Thursday, August 26, 2010

Alcohol Acceptance

I’ve never felt comfortable around alcohol. I’ve been called judgmental, but I don’t think that is true. I don’t look down on others who drink; I just don’t feel comfortable in their presence.

Much of my discomfort, I believe, is due to my childhood experience. I grew up in a household where having a drink signified a special occasion. My parents rarely drank, and when they did, it marked a holiday or some other celebratory event. My mother never drank (and still doesn’t drink) more than half a glass of wine at a time, and my dad might have two or maybe three glasses of wine, at best. Beer was a rare and unusual guest in our refrigerator, since no one in my family drank it, and although we had a nearly-full liquor cabinet, it probably hasn’t been touched since before my sister or I were born.

To me, this makes the idea of having a casual beer with dinner or drinking a glass of whiskey before bed almost outrageous. The practice seems a caricature of American life: something shown on television or in the movies, but not an activity undertaken by people in real life.

Then, of course, I grew up. First, I went to college, where alcohol was illegal for most students, yet consumed in excess. Here, drinking still marked a special occasion—it was just occasion of drinking. Which, of course, was celebrated almost every night. The quantity and frequency with which it was consumed didn’t make me feel any more comfortable around alcohol; actually, it made me even less comfortable.

I really did try to engage in “college life”: I attended various parties and attempted to participate. I played beer pong, so long as my partner drank the beer, and some friends even let me play flip-cup with water. These instances were, however, rare. Most parties were just loud, rowdy, drunken stupid debauchery. I had no desire to act foolish or out-of-control in the company of other foolish teenagers . . . so suffice to say, I rarely had a good time.

Then, I graduated and moved to New York City. Here, drinking is equally ubiquitous, but people regard the activity much more casually. Attending happy hour is the most popular and acceptable way to be social, and no one looks at you twice whether you are sipping your first glass of wine or polishing off your fourth mixed drink.

It is in this atmosphere, and under the pressure to be “social,” that I have begun to relax my attitude toward alcohol. In doing so, I have confirmed that I really don’t like the taste of alcohol. I will only drink wine that tastes like juice (i.e. Manischewitz, Sangria, or Riesling), beer that tastes like pop (i.e. hard cider…or “hardly alcohol” as some might say), or shots that taste like candy (excepting tequila, which I will admit to enjoying).

Furthermore, I may have relaxed my attitude toward alcohol, but that has made me no more relaxed about the act of drinking. I still find regular nightly drinks to be an odd phenomenon (and regard the possibility of the drinker’s dependency with suspicion), and I feel no more comfortable around drunken friends or colleagues now than I felt around drunken friends or acquaintances in college. Since I have permitted myself a happy hour or two, though, I have found much more acceptance and camaraderie with my “adult” friends and colleagues than I ever felt with my fellow college students. And that is worth the two hours and $20 spent . . . whether I’m comfortable or not.


Mike S. said...

Great post!! It's amazing how your views change on alcohol as you enter different points in your life. For me, it was sort of the opposite. By midway through college, I stopped seeing the general appeal to drinking. That's not to say I won't have a few drinks every now and then (I LOVEEEEEE wine and I'm really pushing for Napa Valley for our honeymoon!!), but the whole "getting insanely drunk" thing to me seems 'so 8 years ago'. Maybe it's just my complete disdain for hangovers.

Regardless, it's definitely true that your tastes evolve over time.

Colleen said...

My family was very similar, drinking only at big social occasions. College was a chance to rebel, so I drank quite a bit (although not as much as I now realize most people do.) When I taught in PA, we had happy hours all the time, but now we never drink. I don't really enjoy much, so I don't have much. It's amazing how we change and grow.