I am a non-drinker. Always have been, and as long as I have any say in the matter, always will be. The responses I get from people when they hear that I don’t imbibe are always interesting: “WHAT?!? You don’t drink?!? At all? Ever?” Nope, never, hence the meaning of the word “Don’t.” I can usually tell what the person is thinking by the look they give me, which is almost always either one of shock and horror as if I’m some kind of mutant with a third eye sprouting out of my forehead, or one of pity and condescension, as if they’re silently saying to me, “You poor, naive thing. You just don’t know what you’re missing.” What most people don’t do, however, is ask me why I don’t drink. Maybe they’re too busy passing judgment or too preoccupied with picking their jaw up off the ground to find out if there’s a reason behind my choice. And it is a choice. And I do have reasons. Plenty of them.
I stupidly used to think that once I was done with school, I would also be done with peer pressure. I’ve found, though, it’s really been the opposite of that. In high school, I really wasn’t pressured to drink or experiment with drugs because I had a great group of friends who weren’t interested in that type of thing. A shift happened when I went to college and I found myself as a very small sober fish in a big pond of booze. Drinking and partying were everywhere around me and it was hard to find anyone who didn’t partake in the nightly college festivities. I even went to a couple parties myself just to see what they were all about. I found myself standing in a smoky room surrounded by drunks falling all over themselves while I wondered what the hell I was doing there, searching for the nearest exit. It just wasn’t for me. I was actually pretty miserable during my four years at college. It was the most out of place I had ever felt in my life and the only place I felt like I even remotely fit in was at the school newspaper. It became my second home and if I wasn’t in class or in my dorm room, I was at the paper. It was the only reason I stuck it out at college and didn’t transfer to the other university I applied to and was accepted by in my junior year. Graduation day couldn’t come soon enough for me.
Even as an adult I’ve found myself pressured to drink, mostly by those who just can’t fathom the idea that I don’t. A coworker of mine tells me at least two or three times a month that I need to start drinking. He offers to take me to bars and promises to take me home after I’ve consumed so much alcohol that I can’t stand up. He’s made it a kind of mission to not only get me to take a drink, but to get me shit-faced because he says he wants to see what kind of drunk I would be. “I bet you’d be a happy drunk,” he says, as if that’s some kind of encouragement to go along with his experiment. “No, you’d probably be a mean drunk. Or you’d get up on a table and take your shirt off.” Well, ok then. All the more reason NOT to drink. No matter how many times I tell him it’s not going to happen, he always tries again, giving me grief over the fact that I’m 32 and have never been drunk. Here I was thinking that was something to be proud of, but to the rest of the world, it’s apparently the mark of a social outcast. He, like most others, has never really asked why I choose not to drink and it’s not something that I just randomly offer up in casual conversation. My choice is a very personal one based on many experiences in my own life and the lives of those around me who I have seen suffer because of alcohol.
I guess the biggest reason I don’t drink is because I just don’t get it. I’ve never been able to understand why anyone would want to consume something in such quantities that they no longer have control over themselves. Maybe I’m a control freak, but I never want to find myself in a situation where I have no control over my body, my actions, or my words if it’s avoidable. I’ve never been able to understand why someone would choose to do something that they know is going to make them physically ill. I don’t particularly enjoy vomiting and I get headaches enough as it is, so I don’t see the logic in partaking in something that would result in me barfing my guts out and having to lay in bed with an icepack on my forehead the next day. It was a weekly ritual while I was in college to see just how many girls would be in the bathroom of my dorm, slumped over the toilet, sometimes the sink, every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday morning, hung over from the night before. If I was lucky, sometimes they’d be puking in the shower or laying on the tile floor covered in their own vomit. Now that sounds like fun!
Other things, far more negative things, have factored into my decision to be a teetotaler. Alcoholism seems to be a running trend in my extended family and quite frankly I’m terrified that the affliction is lurking somewhere in my DNA, ready to pounce the first chance it gets. I have no idea if taking one drink would have no effect on me or open a door that I might never be able to close, and I don’t really want to test it. I know myself well enough to know that I have some slight addictive personality tendencies. I just don’t want to tempt fate when I have a choice in the matter. Life is complicated enough without intentionally creating more opportunities for further complications.
