The worst part about not drinking is telling people you don’t drink.
It’s difficult because drinking usually occurs at a time when it’s socially acceptable to drink.
You’ll be offered a drink; someone will ask to buy you one -– a friendly gesture — an outstretched hand waiting for the handshake that never comes. This is the difficult part, because it’s extremely tough to say ‘no’ without sounding condescending or lying about being a designated driver or, in some small way, bruising egos.
Of course no-one gets visibly upset when you don’t accept. Just a short “fair enough” and everyone moves on quickly. But a small barrier now exists. You’ve refused to sign a simple social contract. You are on the outside of a circle.
In the beginning
I remember the first time I got drunk.
I was 12 years old.
I grew up in Scotland and everyone drinks. It’s cold, wet and miserable — what else are you supposed to do? But, ironically, the first time I got drunk it was sunny by Scottish standards.
It was a long weekend. My friends and I hung out with the older kids, and approached one with hair on his back and fluff on his chin, the one with the best chance of getting served in the lax convenience store with a booze licence.
“A two litre bottle of Olde English please,” we chanted in unison.
Dear God, our poor pre-teen livers. In Scotland you start early. My brother got drunk for the first time when he was 10.
I sloshed around, trying to hold down this foul cider. The longer the day went, the more rancid the drink became; losing its fizz, increasing in temperature. It wasn’t long before I was barfing it back up, alongside the Weetbix and Fruit Pastilles I had eaten that morning.
I can’t hold my booze. Literally. I cannot hold it inside my stomach. It simply rests there, dormant, until my body decides to lurch it out violently, a volcanic eruption of stomach acid and undigested carrots. The second time I drank I barfed all over my Mum’s couch and thought it was a good idea to hoover up the vomit with a vacuum cleaner and cover up the smell with a healthy spray of Lynx Africa.
I was 21 when I first stopped drinking. And it all started with a nipple cripple.
Actually it started in a bar, with a drink. Several in fact. I had slammed back a fair amount, as had a group of my friends, including my brother, who was 18 at the time.
Things got a bit rowdy, in a seemingly friendly way. Seemingly. As someone who is now deathly sober in such situations, I can tell you there’s always a taut tension amongst those who are visibly drunk, the feeling that civility is teetering on a sharp precipice. One wrong word, one poorly timed stare, a single clumsily bumped shoulder and that delicate structure crumbles into a mess of verbals and fisticuffs
So it all began with a nipple cripple. A simple joke. My brother thought it would be funny, and it was. People were laughing. I thought it would be funny to throw the remainder of my drink over his brand new shirt in response.
The slap from my brother that followed was less funny. It was painful, and deadly serious.
Then things spiralled out of control.
It was the first and last time I ever hit my brother in the face with a closed fist. Two punches — a double jab aimed directly at his jaw. Probably the worst thing I have ever done as an adult. Definitely the thing I most regret doing. If I could take anything back, it would be those two punches.
Instantly our friends pulled us apart. A bouncer tossed my brother out the front door and I followed immediately after. My brother waited by the door. As it opened he launched into a head-butt that caught me square on the eyeball.
Then, complete chaos. We scrambled down the street, brawled in the middle of a main road and hit the deck. I kneed my brother multiple times in the back; he punched me from the ground position. Eventually we managed to wrestle each other to a drunken standstill.
We stumbled home for 15 kilometres, 100 metres apart the whole way. It took two and a half hours. Hurling abuse at one another the entire time; tragically, pathetically drunk. Dizzy from booze and beating the shit out of one another.
In the morning my Mum went mental. I decided I didn’t want to drink ever again.
The reservoir of memories
The worst part about not drinking is having to tell people you don’t drink. But the best part about not drinking, without a shadow of a doubt, is not drinking.
I never really enjoyed it. Sometimes I drank because I was bored, other times I drank because I was in an uncomfortable situation but, for the most part, I just drank to fit in. And that may be the worst reason for doing something you don’t enjoy.
I find it very easy not to drink and for that I consider myself very fortunate. The only difficult part is telling people I don’t drink. I’m always worried that people will think I’m being judgemental, or condescending, despite the fact that – more often than not – I’m the one being judged.
But if at any time I do feel tempted, I have a reservoir of memories to ease that urge — the gurgled vomit of Weetbix, carrots and fruit pastilles; the punch I wish I could take back.
Drinking can be a fun thing for a great number of people — and I have absolutely no problem with that — but it will never be for me.
This is an edited version of an article which was originally published by Lifehacker Australia.