Monday, June 15, 2015

On Not Drinking

I don't drink.  I've never had a drink.  I have no interest in drinking.

This is just a regular fact of my life, so I don't give it much thought, but a little while back on a long drive with a cousin she asked me "Why not?" and I had to provide an answer.  It's interesting to try to explain something about yourself that you don't usually articulate, and it's easy to forget that something that is normal for you is different for other people.  I forget that drinking for many people is a common experience, so in case anyone is curious about a slightly different perspective, here's mine.

I grew up in a house that didn't include alcohol as an assumed part of celebrations.  My dad didn't drink at all, and my mom would sometimes have a glass of wine with dinner.  We also saw her occasionally order a beer in a restaurant, but that was the extent of our view of anyone we knew drinking.  There was no liquor cabinet in our house, or a case of beer in a cooler anywhere.  There was sometimes a bottle of wine in the door of the fridge and that was it, and there was nothing alluring about it.

Our family was (is) a lot of fun.  We had a crazy new theme every New Year's Eve where we would act out weird plays or do elaborate games and stay up as late as we could and watch terrible movies.  We had a blast, and none of it involved alcohol.  I still have to remind myself that for most people New Year's Eve is a drinking holiday.  I have to remind myself at a lot of things that people expect alcohol because it never occurs to me.  People assume there will be drinking at dinner parties and picnics and weddings.  We almost didn't have alcohol at our own wedding because we weren't interested, but my mom insisted that people would expect it and we should include some, so she provided some wine, which turned out to be a good idea, but again, something off my radar.

When you have fun without alcohol, it's easy to see why it's not necessary.  I'm always surprised when other people can't conceive of certain events without it.  My brothers don't drink, and they are about the most fun people I know, so maybe I just grew up with the bar set unusually high for what is fun.

So obviously there was a pattern set for doing things that didn't involve alcohol when I was a kid, and I didn't hang out with anyone interested in drinking in high school (that's a whole other nerd post about short story writing and eating bagels--my teenage years were wild).  "But what about college?" people usually want to know.  "How do you not drink at college?"  You don't drink at college by not drinking at college.

There was nothing tempting about drinking at college because everyone there made it look awful.  I attended the parties and left when people had had so much to drink that they got boring.  Not being able to stand because you're drunk isn't cute.  Making yourself sick isn't funny.  I was the sober one who had to put up with the mess.  I spent one long night tending to my drunken roommate, steering her clear from harm and nursing her through a lot of bleary discomfort, only to inform her after her hangover the next day that I was never doing it again.  If she wanted to repeat that nonsense and risk real danger she was on her own.  She didn't ever let it go that far again the whole rest of the time we lived together.

"What about peer pressure?" people ask.  I have never experienced it in regards to drinking.  I'm assuming that's actually a thing, but I seriously wonder how much of it is just in people's heads.  Whenever I was offered a drink in college and I said no thanks, that was the end of it.  It's not really different from turning down anything else you don't want.  Who cares?  On the rare occasion it would actually come up that I didn't drink, every single time the person said wistfully, "I wish I could do that."  That's just sad.  So, not really a lot of pressure (or enticement) there.  The closest thing I've ever experienced to peer pressure was a few years ago when my stand partner after a long rehearsal suggested we go out drinking and I told her I didn't drink and she said happily, "I'll teach you!"  That still makes me laugh!

The truth is, I am going by my observations.  I have never met anyone I thought sounded more interesting or impressive after they've had a drink.  After more than one everyone I've ever seen becomes noticeably impaired.  They don't reason well.  Their reactions are slower.  Their speech and manner become sloppy.  They may behave as if from their own perspective they are funnier or more capable, but they aren't.  It isn't real, and it isn't appealing.  I have never observed any behavior in people drinking that I wanted to emulate, so why would I do it?

For people who say it tastes good, well, lots of things taste good.  A whole box eclairs probably tastes even better and I'm not going to indulge in that, either.  Taste isn't enough to make me want to bother.

