People, Imma get up on my soapbox for a bit here, just, you know, full disclosure and all that.
Also, consider this a trigger warning for sexual assault.
SO. Let’s talk about our society’s relationship with alcohol, yeah?
Now, I didn’t have the typical American experience with alcohol as a young adult, mostly because an older guy from my high school drama class my freshman year invited me over to his house one Friday night when his mom was gone so we could hang out and listen to Adam Sandler. I was not attracted to him in the slightest, considered him just a friend, and assumed he considered me the same. I’ve always had plenty of guy friends and didn’t give it a second thought. My best friends at the time did, though, and they begged and pleaded that I not go, but I basically told them to royally fuck off, more determined than ever to go.
Well, they were right to try and keep me from going. He got me very, very drunk and then sexually assaulted me, which I was, thankfully, mostly blackout drunk for.
I had just turned 14.
The combined experience and hangover the next day affected me so deeply that I literally couldn’t even smell alcohol without feeling nauseous for many, many years after that. By my early to mid-twenties, I could force myself to have a beer or glass of wine here or there in social situations because, I mean, that’s just what people do, right? Because the looks you get when you tell people you don’t drink make it clear that you are automatically considered a freak of nature and no one quite knows how to respond.
I didn’t start drinking regularly until I was 27, as that’s when I met the scruffy-looking nerfherder and that’s what he and his many friends did. I proceeded to quickly make up for lost time. And not only did I turn out to actually have a decently high tolerance for alcohol, I’m a fucking hilarious drunk apparently, so it behooved everyone to get me drunk as often as possible. Everyone reading this who knows me well has their favourite story of me drunk, I guarantee it. And often I was getting cross-faded, drinking till I had at least a good buzz on if not getting full blown drunk, and then getting high. That didn’t always end well, but whatever! It was fun, dammit! At least, I think it was… I thought it was…?
But for the past couple of years, my GI system has been less and less inclined to allow me to drink even a little without painful consequences, and the scruffy-looking nerfherder started his recovery during this time, so I’ve finally come to a place where it’s just not worth it for me to drink anymore. I would love to still be able to have a delectable craft IPA now and again because I fucking LOVE them, but it’s really hard for me to have just one, and it seems like any more than that may, in fact, trigger my diverticulitis, making it, again, SO not worth it.
So. You know what I’ve been noticing even more now that I’m back on the other side of things? Our society’s SUPREME OBSESSION with alcohol. It’s not only perfectly acceptable behaviour to drink on a daily basis or get regularly blackout drunk or binge drink on the weekends–it’s fucking expected. And not just for grown adults, but for fucking KIDS. Marin County, where I lived for many years, had to finally start passing ordinances laying out fines for adults allowing underage drinking on their premises, because wealthy Marin parents were constantly allowing their teenagers and their friends to get fucking shit-faced in their houses or on their property, contributing to all the well known and horrific consequences of drinking alcohol in general, especially when it’s consumed to excess.
But it’s everywhere, all the time. It’s the accepted, honoured, readily available social lubricant of modern times. When we drank, we were consumed at some point every day with questions of what, where, when, and how we were drinking. I used to love day-drinking, when I would just go straight from coffee to beer no later than midday. Procuring the appropriate alcohol became basically the most important part of planning a party or, shit, even family gatherings. Mimosas for Mother’s Day, mulled wine for Christmas, anything with gin in it for summer holidays. And the ubiquitous regular ol’ beer and wine consumed at all functions and gatherings regardless of what the special drinks of choice were. Most people don’t do much without alcohol these days.
I was at my favourite store the other day (of course it’s Target) flicking through the racks of summer tanks (I basically live in tanks) and was fucking appalled by how many had sayings related to consuming alcohol on them. People, it was a VERY SIZABLE portion. “Save water, drink mojitos,” “Red, white, and bubbly,” “Okay but wine first,” ones proclaiming the wearer the ultimate beer pong champion, etc., etc., etc. And I was absolutely surrounded by young women, some of them very, very young, all perusing these fucking cute, trendy, affordable tanks, easily half or more of them plastered with some reference to how fucking cool drinking is.
Like, what the actual fuck, people?
So then, a few days later, I come across this article, referencing a new study published this past week about the downright alarming increase in the rates of liver disease in people in their 20s and 30s. Like, liver disease that can and does LEAD TO DEATH. Per the article:
“The number of 25- to 34-year-olds who died annually from alcohol-related liver disease nearly tripled between 1999 and 2016, from 259 in 1999 to 767 in 2016, an average annual increase of around 10 percent.”
“…a recent study of veterans found that cirrhosis cases nearly doubled between 2001 and 2013.”
Uhhhhhhhh, those numbers are fucking horrifying, people.
And look at the dates researchers began noticing the increases. The global financial crash of 2008 has undoubtedly hit Millennials the hardest. How do you think many have chosen to cope with astronomical student debt, ultimately useless degrees, a lack of jobs actually paying a living wage, a lack of affordable and/or accessible healthcare, the inability to start a family or buy a home?
And our latest round of well-known and advertised wars (because the US is essentially perpetually at war)? That began in 2001, with the invasion of Afghanistan after the events of Sept. 11th.
We have a problem, people. It’s insidious and many of us don’t even give it a second thought. We celebrate with alcohol, we grieve with alcohol, we relax with alcohol, we party with alcohol, we numb emotions with alcohol, we abuse loved ones with alcohol, and, ultimately, we kill ourselves–and others–with alcohol.
So, what’s my point? My point is not to shame or suggest everyone become a teetotaler right now this minute. My point is to bring awareness specifically to what we’re doing to our young people. And it’s starts ridiculously early. Think about what’s getting internalized when you “joke” around or even to your young child that “Mommy needs her wine,” or request they “get Daddy another beer from the fridge.” What are children of any age internalizing when you hint or outright state that you just can’t do life without alcohol, that you couldn’t possibly survive parenting them specifically without alcohol?
Just think about it, yeah?
And yes, obviously it goes beyond how we describe and model alcohol use to children and young adults, so when you encounter another adult at a party or work function or dinner or some other gathering who doesn’t drink? Don’t fucking raise your eyebrows or roll your eyes or shame them or tease them or cajole them or act confused or assume they just mean they don’t drink hard alcohol or any of the other completely obnoxious things we as a society so often do upon finding out someone doesn’t drink.
That’s called peer-pressure.
You know, that thing we’re constantly telling our children to ignore and withstand.
While we turn around and do it to other adults.
*steps off soapbox and reaches for a seltzer water because not drinking is cool, too*