Non-alcoholics anonymous.

In the U.S., food-wise, the winter holidays are a time for chestnuts roasting over the open fire and little glass mugs of rum-spiked egg nog. In other words, the time for laughter while breaking out the bubbly with family and friends. But what happens when you neither drink nor want to hide that you prefer your iced tea au natural and not from Long Island?

For those of you that don’t already know this, I am not much of a drinker. I love beverages, but of the non-alcoholic variety, initially because I was raised in a drop-less house and family, but over time, I realized I despise the taste of most beer, wine and liquers, anyway. I also don’t fancy ending up on my own private episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. Or even just not having my mental and physical faculties intact. So while my friends order a cocktail, I request a tall glass of cranberry juice/ginger ale or pineapple juice/sprite. My wallet thanks me, too.

In a society where coolness and even professional respect is often measured by how well you can hold large amounts of alcohol without throwing up or turning into a violent or simply embarrassing burden, not drinking is often regarded with disbelief, as Chef Emily discovered early on. Perhaps mockery. Followed almost certainly by efforts to persuade you to get trashed – not just one drink, but many. As if loss of self control is a required rite of passage that if not experienced, is tantamount to some sort of betrayal or offense to everyone else. The status quo must be maintained, right?

Well, I’ve been fortunate to have friends who are unfazed by my choice and will defend me as easily as they will joke that I don’t need alcohol to act like I’m drunk. In turn, I am unfazed by their choice to drink, knowing that they know their own limits and that, if necessary, I will gladly hold their hair back or drive them home with no judgment.  In short, I am secure in my decision to stay sober and proud that I do not fit an easy label. appreciate Belgian lambics, cocktails, and beers without feeling tempted or deprived, and I can sip something a friend is raving about and declare whatever my opinion is on it without feeling guilty, like I fell off of some wagon or am challenging their preference. I can socialize perfectly well without spirits and I have enough energy and chutzpah without the liquid courage. It’s my decision, my life, and no stereotypes.

Infamous shot of me reading for finals at a friend's party, holding another friend's cup of beer as a prop.

Funny thing about stereotypes is, they go both ways. See, my mom has always thought I don’t drink, period. She considers alcohol to be a gateway drug, of sorts, and that there is no such thing as truly responsible drinking because all drinking is too much. And I’ve generally preferred it that way because 99 percent of the time, it’s true, and it keeps our conversations on my social life simple. But as my experiences going out to places where alcohol is present has increased, so has my personal comfort level with my decision to stay sober, aside from a sip here and there out of curiosity. So when we went to Sunday brunch at a local pub/restaurant this weekend and the waitress asked me whether I wanted a Bloody Mary or Mimosa, I deferred to my seasonal festive mood and said “Oh, a Mimosa” without a second thought. And my mom gaped at me in surprise.

Oh, whoops.

I found myself backtracking, which struck me as regressive and cowardly, so I also began simultaneously defending myself, with varying degrees of rationale.

“Well, it’s just orange juice and champagne. And it’s just us sitting here. Why not?” “But I want to try it!” “I’ve had champagne at weddings before.” “How will I know if my drink’s spiked if I don’t know what it tastes like!” “But it comes with brunch!”

Long story short, I got it, it tasted foul (way too much champagne than I remember from the diner version; they must have used quality stuff), my mother was pleased, we got it diluted with more orange juice, and that helped a bit, but it remained mostly untouched on the table.

Oh well. At least we crossed that bridge. I’m not hiding anymore! Point for curiosity!

Later, at a high school friend’s tree-trimming party, I tried some of the eggnog that people were raving about. I generally don’t like eggnog, so I like to try it out whenever the opportunity presents itself at no cost to my wallet. Didn’t realize it was heavily on the rum-side of rum-spiked eggnog. Wow. I started looking for the sink, but didn’t want to seem rude, so I poured in a heavy dose of farmer’s market apple cider (1/2 glass cider, 1/4 glass rum-nog) and that made it much yummier!

It turns out I wasn’t the only one not in the mood for rum-nog. Once all the guests had left, the host noted that there was much more nog left than in previous years!

So, dear reader, What personal preference or belief have you found yourself masking, wearing proudly, or making your own?

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