By: Armin S.
I don’t drink. I didn’t drink initially because I was never really exposed to alcohol in my household. Alcohol bottles and parties serving alcoholic beverages were not the norm. In fact, most family get-togethers consisted of religious prayers and hymns. My father does not drink, nor does my mother. As I grew older, and saw many people around me drinking, I thought about how widespread alcohol consumption was. But I still did not feel like drinking. My older sister did not drink either. Somewhere, somehow, it became a personal choice which I’m aware must have been impacted by my social settings as a child.
But that hasn’t stopped people from asking: “Why don’t you drink? Is it a personal choice? What led you not to drink?” These are the seemingly harmless questions. I’ve been called a prude for not drinking. I’ve also been asked in my pre-lawyer days when I was a law student, “what do you do for fun?” when this man found out I didn’t drink. That question really bothered me – I read, play sports, write, dance…I do a lot of things “for fun”.
Another thing that bothers me is when I see women’s liberation posters and memes with women characters in sarees, with a cigarette in one hand, and a beer in the other, talking about choices. And hear me out, I’m all for choices. So, if it’s about choice, why is not drinking not considered the choice of a liberated woman as well? Why does a liberated women’s poster these days necessitate some sort of intake of substance? Does it represent the fact that she is free to do what was considered taboo? Okay, I see that – but if a woman does not drink, does that make her less liberated?
There is a book out there by Holly Whitaker called “Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol”. The synopsis of the book states: “As a society, we are obsessed with health and wellness, yet we uphold alcohol as some kind of magic elixir…” While the book focuses on a path to sobriety that is more woman-friendly, it was the synopsis that caught my attention as it highlights what I’ve said above: “…[n]o one ever questions alcohol’s ubiquity – in fact, the only thing ever questioned is why someone doesn’t drink. It is a qualifier for belonging and if you don’t imbibe, you are considered an anomaly.”
And that I am – in certain circles. Interestingly, two of my closest circles of friends involve non-drinkers or restricted drinkers. I don’t think restricted drinkers is a term that has necessarily been coined before to be searched up on Google so I’ll tell you my definition of restricted drinkers. Restricted drinkers are those who either drink rarely when on vacation or a special occasion, and drink a small amount – i.e. they are never at the level of what someone would consider “drunk”. It’s not by choice – I did not actively seek these women out. Some of us have been friends for more than half my life, and I guess company influences company.
But in many other social circles of work, networking, other friends and family, I AM the anomaly. And I’m sick of people asking me why I don’t drink alcohol – which is literally the title of an article written by Matt Mills at the University of Winchester: “Why I’m sick of people asking me why I don’t drink alcohol.” The subtitle is funny, and apt: “That’s right ladies and gentlemen: I am, in fact, a student that doesn’t drink. Pretty weird, huh?”
Written in November 2016, Matt Mills talks about explaining a day-to-day choice that to other people seems extraordinary. And he very clearly points out my dilemma with the question, why don’t you drink. Here’s his take: “And this question endlessly annoys me – not only because it’s something I hear night in, night out – but because the people that ask seem to assume that I need to explain myself to them. I wouldn’t go up to someone holding a Guinness at the bar and ask “Why are you drinking alcohol tonight?””
He also says something that is interesting – that people seem to expect some horrible, dramatic back story that led to his decision of not drinking. He doesn’t have a dramatic backstory. Nor do I necessarily. I have a backstory, one that is deeply personal, but not anything extremely dramatic – depending how you tell the story of course.
I often wonder why that is another reason why people don’t stop drinking alcohol. Because of the social consequences…and hey, maybe that’s what I’ll delve into next. In the meantime, next time someone chooses not to drink, just let them be. They didn’t ask you why you chose to drink. Everyone can be liberated in their own ways.
Armin Sethi strives to bring voices forward and engages in critical thinking as she navigates different means of telling stories – be it in the courtroom as a Crown Prosecutor, while interviewing celebrities as a journalist for Bollywood Film Fame Canada (@bollywoodfilmfamecanada), or as a writer/producer for Fly Away Films Inc. (@flyawayfilmsinc).