When I was 16, my grandfather pulled me aside at a family gathering in Rhode Island.
My grandfather, then in his late-70s, explained to me that when he was growing up, his father was an alcoholic. Over the course of his childhood, my grandfather witnessed the whole gamut of domestic abuse and violence that can result from the abuse of alcohol. Thus, at a very young age, my grandfather made the decision never to drink.
My grandfather’s life wasn’t easy. He worked 10-hour shifts in mills as a very young child, working the massive looms in dreary, noisy conditions. As a young man, he entered the Air Force, beating the odds in the skies over Europe in World War II. As an adult, he married my grandmother and raised a large family while working long hours to create his American dream.
Through it all, he didn’t drink a drop of alcohol.
And on that summer day when I was 16, my grandfather asked me to do the same. It seemed like an easy decision to make, and it’s been one of the best choices I ever made.
I don’t know if alcoholism is in my genes, but I do know that abstaining from alcohol has it’s benefits: my wallet is fuller, my liver is cleaner, my belly is slimmer and my mind is clearer. It has also helped me forge a different path – a path that I love and enjoy. While many of my friends were partying in college, I was doing yoga, reading, meditating and exercising.
Of course, that’s not to say that everyone who drinks is abusive, unhealthy or overweight; certainly, a drink or two every now and then can be a good thing for many people. It’s just not my path.
It’s also interesting to watch how people react when I tell them I don’t drink alcohol. Often times, people take my choice not to drink very personally – as though it’s a moral judgment about their lifestyle. It’s not. It’s a choice I made about my life, not theirs.
In a gay culture that is often centered around alcohol and partying, in this instance, I prefer to take the scenic route rather than the highway.