People need to stop telling me I should have a drink. Seriously. Not because it makes me want to drink. Because it makes them look like complete idiots.
Those who know me know I don't drink. And, they know why. Those who don't know me have absolutely no business suggesting I ingest an addictive substance. How dare they? Alcohol is a drug. It kills. It doesn't matter that it's legal. No one should ever assume another person consumes alcohol. Or wants to consume alcohol. Or should consume alcohol. Or needs to consume alcohol.
People who assume everyone they meet can benefit from a drink -- a beer, or a glass of wine, or a martini, or whatever the celebrated cocktail of the day may be -- are foolish. That way of thinking is stupid. Plain and simple. And, it needs to stop. Not because it bothers me. It absolutely makes me squirm. Every time. I get embarrassed. For them.
I don't usually get through a week without someone who doesn't know me recommending I consume alcohol. I know they mean no harm. I know it isn't malicious. However, it is highly uneducated.
More than 16 million adults in the United States have an alcohol use disorder. That's about one in every 15 adults. And alcohol is responsible for nearly 90,000 deaths every year. It is the second deadliest legal drug in America.
While those who've been touched by alcohol addiction absolutely have a firm grasp on the threat alcohol abuse poses, swarms of Americans continue to worship alcohol to the point of abuse. Praise it. Extol its virtues. Celebrate with it in good times. Mourn with it in bad times. Accept excessive consumption of it as a right of passage. Tolerate its painful aftermath as an unavoidable side effect of life. And, boldly encourage people they don't know to avail themselves of a little booze for what ails them.
On vacation earlier this year, I spent a morning doing some media outreach for a client. Right after pressing send on an email to an important journalist, I realized I made a small error. Ridiculously tiny. But, I'm somewhat of a perfectionist, so I immediately followed with an apology blaming my vacation brain and, 10 minutes later, received a "stop working and be sure to order a martini at lunch" reply from the journalist I know only through a year's worth of professionally-focused email dialogue.
A few weeks ago, I was buying strawberries at the supermarket. The cashier whose lane I usually avoid because he doesn't move quite fast enough for me scanned them and then looked at me and said, "You know what you have to buy to go with these? Champagne. There's just nothing like it." As he began to write down his favorite kind of bubbly for me, I stopped him and said I had no plans to relapse after nearly 18 months of sobriety. He said, "So you don't want the strawberries?" True story.
It's not you. It's me.
This will continue happening. It's my job to keep saying, "No, thank you." Or, I could try out several different approaches and see what feels best.
- I can wear a sign. "I don't drink. Don't tell me I should."
- I can keep my mouth shut and move on.
- I can offer a canned response.
- I can laugh it off with a joke.
I'm the one who is unable to maintain a healthy relationship with alcohol. It's my responsibility to deal with my problem. And, it's up to me to help others like me.
No. Actually, it is you.
But this is not all about me and everyone else who chooses to abstain from alcohol consumption. It doesn't matter if we're recovering from addiction or if we simply prefer not to drink. Everyone else has options, too.
It's not enough for Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to take the stage at the Democratic National Convention and introduce himself as an alcoholic. It's not enough for all of us in recovery to tell our stories. It's not enough to focus on making treatment more accessible and destroying the stigma associated with addiction.
We are a nation concerned with the public health of our citizens. We are a nation fighting against substances and lifestyles that kill people. We are a nation dedicated to initiatives designed to help people stop smoking, lower their cholesterol, lose weight, and find cures cancer and heart disease. We are a nation taking a stand against the things that rob us of our health. It's become our culture.
Yet, we are a nation obsessed with alcohol, constantly searching for and inventing new ways to justify both daily and excessive consumption.
We are a nation content with feeding alcoholism while starving alcoholics. It's our culture.
We are not a nation that extols the virtues of killers. Or praises their existence. But, every year our calendar is sprinkled with more and more official days earmarked to celebrate alcohol - Drink Wine Day, National Tequila Day, National Daiquiri Day, Piña Colada Day, Beer Day, Margarita Day - and, in those celebrations, binge on the dedicated booze of the day.
It's time to shift the conversation about alcohol. It's time to admit alcohol plays too big a role in too many lives. And, it's time to treat alcohol like the killer it is.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.