My relationship with alcohol is complicated
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My relationship with alcohol is complicated
"My relationship with alcohol is complicated" is a true personal story by Nicole Zelniker about being involuntarily sober as a legacy of alcoholism in her family.
I’ve never been drunk. During my freshman year of college, I got tipsy a few times on lite beer and cheap ciders, but I was only 19 when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and told I’d never drink again. Crohn’s is an autoimmune disease, which means the body attacks itself, specifically the intestine in this case. Certain things – like alcohol – set it off.
I tried to convince myself that I was disappointed. No Thirsty Thursdays at the bar that doubled as a washroom. No chugging from red solo cups to win a game of beer pong. Really, though, I was somewhat relieved. Until this point, my relationship with alcohol had largely been watching an alcoholic relative spiral out of control.
Addiction was in my blood, and it had already manifested in other ways. My OCD and anxiety-riddled brain liked routine, liked repetition. While not technically an addiction, I had trouble straying from my eating disorder behaviors from when I was a teen. Alcohol was a problem waiting to happen until it wasn’t.
My relationship with alcohol shaped my relationships
Most of my grad school classmates were older than I was – in their late 20s and early 30s, whereas I was 22. I thought that meant I was safe. The first weekend, I was proven wrong when my cohorts immediately wanted to go out to the bars.
I really liked the other students. Most of them I haven’t seen since we graduated. I can’t help wondering if it’s because I never went out with them, never became a friend instead of a classmate.
It was the first time I realized how alcohol would influence my adult life, but not my last. I joined Bumble and Hinge when I moved to New York and joined the real world and learned to navigate the awkward reality of being a 20-something who doesn’t do drinking dates. Several times, I went to bars – something people suggested even when I told them I wouldn’t drink there – and ordered water. Most of those dates didn’t get a follow-up.
Relationships have ended before they began. I’ll message a match apologetically, as though it’s my fault because I often feel like it is. “Awkward thing to mention before a first date, but I actually can’t drink.” And then I’ll jokingly suggest we get mocktails, even though what’s really the point if there’s no alcohol in it. Sometimes people have been really understanding. Other times, I’ll never hear from them again.
I didn't become a teetotaler overnight
It’s not like I never drank after my diagnosis. I was 20 and a sophomore in college during Serendipity, a weekend-long music festival that students mostly used as an excuse to drop acid and drink enough to get their stomachs pumped. Several of us pregamed in my friend Leah’s suite before heading out to a concert to drink more alcohol. I took a sip of a cider.
“You’re not missing out,” someone told me. I gave her my go-to response: “That’s what everyone says, and yet they keep drinking.” She didn’t have an answer to that, so she just shrugged and said, “Well, yeah.”
Before we left for the concert, I detoured to the bathroom so I could shit blood. I had maybe had five or six slow sips of cider. Then I followed the group out to the show.
Enough is enough (but it isn't)
Pope house wasn’t technically a frat house. It was the multicultural house where students held potlucks and other events celebrating diversity. But for the purposes of this story, Pope is essentially a frat house.
Leah, Roxanne, and I went over for a night of loud music and sticky tables. The boys we went to see were understanding, let me and Roxanne be a beer pong team. I’m so uncoordinated that it was already like I was throwing drunk anyway. The other team made it in our cups, Roxanne drank.
Later into the night, Leah refused a drink. She had already had enough, she said, and she was comfortably buzzed. The boys pushed it on her anyway.
“You’re not making Nicole drink,” she said.
“Nicole can’t drink. You can.”
I don’t remember which one of them said this, but I wondered how they would react if me being sober was my choice, or if I wanted to get tipsy, but not trashed, like Leah. When they handed her the beer, she drank it.
Nicole Zelniker is an author of "Mixed," a non-fiction book about race and mixed-race families, and “Last Dance,” a collection of short stories.