Nothing was more fun than compiling a list of the reasons women writers love to drink. Who doesn't want to revel in the bright side, the bubbly side, the happier side of a common practice that's so often loaded with guilt and shame? But as soon as I wrote that post, Female Writers Reveal Why They Drink, I knew I wanted to present the other side.
Though 64% of American women drink, according to a recent Gallup poll, plenty of women choose to abstain.
It can be uncomfortable not to drink in the midst of our drinking culture. As Jamie Keiles, creator of the Seventeen Magazine Project, said on our blog, "There isn't an established framework in place for an adult non-drinker who isn't a recovering alcoholic." Not everyone who abstains from drinking is a recovering alcoholic! Many women simply don't like the way alcohol makes them feel or act.
I'll leave it to these articulate women writers to explain what they don't like about drinking -- women Caren and I have interviewed during our nearly four years of blogging at Drinking Diaries:
Drinking Can Lead Down a Dark Path:
"I see alcohol as part of living a full life until something goes horribly wrong in your constitution. My analogy is that bread would be the staff of life (unless you have celiac disease); drinking is a part of life unless you're an alcoholic." -Julia Sexton, food writer
"I like the feeling of the first or second drink. I choose not to drink because once I start I don't know when I am going to stop and the consequences of the 3rd, 4th and 5th are not really that cute or sexy. The repercussions of the 6th, 7th and 8th are downright disastrous!" -Eva Tenuto, creator of the TMI Project
"There was always a certain point in the evening when I'd feel just perfect, like how I imagined humans were built to feel: My boobs grew like three cup sizes, I felt one with my friends and the universe, I could handle anything, I could play. Without a drink, I didn't know how to have fun. In retrospect, I think that perfect feeling alcohol gave me was presence: a brief flight from time, when I neither dwelled on bitterness of yore nor worried some fear fantasy. Only problem? That peaceful feeling was soon overwhelmed by an invisible beast who seemed to burst out of my ribcage with a mission to consume whatever alcohol I could scrounge up. Didn't matter who was in the way." -Kassi Underwood, writer
"I go somewhere else, as if there's a separate realm removed and apart from the 'real' world. An invisible barrier -- it's an adult version of a child's secret hiding place. That's if I'm lucky. Then there are the wines that put everything on dim, and on those days, the wine travels to a different place, and I go deeper, further into the darkest corners of my own head, which can be a threatening place made of words that come back to me, my own and others'; turns I made or didn't take, a gaping emptiness of how did I get here. A chasm of feel-sorry-for-myself-ness." -Jill Talbot, author of Loaded: Women and Addiction
Alcohol Diminishes Their Social Skills or Makes Them Do Things They Might Regret:
"I'm not a great sleeper. But when I drink in the evening, insomnia's a sure bet." -Linda Yellin, author of The Last Blind Date
"Drinking just brings out my belligerent, indiscreet, attacking side. And it also makes me incredibly sleepy." -Gretchen Rubin, author of Happier at Home
"I loved the way it seemed to give me access to a world I would otherwise not be able to inhabit: it made me feel like anything could happen in a given night. The problem, of course, was that anything could happen in a given night." -Anna David, author of Falling For Me
"The problem with me is that booze turns me into such a freak show, it actually costs me my ability to choose. Well, I guess I do have a choice technically but it's not "drink or don't drink" it's like "live or die." When I drink, a switch goes off in my brain that is like "keep going at all costs and don't stop," and really that train leads to drugs rather than just more drinks, because I prefer drugs to drinking. I've tried to control it so many times and I just can't." -Lesley Arfin, author of Dear Diary
Drinking Only Temporarily Masks the Pain:
"It's also true that drinking doesn't solve anything -- it's just masking and numbing whatever pain or fear may be hiding beneath that warm blanket. It's not a solution, it's just a balm." -Laura Barcella, author of Madonna and Me
"[I loved] the oblivion. The (false) sense of freedom. Falling into the abyss. Putting your cares on infinite hold and watching the night rush toward you and embrace you, folding you into a comfortable void. It's no way to live -- you miss out on a lot and neglect yourself spectacularly when you live in an ocean of alcohol -- but I do miss that instant release valve. The problem is: Once I tap into that vast non-consciousness, I don't want to come out." -Sasha Scoblic, author of Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety
"[Alcohol gives you] that false sense of wellbeing." -Martha Frankel, author of Hats & Eyeglasses
It turns out that the reasons women choose not to drink aren't necessarily tragic or heavy. Many women mentioned two simple reasons: they don't like hangovers and they don't want the empty calories.
But I'll leave the final words to novelist Susan Henderson, author of Up From the Blue, who captures perfectly the double-edged nature of alcohol:
"I have a healthy respect for the power of alcohol. It's a little bit like the ocean -- there's tremendous beauty and pleasure to be had at the ocean but it can also pull you into its depths or take out a dock in a storm. So I respect its strength. I don't go to the ocean when I'm weak and I don't swim out farther than I'm capable of, and I'm kind of the same with alcohol. I don't drink it if I'm in a self-hating mood and I don't lower my defenses when I'm not around people I trust. I don't have any desire to drink to the point where I'm not in control, but I'll enjoy it with a meal, and I'll let it take my stoic nature down a notch when I'm with a good friend."