Plus there are real risks.  What if I'm someone who doesn't know how to stop?  That's true for me with certain foods, so why not with a drink?  It's very possible, and there is not enough to be gained from my observation to warrant the potential harm.  Addiction is not something to be taken lightly.

Self-inflicted damage to the brain is not something to be taken lightly either.  I value my mind and the things I can do with it.  As fascinating as altering perception with certain substances might be, it's not worth it to me.  I'm too busy pondering the mysteries of reality to want to distort it.  Maybe if I reach the limits of what I want to experience in the real world I will be interested in trying something else, but currently that's not the case.

Now, none of this is judgement on what other people want to do.  Lots of people like to drink.  I just wish more people considered if they really want to as often as they do rather than indulge unthinkingly as a habit.  But I don't actually care.  I don't even have a problem with people I give handouts to going off and buying alcohol with that money because if that is what they want to get them through that day, that's their choice and I'm not in their shoes.  Some people are self-medicating, some people want a short-cut to feeling relaxed, some people may really just like the taste.  I'm not going to make anyone else play viola or watch Star Trek, and nobody's going to convince me that I'm missing out by not drinking.  Different things for different people is perfectly okay.

It's interesting to see how this carries down to my children.  I had to explain what "drunk" was to them when we watched Dumbo.  (Drinking and drunkenness comes up in many older programs and movies.  The "town drunk" used to be ubiquitous in a lot of otherwise innocent fare.)  I tell my kids that many people can have a drink and it's okay, but they are wary.  Like me growing up, they don't see it as necessary.  They know you don't need it to have fun.  Nobody in our house drinks.  The only people they ever see do it are their grandma (my crazy mom and her glass of wine!) and maybe their aunt or one of my cousins when we're on vacation.  They don't see the need, but they know of the potential dangers.  They know a lot of sad stories on the news usually involve someone who was drinking, from car accidents to shootings in bars to abuse of children.  So I don't blame them for not seeing any temptation because I don't either.

And I'm glad.  If they choose to drink when they are old enough I just hope they do it responsibly.  That will be up to them.  But I'm glad they don't see it as a rite of passage or something they should do.  It doesn't interest them.  Which is fine, because to some of us, it just isn't interesting.


  1. This is a fascinating post. I'm a lot like your mom. I like an occasional glass of red wine or a Guinness. I probably have a drink once every few months. I drank more in college and my twenties. I have had one too many at a family wedding but not since the kids were born when I need to be up the next morning to care for kids (except little sister S's wedding--those appleitnis hit me harder than I thought). My inlaws drink a lot. The twenty and thirty somethings (my husband is oldest of 9) actually have ruined the last several holidays in my opinion by making it all about alcohol consumption. I get it that they are young and have no responsibilities but they aren't fun to be around like this and not what I want around our kids. They aren't crazy drunks, it's just that alcohol becomes the center of the celebration with the making of Pims and Mojitos to order. They are used to me at this point just saying no thanks. I also have two people in my life (mom and Kieran) who shouldn't drink due to their blood thinners and in my mom's case that plus her overall mental acuity not always there. I have stopped harassing K about it, but when either of them drink it amps up my anxiety and makes me more entrenched in the not drinking stance. As with the kids, we talk about alcohol and what it does to you and the consequences if we ever caught them drinking. Em just went to England/France with my inlaws and I know she had a few drinks because the drinking age is 16 there. I'm okay with it, but she knows there is no drinking back at home.

    Okay, I just wrote a novel...just goes to show you what a good post it was. As usual, loved getting to more about you and your family.

    1. I'm glad you thought it was interesting. It was one of those things rattling around in my head that I couldn't decide if it was too dull to bother with, but it's usually the stuff we take most for granted that turns out to be surprising. One of my guilty pleasures is those "wife swap" shows because I'm always amazed at what other people think is normal. (There was one family that kept all their clothes in the kitchen drawers and they couldn't believe nobody else did that!)

  2. I don't find many things sadder then a person sick with alcoolism. After 3 pregnancies I don't drink much but yes, how to educate children on alcool brings more questions then answers even from scientists. Having a drunk uncle? Very good bad example! Bad genes though! A talk to the youngs? Fun drunk stories come up and they all drink more! The only positive thing in a study was that if the parents could put the cork back on the bottle after having a glass of wine. We really don't know much.

