By: Madeleine Chan, Staff Writer
I had my first drink at 19. Not my first legal drink, no, my first drink ever. This may seem odd to the majority of regularly drinking university students. How could you not have tasted the sweet, numbing nectar of the brewing gods before that age?
Let me take you back to a time of innocence and ignorance to explain why.
As a kid, alcohol wasn’t something that was around a lot. My parents only drank once in a blue moon, making the substance seem like some otherworldly, taboo thing that only non-Chans drank. Drinking also wasn’t something that was painted in the most positive light, either. The earliest instance of this was the mandatory D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program in grade five. I remember my teacher taking slices of our day to ingrain the perils of drugs and alcohol in our minds. Lessons about permanent neurological impairments and death were filtered through the friendly face of the program’s lion mascot.
But I also remember commercials on television detailing the horrors of drunk driving, magazine ads showing the impacts of underage drinking, and television characters critically (and sometimes fatally) succumbing to the haze of alcohol. I remember finally understanding the sinister reason behind why women had to watch their drinks at bars.
Nothing associated with drinking seemed good. How could so many people in the world take pleasure in drinking when it: a. cost an unnecessary amount of money, b. seemed dangerous, and c. could potentially be fatal?
I guess that shit really hit me, because I was for sure afraid of alcohol by the time I entered high school.
And, it just so happened that the pressure to drink was very present by then. People were sneaking drinks onto school property, talking about their favourite liqueurs and chasers, and spilling on how they stole from their parents’ stashes.
And the parties. There were always parties. Parties that I wasn’t always invited to, but ones that I knew people were just drinking the night away at — including people in my close friend circle.
Everyone has their own relationship with alcohol, some good and some bad. Peer pressure shouldn’t be what determines this relationship, especially when that thing has the potential to be so volatile.
By the time I was in grade twelve, the social pressure had definitely become more apparent, especially because of this one band trip we had to Squamish. I remember hearing my friends and almost all of the other grade twelve students in band chatting about what drinks they were going to bring and how they were going to hide them in their bags to evade the teacher’s eye. I felt it was a stupid and irrational idea, but didn’t say anything and let them do their thing, for fear of social ostricization. It was great that none of them pressured me into drinking with them either, but the feeling was still there, lurking in my lonely heart that just wanted to be included.
So when they got caught, I felt I had made the right choice. I was proud of my ability to resist, to stick to my morals, and to be on the “right” side. But when they got suspended for three days, named themselves the “sus squad,” and left me alone at school as one of two grade twelve students who didn’t rebel, I did not feel so great.
The first few years of university were even worse. The stereotypes from countless pop culture showing frat parties and people getting blackout drunk always lingered in my mind. Especially in first year, when I was in residence, seeing people with bottles of booze stashed away in their dorm rooms, and hearing floormates tell tales of getting drunk the night before exams as if it were just another regular Tuesday. My social anxiety had just started to really kick into high gear, too, and a pressure to drink became yet another thing to set my nerves ablaze.
During this time before my first drink, I remember being so terrified of anything that could impair my ability to think, to process, to comprehend the world around me. I had relied so heavily on the idea that my mind was my self-worth, that it seemed like such a major potential impairment to my essential being. I didn’t trust myself to not do or say stupid things, to not be in control of myself and the world around me. I mean, there’s an age restriction on this stuff for a reason, right? This could be a detriment to my health, I justified.
I thought this to be true until one fateful night out with my friends from high school. We were at Cactus Club, of all places. I remember them all eagerly scanning the drink menu. I got nervous. A brew of anxious turmoil started within me as I contemplated whether I should get one or not. They reassured me that I didn’t have to get a drink, but their constant talk of different cocktails and the blatant fact that I would be left out, yet again, pushed me. I reached a point where I felt I really had to get one. I rationalized it in my head. What’s one drink with close, supportive friends? I’m legal, it’s time, I need to know what this substance tastes like, and what it does to me.
And I got it. I finally understood why people liked it so much. It was the freeing feeling of laughing carelessly with my friends, stepping out into the cool night’s air, languishing loosely under the soft glow of the moon without thinking about your worries. Not to mention the taming of the fire in my nerves.
I was free from my cerebral cage — my fears of being harmed, of being lesser, seemed like a faraway feeling.
But that doesn’t mean I drink all of the time now. I only really drink for concerts or parties — really any sort of social event where I can quell my anxiety. I quite like the occasional sensation of alcohol slowing my movements, my mind, my nerves. But I still don’t fully trust myself to consume more than a handful of beverages, and definitely not enough to get drunk. I don’t even know how many drinks will do that to me.
Ironically, I’m sipping on a drink as I write this. I don’t know if I need it to continue to spill my guts to the world or if I’m just trying to detox my nerves after another long week of classes, work, and responsibility. Probably a bit of both.
But this is what works for me. I recognize that there are probably many people my age with far different stories who don’t drink at all and many people who are struggling with drinking too much. All of those dangers that I previously talked about are still a concern as alcohol can be as much a prison as it is a release.
Everyone has their own relationship with alcohol, some good and some bad. Peer pressure shouldn’t be what determines this relationship, especially when that thing has the potential to be so volatile. If I’ve learned anything from this experience, it’s to stand firm in your beliefs without letting fear dictate your every move.