“So you're driving tonight?”
“No, I don't have a license, I just don't like alcohol”
“What, so you don’t drink, ever?”
Everybody knows alcohol is a powerful drug, highly addictive, and just plain bad for you, yet everybody drinks, and I'm left defending myself when I don't.
“Don't be such a party pooper”, “If you don't like alcohol, you should drink more, to get used to it,”
I've heard it all before. But I have a very good reason not to drink; I know what alcoholism looks like, because I am the child of an alcoholic.
My parent (despite writing this anonymously, I don’t even want to specify whether it’s my mother or father here) is considered a highly functioning alcoholic.
They have a steady job, a steady marriage, never drink during the day, would never drink and drive. I’m not sure if any of their colleagues are aware that they are an alcoholic, I know they are very much valued at work, and that when they fell ill (it wasn’t alcohol-related) they had daily visits from colleagues checking in.
I had a pretty good childhood, and always knew I was loved – in fact, as a child, I never considered my parent to be an alcoholic.
It only dawned on me when I started working in a supermarket in my late teens, that I discovered there are two kinds of customers, those who don't buy alcohol much, or at all, and those who do, a lot. And even though they spend more money, they were never my favourite kind of customer, with their saggy, red faces and unpredictable mood swings.
I gradually started to realise that my parent fell into the latter category.
My parent has never abused me in any way and its clear that they love me so much. But after drinking they are a different person. Not aggressive, not sad, not clingy, but just less fun, less interested, and with no memory of the conversation we’ve had.
Maybe this is why I feel a sense of rejection whenever I see my parent opening another bottle.
One of my siblings is an alcoholic as well, and has tried – and failed - to stop drinking so many times.
I keep some bottles of alcohol in my home, for cooking, and recently I realised that they'd been stolen. I can only assume it was my sibling, because who else would have access to it?
And this is why I don’t drink - I've seen exactly how hard it is to stop.
My sibling also has trouble finding a job they truly love, even though they are working, and I’m sure potential employers sense that something is off - I wouldn't hire them.
We all think we know what alcoholism looks like, but are we willing to realise how common it is? It's not just the guy reeking of booze, begging for money in front of the store, not just the people sleeping on benches in the park.
It could be your co-worker, who really seems to have an issue with mornings, or it could be your co-worker who never drinks a drop at work gatherings. It could be the friend who organises the best dinner parties, and buys 12 bottles of wine for 4 people. It could be students, it could be doctors, it could be you.
And so this is why I don’t drink – because I fear it could be me, even though in my wildest year I had maybe 6 glasses of wine. And I don't even like alcohol.
I just know I'm at risk, I’ve been so exposed to it, and maybe I’m even genetically predisposed to be an alcoholic.
I grew with a parent who just drinks more when things are getting tough, and then goes to bed and forgets all about it. How was I supposed to learn how to deal with things without opening a bottle? My sibling didn’t.
With every sip I drink, I fear that I might not be able to stop. Whenever I feel bad and look for something to pick me up, I'm afraid I'll turn to alcohol, and won’t be able to stop. Whenever someone suggests to me, I should drink, because it's fun, something screams inside of me that I will not be able to stop.
I’m so afraid that one day, things will get really tough, and without an easy way out, I’ll start seeking an escape in alcohol. Or drugs. Just like I’ve seen happen all around me.
I don't drink because I know what alcoholics look like, and I know I could be one of them.