I’ve been over 21 for almost a decade.
Most people my age drink alcohol on a regular basis. Happy hours, sporting events, dates, parties, holidays. The majority of the people I know started drinking on or before their 21st birthdays.
I’ve never taken a sip of alcohol in my life.
When people first find out about my prohibitionist lifestyle, jaws usually drop. Eyes widen. Eyebrows raise in disbelief.
“Never?” They ask. “You’re lying!”
“Not once? You must have.”
“Hasn’t anyone ever offered you a drink? I’ll buy you one right now!”
“Yes, they have, and no, thank you.”
“Is it against your religion?”
“Depends who you ask.”
“Are you on a special diet?”
“Not at the moment.”
I’ve been on the receiving end of many confused, shocked, and disapproving questions. It’s actually a little crazy just how stunned people can be when they find out I don’t drink. You’d almost think I told them that I don’t ever shower or that I’m secretly a conjoined twin.
I just don’t consume alcohol. I don’t think it’s that bizarre, but society seems to.
Why my decision? A few reasons.
I didn’t grow up in a home where there was alcohol. My parents didn’t drink. My grandparents didn’t drink (or, at least, three of them didn’t, and I didn’t know the fourth did until I was older). Alcohol wasn’t really discussed and I’m not even sure when I became aware of the fact that it was different from other beverages, but it was never really something I considered. I wasn’t interested. It wasn’t how I pictured my lifestyle.
I went through the DARE program with most other fifth graders, and in my case, it was successful. Drinking is a bad idea, I concluded. It can lead to bad things. I don’t ever want to be responsible for killing someone in a drunk driving accident. And I definitely don’t want to embarrass myself or do anything stupid.
I honestly thought most of my friends and family held similar viewpoints. Until college hit.
I was surprised to see many of my innocent, rule-abiding friends posting pictures with beer cans and Red Solo cups as college freshmen. A few of them made alcohol-related decisions that changed their lives in irreversible ways, and I saw the consequences they had to deal with. I hurt for them, and I did not want to find myself in any of the same situations.
Then there was my grandpa. My hilarious, generous, fun-loving grandpa who once drove his school bus through the Dairy Queen and treated every kid onboard to a Dilly Bar. I loved him dearly (He died a few years ago), but he had a drinking habit that persisted throughout his life and, as dementia slowly set in, escalated. By the time I graduated college, it was becoming a big problem. My little cousins would toddle around and find beer cans stashed in his garage and around the yard. Townspeople started reporting my grandpa to the police and to us when they spotted him driving drunk. He was actually carted off to jail once at the ripe age of 82 when a cop caught him with an open bottle in his pickup.
It was embarrassing. Not to mention difficult to handle in front of the impressionable little ones who were watching and comprehending way more than they should have. It cemented my decision not to drink if I had any remaining doubts.
On the flip side, a different family member was also an alcoholic for some time. He went through treatment, took the Twelve Steps very seriously, made some key life changes, and has been clean now for almost a decade. He is an inspiration to me and, once again, reaffirms my decision to abstain from alcohol.
Addiction, at least on some level, runs in my family. Even if it didn’t, I don’t trust myself. I can go to town enough over a bowl of puppy chow. It’s not that I’m never tempted by alcohol – hello, it’s a huge way my generation connects! – but I don’t want to find out what would happen if I were to try it, because I’m not sure I’d like what I found.
It is, simply put, not worth the risk to me.
Furthermore, it’s important to me to set the best example I can to anyone who may be looking up to me. I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I try to be a good role model. Not only do I not know how I can handle alcohol, but I certainly don’t know how anyone watching can. I don’t want to be even partially responsible for anyone in my life getting hooked on any even remotely dangerous substance.
Quite frankly, I don’t think anything good ever comes from alcohol. Even relationships. If I can’t appreciate someone’s personality without alcohol (or if they can’t appreciate mine), I don’t see much of a need to befriend them with its involvement. Although it can be tempting to use alcohol as an icebreaker, I don’t think it’s wise in the long run.
A few people have declined my friendship because I don’t drink. They reserve that right. They get to make their own choices, just as I do. It hurts sometimes, but thankfully I have other friends who respect my views without pressuring me to change them.
I have friends who drink and others who don’t. I try to be honest about the fact that I will not, however, date guys who drink. Not because they’re not great guys – some of them are! – but because I don’t want to subject my future children to any potential alcohol-related issues. None that I can prevent, anyway. Again, setting an example is important to me, and the example I want to set for my children is one of abstinence when it comes to alcohol.
I want to leave the best legacy behind that I can. From my perspective, alcohol won’t help that goal. I might be in the minority, but I feel strongly that it is in my best interest and the interest of those around me to avoid it altogether.
Oh, yeah, and alcohol is expensive, too. This girl does not have that kind of disposable income!
Drinking just isn’t worth it to me. Consequences or no consequences, it’s not a risk I’m willing to take.
If you, like me, have chosen not to drink, you’re not alone. I commend you for your bravery and encourage you to stay true to your convictions. And I thank you if you are one of the people who has set an alcohol-free example for me.
And if you are someone who does drink but respects my decision not to, you are also appreciated. People like you can be hard to find. I especially thank you for the times you’ve ordered Diet Cokes with me so I’m not the only one. Because sometimes I really hate being the only one.
I may be in the minority, but I’ve seen too many lives damaged by alcohol, and I don’t want mine to be one of them.
I know many people who, like me, have never touched a drop, and they have some pretty impressive legacies that I can only hope to follow. Abstaining from alcohol is something I want to be part of my legacy.
What do you want yours to look like?