t like alcoholic beverages, and the amount of fun that I get out of being tipsy is not worth the price of the sort of drink that I actually would like.
But more important than any of that, deciding not to drink was a symbol for me. It was a mark that I was going to change my life and become a new person. And, yeah, that sounds dramatic, and I know what you’re thinking: nothing that I’ve said up to this point has at all indicated that I had a drinking problem, so how could that decision have been so life-altering? Well, here’s the thing: no, I didn’t have a drinking problem, but I did have a problem with doing things because other people expected me to. If I was in a group of people and they were all going to have a drink, then I was going to have a drink, not because I wanted to (because, really, I didn’t), but because I felt like they expected me to. And that issue permeated more than just drinking for me; I made my decisions based off of what other people wanted me to do, I was fully prepared to hand over complete control of my life to another person, and there came a point where I simply decided that I didn’t want to do that anymore. I wanted control of my life, I wanted to make decisions because that was what I wanted to do. And when I came to that conclusion, I figured that I would start with one small symbol, one tiny, insignificant thing to prove to myself that I was making a change in my life: I would only ever drink when I wanted to drink. And, as it turns out, I don’t want to drink all that often.
And sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes I feel the weight of this societal expectation to drink. You see it in movies, in music, in media in general: this association between alcohol and good times. People who drink alcohol have fun, and sometimes I feel like I can’t have as much fun as other people because I’m not getting drunk all the time. Except I know that I’ve tried it before, and in my experience, alcohol never led up to lounging in a hot tub surrounded by attractive people. Typically, it led up to me crying about how I’m single, throwing up all over the place, and then waking up with a hangover. And not to mention, in the case of far too many of my friends, alcohol led up to a dependancy that completely altered the course of their lives and that some of them are still living with.
And of course, I’m not trying to say that anyone who drinks is wrong or stupid or even dependant; I’m not that dismissive of other perspectives. I would never tell someone that they shouldn’t drink, and if I’m out with a group of friends, I am totally happy sipping on my lemon water while commenting on how pretty their cocktails are or giving them pointers on how to properly pour from a pitcher of beer. All that I’m saying is that society gives us this image of alcohol as being a vehicle to good times, but that is only one perspective. There are millions of perspectives, each of them just as valid, and from my perspective, alcohol just isn’t important enough for me to make myself uncomfortable for the sake of other people.