This is a part of the Other Folk project.
I was young when I first decided not to drink, but as time went along, I found more reasons to justify what I was doing than not. If heart disease, alcohol poisoning, cancer, depression, addiction, brain damage and sexual dysfunction are not enough to put you off willingly ingesting the stuff, what is?
But in reality, it’s mostly a social thing; I don’t like seeing what alcohol does to people. I don’t like the culture of drinking to get drunk, and I don’t see why I have to drink to have fun or fit in. My sister Emily and I used to call it ‘sheep syndrome’ – following someone around, or copying them because they were popular and you thought it would make you popular.
Emily found joy in her music and I found joy in my writing and even though we both battled with our social lives, as all teenagers do, happiness didn’t lie in popularity. I think happiness has always come from knowing what we wanted for ourselves as individuals. It kept us grounded. We found our interests very early and had the confidence to work toward our goals right through school and into adulthood. The older I get, the more I appreciate how invaluable and rare it is to know what you want to do with your life.
High school and uni gave me a very different picture of alcohol use to what I saw as a kid. Our parents used to take us to house parties where I ran off with the other kids to play forty-forty or sardines. But Emily, three years older than me, preferred to sit with the adults, who drank wine and ate platters of cheese and olives and talked for hours on end.They drank for the taste, and for the buzz it gave them. They drank to fuel long conversations about politics and religion and their daily lives. They never walked out of there drunk.
Someone once asked me, “But what do you do when you just want to blank everything out?”
The question shocked me. It scares me that this philosophy might make people dependent on it. When I want to blank everything out, I’ll read or write, or get some sleep. No matter how bad things get, they almost never look as bad with some sleep.
The same person who asked me that also once confessed they didn’t like their drinking friends away from the bar. All they had in common was that need to be numb. It struck me as anti-therapy: ‘I won’t ask you what’s wrong if you don’t ask me.’ Before sculling down self-prescribed Vodka Cruisers. But they don’t drink in companionable silence to drown their sorrows. They get loud and boisterous. Vodka is a particularly vial concoction, I think. I’ve had three friends land themselves in hospital after drinking it straight.
I think the most extreme reaction I’ve had was when I mentioned it to a guy at uni, just in passing ‘I don’t drink,’ to which he said, ‘Well, we’ll have to do something about that,’ to which I replied ‘No, it’s a choice I’ve made. I honestly don’t ever want to drink.’ I was incensed when he still wouldn’t take my word for it.
But parties for me now are not the dramatic event you might imagine as a non-drinker. Most people accept it straight away. My friends don’t hesitate to point me toward the lemonade, and strangers have an odd habit of actually making excuses for me: ‘Oh, you just don’t like the taste, huh?’ I don’t really feel the need to explain myself to strangers, so mostly I go with whatever they suggest. My back up is to say I’m driving (even if I’m not), but that hasn’t really come up. I didn’t get my license till late, so I seem to have skipped out on being designated driver.
I’m not anti-alcohol. I’m not in favour of prohibition. Alcohol, in many ways, is a wonderful thing. It has a long history of ritual, traditional, and medicinal uses. It has been a staple when water was too unhygienic and used as an anesthetic before the invention of painkillers. But we’re not living in those times any more. Drinking should be a personal choice. We shouldn’t have to feel obligated one way or another just because everyone we know does it.
So my advice is drink, or don’t drink, and be merry either way.
Gemma Watson is a Melbourne based writer with a passion for food, coffee and fairy tales, preferably all at once. She is creating a collection of short, modern tales which you can read at The Weekly Porridge.
Read the last Other Folk post: Marion Piper has slept peacefully on strangers’ couches in foreign countries and is now returning the favour.