Drinking Ain’t My Thang

Don’t let anyone make me feel weird for not drinking.

It’s super easy to feel weird for not drinking:

a) In a social work graduate school program. We’re social and we constantly learn about and work with heavy duty topics like poverty, homelessness, and abuse. Alcohol seems to be the social lubricant/anesthesia of choice.

b) As a twenty-something. Because you gotta live it up before languishing in the suburbs where you only drink wine, and only at meals, for antioxidant and heart health purposes, of course.

c) In the Midwest. Especially in winter, where you need to drink yourself a sweater.

d) In St. Louis, home to Budweiser, Schlafly, etc. The city where a Magic School Bus and a Captain Morgan Bus coexist on the same public transportation system.

Here’s the thing. I like socializing, but I don’t like the taste of alcohol, the way it makes me feel and the price tag. I can drink alcohol if I so choose– there is no alcoholism in my family that I know of, I am not allergic to alcohol and I do not hold religious beliefs that prohibit drinking. However, as a twenty-something in a social work graduate school program in St. Louis, it feels like drinking is a prerequisite for socializing and having a good time. This is a place where beer and cake constitute a birthday party, and where drinking itself is the point of an outing. When I go to parties, sometimes I get a cup of soda because I am afraid that people will see me without a drink, and assume I am uncomfortable, and therefore feel awkward on my behalf.

Let me enlighten you. If you give me alcohol, I will get sleepy, and probably complain about not feeling whatever feeling it is that everyone seems to be talking about when they exclaim, “WE’RE NOT DRUNK ENOUGH” or “FREE BEER? HECK YES.” or “I CAN’T WAIT TO GET SHITFACED THIS WEEKEND.” I did get drunk once, and the only parts of it that could possibly seem desirable were the feelings of not caring about anything and having a one-track mind. The rest was awful– food turned to sand in my mouth, I couldn’t sit up and I heaved the contents of my stomach into a beautiful porcelain container. Shit and face are not a favorite combination of mine.

Tea is awesome. Makes me alert and focused. Sugar is less awesome, but not horrible. If you give me too much, be prepared for me to say weird non sequiturs.

I finally felt vindicated and normal when I found this post on advice for someone who was frustrated about being pestered to drink when she did not care for alcohol. To be fair, I initially expressed that I wanted my non-drinking “problem” to be solved. Everyone kept making it seem like drinking was a prerequisite for having fun and socializing, and I began to realize that people were excluding me from social events because they assumed that I would be uninterested because the events revolved around drinking.

After all, if people are going to the bars as recreation, what is there for me to do if I don’t drink? Will I just twiddle my thumbs in boring ol’ reality, watching paint peel as everyone goes off to the delightful land of inebriation? While it is true that I am less enthused about going to bars, assuming that I would not want to go because I don’t want to drink is the same as assuming that the only reason to ask someone out for coffee is to consume the dregs of ground beans. And we all know that’s not true, because if coffee were so exciting, we wouldn’t have adopted it as a last resort after dumping British tea into the ocean.

“The problem is not you not wanting to drink, or why you don’t want to drink. The problem is people hearing “no thanks” and taking that as the opening stage in a negotiation. And I think it is good for everyone to recognize when that is happening and have strategies for shutting the conversation down.

You’re not weird for not drinking. They are weird for taking “I don’t drink” as an invitation to sell you on drinking. Analogous: Someone is not weird for being a vegetarian, or having celiac disease, or being a vegetarian with celiac disease. The person who hears “I’m a vegetarian and I have celiac” and responds with “But have you tried this sandwich of ground animal parts on a whole wheat bun? I think it’s really going to change your whole outlook on things!” is committing a massive, massive faux pas. And that faux pas is coercion. Which we need less of, both generally and around food/drink specifically. Whenever someone behaves like that, I wonder, are they really THAT insecure about what they like? If the people in your life love drinking so much, they can do it without your validation or participation. Someone making a different choice than you would make is not invalidating your choices.

Now, your friends and family should know that you don’t drink, and they should be respectful about that. Which means, warning you if something has alcohol in it, and not making you explain yourself about it, or, if someone is badgering you about it they should also step in and say “Yeah, she doesn’t drink. So, howabout (subject change)?” as well. If they make fun of you or shame you, shut it down, not because you should drink but because people shaming you about choices that have nothing to do with them is shitty.” -JenniferP, Captain Awkward

Note: the only thing I would change is that I don’t want anyone to step in and say, “Yeah, she doesn’t drink. So, howabout (subject change)?” for me. I can do that for myself and I can choose when I want to drink if I want to drink. I can and should be able to change my mind, depending on my mood. It’s not that I don’t drink. It’s that most of the time, I probably don’t want to.

I think this has a lot to do with being yourself and being okay with what you want to do, regardless of what other people want from you.

Ze Frank has a good video on the difficulty of being yourself:

Meekakitty has advice on being yourself, in order to get the right people to like you (also applies outside of romantic relationships):

And Captain Awkward references a good post by Jenn Vicious on boundaries and breakups, which has to do with the okayness (I just made that a word– deal with it) of valuing what you want, even when someone else makes you feel guilty for wanting something different than they do.

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2 comments
  1. I’ve been in a few social settings in which people were drinking as the primary activity (possibly with karaoke or some such on the side), and I gotta say: they were very dull. I much prefer surrounding myself with people who are themselves interesting, clever, and funny, without a need to dull my own senses.

    Some of my friends do enjoy a drink at a get-together, but they neither ruin their own company by getting drunk, nor feel any need to pressure others into anything.

    • I like that. And I like the point about dulling your own senses– if you’re having a great time, why would you want to miss out on any part of it? Sounds like you have some good friends :) I also prefer just grabbing drinks with good friends– more like a kickback than time to get drunk.

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