On Teetotalism

I don’t drink alcohol. That’s not a proclamation or some sort of loaded value statement. I just never really liked it. Sure, I’ve had alcohol in the past, but for various reasons I decided it wasn’t for me. I don’t mind if other people around me are drinking alcohol, nor do I make any effort to educate them on their decision to drink alcohol. There are perhaps only two scenarios in which I would take issue with someone around me drinking alcohol. If either the person seemed to have an issue with the fact that I’m not drinking alcohol, or if the person drank to excess and suddenly became my responsibility, then I might have a problem with their drinking alcohol.

The first exception might seem rare, but it’s regrettably not as rare as you might imagine. I’m visualizing one person in particular who I would tentatively call a functional alcoholic. That is to say, that he simply requires alcohol in order to insinuate himself in any social setting. If there were no alcohol present at a social event, then he would not be present either. He’s something of a satellite in an outer orbit of my social circle, so I don’t encounter him very often. When I do encounter him, it’s in a social setting, and there is a 100% chance he is consuming a lot of alcohol. While he has never become my responsibility to care for at the conclusion of any of these social functions (and I’m thankful), he always seems to find an opportunity to chide me for “not being social enough”. He’ll tell me I need to loosen up. This, of course, means I’m uptight and sober. I take umbrage with this accusation, because he is always the only person accusing me of not being social enough, and I didn’t ask to feel self-conscious about my drinking and social etiquette. Louis Nizer famously wrote “When a man points a finger at someone else, he should remember that four of his fingers are pointing at himself.” Needless to say, I avoid this person.

I’ve been thinking lately on my lack of drinking alcohol, and wonder if there’s an easier way to communicate this to others should the need arise. Funny enough, the same person I discussed above had imparted some near wisdom once. “If you tell someone you don’t drink, they might understand that as you can’t drink, because you’re a recovering alcoholic.” That’s an interesting take on my words I had never thought about before. It’s not that I mind if some stranger chooses to think I’m a recovering alcoholic, as I don’t want to perpetuate any stigma with the journey others have. But maybe there is another way to tell people I don’t drink that has more of a foundation to it.

I think of drinking the way I think of vegetarianism. I don’t eat much meat, but I also don’t feel the need to tell people there’s a dogma behind it. Also, if I do drink alcohol some day, or if I do eat meat sometimes, I don’t want to then tacitly show people I’m weak in my convictions that weren’t really there in the first place.

This brings me to Teetotalism. I have known about the concept for years, but never bothered to research it much. Well, it was finally time to check it out. Briefly, Teetotalism comes from 19th century Britain as an offshoot of a larger Temperance movement. This is an essay, not a book report, so I’ll allow Wikipedia to explain it better than I ever could. The reason I researched it, was that I wanted to find out if there was any sort of secular philosophy or common sense reason a Teetotaler would pledge to never drink any “intoxicating substances”. Let alone that a Teetotaler needed a society or support group to share such a pledge. On paper, it looks like Teetotalism has a lot more to do with political and/or religious motivations than with a personal conviction.

While it looks like calling myself a Teetotaler would be an easy explanation for not drinking alcohol, it’s a loaded statement.

After more consideration, I’ve decided there’s no reason for me to hitch my wagon to such a social construct, antiquated or otherwise. It would be a pretty hipster thing to do, really. I would imagine finding an opportunity to mention to strangers that I’m a Teetotaler truly sounds like someone waiting for an opportunity to tell a stranger about some obscure in-group association. “Oh I’m a Teetotaler, but you’ve probably never heard of it.” Yeah, totally a hipster thing to say. I can even hear the condescension in the tone of voice of a hipster saying it.

Instead of feeling the need to be part of an in-group, I’ve decided to continue telling people I don’t drink, but only if it comes up in conversation (of course). Let them think I’m a recovering alcoholic. I know some terrific recovering alcoholics in my life, and I’d much sooner associate with them than a hipster Teetotaler. Plus, if I’ve learned anything from college in the South, it’s that to assume is to make an ass out of u and me.

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