I have never been drunk.
I've never even tasted beer. I might've had a sip of wine once when I was a kid, but beyond that, anything stronger than a drop of vanilla extract has never passed my lips. (Well, not on purpose, anyway. There was the Great Orange Soda Mix-Up of 2003, but I'll have to tell you about that some other time.)
I don't have a good reason for not drinking, but I do have the best reason: I don't want to.
As a young teen, before taking my first obligatory sip of beer, I discovered punk rock, the band Minor Threat and the straight-edge lifestyle, and I've been drug- and alcohol-free ever since.
In the beginning, my sobriety was fueled by rebellion. In my mind, I was the badass kid who didn't cave to peer pressure while the rest of my classmates were being weak-willed lemmings. But as my 21st birthday came and went (and as I aged out of the ability to use the term "straight edge" in anything but jest), I continued to not give a shit about booze. That's it. That's the story. So boring, right?
But for a lot of people — mainly those who do drink — that is not an acceptable explanation. For decades — even now, at the age of 34 — my non-drinking is often the topic of conversation in social situations. My sobriety is an unbelievable notion that proves impossible to grasp. Without fail, once someone discovers I'm a teetotaler, the game of 20 questions begins:
Why did you stop drinking?
I never started.
Well, how do you know you don't like it if you never tried it?
It's not about not liking it; it just doesn't interest me.
Have you ever wanted to drink?
If I want to, I will.
Do you think you'll ever want to?
If I gave you $100, would you drink this beer?
What if I gave you $1,000?
Stop offering me money.
Do you care if I drink?
Not at all.
You're judging me, aren't you?
[slurring words] You think I'm a bad person because I'm drunk right now, don't you?
No. ... Are you a bad person?
I am not exaggerating when I tell you I have had this exasperating conversation hundreds of times. While I think my alcohol-free lifestyle is the least interesting thing about me (can't we talk about the fact that Belinda Carlisle once said I was cool?), other people will not let it go.
But there are a lot of things I don't do. I don't eat meat, I don't shoot heroin, I don't always completely rinse out the spaghetti sauce jar before I recycle it, and I don't tongue-kiss cats. But abstaining from those things is OK, because doing those things is not ingrained in our society the way drinking is. Drinking is a completely normal — even expected — part of the American experience. We hold business meetings over drinks, we bring nice bottles of wine to dinner parties, we meet up with friends at the bar. Drinking is fun and relaxing and everyone does it, and the only reason someone wouldn't do it is because somewhere along the way they did too much of it.
But why? When did drinking become such an expected part of our existence? And why is not doing something simply because you don't want to such a radical notion to so many people? If you want to drink, for no better reason other than you want to, why is it so weird/unbelievable/frustrating that I don't drink just because I don't want to?
So I don't drink. So what? I don't think less of you if you make different choices. (Unless you drive drunk, in which case, fuck you.) Assuming that I do think less of you for drinking says a whole lot more about you and your motivations for drinking than it does me and my reasons for not drinking. But if that still doesn't clear things up, you're welcome to keep asking me questions about it. Over drinks, even — lots of bars have great non-alcoholic options.
But please, stop offering me money to take a sip of your beer. I'm sober, but I'm not a sellout.