Thursday, March 4, 2010

On Being a 20-Something Non-Drinker

When I met slam poet Jared Paul last weekend, I noticed a single patch on his jacket that said the following: "IT'S OKAY NOT TO DRINK."

I never drank in high school. My friends and I weren't "cool" by any stretch of the imagination-- with me being particularly nerdy-- so we never had party invitations rolling in. I can't speak for them, but I was never interested in alcohol or drugs. I was very focused on school, and I was very sure about what constituted a good time. I enjoyed watching movies, baking, going to the mall, reading, and creating fake poetry/jazz nightclubs at sleepovers (this is not a joke-- my best friend and I are weird). I was content with my party-free life.

At the tail end of year 16, I met my first boyfriend, who was big into pot-- and other drugs on occasion-- and alcohol. In my head, I knew better than to get involved with him, but once he told me he loved me, I was hooked on him. I asked him to stop doing drugs, and as far as I know, he did. However, he still smoked cigarettes and got drunk on a daily basis. Half the time I saw him, he was drunk, and when he was drunk, our interactions could go any number of ways: several times he broke up with me and then apologized later, he'd be incredibly hostile, he would be so loving that I forgave all the shitty things he'd do to me and the way his lifestyle made me sick. For the first time in my life, I was the girl hanging out late at night in the woods by the train tracks and trying to look tough in alleyways. The way First Boyfriend lived was intriguing, because I'd never been so close to drugs and alcohol and general debauchery. Still, I didn't really want to be a part of it.

The first time I tried alcohol, I was 17. I hated it and didn't get the appeal.

When I was 18, I finally cut off my toxic relationship and started dating my current boyfriend, who's never touched drugs or alcohol. He's a much better fit for me for many reasons, but his abstinence from substances is definitely a plus.

Of course, when I was 18, I went to college. I went to some parties, where I would take a red cup of something in order to fit in, but usually wouldn't drink it. I felt cool enough being included, even though parties made me nervous and uncomfortable. After awhile, I stopped feeling included and started feeling frustrated that in a room full of trashed people, I related to no one. Many of my close friends from home who never had to drink to have fun started drinking and trying drugs. My freshman-year roommate and her friends, all previously non-drinkers, started partying. I felt completely isolated.

I still feel completely isolated. I am 21 now, and the whole drinking thing is still as unappealing as it was back in elementary school or whenever we started being told drugs and alcohol are bad. I go out and drink maybe twice a year, one drink per occasion. I have never been drunk, and have no desire to experience it. That makes me feel like some sort of alien.

For me, not drinking makes sense. My father has an alcohol problem, First Boyfriend has an alcohol problem, my current boyfriend's adoptive father has a major alcohol problem. I don't enjoy the taste of alcohol or the idea of being drunk-- I would rather have a good time while sober, even though it seems that most of my peers aren't into that sort've thing. I know people who get drunk and hook up and make fools of themselves when they deserve so much more respect.

Binge-drinking is terribly destructive for the mind and body. I worry about the kind of people my generation will grow up to be-- will the party ever end for them, and how will it? The whole idea of drinking for fun--and to adhere to social norms-- is incredibly immature. That I think this makes me very different from 99% of the young people I encounter. I feel like an old lady.

My best friend moved to Texas and got into drugs and alcohol for awhile. When she decided to stop, she realized how much she missed the days when we had sleepovers and baked brownies and watched Monty Python and said ridiculous things until late, late at night. She said she'd never be able to find a relationship like ours again, because no one she knows would do any of those things sober. She said how you always see photos on Facebook of people doing funny things captioned "and I wasn't even drunk yet!" and that she wishes she knew more people like us that wanted to be playful and silly just because, without needing an excuse. The things that make our friendship the dearest thing in our hearts seems to exist in a bubble, ours alone.

The fact that I don't see drinking the same way as many of the people I know makes me feel proud of myself, but it's also incredibly saddening. Sometimes I get this sense that I'll never have the memories my friends will have, the wild stories, and that somehow that makes me very uncool. My boyfriend summed it up pretty well one Friday night after we'd played video games, had sex, and watched some ridiculous show on Spike TV: "do you ever feel like we're missing out on something?"

The more I think about it, though, the more I really don't think I am.


Brittney said...

Good for you, Vanessa! I am a 23-year-old non drinker as well. I've tried and tried, and while I'll have an occaisional glass of wine with my parents, I don't want to try to drink anymore. Last time I did, I got a drink at a club with my boyfriend, and it affected my ability to have fun all night long. (I'm a bit of a control freak, so that surely contributes to my lack of interest!) My #1 reason for not trying to get drunk is that I am a boisterous, loud, impulsive person when I am sober. I don't need alcohol to do crazy things, I just need my best friend standing next to me going "Don't do it... don't... BRITTNEY." and I'll do pretty much anything. :)

So, cheers to you! And your choice to not drink! I'd rather chill and watch movies and bake cookies any day.

