I recently read a tweet by Postsecret on a secret someone had mailed in about lying about being an ex-alcoholic so as to avoid being pressured to drink, and it got me thinking about the pressure I experience to drink.
In high school and college I don’t ever remember feeling pressured into drinking, smoking, or doing drugs. Yes, people did these things, and yes, I drank when I wanted to, but I never felt a pressure to join in. If I chose not to, that was fine. Now I’m an “adult”—whatever that means— and I am feeling more pressure to drink and to get drunk than I ever felt growing up.
A little background as to my situation: in my junior and senior year of college, I could drink well. I could hold my alcohol, mix my drinks, stay relatively sober and not be hungover the next day. Given that my boyfriend from the summer after my junior year onwards played music in bars, this was very useful. I had fun, I enjoyed the taste of the alcohol, and I enjoyed the atmosphere when we went out. In my second semester of senior year, my boyfriend’s bandmate left town, he stopped playing in bars, and we stopped going out as much. I stopped drinking. It wasn’t a conscious decision but it just happened. Summer came around and we started going out a little more again, and I realized I didn’t want to drink. My alcohol tolerance had plummeted (one glass of wine gets me tipsy) and I hate being drunk. So I didn’t drink. We’d go out to dinner and sometimes I’d have a glass of wine, maybe I’d have some sips of his instead, but I didn’t drink much at all and that’s how things have stayed.
I never thought it would be a problem. I’m not an alcoholic. I don’t crave alcohol, and I hate being drunk. How hard could it be to just not drink?
Apparently, really hard.
Not because I want to. I don’t. But it often feels like no one else can understand that. It’s made harder by the fact that my boyfriend’s bandmate came back and they’ve been playing again for the past year now. I go out and watch them, and I have a great time. I enjoy the music, I enjoy the atmosphere, and I like spending time with people. But it is really hard not to drink!
The bartenders eventually accepted that. They are lovely and put up with my sitting at the bar not ordering alcohol. But the other patrons have a hard time with it. I’ve had complete strangers come up to me and lecture me about not drinking, I’ve been bought shots despite saying no, and I’ve been told I shouldn’t be at a bar if I don’t want to get drunk.
That is one aspect of it, and is usually the most understandable. I’m at a bar. Most people go to bars to drink, so it’s strange I’m not doing the same thing; I get that. I am the anomaly. I stick out.
But what about the rest of society? We talk about work happy hours. People socialize at bars for work and other social events. Yes, you can choose not to drink, but it’s really hard. I know, I’ve put in a lot of effort into not drinking.
The worst part is the people your close with, friends and family who can’t understand why you don’t want to drink. My mom has a yearly dinner around Christmas for a few of our friends. One of her friends called me out in the middle of the meal to berate me for not having wine with dinner. People won’t take no for an answer. At first I thought maybe these people who were close to me were concerned I was hiding something (maybe they thought I was pregnant or I had had a drinking problem) so I took sips of alcohol, had the odd glass of wine. Showed that I could drink. It’s been more than 9 months now (so obviously I’m not pregnant) and I do have the occasional drink but still people are “concerned about” my not drinking. I truly don’t understand it.
Most of my friends understand now and are fine with it. Some family and family friends still seem to struggle. At bars? I lie. I say I’m the designated driver (I don’t even have a license); it’s the only way to get people off my back. Saying I have a low alcohol tolerance and don’t like to get drunk makes no sense to most people “why wouldn’t you want to get drunk”. It’s amazingly difficult.
I never thought I would have a problem with peer pressure. I am incredibly strong-minded and opinionated, but this alcohol thing is really tough. I have no clue how alcoholics stay sober and still socialize in today’s society. It’s hard enough for me not to drink and I don’t crave it or like the feeling of being drunk. My experiences not drinking have really reinforced my respect for alcoholics who stay sober.
My point is, it shouldn’t be this hard to not drink. I shouldn’t have to feel like a leper. I don’t push it in people’s faces. I always have a drink (water or soda) in my hand. Isn’t the pursuit of having a good time enough? Why should we be viewed as strange for not wanting to get drunk?