The first time I got drunk I was fifteen. I arrived at my friend’s house for a sleepover and was greeted by a bottle of Barcadi and a cheeky grin. We went to the park and giggled and pulled tufts of grass out of the earth and it felt wonderful.
In the years afterwards I got drunk plenty more times. Hasty negotiations with older siblings and friends with fake IDs, bottles wrapped in jumpers to stop them from clinking, water bottles sipped surreptitiously on trains. But sometime shortly after I finished high school it became less wonderful – in the wake of all those eighteenths, schoolies and my newfound ability to buy it for myself, I guess it felt less exciting. Either way, I decided to take some time off, just for a little while. And that little while became six months and then I realised I had stopped drinking altogether.
It’s been over three years and I’ve barely noticed the difference – I still go out, I still enjoy myself, I still have stories to tell the next day. But sometimes, when I tell people I don’t drink, something passes between us – a flicker, a glint in their eye, a challenge. And I’ll be honest – it’s men. Men whom I love, men who are my friends, men I’ve only recently been acquainted with. And before you ask, no not it’s not all men, but it’s enough of them.
A new friend cackled when I told him – “Next time you get a glass of water at my house, you’ll get a mouthful of vodka, mwahahah!” An old friend was celebrating a new job – “Honey, I think it’s time we got you drunk.” I went out for lunch with my family and my brother spiked my milkshake with Bailey’s. And I try to be cool. I try to laugh about it. I try to make a joke that’s funnier than their banter about my (lack of) drinking habits.
“I’d assume there was something wrong with your tap water, you might want to get your pipes looked at.”
“I can’t darling, it’s your night and I would just get TOO charismatic.”
“Waste of a perfectly good milkshake!”
But I’m tired. I’m really fucking tired. I’ve heard their jokes before and I’ll hear them again and I’m losing patience. I want tell them how fucked up they’re being, when my friends and I live in fear of some stranger, or even someone we know, slipping something in our glass when we’re not looking. As women it’s our terrifying reality, being told that when we say “no”, we don’t really mean “no.” The implication that I can’t truly know what I want, because there will always be some guy hanging out to prove that he knows me better than I know myself. Sometimes I feel like my frustration is so trivial, and yet it continues to gnaw at me. I’m tired of the decisions I have made about my body being treated like a joke, like an obstacle to overcome, something to be questioned and undermined. Is it worth going through the reasons, point by point, why I stopped drinking? To tell them that I don’t drink because I always drank too much, because of the calorie content, because it was expensive, because it stopped being fun, because I have a family history of addiction and I wanted to jump off that train before it left the station?
All these reasons are valid, and they are mine, and I have thought long and hard about them. I stopped drinking because it made sense to me for those reasons and so many more. But the men who poke me and prod me and spike my drinks all in the name of a harmless prank shouldn’t need to be given an itemised list. All they need to know is that I am a fucking grown up who makes their own decisions about what they do with their body. That should be enough for them. That should get me the respect I deserve.
I need the men in my life to understand that when I made a decision, it’s not a negotiation, it’s not a challenge and it’s not a joke.
It’s the rules.