No, Thank You, I Don't Drink

Sunday, August 23, 2015

I don't drink alcohol.  It smells bad.  It tastes horrible (I've had a sip or two in my hey-day).  It's expensive.

But why don't you drink?  Well, random stranger I've just met for the first time ever: I truthfully don't know.

I guess we would have to travel all the way back in time and visit Jen in the 5th grade as she dutifully attends the DARE program at school.  They said don't drink, don't do drugs.  So, I didn't.

Flash forward a few years to high school.  After attending private Catholic school my entire life, I'm thrust into the fast-paced world of public schools.  Kids drank, but my friends and I weren't really too interested in all of that.  I've always liked to resist the idea that your group of friends can influence what you do in high school, but I guess its true that you are who you surround yourself with.  While some of my friends went off to other friend groups and drank, I steadfastly held onto my DARE teachings.  As a group, we simply didn't make alcohol a priority in our get-togethers.  We had sleepovers constantly (boys and girls) and our parents trusted us because we were that lame and our parentals knew it.

Entering college at 17 with a whopping 17 years of sobriety was astounding to my new classmates.  In a new place, it became my "thing."  Not drinking set me apart and was an immediate ice breaker.  Jaws dropped and drinks were bought in an effort to persuade me to the dark side, but I always just said no.  One guy bet me $500 I wouldn't make it through college without a drink.  (Sidenote: I need to hunt him down and get my money.)

Unfortunately for these new friends, I also discovered the art of dancing like a drunk girl.  I have come to perfect this form of public expression.  A couple of years ago while out in Pittsburgh in the very early hours of the morning, I was with a group of girls who were so far gone they probably couldn't spell their first names.  They stood at the bar with glazed eyes drinking water before the ride home while I found myself a corner and continued to dance around, blissfully unaware of my environment.  A man approached the girls and expressed concern for the "drunk girl" dancing in the corner and insisted someone order her a water, because she looked dangerously close to alcohol poisoning.  So it goes.

I transferred campuses, and Sober Jen remained Sober Jen.  I continued to dance and found that while most kids my age were using alcohol to find the courage to mingle at these parties and in bars, I instead challenged myself to approach whoever/whenever and say whatever I felt.  Each time I accomplished a feat someone else couldn't with a drink in my hand, it gave me a rush.  I spun circles around these people and still had the energy in the morning to get up and keep playing,

My streak ended at 23 years old in February 2012 (you can read that story in my blog post about my trip to California), but it was just a couple of sips and there have been very few since.  I was right when I said it smelled bad and tasted worse.  I have yet to down an entire drink, and far from ever being drunk.  I think I can confidently say it never will happen.

I think it's this bad movie stereotype that if you don't have a drink, you're not going to have fun.  I think it's also a false story that if you say no, you'll be peer pressured until you finally say yes and guiltily sip down the drink you've been handed.  I've never been ostracized for not drinking.  Sure, I've gotten more than my fair share of weird looks and glances, but that's because everyone feels a little uncomfortable in their skin.  When alcohol is around, it gives people the opportunity to loosen the reigns a little bit and its sometimes difficult for them to understand why I'm not fueled by the same need, especially one that's so universal.

Listen, I can run around in the  middle of the night and giggle along with the rest of them. I've done my share of stupid silly things, but I did them because I wanted to and was brave enough.  From my perspective, some intoxicated individuals make a mistake but the lesson doesn't stick because they can't remember it.  I learned my lessons and and I'm proud of them, because I remember the moment and can replay the tape.

I've learned that if someone does find it to be a huge problem that I'm sober, they usually aren't someone I want to be friends with anyway.  If they can't accept me because I'm not head first in the punch bowl, then its guaranteed they'll find something else about me they don't like and it's likely something I can't change, like my sobriety level.

So, why don't I drink?  If I had to give you a defined answer right now, it would have to be that I just don't want to.  If you want to have a drink, have a drink.  But there is always the option to say no.  It's just as fun, sometimes more so because you remember what happened last night.  You know what they say, with great power comes great responsibility.  And, oh, what sweet, sweet power it is.

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