Tomorrow I turn 21.
Normally I don’t get worked up over changes in age; becoming a teenager, turning 16, 18; none of these were very big deals. Tomorrow is different, though. I’m not sure that I really want to turn 21.
Don’t get me wrong, I love birthdays, and I’m sure that I’ll have fun with my friends. That doesn’t change the fact that I am apprehensive of the coming year.
When I was 16 I swore that I would never, ever drink alcohol, ever. To me, drinking was a Big Deal, and it was a touchy subject. As the child of an alcoholic, I never wanted to subject my loved ones to what I had lived through, what I had seen my family deal with. I hated what society had done with alcohol.
Since then, my feelings regarding drinking have changed. I no longer see the act of drinking as the source of pain; rather, it is the personal choices that lead to that outcome. I’ve learned to trust myself. I don’t want to close myself off from certain experiences because of what could possibly happen.
That doesn’t mean that I want to get drunk, or to come anywhere near losing control.
That is where the problem still lies. I have friends who have for the past year been saying that they can’t wait to see me drunk, who insist, again and again, that they will get me drunk on my birthday. I have friends who think that once I turn 21 I’ll suddenly want to spend every chance I have drinking.
And society backs this up. I’ve seen how people treat 21 year olds; how every time a stranger learns your age, they assume that you spend every waking moment dreaming about alcohol; I’ve witnessed the winks and the comments about how much time you must spend partying.
It’s a pervasive stereotype that we’re encouraged to fill. Our culture insists that socialization must include alcohol, that you can’t be having fun without being drunk.
I don’t want to spend a whole year fighting a stereotype.
I want to spend my year enjoying my time with my friends, not trying to fight against what they want me to do. I want to be able to talk to strangers without them thinking that I am doing that with which I have only recently come to terms with as being alright. I want people to believe me when I say that I am not drunk, and do not plan on becoming drunk. Already I know that there’s little that I can do to stop these things from happening. That makes me sad.
I don’t want to start a year off on a bad note. But I’m afraid of this year. I’m afraid of what my friends will try to make me do, and of whether or not I’ll do it; I’m afraid of the consequences of standing my ground, and of those of occasionally giving in. I’m nervous about talking to my parents about my decisions; I’m terrified of following in my father’s footsteps. I’m embarrassed to admit that I changed my mind regarding what I once was so sure of.
I don’t want to be just another 21 year old. I am afraid that I will forget where I came from, and of how I got these fears. I’m excited for new possibilities, for 21+ concert venues and nights with friends; but I still can’t shake the thought that this over-glorified year is going to be rough. My roommate says that I need to not worry about what other people think, and just do what I want. While I see the wisdom in this, I can’t help but wonder if what I want will change to reflect what society expects, if I will cave under pressure and not see it until it is too late. I can’t help but wonder how much farther my views about alcohol will change, and if I will ever be able to view this social ritual objectively.
The only thing I can do is wait and see, and keep overanalyzing everything.