DEER IN HEADLINES
Special Extended Edition
BY GERY L. DEER
(Author’s Note: The following is an edited repost of an article originally published December 30, 2013)
I have never hidden the fact that I don’t drink alcohol. When I say that, I mean that I really don’t drink, ever. When some people say it, what they are implying is that they don’t drink hard liquor, or they have a beer at a baseball game or something. But trust me when I say, I don’t drink. Period. I just wanted to make that absolutely clear so what follows carries the proper weight.
An alumnus of one of the oldest national college fraternities – Sigma Phi Epsilon – I’ve never had an alcoholic beverage of any kind – nothing. I didn’t steer clear of the bubbly because of some religious or deep, philosophical reason. It just wasn’t part of my experience growing up and, fortunately, I never developed the interest.
To be quite honest, at this stage in my life, the very smell of the stuff, particularly beer, makes me kind of sick. That said, drinking is a big part of adult social and business functions and thus, hard to avoid. But, for those who are trying to steer clear of the juice, for whatever reason, please try to remember that it’s OK NOT to drink. Really, it is. Still, I am well aware of how hard it is not to succumb to pressure from others.
Some people might think peer pressure is limited to the adolescent or collegiate years, but even as an adult, I know how much stress there is on people to drink alcohol at social and business events. Despite opinions to the contrary, it really is OK not to drink and here are some ideas for anyone trying to abstain but who still wants to feel included in the fun of the party.
First, and this is really important, you must be comfortable with yourself and your decision not to indulge. If not, then you’ll probably make others feel that way too. Ambivalence will probably result in your drinking anyway and it will be your own decision and not because of peer pressure.
Next, always remember – and young people reading this please, please try to hang on to this concept – if anyone takes issue with you’re not drinking, or pressures you in some way, the problem is with them, not you!
If offered, politely decline, but don’t make excuses. After all, the offer was not made to offend you. It’s not a good idea to launch into some long-winded explanation, however, or rattle off a list of excuses about why you’re abstaining. Just say something like, “No thanks. I’d really like a cup of tea (coffee, soda, whatever), though, if you have it?” It’s polite and expresses your appreciation for the offer.
Let me say that I don’t hang around with many people who drink and those who do rarely do so in my presence. Not because they’re overly sensitive to my choices, and I don’t expect them to be, but because I’m rarely in a position where alcohol is any sort of focus at all.
But, in some extreme cases, I encounter one of the most baffling concepts I’ve had to come to terms with in my non-alcoholic life is having to defend the fact that I don’t drink. It’s really kind of backwards to my own sense of logic. Someone gives me a hard time and wants an explanation as to why I’m not drinking and I scratch my head. Generally that person’s not really someone I would normally spend time with anyway, but the question is there, hanging in the air like an anvil.
Early on, I realized that many people who find out I don’t drink immediately think I’m some kind of recovering alcoholic. I’m not. Hard to get hooked… no, let me rephrase that. It’s impossible to get hooked if you never start. But still, the question remains. Truth be told, I think it’s ridiculous that the sober guy in the room has to explain himself while all around him people are dropping, face first, into the toilet bowl. I just don’t get it.
So, my next piece of advice is to never defend yourself. Once again, change the subject, divert attentions elsewhere or be appreciative of their interest and just say, thanks, I just don’t want anything. Regardless of your reasons, I guarantee you’re not going to change anyone’s mind or alter their opinion of your choices, and you shouldn’t try. Plus, I’ve learned when someone takes so strong an issue with my non-drinking, it’s generally because they carry some sense of guilt or other feelings about their own alcohol use and suddenly feel extremely self-conscious.
If you’re at a social or business gathering, carrying a decoy drink can help avoid questions from people – since most people are standing around with some sort of cup or glass in their hand. But, don’t pretend it is alcohol, in other words, avoid the mock-tail. There is no need to call attention to the drink in your hand, but you might carry a drink around with you.
Some people will advise you to accept an alcoholic drink and just hold it all night, but that’s not only pointless and dishonest, but could actually make you feel even more self-conscious. People will expect you to sip from your drink now and again during long conversations, so just have something else in your glass.
Participating and socializing will also help to keep attention away from the lack of a drink in your hand. Keeping busy will keep your mind off the fact you’re not drinking with the other guests and help you be more involved in the event. If, however, there is still a particularly high level of pressure on you to drink or be left out or ridiculed, you should extricate yourself from the situation and rethink attending activities with the same group of people again.
Regardless of other steps you might take to distract from your abstinence, never, ever try to change the behavior of others. A social or business function is not the proper setting for a personal mission or intervention. If you live alcohol-free because of some personal crusade, leave your soap box at home. No one will hear you and it’ll just serve to further ostracize you from others.
Once again, you have to be comfortable with yourself, but you need to accept that others have not chosen your way and booze is a way of life out there in the world. Deal with it. You, alone, have made the conscious decision to attend an event where alcohol is being served and to be included you must live and let live. Needless to say, if you see someone about to drink and drive, act accordingly as your circumstances permit.
Finally, always remember that there is no “down side” to abstaining from alcohol. None. Only good can come of it – that’s not something drinkers can say with any measure of confidence. When you don’t drink, you’re probably less likely to do things that have negative consequences. So, provided you don’t have some kind of a deviant propensity toward misbehavior anyway, you should make it through the event unscathed. Your social position may suffer, however, especially if you typically surround yourself with partiers. I say, it’s their loss. And to you I’d recommend finding a better group of friends – those who accept you for who you are, not what you drink.
Negative people have a negative effect on us. I have lost friends, girlfriends and even business associates because of my choice not to drink. “I don’t trust a man who doesn’t drink,” is a backwards way of thinking and a bit on the ignorant side too, I might add. I’d say, logically, it should go the other way around, but I’d end up having to mistrust pretty much everyone outside my immediate family. Maybe a proper way to say it is, “It’d be hard for me to trust anyone who thinks the bottle in their hand is more important than a friend or family member.”
Consider what kind of a “friend” abandons you because you don’t want to use alcohol? If you were always a non-drinker, it’s probably easier for others to accept because they know from the start. But going on the wagon, for whatever reason, can be challenging. Once again, just remember that it’s OK not to drink. Just be yourself. It’s you that should matter to your friends and colleagues, not what’s in your glass.
Gery L. Deer is an independent contributor to WDTN-TV2’s Living Dayton program. More at www.gerydeer.com