Rachel Elizabeth said...

I am the same way. I am 22 and obviously I don't drink now because I am pregnant but I never have seen the appeal. I guess I just like to be in control of my self and my husband is the same way. He can enjoy one beer without feeling the need to get drunk and has always been that way.

Zmaga said...

I think your choice is ultimately your choice, and if you feel comfortable about it, that's the most important thing. You're not missing out, and if you are, you are missing out on something you don't want to do anyway, and that's completely legitimate.

Julie said...

I'm 23, and I'm drinking a glass of red wine as I write this.

You're not really missing out by not binge-drinking. It's unhealthy, expensive and distracts you from a lot of things. However, I am not the least bit ashamed to enjoy a good glass of wine with dinner, a cold beer on a summer afternoon or a lot of drinks with good friends.

I had my first drink when I was 17. I don't remember exactly when, which sounds horrible, but it's not: I had been tasting wine for a few months and at some point I had my own glass of wine in my hand. The legal drinking age in my country is 18, so I was almost legal. Many of the people around me at the time had been drinking heavily - to the point of being drunker than I had ever been - since the age of twelve. On the other hand, I had (and still have) completely "non-alcoholic" friends.

However (and this is important) people drink alcohol without binge-drinking. I grew up associating small quantities of alcohol with good food and good company. My parents never got drunk, so when I saw 13-year-olds stumbling through the woods, I associated drunkenness with childishness. Today the people I get along with are the people who have the same idea about alcohol as I do: it can be very enjoyable, but you should always make sure you can live without it, and anyone should be able to choose not to drink. But just be careful not to label all drinkers as "people who can't have fun without alcohol" or "people who have alcohol problems". You could be limiting your circle of friends.

I would rather chill, watch movies, bake cookies AND split a nice bottle of something with a good friend than do shots any day.

Vanessa said...

Brittney: Yeah, seriously, I can totally relate. I'm ridiculous enough on my own.

Rachel: I didn't know you were pregnant-- congrats! It's nice to know your boyfriend drinks responsibly-- I know there are definitely a lot of people out there like him.

Zmaga: That's a great point-- you can't really miss out when you're not really interested in the thing you're "missing."

Julie: I hope the post didn't come off like I'm trying to say people who drink at all are bad. I think part of the reason that I particularly addressed binge drinking, which frustrates me the most, is that I go to college, and that's really a huge part of college culture. I know there are people who don't drink to excess, and I'm definitely okay with that-- I realize that a glass of wine isn't going to hurt anyone. And certainly not all drinkers find getting drunk the only way they can have fun, it's just something that I've been mulling over a lot since coming to college because I definitely DO meet a lot of people who don't socialize much without alcohol involved for one reason or another.

I tend to wonder if your culture (I'm not sure where you're from, but I'm assuming not the US due to the drinking age) is a little more relaxed about alcohol. I think one of the reasons college kids are so crazy in the US is the drinking age. I've always been under the impression that places with lower drinking ages drink more responsibly. I could be wrong, though, so feel free to comment back.

Leticia said...

Hey everyone! I had my first drink when I was 14, that is quite normal here in Spain. I hated it. For social teenager reasons I tried to like it for a year, to "be cool", but then, at age 15, I decided I was done with "trying to fit", and anyone wouldn´t tell me what I could or could not do. I´ve been bothered about this ever since(I´m 27!!!), being noticed how weird I was for not drinking(hellooooo, Spain!!), and lately I have started enjoying a mojito or so(one a month maximum!uou!), but still don´t understand those who can´t have fun without it, or worse, spend a week without it!!!Anyway, because of my natural energy and crazyness, I even got to be admired for being able to have as much fun(or even more, I´d say) as them all without drinking....and without losing next day on hangovers, I always add!HA!There ain´t only ONE definition for fun, and I have the fun I feel like having, and it´s always natural!!!double HA!

Vanessa said...

Leticia: Awesome, girl! I'm glad you stuck to what you felt was right and came out so much better for it. You sound like so much fun to hang out with :)

Julie said...

(Warning, long comment. You kind of asked for it. :-) )

I'm from Norway. Overall Norwegians are NOT relaxed about alcohol. We have a long tradition of irresponsible binge-drinking that goes back to the Vikings. Today we have very high taxes on alcohol and a "Wine Monopoly", one semi-government-controlled chain of stores that is allowed to sell wine and spirits (beer is sold in stores, but only at specific times). All these measures are to make us drink less, but I believe it makes people drink more. It makes alcohol kind of exciting and "forbidden" and therefore more interesting in itself, rather than just another kind of unhealthy habit like chocolate. And that's why I think the American drinking age is beyond ridiculous. It makes alcohol seem grown-up and interesting. Plus, when alcohol in most of college is illegal, it makes drinking something you do in secret, which I think makes it easier to make the mistake of binge-drinking at a party versus having three glasses of wine at a restaurant. The fact that you can vote and die for your country, but you can't have a beer, is just wrong, in my opinion.

