I grew up somewhat shy and sheltered. In my sophomore year of college, I remember telling a friend that I was really nervous about going to a neighbor’s house party. Not only was I not a drinker, but I hadn’t been to a party where other kids my age were drinking. I had no idea how to act or what to say. I thought I would eventually do something “wrong,” and give myself away and everyone would know that I was a big weirdo. The advice I got was one of the best I’ve received: “Most people are so concerned with themselves and their own issues that they aren’t looking at or thinking of you. And these guys will probably be so drunk that they’ll act stupid themselves. But no one cares! Just go, relax and don’t worry.” And that’s exactly what I did. I don’t remember if I had a drink (probably just held a cup of beer in my hand), but I didn’t feel like I needed to drink in order to fit in.
A year later, I was now regularly going to these college parties where alcohol flowed easily. At one party, where I probably had little, if anything, to drink, I was shocked when the next day, one of the guys at the party said to me “Shilpa, I didn’t know you were so cool! You came and hung out!” I thought it was a bit funny—that’s all it takes to be considered cool? Just go and hang out?! (Granted, he drank a bit more than me, so I am not sure what exactly he remembered). That was another lesson I learned: Sometimes, you just have to show up. That’s all it takes. You don’t have to be or do anything! And if you’re drinking to the point of losing yourself, then are you really showing up?
Those two incidents positively influenced the way I interact with alcohol. However, there were times in my life when I felt pressured to drink (for example, in the workplace happy-hour setting) or when I felt uncomfortable saying I didn’t want to drink because I didn’t want others to think I was a boring, goody-two-shoes. As I became more mindful of what I wanted and what made me truly happy, those fears wore off. If someone has a problem with me not drinking (or not drinking as much), it is their problem. I am just as comfortable drinking water at a bar as I am drinking wine with dinner. I feel in control of, and comfortable with, how much I drink, when and where. I am okay with saying I don’t like the taste of beer. I am okay with saying I like champagne, but I know more than one glass will give me a headache (I am a lightweight and proud of it). I am okay with saying that I don’t want to go out for a drink, but would prefer tea or coffee or a bite to eat instead. For the most part, people are receptive and have even told me that they find my stance refreshing.
Note: I am not saying don’t ever drink. I am saying that it may be helpful to be more mindful of why you’re drinking and whether you are really enjoying yourself and doing it responsibly.
Sometimes, people pressure others to drink because they think they should do it (it may be a pattern for them, a way to make conversation, or perhaps because they feel awkward themselves), but for the most part, no one cares whether you are drinking. Because most people care more about themselves than about you. What matters most is how it makes you feel and what you want to do. You don’t have to do or be anything for anyone else. You don’t have to be the most witty, interesting, charming or funny person at the party. That is a lot of pressure to put on yourself. It’s okay to fit out. It’s okay to feel any good, bad, weird or awkward emotions that arise in social settings. Everyone feels a little bit awkward sometimes. All you need to be is your authentic self and show up.