Friends, both new and old, often ask me why I don’t drink alcohol.
Well for starters, it tastes bloody awful.
Excuse me, my British accent came out there.
But there are more personal reasons.
Todd Schoenheide, a former high school classmate who was my assigned partner in a social studies group project, was hit and killed by a drunk driver while riding his bicycle. The day after the accident, students gathered at his designated space in the student parking lot to say a few words and build a memorial of flowers in his honor. Back then, I couldn’t understand or absorb the weight of what happened or how it affected his family and friends. It was like he was a root plucked out of the ground. He was here one day then he wasn’t, and he was never coming back. Todd and I didn’t know each other well, we weren’t in the same clique in school so to speak, but even after he passed, there was an irrevocable void.
That was my first glimpse at how alcohol can alter the human state of mind and consciousness so much that it could take an innocent life.
And there’s something else, a moment in my life’s story that I am not proud of and if given the chance to go back, I would’ve done things much differently.
It was a night of drinking with one of my college roommates and my best friend at a very low key house party. Back then, I had an embarrassing school girl crush on my best friend and would seize any opportunity to hang out with him. Though I had never admitted it out loud to anyone, my roommate knew I had a crush on him.
Fast forward to late in the evening. Everyone at the house party was well on their way to drunk, and I wanted to leave before things got even sloppier. I headed upstairs to make my way to the car and motioned for my roommate to follow so we could drive home together. As I was waiting on the porch for my roommate, I saw my friend escort her upstairs, and I knew what was about to happen next. They went into the bathroom to have sex.
Even in my tipsy state, I connected the dots of what was happening. My emotions went from 0 to 60 because I felt stabbed in the heart and back. I turned in the other direction and headed for the driveway holding back tears the entire time. I knew with every fiber of my being that I shouldn’t get behind the wheel of a car, but I did anyway because I hated my roommate and friend so much in that moment that apparently it was worth risking my life to get as far away from the scene as possible. Even though I made it home fine, it was one of the most reckless decisions I’ve ever made.
The powers that be say that one should live life without regrets, but regret is a necessary component. Regret helps create context for the kind of life we want, the kind of person we want to be, and how we should treat others. So even though it was one of those events I would take back in a heartbeat, it also taught me that I never want to put myself and those around me in danger like that ever again.
Then there’s the time I moved to New York City.
When I lived in the city, I interned with MTV/Vh1 for a summer and worked for a record company thereafter. I used to go to events after work and order a drink because everyone else was going. Because it was New York City and that’s just what you did. I talked myself into believing that if I wanted to be a top executive at a well-established record company someday, I’d have to show up and socialize with a drink in hand. Every time, without fail, I’d take 2 sips just to make it look like I gave a shit, but in reality, I was kicking myself for spending money on overpriced drinks, schmoozing with people I didn’t care about in an environment I didn’t feel comfortable in. I wasn’t being true to myself, and it took almost 5 years to be okay with being the girl at the bar without a drink.
We turn to things like alcohol or in my case, sweets, to drown our sorrows because sometimes emotions are too much to handle. We become dangerously dependent on substances, people, food, or even the internet for gratification or relief because it’s easier than dealing with the demons inside our own heads.
I don’t drink alcohol because I don’t like the effect that it has on my body and creativity. I don’t like relinquishing control of who I am, how I treat people, and the decisions I make. I’ve experienced how alcohol can hurt me and I’ve seen it kill or ruin the lives of those around me.
The reason I’m telling you all of this is because I don’t want you to turn to alcohol when things go downhill or to try and fit in or to get the attention of the boy or girl you like. It will only amplify the problem you’re not paying attention to. Most importantly, I don’t want you to feel pressured into saying yes to a drink EVER. Especially when you’re surrounded by a group of new friends and feeling swept up in the novelty of a foreign land where you don’t understand the language and culture. You can still be part of the group, part of the conversation, part of the environment even though you only ordered water.
I’ve been lucky enough to find and surround myself with friends throughout high school and even in college who never pressured me to drink alcohol and simply said ok when I told them no. It was I who put pressure on myself to drink because I never felt like I fit in anywhere and just for once, I wanted to be part of the whole. As I’ve grown older, I’ve made it an active decision to surround myself with similar people, people who either don’t drink or won’t fight me over the fact that I don’t. In doing so, I’ve relieved the pressure on myself, and I’m much more comfortable owning my space of the whole without a drink in hand.
No matter your stance on alcohol, make it a priority to find your tribe of people who will let you come as you are. People who, when you decline a drink, don’t protest and simply say “that’s cool.”