I'd be lying if I said I've never gotten drunk or that I've never been hungover. I've done my fair share of partying — hey, everything in moderation, right? — but I've always seen my relationship with alcohol as a healthy one, and that's because of one simple thing: my family.
Every family has their own dynamic, but if I could describe mine in one word it would be, simply, close. There are few families as close as mine, and that extends well beyond my immediate family, to my cousins, aunts, uncles, and these people we call relatives, not because of blood, but because of love and friendship.
We're the kind of people who like our traditions, from big summer vacations to even bigger holiday parties to, yes, drinking together. When I think of the people I want to go to the bar with, it's usually the people related to me. When we drink together, I feel safe, un-judged, and relaxed.
And that comes from a lifetime of teachings.
Honesty Is Key
Growing up, I was pretty aware that I lucked out and got the "cool parents." Unlike my friends' strict mothers and fathers, my mom and dad were relaxed when it came to rules, but they lived by one policy: honesty above all else.
Whenever I got in trouble as a kid, it was usually because I lied about something, so by the time I was a teenager, I had developed a pretty open relationship with my parents built on trust. If something happened at school, I didn't try to hide it. If I got a boyfriend, I didn't bother lying about it. And even if I drank at a high school party, I didn't attempt to keep it from my parents. They never encouraged or condoned my underage drinking — they never bought me alcohol or let me throw keg parties at my house (they aren't totally insane!) — but they did create an environment where, if I did make that choice on my own, I could talk to them about it without simply getting yelled at.
Tasting the Forbidden Fruit
My mom always told me that she wanted me to be able to come to her about anything, especially things that could be dangerous or harmful, like alcohol or drinking and driving. If there was ever a night that I decided to go out and drink with friends and couldn't find a designated driver, getting behind the wheel of my own car (or into one with an inebriated driver) never crossed my mind. I knew my mom would always come and pick me up if I needed her to, and she trusted me to not abuse that option.
And I never had to, because to me, booze wasn't this delicious forbidden fruit that, when I got my hands on it, I needed to binge all of it. My parents never placed this unrealistic, zero-tolerance ban on the stuff that made it seem even more appealing. It was a substance I was told from an early age could be fun when enjoyed responsibly, a thing I saw my parents consume regularly without a fuss. If it wasn't a big deal to them, then it shouldn't be a big deal to me, either.
Like a lot college kids, I drank during my undergraduate career. Not every night was representative of the responsible attitude I had tried to adapt — I was young, give me a break — but I did my best. And when it came time to legally drink, I knew exactly how I wanted to celebrate.
Most 21-year-olds spend their birthdays doing shots with their friends at the bar, but when I was old enough, I spent the night with my family instead. (There were 20 of us — including my parents, sister, aunts, uncles, and cousins.) Not only did they buy me drinks and take me to various bars, but they also created a little drinking game for the occasion.
I know what you're thinking: A drinking game sounds very irresponsible. And maybe it would be — with the wrong crowd.
As the night went on and the competition heated up, I found myself going from buzzed to drunk to drunker, but surrounded by my protective family, I never once felt out of control or unsafe. After every drink I had, someone was there to make me follow it with a water. When strangers at the bar ordered me birthday shots, my family was there to make sure I could handle it and, if I couldn't, they politely declined for me.
When I started to feel like I was crossing the line from drunk to wasted, my family happily ordered me non-alcoholic beverages and food at the bar before ushering me into our sober driver's car, taking me home, and putting me to bed.
My birthday was an incredible and meaningful night I'll never forget, but it was also starkly different from the 21st birthdays of so many of my friends. Instead of being surrounded by equally inebriated adults, I spent my birthday surrounded by my family who was watching out for me and showing me how to drink without getting trashed.
When I woke up the morning after my 21st birthday, I had water and aspirin waiting for me, but as it turned out, I didn't need it. I was actually hangover-free, because unlike the nights I went out drinking with friends, I never felt pressured to drink more than I wanted to. Even with that little game, I didn't feel the need to "keep up" with anyone, and those times when I did feel a little too drunk, I wasn't ever afraid to speak up about it.
Drinking as a Real Adult
This year I turned 27, and as I celebrated my birthday with my partner and a day of brewery hopping, I couldn't help but think about my family and wish they were part of the celebration. But with every beer, with every cheers, I knew they were there with me. Just like every other time I'm drinking, whether it's at a bar, a party, or even at home on my couch, my family is the chorus of voices that tell me when to say yes and when to say no at the bar. They're the examples I try and follow during a night out, even if I'm not with them.
And you know what? They'll always be my favorite drinking buddies, because they taught me how to do it right.