True Story: I Didn’t Have My First Drink Until I Was 25

Two years ago today, you never would have caught me drinking alcohol or coffee, doing any kind of recreational drugs, or even taking ibuprofen or prescription drugs unless it was absolutely necessary. I wasn’t straightedge (labels are dumb). Mainly, I was suspicious of the allure of substances and the tendency I saw for people to use them as a crutch — alcohol to unwind, coffee to wake up, recreational drugs to … honestly, I still don’t know. Antibiotics as a cure-all, ditto ibuprofen.

The other part of it was that I entered a seven-year, monogamous, committed relationship with a conservative Christian who didn’t drink on moral grounds when I was 18. So if I didn’t see the point of drinking when I was in high school, and I was with someone who also didn’t drink, what reason could I have to start?

Well, a few, as it turned out — not least of all that I had absolutely zilch objections to drinking in and of itself. Moreover, I felt like I was missing out on a part of adult social interaction that’s existed since the dawn of humanity (well, at least since the neolithic period), not to mention tasting flavors that really cannot be replicated without alcohol. Ten days after I left my ex, I was hanging out with my best friend from high school who I hadn’t seen in seven years, and while we were preparing to watch Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” he asked me if I’d like some Chartreuse. And I just thought, hell, why not?

Here’s what I learned from that first drink and the sampling and experimenting with alcohol I’ve done since:

1. When you start drinking late, it’s really easy to feel yourself getting drunk. Or maybe this is just me — because I spent such a long time being hyper-vigilant about my sobriety, I also turned out being hyper-aware of the physical changes I felt under the influence of alcohol. For example, when I started watching “Cosmos” and found myself feeling dizzy and giggling at Carl Sagan’s gesticulations, I thought, “IIIIIIIII’m tipsy!” Serious pro: because I knew my body so well by the time I started drinking, I also knew my limits.

2. Having no tolerance is awesome. Well, most of the time. The second time I ever had a drink, it was a big glass of absinthe, and that was an adventure that ended with me taking a nap on a couch in a recording studio! But once I figured out where my tolerance was (two drinks), it became obvious that keeping my tolerance low was a great way to save money, which I am ALL about. One of my big poo-poos on drinking was that it’s expensive, but not so much if you only need a few drinks before you’re done.

3. Peer pressure is alive and well in adulthood. I can’t tell you how many times people said to me, “Oh, you HAVE to try this,” or “You should have one more!” I had a date tell me that he was excited that he got to turn me into a beer snob (I wound up hating beer). It was lame.

4. In reality, there’s only two good reasons to drink: Camaraderie and flavor. There is a genuine good time to be had getting a little bit drunk with very good friends (getting wasted with assholes is never a good time). Moreover, learning to taste and appreciate the complex flavors of alcohols like Malört, Chartreuse, Hum and absinthe has enriched my ability to appreciate flavors in food.

5. Drinking really isn’t what people crack it up to be. PSA time for the young’uns: Alcohol isn’t that great. I spent 25 years easily opting out of drinking, saying no to my friends, refusing invitations to parties I knew were just going to be booze-fests, and most importantly, cultivating the ability to amuse myself without it. You know what’s always fun? Skee-ball. Or going to museums, or biking, reading, listening to music on vinyl, playing instruments (poorly), playing with dogs, writing, learning how to cook complicated dishes, teaching yourself new skills with YouTube videos, being really invested in school. There’s a mild amount of fun to be had drinking, but I don’t feel like I missed out on anything by skipping over the period of time a lot of my friends spent getting hammered. In the US, there’s a conversation that’s had sometimes about how the drinking age is too high and elsewhere people are taught to drink responsibly at a much younger age — let me vouch for opting not to drink until later.

Rebecca Vipond Brink is a writer, photographer, and traveler who seriously recommends you try a 21st Century.  You can follow her at @rebeccavbrink and on her blog, Flare and Fade.

[Photo via Shutterstock]