Did you take part in Cancer Research UK's Dryathlon campaign this year? No? Perhaps you didn't even hear about it. Well, it was a fundraiser in which the public were asked to give up alcohol for the entire month of September following a British summer of overindulgence (yes, I use the term 'summer' lightly so feel free to chuckle). It was a worthy cause to raise funds and which no doubt afforded some respite to participating livers up and down the country.
Joking aside, this got me thinking about seemingly rare breeds like me who don't drink, Dryathlon or not. In my teens and early twenties, my experience of talking about alcohol in a social setting with someone for the first time usually went a little something like this:
Other person/s: "Go on. Have a glass."
Me: "No thanks."
Other person/s: "Go on! Just the one!"
Me: "Thanks, but I don't drink."
Other person/s (Frowning or generally looking perplexed in a face-lift-gone-wrong type way): "You don't drink!? What - at all?"
At this point, feeling like a martian who'd strayed from her home galaxy a million light years from Earth, I'd whisper in a faint, embarrassed undertone: 'No, I don't...' I would then implore the gods of mercy to somehow steer the conversation to another topic (any topic!) and save me...
Fortunately, with maturity has come greater wisdom. Now I could care less what someone thinks. And in the circles I'm now in, the fact that I don't drink seldom matters. So why, as a teenager and young adult, did it matter so much? Is it because at that age it's expected everyone drinks - meaning it's a bigger deal when you don't? If so, where does that leave those coming straight out of sixth form or college and heading off into the great unknown of university life, where the social aspects of that life - and the drinking often associated with it - are arguably just as important as the academic? Will you be comfortable being the only one at the table not drinking alcohol? And even if you do drink but prefer to stay mostly sober, can you put up with being labelled "a bore" or a "lightweight"? Here are a few things to consider:
1. If you don't drink for medical, religious, health or other reasons, decide beforehand what explanation you're prepared to share with people and what you're not. Remember, when all is said and done, it really is no one else's business but your own.
2. Abstinence is not a disease. Drinking isn't a prerequisite for having a great time. For my part, I can't drink. Alcohol makes me really ill. Fortunately I don't like the stuff, so it's never been a case of wanting what I can't have.
3. Who says that glass of wine has to be gulped down? Drinking can of course be one aspect of a good night. It shouldn't be the reason you're throwing up your guts at 5am the next morning and wishing for death, or why you posted that ill thought out update on Facebook which now needs deleting pronto.
4. Avoid shots. I've always thought they were much too expensive for what they are, plus there is the general expectation they're to be guzzled down! Before your system has time to digest one shot, you're on to the next, meaning you're likely to be worse for wear a lot faster than you realise.
5. When going to a club, only take enough money to buy the amount of drink you plan to have and to cover emergencies. Had your limit? Then go mingle. If all else fails, go strut your stuff on the dance-floor. When people see your moves they'll assume you've had more than enough to drink and will be grateful your next order is a large OJ!
6. Some can't hold their drink - admit that you're one of them. You only drink when you're with family/childhood friends who love you enough to put up with your drunken antics.
7. Driving is the perfect reason to avoid drink. The law is the law and most, even the coolest of the cool at uni, respected that.
8. Don't be a martyr but do be true to yourself. Ultimately, people always respected my choice not to drink - though admittedly it's never entirely felt like much of a choice. Whatever the reason you don't drink, be true to that. If someone really doesn't get you (and let's be honest, there's always one!) and it's their life's mission to make you look stupid or feel uncomfortable about not drinking, then you need to ask yourself if they're worth having in your social circle. It might seem a high price to pay - especially if they are popular - but trust me, the price you'll pay for putting up with them will be far greater in the long run.