‘I don’t really drink. . .‘ was once a commonly used phrase from myself. It meant, at the time, that I didn’t actually drink at all. For many years, up until the age of nearly 21 in fact, I didn’t drink. Not one drop. It was part of who I was, I was a person that didn’t drink.
It isolated me a bit from my friendship group. Back in my teens, there were parties I wasn’t invited to, because naturally it was assumed that I wouldn’t enjoy it with everyone drinking around me. It was incidents like that this lead me to hide the fact that I was a non-drinker as much as possible.
When I first started Uni, I didn’t tell my friends about my not drinking. I made excuses, I tried to avoid times when they would be drinking. It seemed to be working, but eventually I was outed. They were surprisingly cool about the whole thing, but I always wondered what they really thought.
Had there been some kind of straight-edge movement in South West Surrey, I probably would’ve been part of it. As it happened, my first encounter with someone who identified as straight-edge was an unfortunate one. It was a My Chemical Romance gig in Portsmouth, and I can’t have been more than 16 / 17.
I was drinking a glass of water from a bottle, clearly marked. Seeing a quite sweaty looking boy stood in front of me, I offered him some. He then proceeded to lecture me about the dangers of alcohol, proudly proclaiming how he’d been ‘edge’ for barely a few months.
My response that I’d never drunk alcohol, and that what I was offering him was nothing but water went unnoticed. Later, he attempted to hit on my sister by offering her a slip of paper with his MySpace address on it. Well, it was a good few years ago..
I’m not saying that he was in any way representative of the straight-edge membership. I feel though, that it did very little but explain why people were wary of someone who doesn’t drink. They feel judged for their own drinking. Its a weird situation to go to a bar and drink with someone who isn’t also becoming intoxicated. And if you’re not going to a bar on a Friday night, then where are you going?
My movement into becoming a drinker was accepted without question. It’s almost as if the friends felt it was inevitable. I’ve since tried to quite again, albeit for short periods of time, only to be met with the question ‘why?’.
I’m sure many non-drinkers could provide a hundred answers to that, but shouldn’t the only reasonable one be ‘because I’m choosing to’? It feels like there’s more judgement towards those who inflict this ‘social stigma’ of not drinking than those who take the opposite approach and poison themselves on a regular basis.
Is it so ingrained in our culture that to not drink is the equivalent of making yourself a social pariah? With such an emphasis on healthy living these days, it seems like a change in attitude might be timely..