A couple of years ago, I lived in Paris for a few months. They are a lot more relaxed about alcohol there, and wine in particular is more of a cultural experience than a binge experience for many French people. Not that French teens and college students don't drink (lots), but they can usually handle their drinking by the time they're in their twenties. When I went back to Norway and saw the drunk 20-something girls stumbling around the city around midnight on the weekends, I suddenly realized that that was a sight I never saw in Paris.

I had many American friends in Paris, and many of them were not yet 21. They had some experience with drinking, but many of them clearly had no experience with drinking without getting drunk. I would order a jug of red wine when we went out to eat, and they would say "Julie! It's a school night!" I had to explain to them that I wasn't an alcoholic, just European.

The drinking cultures across the world are blending together these days (globalization!). Norwegians are starting to drink more during the week (after-work drinks or wine with dinner), emulating other Europeans. And younger French teens are starting to binge more, emulating Scandinavians and Americans, presumably.

When I was in China back in 2004, I was struck by the lack of drunkenness. I talked to a college girl there and asked her if any of her friends were drinkers. She said "I'm sure some people at my school drink a lot, but I don't really know anyone who does." Not that I did any research on this, but I did attempt to go bar-hopping in Shang-Hai, and things were pretty quiet. The drunk people turned out to be Scandinavian tourists. I was often offered Chinese beer with lunch and dinner, and it really worked with the food, so I enjoyed that. But anything more just seemed out of place. China has no drinking age, as far as I know. You can buy alcohol in stores at any age. But that doesn't mean you can afford it, or that you want to. Still, I'm sure they'll start to drink like Americans soon. Sigh.

Julie said...

A related link:

Jean-Robert Pitte, a former director of Paris's Sorbonne, believes lunchtime canteen tastings would provide the perfect opportunity for students to learn to drink sensibly. "In order to avoid the total freak-out that happens every Friday night and Saturday night … we want to try to teach students a sense of responsibility, to allow them to taste wine in very moderate quantities, and to show them that it is both a pleasure, good for their health … and a part of their national heritage."

Miss Peregrin said...

I know how you feel, and I can also tell you that you aren't missing out on anything. I was an alcoholic at 17/18, after falling in a certain group of people in my hometown. I used to get throbbing headaches, and have panic attacks if I didn't have a drink in a day. I once begged people on the street for silver change to buy a bottle of rum. Binge-drinking is certainly not all it's cracked up to be.

I went alcohol free for a year, and am now proud to report that I can have a drink every now and then without ending up downing an entire bottle of spirits. I've lost a lot of friends because of my choice to stop binge-drinking, and people seem to think I'm less fun now. It has also made it hard for me to make new friends, as people seem to be wierded out by me saying "I don't drink much." But I'm happier and healthier, and that's all that really matters. Major kudos on your choice to avoid alcohol!

Vanessa said...

Julie: Thanks for the link! I'm going to read this in just a sec.

Miss Peregrin: Thanks for sharing your story-- I'm really glad to hear you're healthier and happier now :)

David said...

Hi, I love this post.

I being David cooper was one of the uncool kids who didnt get invited to parties except for the non-alcoholic monty python variety at your David approved house.

I was invited to Hunter's birthday once, where there was drinking and smoking and that sort of thing, I didn't partake of any of that and still had a good time.

For my piece about alcohol.

In my family, every family party we go to has alcohol and drinking going on, and even when I was younger my parents let me have a drink or two. i didn't see it as bad, and i built up an unusual tolerance.

Flash forward to college, and then subsequently moving out on my own, I was constantly in contact with alcohol. Usually I would drink for awhile and only get buzzed, and felt loose and okay.

Then when I moved out on my own people that I had invited over noticed my high tolerance and we decided to put it to the test. Alcohol poisoning is a bad, bad idea.

Basically the slippery slope I fell down was: I got drunk, and smoked a butt while I was drunk, got addicted and started needing them sober, that led me to smoke pot while I was drunk.... all things I wouldn't have done before.

I've quit smoking and lowered my drinking signifigantly. I still enjoy a good time with friends but it's a smaller, more laid back crowd. No need to feel guilt over sobriety. I don't attend those huge parties that were constantly happening at my place and when I do, I ENJOY being relatively sober.

Call me crazy, but I just don't enjoy puking and hangovers definitely suck.

Anyways, that's my piece. Good for you :)

David said...

and Julie: "people drink alcohol without binge-drinking. I grew up associating small quantities of alcohol with good food and good company." that's EXACTLY how I was brought up. :D

Anonymous said...

Its like you read my mind! You seem to know a lot about this, like you wrote
the book in it or something. I think that you can do with a few pics
to drive the message home a bit, but other than that, this is excellent blog.
An excellent read. I will definitely be back.

Visit my site ... quit smoking fags


Related Posts with Thumbnails