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JB writes in...

Where to begin...? As a longtime recovering drug addict/alcoholic who has spent the better part of his adult life (sadly) working and socializing in bars and other drinking/drug soaked environs, I've often felt considerable tension between myself and my more indulgent compatriots. I played in a band on the frat/bar circuit for years, and I have no problem assuring you that abstainance in those situations is conspicuous at the very least and problematic as often as not (or at least more often than it should be). That's not to say that everyone in every situation was aware of my sobriety (even I'm not that paranoid), but I couldn't begin to count the legion friends, acquaintances who have come up to me in bars to apologize for their drunkenness, or, for that matter, the number of people who cast a wary eye upon my cranberry juice or near beer only to suggest I get a "real drink."

And then there are the folks who simply don't want me anywhere nearby while any illicit activity is going down. On a certain level, I guess I can't blame them, I'd be hard-pressed to improve their experience, but the narcs I've heard of at least feign some sort of participation or interest before showing their true colors. And while I don't exactly go searching out drinking/drugging situations, they are simply a fact of life in the social circle in which I've found myself for the last fifteen years.

Fundamentally, we fear that which we don't understand. It's been my experience that the people who have been the most bothered by my sobriety have been somewhere along the continuum of those who were mildly concerned about their own consumption all the way to those in the throes of full-on addiction and denial. Having said that, I must say that I have seen many people who clearly were/are not alcoholic/addicts made uncomfortable by someone else's sobriety while they were imbibing, but I think there's an obvious inverse relationship between someone's sickness and the extent to which they are bothered by someone else's sobriety.

My intent here is not to evangelize any sort of twelve step rhetoric; the twelve step party line is that of "attraction rather than promotion" and a program that is for "those who want it, not those who need it." Rather, I have simply been enjoying this entire diologue as it speaks so closely to my own experience. I can't say that my experience has been anything like Bart's with his folks, but I have found his effort on behalf of his relationship with his dad to be among the most heartening and valient pursuits I have seen any of my peers - for lack of a better word - undertaking in recent memory.

The fact is that going without intoxicants is not necessarily the most excrutiating load to bear, but it is a path that's got its share of obstacles, and they're mainly social. The benefits are many, and in my case, they certainly outweigh the negatives - if they didn't I'd surely be drunk or dead or wishing I was one or the other - but it does make it hard to feel comfortable in certain situations and it can be a real pain in the ass with regard to dating, but that's another can of worms in itself.

At any rate, when forced to deal with a particularly adamant "apologizer," I usuall just explain what I believe to be the truth of the situation: that I, like the full-on dope addict or alcoholic who still drinks or uses to excess, am at one extreme end of the spectrum, but somewhat more so, because I am choosing to put myself into that environment. In other words, I am the extremist, the fish out of water, so to speak, and that the vast majority of those in the room are the normal ones. They're in a bar or party and they're drinking. That seems pretty normal to me. Mostly.

Sorry I've gone on so long. I guess fifteen years of feeling vaguely outcast has touched a nerve...

Dawn offers the following:

i just don't happen to smoke pot. i have, and the last several times the only effects were the absolute inability to string words into coherent messages and the sensation of being tightly wrapped in invisible cotton candy while fastened on a merry-go-round at warp speed. not all that enjoyable, really.

well, most of the people i hang out with do smoke pot. as a matter fact, i often find that i'm the only person at work who doesn't. so this is what sometimes will happen:

there's 7 girls in the dressing room and all at once, without a spoken word, 6 of them leave to squeeze themselves into a tiny adjacent room and shut the door behind them; and there i am by myself.

now, i'm a sensitive person (sometimes overly) and this kinda hurts my feelings. i have explained many times that this covert bullshit is unnecessary, but . . .

i'm just not cool. i'm a small, quirky (even goofy) part-timer who spends far too much time chatting with the cops who come in.

Brian Bothwell writes:

I have a good friend who up until the last year was 100% recreational-drug free (he started drinking coffee) and he too has told me of the shit that some of his peers give him for his choice. He has even had people tell him they don't trust him because he doesn't do drugs!! Now I, even being a enjoyer of the occasional buzz, never felt that his non-drug using behavior was a threat of any kind. I still don't understand his not wanting to at least *try* drinking a beer or smoking a J, but he has his reason: His father was an alcoholic who died when he was very young, and there is a history of (alcohol) addiction in his family. He simply doesn't see the possible risks involved being worth the buzz or high. (Not to suggest that all drugs are physiologically addictive like alcohol, but you get the point)

Then on the extreme side of non-drug use is the mid-1980's "Straight Edge" movement. Now that is damn silly. I remember being at punk clubs and seeing straight-edgers knock beers out of peoples hands. That's just plain fascist, moralizing idiocy.

If someone wants to do drugs (and are willing to take any risks involved), they should do it.

And if they don't want to, then don't... (soapbox mode OFF)

To which Rachel replies...

To be perfectly HONEST, I would have to say that I am always a little suspicious of people who don't do drugs when I don't know them very well. I'm leery of smoking pot or doing anything unless everyone in the room is also doing it...just to be on the safe side. It's easy to assume that *everyone* is cool about drugs in Bloomington, but it's not true and I'd hate to get busted from being careless at a "mixed" party.

Also, I don't usually like being the only one drinking, smoking or whatever, in the room. Or leaving a person out...that's what it feels like. It's like people are all getting on this train, except that one person, and that person is definitely left behind...

Isn't it boring or irritating to be with a bunch of stupid drunk or stoned people when you're not in that frame of mind? Don't mean to pressure anyone, but it *is* a social'd be the same if everyone in the room was watching a movie, but you can't see it...

I'm not saying everyone MUST do drugs or drink, I'm just saying that I see the social awkwardness that could arise.

And so Brian writes again:

I agree. When I was roomates with the aforementioned friend, my intake of recreational drugs dropped to almost nil. It was't because I was pressured into not using them, it was just because it WAS akward being high around a roomie and good friend who had NO CLUE what I was experiencing. While I resided with him, we even had a "no drug" party in which the only mind-altering thing we consumed was strawberry milkshakes. I was at first opposed to the idea, as I had many friends who liked to smoke pot, drink beer, inhale Nitrous, etc. But I went along with his plan (we had LOTS of sensory stimulation: video games, Ren N' Stimpy videos, "arty" slide shows, music, disco balls, dry ice experiments, party games, dadist humor, black lights, super-8 tape loops, etc...) And it turned out really damn fun. Turns out another longtime friend of mine who had driven all the way from Eugene Oregon (I was in Olympia, Washington at the time) was trippin on P. Cubensis 'shrooms the whole night, but no one figured this out.

Now I just wish I had as much time as I did then to put into such shindigs...