I don’t drink: why is that so hard for some people?

I had an interesting experience yesterday afternoon, one which I will concede does not happen often, but one which has given me a moment of pause and more than a little irritation.

For new readers some background: I do not drink alcohol. I do not drink alcohol because I have a problem with alcohol. Aside from one slip nearly 2 years ago I have been sober for 28 months. I used to have a 2 drink “limit” but that imposition did not work so I gave up all together.

Now that background set onto the cause my irritation. Yesterday afternoon I caught up with some friends at a river side bar in beautiful Brisbane for a couple of afternoon beverages and a chat. A mate had been going through a rough time and wanted to catch up with everyone. As is my norm I got the first shout and ordered a large soda water. Back at the table a member of our group I had met for the first time only 10 minutes before posed the usual question I get at that point in proceedings: “Why are you on the waters mate?”. I have chosen an honesty is the best policy approach in the face of that question and replied: “Because I don’t drink”.

90% of people leave it, happily, at that but not my new “friend” who followed up with “Really, that seems strange, you don’t drink at all? Why not?” with a quizzical, almost shocked, expression on his face. Again, following my honesty policy, I answered “No I do not drink at all … I have a problem with alcohol.” Maybe I am wrong here but that really should have been the end of the discussion shouldn’t it? Unfortunately it was not and my new “friend” kept coming back to the topic to express his incredulousness at being in the presence of a mid thirties male who did not deign to drink alcohol. In the end even saying, as I did, “Most people leave it alone after I tell them I have a problem” did not lead to relief from the ongoing enquiry about the reasons why I don’t drink.

Now I concede that yesterday’s experience was a rarity for me. In about 90% of functions like the one I attended yesterday afternoon there is no issue at all from anyone about me deciding not to drink. That said, it really got me thinking: why is there such a stigma, in some quarters, against those who chose not to drink alcohol? I mean I choose not smoke cigarettes yet I do not get quizzed about that choice by my friends who smoke. Equally I have never taken drugs in my life but I have never been eviscerated by my friends who I know to have partaken in the odd pharmaceutical from time to time.

Has drinking alcohol become such the societal norm that those who decide not to drink in social settings deserve to become the focus of derision from those who do drink? That might sound like I am overreacting but that is how I felt yesterday when my personal choice became the one part of who I am that one person could not countenance. Maybe the new “friend” from yesterday would have preferred to have met the old me: drunken, forgetful, shout the bar me who would not have remembered anything about yesterday afternoon / last night this morning and who would have spent all day today worrying what I had said to whom? I am sure he would have liked that bloke better.

Here’s the rub of all of this for me: I do not push my not drinking alcohol on anyone I am with when I go out, indeed I go out of my way to have the first shout and stay in a shout despite drinking water, so why is it OK for others to push their drinking agenda on me? Maybe it is time to reassess my whole strategy around going out with people I do not know, either at all or well, because the way I was made to feel yesterday took me back to the dark days when I was tall, skinny, pimply faced kid standing on my own at school dances being laughed at and feeling awkward and I do not like that feeling!

Maybe there is a deal I can strike with the drinkers of the world: I won’t ask you not to drink around me and you don’t ask me to drink and we will live happily ever after. What do you think? Is that a goer or am I just dreaming? The more I think about it maybe I am just dreaming and that is pretty sad isn’t it?

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