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Dear Care and Feeding,
I just turned 20 and finished my sophomore year of college. I don’t drink, and I don’t plan on drinking when I turn 21, either. I know I have poor impulse control and weak discipline, and I’m afraid if I start drinking, I’ll like it and I won’t be able to stop. Addiction runs in my dad’s family. My dad was an alcoholic who left us when I was 8 and died on the streets.
People think that because I don’t drink, it means that I would have an awful social life on campus, or that people would constantly be mocking me, calling me a wuss or something. I’ve found that most people my age don’t really care. I’ve never had to explain my reasoning. Parties also aren’t really my scene. I hate loud noises and being around drunk people. Instead, I play board games or watch movies or go hiking with friends on weekends. Even though I go to a “party school,” not drinking has never really impeded me in any way at school.
However, people at home do make fun of me. My mom’s family and my stepfather like to think of themselves as the “cool parents,” letting kids as young as 15 drink at any family events. I’m sure if other people were in my shoes, they’d be thrilled to have a family who supported their drinking. But I don’t drink, and no one in my family respects me. My step dad always calls me a square and tells me to lighten up. My uncles and aunts call me a loser (and a nerd, but I am a skinny white guy with glasses who plays board games so that doesn’t really offend me). My mom, who saw what alcoholism did to my dad, is perfectly fine with all of this. I’m not great at confrontation, so when my family goes on and on, I don’t really stand up for myself, I just sort of sit there and take it. My same-age cousins and my sisters are the only ones who respect my decision. My sisters are 18 and 15 and aren’t planning on drinking either, for the same reasons. I want to be a good role model for them and stop my family from making fun of me for my decision, so that my sisters don’t have to deal with this either. My sisters look up to me, and I feel like it’s my job as an older brother to shield them from our extended family’s nastiness. But I really don’t know how to go about doing it.
—None for Me, Thanks
Dear None for Me,
You’ve made a very mature decision at a very young age, and it sounds like it has largely brought you peace of mind. Unfortunately, when it comes to the topic of drinking, some of your family members are very, very immature. Insensitive is an understatement; considering how alcohol abuse has impacted you, they ought to respect your choice without judgment, even if it isn’t one they’ve made for themselves. Considering that your mother and stepfather let underage kids experiment with drinking in their home, it may not be terribly surprising that they have reacted in such a way to your teetotaling, but I can imagine that it’s got to be deeply hurtful.
You can—and should—defend yourself to your loved ones and ask that they show more respect for your rejection of alcohol. Remind them that this is a choice you made out of concern for your health in consideration of your father’s issues. Ask that they refrain from calling you names or joking about it. Be honest about how their words make you feel. Advocate for yourself, but be prepared for the possibility that these people may not change. Sometimes, the people we love are just assholes, and it sounds like that might be what you’re dealing with. If they refuse to listen to you, you may want to avoid situations where taunting is likely, or limit contact with family members who are particularly disrespectful. Regardless of how you choose to move forward with your relatives, I hope you take pride in yourself for refusing to bow to the pressure they’ve put on you to conform to their attitudes about drinking. You’ve made the best choice for you, and it’s great that your friends and classmates are able to respect that. Hopefully, your family will wise up and do the same eventually.
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