I’ve also seen enough devastation and destruction caused by alcohol to want to stay as far away from it as I can. I have one relative who has been in and out of jail most of his life on alcohol or substance abuse-related charges, one time for hitting and killing a pedestrian while he was driving drunk. In high school, two of my classmates – one who was a friend and fellow marching band member – were killed by drunk drivers. In college, our newspaper covered stories of students being put into the hospital or arrested after drunken fights. I remember one particularly gut-wrenching story we had to cover about a female student found dead in her dorm room from alcohol poisoning. As a professional reporter, I lost count of the number of fatal car accidents I had to cover that were the result of someone choosing to drive drunk. I remember one such accident in particular when I got to the crash site just in time to see the pulverized, dead body of an innocent victim being dragged from his smashed pick-up truck before being placed in a body bag and wheeled away on a stretcher. That’s an image that will be burned into my brain for the rest of my life. He was hit head on by a drunk driver who walked away from the accident with minor injuries, but thankfully ended up in prison. A friend of mine went to a party when she was still a teenager, got drunk, was raped, ended up pregnant, and became a single mother nine months later, with no idea who the father was.
I’ve never seen anything positive come from drinking. I welcome anyone who can show me some kind of positive benefit from consuming alcohol, besides the cholesterol-lowering properties of red wine. I’ve been given that one before as a reason to drink despite the fact that I don’t have high cholesterol and that I could take something like fish oil supplements if I did. I’ve been told that alcohol allows people to loosen up, relax, and have a good time. I admit that I’m pretty tightly wound, but I am able to do all of those things without the use of booze. What’s the point in having a good time if you can’t even remember the next day what you did that was so much fun? I genuinely would like to know if there are positive results that come from drinking. Maybe it would help me understand why people do it. Until I see proof, though, I have to go on what my own experiences have been, and so far they’ve all been negative. Making the choice not to drink hasn’t been an easy one. It would be much easier for me to give in to all the pressure and start chugging beers or downing glasses of wine, but I just can’t do it. My choice has sometimes been very lonely, making me feel ostracized, like a social pariah or outcast watching life from the outside in. Oftentimes it feels like I’m the only person on earth who doesn’t drink, even though I know that’s not the case. But those people are few and far between and I rarely cross paths with any of them. I’ve had two serious relationships in my life so far. My choice not to drink has played some kind of a role in the loss of both of those relationships. In the most recent one, which lasted almost 13 years, I thought I had found someone who actually accepted me for who I am and what I believe in, and who shared my views on drinking. Turns out he was just a good liar.
I’m not writing this to put myself on some kind of moral high horse. I don’t think of myself as better or more righteous than anyone else. I’ve never thought that about myself. Usually quite the opposite, in fact. The choice I’ve made is my own and it’s not one that I expect others to make as well. I know people who are able to drink without drinking themselves into oblivion. I know people who drink responsibly, never getting behind the wheel when they know they’ve had too much. Drinking is something that’s different and personal to every individual, and I’m not going to judge others if the decision they’ve made is different than the one I’ve made. My choice isn’t better or superior to anyone else’s choice. It’s just mine, and one that I’ve consciously decided to make. I try to respect other people’s decisions and in turn I hope they’ll try to respect mine.
I have to accept that the choice I’ve made comes with some sacrifices. I’m lucky in the fact that I have a small circle of people who support my choice and don’t judge or criticize me for it. I wish I could find more people to add to that circle, and hopefully I will. It’s hard, though, especially when you’re judged for it before you can explain it. I think a lot of people see me as a prude or maybe even a loser. I don’t think I’m either of those things, but I can’t really do anything about other people’s perceptions. Maybe they think that while they’re judging me for being a non-drinker, I’m in turn judging them for being a drinker, which isn’t the case at all. I’m usually more worried about their reaction when they hear that I abstain from liquor, rather than thinking about or judging the fact that they don’t. This is just part of who I am. I’ve always stood up for what I believe in and I’m not going to stop now. If someone can’t understand that, then I’m probably better off without them anyway. I’ll continue to hope, though, that people can just accept me for who I am, and I’ll continue to be grateful for the people in my life who do. And I'll keep my chugging limited to the glass of non-Long Island iced tea I always have at the ready.