When I was twelve years old, I sat in the back seat of my dad’s car rifling through the beach bag looking for something to drink. I saw the word “lemonade,” opened the bottle, and took a swig.
“Dad?” I said. “This lemonade tastes weird.”
My dad peered in the rearview mirror and calmly told me, “That’s because that’s not lemonade.”
I gave him a confused look.
“That’s alcoholic lemonade,” he said.
I promptly proceeded to spit out the window and dab my tongue on a towel, following that up with a dramatic montage that involved me asking my dad what was going to happen, was I going to be drunk, was I going to die?
When I was 23, I poured some of the punch bowl contents into my cup at a party, being sure to plop the enticing sorbet on top. I then filled up my cup again. I was really unexpectedly emotional that night. I found out later that was spiked punch. Considering I had zero tolerance for alcohol, that may have explained my emotional state. Maybe.
When I was 24, I was playing with my plastic water glass and my friend’s plastic whiskey glass, which looked exactly the same. I took a swig of what I thought was water, then immediately spit into the cup. I told my friend I’d pay for a refill of his whiskey. He denied the offer. He wasn’t mad; he was simply amused.
Those are the only times I’ve ever had alcohol in my life.
In the first five minutes that I begin talking to someone new at a restaurant, based on my ordering, they ask me two things:
1. Why are you vegan?
2. Why don’t you drink?
Despite my attempts to steer the next 30 minutes of conversation in another direction, the table topics continue to revolve around my lifestyle choices, usually due to incredulity and discomfort from the other party because, ohmygod they could NEVER give up cheese and have I really NEVER had alcohol?
It exhausts me.
I’m so very tired, people, of being the spotlight of attention just because I am different from you. Just because I make unique choices. Just because I make you uncomfortable.
I don’t sit at that table and lecture people on their cheeseburger and the beer they are sipping, but somehow, my salad and water make people uncomfortable.
I am all for deep and meaningful conversations, but this is not going to turn into one of those. This is going to be 30 minutes of you trying to mask your judgment of me but failing miserably. This is going to be 30 minutes of me hearing the same insulting jokes I’ve heard a hundred times before. This is going to be 30 minutes of me taking deep breaths while the walls close in and I get backed into a corner with no one to defend me but myself, bored at this point and just waiting for the organic leap to the next tête-à-tête to determine if you’ll ever be able to get past me being different.
Why do I have to explain myself? Why does my being different make you uncomfortable? Why do you feel you have to defend yourself when all I’ve said is “No, I don’t drink” and “Yes, I’m vegan”?
Since I’ve already put out there why I don’t eat animals, I’ll talk about my sobriety, since at this point in our table talk, without knowing my full and short-lived relationship with liquor, you’re probably weighing the odds of me being a recovering alcoholic or a crazy religious nut. I can assure you, I am both. (Just kidding.)
I don’t owe you an explanation for why I don’t drink, but I’m going to give one to you anyway. And you’re probably not going to like it. You’re probably going to have some reflexive retort back at me because I’ve somehow hit a button I didn’t know was there to push. Or maybe, just maybe, you’ll say, “huh” and move on.
I don’t drink because I want to be in control. I don’t drink because I like reality. I don’t drink because I like to be present in the moment, no matter how shitty it is. I don’t drink because I like to face my problems head on and then learn and grow from them.
For the record, I don’t smoke pot for the same reasons (and yes I live in Seattle where I CAN HAVE ALL THE POT IN THE WORLDDDDD).
I am in fact often mistaken for being drunk–sometimes the drunk person–at a bar because there I am making my own dance floor with my signature crazy legs moves, singing at the top of my lungs, laughing my loud and wild and pure and unrefined laugh, and making an utter fool out of myself with absolutely no care in the world.
Maybe I am weird because I’m different. Because I naturally have no inhibitions. Because I’m not easily embarrassed. Because I’m okay with staring my fears and insecurities in the face without any vices and letting the world wash over me leaving me scarred and scared and oh-so-bring-it-on ready.
Because I want to always be wholly, truly, honestly and authentically me.
My lifestyle choices don’t define me. I am not just a vegan and just a sober person. I am a woman who craves integrity and humor, who has insane attention to detail, who is increasingly more curious about the natural world and our role in it, who loves love, who speaks her mind, who has lived here and there and done this and that.
So please. The next time you meet someone who is different than you, don’t define them by a label. Accept that they are different, embrace that they are different, ask yourself why their being different bothers you, make a mental note to address that issue with yourself later, and move on.