Yup, I’m always the person without a drink at a party

Hey, you. Yes, you stood in the corner at that birthday/housewarming/sorority party with the cup in your hand. Is that beer? Vodka cranberry? Rum and coke? Wait, it’s  just water? But c’mon, it’s a special occasion, one drink isn’t going to hurt.

Sound familiar? Girl, I know your struggle; choosing not to drink alcohol can seem almost scandalous, abnormal and even a little embarrassing. The consumption of alcohol is an established characteristic of western cultural practice, meaning that many people that can’t or prefer not to drink might feel an enormous pressure to conform to the societal norm. Drinking culture is often portrayed as fun, exciting and cool and, in many cases, I’m sure it probably is, at least for those who enjoy it. But what about those of us that don’t or seldom drink? Are we, by default, boring and uncool?    

When I was fifteen, most Friday nights my friends would “go out” which, in the world of a British millennial teen, essentially meant hanging out in a parking lot and drinking cider. For many fifteen year olds from quiet, suburban neighbourhoods, this was (and possibly still is) pretty much the coolest thing in the history of time. For me, however, it was never intriguing. It wasn’t because I thought I was above that kind of activity; I just, quite honestly, never fancied trying it out and that lack of interest is still as strong today as it was years ago.

Despite having always been confident in my decision to not drink or, nowadays, to drink little and not all that frequently, I’ve often struggled to feel confident in expressing that decision to others. I still, sometimes even nearly a decade later, get that little feeling of embarrassment in my tummy every time I turn down that second round. Whilst I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have good friends that have never deliberately made me feel bad about it, I’ve still never been able to shake that uncomfortable feeling I get when I’m out and everyone else has a cup in their hand and I don’t or, even worse, when I’m the only sober one left.

The thing about not drinking is that, even without the presence of  friends putting the pressure on you, it still feels as if you’re going against the status quo, branching out from the crowd and doing your own thing. Whilst this can often feel extremely liberating, on the flip side, it can also feel incredibly isolating, especially when you’re younger and want to just be (dangerous word approaching) normal. It’s at this point, with this frame of mind, that the temptation to follow suit and just do it because everyone else is grows and grows to such a gigantic size that many people compromise their real desire to not drink. I’ve been there, believe me. However, this kind peer pressure-fueled compromise, which is not limited to the subject of drinking, seldom ends well.

I’ve never been anti-alcohol; I’d never presume to tell someone that enjoys drinking that it is “wrong,” as I wouldn’t want anyone to tell me that my personal choice to drink very little (for whatever reason) is stupid. What upsets me, however, is when people that don’t or rarely drink believe that there is something wrong with themselves. It is, in true British English, a load of rubbish.

Yes, not drinking will most likely make you stand out from everyone else at that party, but it certainly doesn’t make you “uncool.” The only thing that will make you truly uncool is doing something you don’t really want to do simply because you feel you ought to. When you’re fifteen, or even 24, and want to impress your friends, this is a difficult concept to believe, but it’s a mantra that, learnt early, will truly develop your sense of self and save you from a lot of personal regret. Just remind yourself that there’s no shame in sticking to your guns and living your life the way you want to, even when it doesn’t necessarily mirror the way other people live theirs. 

Not drinking doesn’t have to mean you’re less fun or less interesting; you can still stay out and party until 4am like everyone else (if you want to, of course!) and you can still be an awesome dinner guest. Remember that you’re definitely not alone either, even though, in certain situations, it might feel as though you are. I mean, at the very least, I’m also sat here with a cup of coke, minus the vodka. So, down that shot of seltzer with pride, girl! .

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