I was on the train home on Friday, when a group of teenage boys sat down near me. They were trying to work out which one of them was most likely to get served, if they bought some beers from the local supermarket. I stole a couple of glances at the different members of the group. They clearly weren’t 18. I’d guess they were 15, maybe 16 at most. I reckoned they were far too baby-faced to get away with it. They’d have been better off trying to get someone else to buy the booze for them. Not that I said that, of course.
It was funny listening to them talk about the prospect of drinking. They were playing it down and trying to be cool about it but I could see how excited they were. I remember feeling exactly the same way. As a teenager I was 100% geek most of the time. Drinking gave me a chance to be fun, glamorous and oh so cool. It meant breaking the rules, being daring and taking a risk. It was an act of rebellion.
Or was it?
As I eavesdropped on their conversation, it occurred to me that drinking is not really that rebellious at all. In fact, when you think about it, drinking is quite the opposite. It’s all about conforming to the norm. It’s about following the crowd and trying to fit in.
If those boys ever did manage to get hold of something to drink, I guarantee you half of them won’t have really enjoyed it. It might be the strange taste, or the weird light-headed feeling that puts them off. But they’ll keep quiet about that. They’ll persevere with it because it’s cool and glamorous.
One generation teaches another that this is how you should act. You have to push on through that initial resistance and acquire a taste for booze, because drinking is what proper grown ups do. It’s the best way of dealing with unpleasant emotions. It’s how adults function. We’re told that drinking earns you the appreciation of your peers and helps you fit in. And don’t you dare think about not drinking because only boring, uptight people would consider that an option.
It’s all such nonsense. Being a rebel is not about doing the same as everyone else or drinking till you’re rendered unconscious. It’s about being an individual and refusing to follow a crowd that forces you to think the same way they do.
It strikes me that sobriety is one of the most rebellious things you can do.
It takes courage to defy the social expectations outlined above. It’s scary to move out of your comfort zone like that, to go against the grain and risk not fitting in. It takes bravery to carve your own path and be yourself without any kind of numbing shield.
When I first stopped drinking, I went to great lengths to hide the fact that I was teetotal. I was forever ‘on a detox’ or ‘training for a race’. I’d choose non alcoholic drinks that looked like they could pass for booze. Whenever someone did notice that I wasn’t drinking, I’d find myself blurting out things like, “Don’t worry! I’m still really, really FUN!” I may as well have been saying, “Don’t worry! I’ll still fit in!”
Nowadays I’m not so bothered. I can see it’s the social conditioning around alcohol that’s the real problem. It traps people. It makes them fear that they will be missing out, unless they follow the crowd. Increasingly, I think that stopping drinking is less about alcohol itself and more about recognising where you’ve been trained to think and behave in a certain way.
Sobriety is about learning how to unplug from all your preconceived notions and social conditioning. It’s about being brave enough to just take the leap and do your own thing. It’s about daring to be different – daring to be yourself.
Isn’t it strange that we’ve got to a point where we can see cigarettes for what they really are – they’re not considered sexy or cool anymore – and yet we’re still so hung up on booze? I wish I could have conveyed all this to the boys on the train, but I am laughing at the mere thought of doing so. I’m sure it would have come across as very patronising…
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Thanks for sharing Kate! I agree, being sober is definitely rebellious. The only thing is now I feel like I’m rebelling against my friends, not parents/school/adults. But my friends are a lot more understanding 🙂
i agree 100% in re drinking not an act of rebellion. Initially it feels that way. My substance-abuse problems began in college when I would do almost anything if it seemed like something my parents would disapprove of.
Finally today, over 30 years after graduating from UW-River Falls, I see that I’ve been burying my true, fun, upbeat, engaged self under wave upon wave of booze and to a lesser degree, drugs.
But it’s never too late to admit your mistakes. I thank God and Jesus that I have finally seen the beauty of sobriety. Thanks for your efforts to help the lost and addicted among us.
The art of being a sober rebel is a very informative and motivating post. I agree that drinking is glamorised and considered the “norm” and society puts pressure on us to drink. When i think about it i never made the conscious decision to be a drinker, i thought it was just something all adults did. This is why i think there should be motivational speakers visiting schools and informing children about the dangers of drinking alcohol.
You really have hit the nail on the head with this one. Not drinking is the real rebellion.
In one of your recent posts you mentioned Allen Carr’s “Stop Drinking Now”. Reading that post happened to coincide with a renewed attempt at leaving the booze behind, spurred by my retirement and not wanting to spend it a slave to alcohol, in the way I have spent most of my working life.
I have been in rehab, I have been a regular at AA on and off, I have read and read whatever I can get my hands on, but this book has been a God-send. It has made me see the alcohol trap for what it is, and helped me accept that when you look closely at alcohol, there is nothing cool about it. It offers no genuine pleasure or support. The cool and rebellious thing to do is actually keep a sober head when all around you are losing theirs! Having read the book (twice now) I can see the parallels in your excellent article above. So glad I looked in on your blog for inspiration when I did – I cannot tell you what a difference it has made
Thanks for this post. Today, I am 97 days sober. I honestly consider this a sizable miracle in my life. One of my initial concerns, in the first couple of days of sobriety, was “how will I fit in?”. I realized that I have been trying to fit in my entire life. I never felt that by simply being myself was good enough for the rest of the world. I think about that now and feel so sad about it. What was it that made me believe that I wasn’t good enough? Some things come to mind for sure – things I am exploring now as a newly sober person. Sobriety has given me the gift of clarity. I can now see why I drank in my attempts to fit in. I can see how that became a vicious cycle of wasting my time and money, ruining relationships and my health in order to be the person I thought I needed to be. At the end of my drinking days, which coincided with intense grief over the death of a close friend, I turned into a person I didn’t recognize (and NEVER wanted to become): a drunk middle-aged mom, bitter, spiteful and jealous. My obsession with alcohol turned me into that person. I did all of my over-indulging of alcohol to fit in when I knew deep down it wasn’t the answer for me. I know that I have a long way to go but, I will happily be the rebel I need to be in my attempts for another day of sobriety.
Congratulations on your 97 (now 99?) days – an amazing achievement. Here’s to being a sober rebel!
I enjoyed your post, Kate. I too was a geek and I always felt gawky, unattractive and underdeveloped. I watched the other girls drink and they looked so cool and in charge of who they were. And so I drank to be like them. And it was revolting. I couldn’t stand the taste but I pushed and pushed myself to get over it.
Smoking too. Then I learned to drink in ways that shocked others so that it got me the attention that I felt I had always missed out on. I’m now 50 and I don’t know how to NOT have a drink. It’s evolved way past those teenage years. It’s now a daily habit to deal with life. And to be sober in this day and age really is like rebellion. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t drink! And the raised eyebrows I get when I say I don’t want to drink is amusing to watch. People feel really uncomfortable! I want out. I don’t want to drink anymore. It’s become much more than it ever should have been. I don’t want to be one of the crowd anymore. That was decades ago when I was struggling to find my identity. And I do have a rebellious personality, so why not put it to good use and use it on alcoholism? It’s a great idea. Thank you!
What a well written and observant blog. I loved it, sat here in my car in the middle of England with a few minutes to kill, it was just the job. Thank you x