Sometimes I am wishy-washy before I even set fingers to keyboard. I think of a subject that would make an interesting blog post, and then I veto it, not because it is inappropriate but because it crosses the threshold of my comfort zone. Because it would be hard to write about. Because it would be challenging to read about. So for my last backbone project post, I’m going to tackle such a subject head on.
I don’t drink alcohol. Not at all. No, I’m not a Mormon. I’m also not allergic, nor do I have stomach problems. I’m not a recovering alcoholic, and I’m not trying to avoid calories or sleepiness.
An interesting aspect of not drinking is that everyone always wants to know WHY. On the one hand, I can see how making a minority lifestyle choice could prompt questions, but on the other hand, I don’t think most of the people who ask really want to have a ten-minute-long philosophical discussion with me. Plus it gets tedious to be asked the same, slightly-but-not-quite-rude question so many times. Nowadays I’ve wised up, and I usually mention a family history of alcoholism, which kills the topic. Occasionally I’ll also mention that I hate the taste and make a joke about how it all tastes like cough syrup to me (although this is a dangerous tactic, as it encourages people to suggest alcohol that I might like). Both of these answers are true but incomplete.
The fact is, the decision not to drink alcohol is not made lightly. It becomes a big deal, like it or not, because it would be so much easier to acquire the taste and drink socially, at least a bit. Otherwise, people will heckle you, and question you, and try to change your mind, and be baffled and uncomfortable. If I’m choosing to go through all of that, then I’m really making A Choice. My original reasons have morphed over the years to adjust to the extreme reaction people sometimes have to my assertion that I don’t drink. To give you an idea of the magnitude of that choice, I can tell you that back in my dating days, there were two conversations I dreaded having with a new date: the one in which I had to share that my mom is dead, and the one in which I had to explain that I don’t drink any alcohol. Believe me, you can learn a lot about a person by how they respond to those two pieces of information.
So why don’t I drink? My decision was born from the determination to not ruin my life the way I saw other lives be ruined by alcohol and drugs, to create something better for myself. It was a direct response to a family history of drug and alcohol abuse. But it became more than that. As I watched people around me become uncomfortable that I wasn’t drinking, I didn’t want to start doing something that would cause me to become so insecure. I didn’t want to do stupid things and be able to blame it on having too much to drink; if I was going to do stupid things (and believe me, I have), I wanted to do them on my own terms and under my own power. I didn’t want to evade responsibility for myself. I didn’t want to say hurtful things to other people because of my drinking. I didn’t want to lubricate social situations for myself; I wanted to learn the social skills that would carry me through them. I wanted to be less shy all the time and not depend on a possible crutch. And perhaps most of all, I wanted to be accepted for who I was, even if who I was didn’t fit into some neat little box of expectations. My determination not to drink became a symbol saying that I didn’t have to be like everybody else, and reminding me that some things in life are worth a little alienation and judgment.
Now that I’ve gotten older, my choice carries less of an onus. I’m less likely to encounter peer pressure about the subject. I’m less likely to be in environments where the sole purpose of being there is to drink. I still have to survive through long and boring stories of stupid drunks (believe me, they’re a lot less amusing if you haven’t ever been drunk yourself) and lengthy explanations of various cocktail concoctions or wine snobbery (which is the equivalent of talking to someone who has never played nor had any interest in RPGs about the intricacies of your current campaign). And I still have to answer the WHY question. But it seems to have lost much of its previous significance. And yet, this choice of mine not to drink has played a very real part in shaping who I am today.
I know it’s my backbone project and not yours, but I’m going to ask anyway: What choice have you made or circumstance have you faced that has been met with judgmental attitudes? What is a way in which you are different from the mainstream? What stereotypes do people tend to believe about you that aren’t actually true?