I’ve always been a bit of a party girl.

I love drinking with friends, meeting new people at parties, and dancing the night away. So, it was unsurprising that the drinking culture at Queen’s immediately welcomed me when I arrived here four years ago. But this same drinking culture that helped me fit in, has a frustrating, dark, and socially exclusive side to it, which reared its ugly head when I entered my third year. To understand this story you need to know that the most important person in my life is my twin sister. She means everything to me, like a limb that I can’t function without. But two years ago, the summer before I entered third year, she got really sick. She was so sick that her doctors had to put her on very strong antibiotics for almost a year in an attempt to make her better. Unfortunately, the antibiotics also meant one crucial thing for my sister, who like me enjoyed drinking and dancing the night away: that she could no longer have alcohol.

Now to some people this may seem like a trivial thing, but when you’re barely in your 20s, constantly seeking to savour the fun in life, this is a big deal. So, I made deal with her: for as long as she couldn’t drink I wouldn’t either, and with that the sobriety pact was born.

In the year following that I didn’t regret making the pact, but in all truthfulness, it wasn’t easy to do. Being the girl who ran down the street late at night, sang too loudly to her favourite songs in the club, and danced with her friends every chance she got, drinking had become a part of my identity, and suddenly I didn’t feel like I could be that girl anymore. There exists a misconception that you can’t have fun unless you drink, and that you aren’t fun if you don’t drink. So, throughout the year that followed I had to reinvent that aspect of myself. I had to deal with a constant stream of questions about why I wasn’t drinking, when I would start drinking again, people telling me that I needed to let my hair down more, and that I wasn’t the same ‘fun’ girl I used to be. Never would I have anticipated having to deal with these questions, which didn’t just give me a huge amount of respect for the people who choose not to drink, but an intimate understanding as to why these people often don’t go out partying as well. It was easier for me to stay in then it was to answer people’s questions and feel like an outsider. But I missed that partying part of myself, so with the support of my housemates and close friends I took back the party life by storm. I came up with various strategies that helped me feel more comfortable when I was out, and ways to avoid questions about my sobriety so that I could once again dance the night away and sing too loud to my favourite songs. I would carry vodka bottles filled with water, drink iced tea from wine bottles, and sip kombucha from red solo cups- and that worked for me.

However, despite my valiant efforts, I came to a vital realization as a result of this experience, that it shouldn’t have to be this way. I shouldn’t have had to pretend to drink in order to feel comfortable, I shouldn’t have had to explain myself every time I refused a drink, and I certainly should have been able to have fun at a party. That’s the problem with the drinking culture at Queen’s right there. It’s so much fun when you’re in it but when you aren’t, it feels like you’re completely alone, and that’s not fair. In June 2019 my sister and I officially ended our sobriety pact. We had talked about all of the hundreds of ways we could celebrate being able to drink again, from what we would drink to the massive house party we would hold. But that wasn’t really what needed to be celebrated. What needed to be celebrated was that we had stuck together through a hurdle, that we had been there for the tough bits, and that we had each other. So in the end we had a quiet night, just the two of us, where we sang too loudly to our favourite songs and danced the night away, celebrating the fact that we had each other. That is what our culture should be honouring, not that we can drink, but that we are all here together making friendships and memories that will last a lifetime

Written By: Abbey James

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