    1. I'd be very surprised if my kids ended up partaking in much (if any) drugs or alcohol. I used to worry about one of my kids wanting to dabble with mind-altering substances someday because she liked to spin herself dizzy so much, but that same kid fled a store the other day because there was incense burning and that was too close to drugs. Something severe would have to happen, I think, for any of them to get knocked so far onto a different path.

  3. Doesn't everyone keep their undies next to their silverware?

    1. Ha! They were better than the family that only ate raw meat. They thought it kept them from getting sick, but I suspect that had more to do with the fact that they were never in contact with other (potentially germ carrying) people. The dad in that house also kept saying God wouldn't put anything on earth that could harm them and I just thought, "Hey, gangrene is all natural! What's not to love?" Anyway, regular people who think they are regular people are usually fascinating. (Now, I should go make room for my socks by the measuring cups....)

  4. OK I've tried to comment on several of your recent posts but they keep getting deleted and then I get mad and don't want to type them again. Blogger HATES my Mac. 😀 But I'm on my phone (where, ironically, I usually have more success even though typing is 10x as annoying!) and I have some time so let me give this a try... And I think I will leave 3 posts worth of comments in one spot...

    1) I'm intrigued by the Book of Mormon! I'll attempt to see it should the opportunity present itself. I'm not offended by swearing at all (as a Speech Language Pathologist, I actually think the concept of 'swear' words is silly... I think my very conservative inlaws are horrified by this... Oh well!) ... And, I had some other thought when I first read the post but now I forgot it. Darn.

    2) Latin is cool! My mom knows it (a by-product of Catholic school in the 60s!) and I love the way the words sound. Good for Quinn!!

    3) I don't drink either! I've not met another adult (besides my husband) who doesn't by choice (plenty who abstain due to medical issues or religious doctrine, though). For me it was just that it was illegal until age 21 and I looooooved following rules. This was somewhat baffling to my peers who started telling me I'd "go crazy" once I turned 21 and saw how awesome it was. Well, I HATE people telling me what I will or won't do (like they know me so much better than I know myself?) so I literally didn't drink at all in my early 20s out of spite! Or something. Ha! A few exceptions: I did once have a glass of champagne at a friends' wedding. It was alright but did not make me want anymore. Also, I found it very frustrating while traveling / living in Europe with other Europeans, because in some cases my hosts were slightly offended by my refusal (culturally, though, alcohol is treated very differently there and in general I like their view better) so I have had a glass of wine here and there, usually while traveling. So I guess I *mostly* don't drink. I have some funny drinking / not drinking stories from my time in Norway but this comment is far too long as it is. So I'll be done! 😀

    I guess my point is: good post(s)!

    1. Sorry your comments keep disappearing! I love your comments, so thanks for putting them all here where it finally worked.

      I didn't put it in the post, but I have similar aversion to doing what other people insist you should do. I always figured I was raised with Holocaust stories so early that I'm just suspicious of crowd mentality. That may be part of why I don't like sports, either. Or makeup. If everyone acts as if you must be a part of something to be normal I find it grating. Which is funny because I also like certain rules. I like understanding grammar, I taught my kids to set the table in a traditional way, I hate it when people talk in movie theaters.... So who knows what any of that means!

      But yes, everyone saying everyone should drink made it less appealing, not more. And I get way more offended reactions from turning down dessert than I ever did from wine so that's been interesting. That's one part of watching my weight that has caused me some cognitive agitation is that everyone wants us to be thin, and there are moments I feel like being fat to spite everyone. Which is ridiculous. I'm doing it for my health and it's working, but there are times when people compliment me on my weight loss where I kind of chafe against that inside, because it's too much a part of what everyone feels I should do.

      Book of Mormon is awesome and I think you'd like it. (You'd enjoy the Star Trek references if nothing else.)

      Latin is fascinating. We learned a new word that doesn't really translate yesterday, and Quinn and I got to examining what is redundant in English.

      Thanks again for your comments whenever they arrive!