Monday, June 10, 2013

One Mojito Later

On Sunday July 8, 2012, I turned 21. One friend suggested that I get drunk on my birthday, promising that I wouldn't lose control. I politely declined and instead had my first legal drink at a fancy restaurant on a family outing. It was a mojito, a lime and rum concoction with lots of sugar and a straw. I stopped after finishing half the drink. There was a dizzy sensation, as if I were about to fall asleep. 

Stop drinking, my body told me, and I did.

That was a year ago. Since then, I've had that same drink at that same restaurant and remained fine, able to down it with pleasure. Most evenings I share a small glass of wine with my mom, and on the vacation that I blogged about before, I got to try my sister's recommendations.

I have a huge fear of losing control, of getting drunk. This fear dates back to several things: high school lectures, Stephen King, Isaac Asimov and Gone With the Wind. Although these sources vary, they all produced an acute fear of drinking too much. The ironic thing is that few people in my family drink, and everyone is health conscious. I'm also a hypochondriac, another point of irony.

High school and middle school lectures about alcohol often feature printouts of MRI scans-- pictures of the brain. As you can imagine, the teacher or speaker would emphasize how alcohol when the liver can no longer process it poisons the brain. He then talked about kids who would die from too many shots of alcohol and how they became brain damaged. Extremely cheerful, and biology presentations would reinforce the negative results.

But that was nothing compared to what we learned freshman year, during a school assembly before prom. I came home shaking that day and lashed out at my family. This was when my oldest sister lived at home, so she was able to calm me down.

When you're fourteen, knowledge impresses you. Hurricanes that knock out power for a week impress you. Our class had just been watching the first hour of Hotel Rwanda, about the 1993 genocide. As you could imagine, we were pretty traumatized by seeing systematic violence and the world doing nothing to stop the violence. Then school assembly started.

Apparently, people get drunk on prom night, the presentation told us. People then drive while drunk on prom night. Then they get terribly burned and have to live the rest of their lives as pale, nose-less examples of why not to lose control. The presentation included photos of the burn victims in question. I freaked, and remained in shock for the rest of the day, making two vows: to not attend prom and to never drink and drive. I never wanted my photo to be part of a cautionary Powerpoint.

These teachings stayed with me for the years, and I never questioned the certainty that getting drunk meant that your voice would slur and that you'd become a blabbering idiot. Warning signs at college dormitories assured me that the police would bust you for fake IDS and place the cuffs on you. 21 shots on your 21st birthday would kill you. I didn't feel it was worth the risk to kill brain cells or get arrested before graduation, and enough nonsense falls out of my mouth without alcohol's help.

Only recently have I learned that there is no standard on drunkenness. When I came close to getting drunk on the cruise, for example, all that happened was a strong urge to fall asleep in the bar chair. My sister admonished me for drinking a strong mojito much more quickly than she drank her prosecco, for underestimating its potency. That's all that happened; my voice remained articulate, and I was able to walk back to our room. The buzz soon wore off.

Adults lie. Teachers exaggerate. Prom committees add cautionary drama. The danger is still there, but I'm not someone who will get crazy drunk. It's been wired in me for that not to happen, thanks to strong biology courses and graphic Powerpoint presentations. I'll never go the way of Tony Stark or Ernest Hemmingway, but I will learn to enjoy that buzz.

The most ironic thing? I haven't drunk alcohol in a week. Writing this stone-cold sober. 


Matt Anderson said...

As an Australian, I'm quite partial to a drink, though I prefer Whiskey to Beer. Yet, when I was younger I too was afraid to drink (drinking age being 18 in Australia). I was worried that I would lose control.
This is actually because of a darker part of my life, and the depth of my own mentality meant that I was scared of what I would unleash.

But when I finally did drink, to the point of watering down my senses, I realized that when I drink I just like to talk a lot. I like to talk to people and I get bored easily, so I try to do something fun.

Basically, I'm just me, but more concentrated and more stupid.

The point is, if you're afraid to drink, I believe that you're afraid of yourself.
I'm not saying that you SHOULD drink. Living a teetotaller's life is both cheaper and less dramatic. But if you're avoiding alcohol because you're AFRAID of it, I think the problem is deeper than a pint glass . . .

Priya Sridhar said...

Like I said, the Powerpoint really scarred me, so that I never wanted to drink and drive or go to prom. :)