“My house is free this weekend,” my friend Nick* said. It was Christmas break 2010 after our first semester of college, and our hometown group of friends had recently reunited. “I was thinking of hosting a kickback**. Would you be down to drink?”
I never drank in high school. Neither, for the most part, did anyone in my friend group (Nick included). We weren’t close with many people outside our tight-knit group and it never came up between us. Drinking—the actual activity and even just the pressure or desire to do so—had never much been a part of our lives. That same experience continued in college for me, where I again coincidentally met friends who weren’t interested in alcohol.
The majority of my high school friends, however, started drinking at college. They came back to town with tales of drunken exploits, dozens of drinking games, and a seemingly infinite knowledge of beers, liquors, and mixed drinks. I stayed quiet when they would talk to each other about such subjects, unsure if my silence was noticeable, or worse, a drag for them. Friendships undoubtedly change as you get older, sometimes disappearing completely, and I was terrified that this was the beginning of losing them.
I found myself at Nick’s house a couple nights later, along with my friends Will, Mitch, Cody, and Kyle, one of the few others who didn’t drink at college but was willing to do so now. Two girls Will and Nick knew from school (they were the only two of us to go to the same college) would arrive later.
Someone decided we should start off the night with a shot. At this point I knew I did not want to drink and was uncomfortable with the situation. But I was afraid. Afraid to speak up, afraid to say no, afraid I might open up a rift between my best buddies and I that would continue to grow until I lost all connection with the other side. My group of friends had stuck together since middle school, but we never really encountered any challenge to those friendships, never had to put them to the test.
With that fear in mind, I took that first shot. I forget what it was now, vodka or some type of “jungle juice” mix, I think—whatever it was, it was nasty and burned as it went down.
My intense displeasure of that shot tipped the scales, though. I wasn’t going to spend my night doing this. As my friends started setting up a game of beer pong, I summoned all my courage.
“Guys,” I said, voice low and wavering. My guts churned. “Guys, I’m not going to drink.”
A clamoring of awws, whats, and why nots followed.
“I just…I just don’t want to.” At the time, I didn’t know my exact reasons for not drinking. All I knew was that it was something I didn’t want to do. I wasn’t going to judge any of my friends for drinking or try to get them to stop, but neither would I participate.
It felt like all the blood drained from my body as I waited a painfully long few seconds for their response. I wondered if I’d be asked to leave and felt my pocket for my keys.
You know what happened next? Nothing.
Not really anyway. There were a few more grumbles and at some point they playfully dubbed me “Sober Sally,” but that was it. We talked and joked around the same as always. I drank soda or nothing at all while playing their drinking games and enjoyed the night as much as anyone else—but on my own terms. I decided not to compromise my personal values and my friends hardly batted an eye.
I was part of the group and always would be.
Whether you’ve never had a drink before or just don’t want to drink for the night (or want to drink less) telling people, friends especially, can be scary. In fact, it remains one of the most nerve-racking moments of my life.
Yet it’s also one of my proudest. I’m proud of myself for speaking
up but, most of all, proud of my friends. In the end, I should have known. If your friends ostracize you for not doing something that makes you uncomfortable, they aren’t that great of friends to begin with. Your true friends won’t care and will accept you either way, no matter what is in your red Solo cup.
* * *
By Tyler Wroblewski
For specific techniques for telling people you don’t want to drink, as well as tips and tricks for being sober at an event where there is alcohol, click here for our 10 Best Tips If You Don’t Want to Drink Part 1 and Part 2!
*Some names may have been changed as per request.
**A kickback is a drinking-oriented gathering that involves too few people to be considered a party.
Fig. 1 & 3: From the author.
Fig. 2: By Rethcir at the English language Wikipedia
Fig. 4: By xaosflux [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons