An unlikely connection
This weekend I had a great conversation with an 8th grader. We were talking about my booze snooze and she asked if I would drink again at the year mark. This is a very common question I get asked and my answer is usually the same, “maybe, I don’t really know.” She then asked me, “Has it been hard?” That question somehow morphed into a related conversation about human relationships, exclusion, fitting in, personal integrity and morals. Talking with a middle schooler can be a challenge sometimes, but I seized the moment, listened and I validated her feelings. And interestingly enough she validated my feelings.
I answered her question about what was hard about the booze snooze. I kept it simple and picked one thing. I explained how I felt that:
My lack of drinking often made other people more uncomfortable than it made me.
She thought about this for a moment and I could see the wheels spinning in her teenage brain. I told to her that it took quite a few months, but eventually I could attend a social function and not even think twice about alcohol being a part of it. I shared that it is now very clear to me that my life is really no different without alcohol. I don’t care if other people drink and I don't care if they drink around me. I am happy to be the sober sidekick. On the flip side, while it seems easy for me, I think other people wondered if I am able to have fun without it. I can’t tell you how many times people have said, “I can’t wait until April 25th when your snooze is over.” I brush off their comments with a chuckle and often make little jokes about how one drink will probably knock my on my butt. But deep down it makes me wonder why these people are looking forward to the end of the snooze more than I am? Have I been left out of social situations because of my snooze? Have I missed out on forming some new friendships? Have I lost some existing relationships?
I could tell that what I was saying resonated with the young teenager and she had something to share. She explained that she is experiencing the exact same thing and is feeling sad about it. She is currently being excluded from a group of girls because they all vape and she does not. Vaping is the new trend and has a huge social effect on teens.
According to the Child Mind Institute vaping rates have skyrocketed in recent years, especially among teens. E-cigarettes are now the most frequently used tobacco product among adolescents — some 2.1 million middle and high school students were e-cigarette users in 2017...
What is even more difficult for her to handle is that one of the girls in the group is someone she has had a relationship with for many years. She explained that she has been struggling because she doesn’t understand why these girls don’t want her to hang out with them. She thinks they may be excluding her because they fear she will rat them out. She thinks they may view her as boring and they think she won't be fun if she is just watching them all do it. This brave teen said she has told these girls that she wouldn’t get them in trouble because she doesn’t judge them. She told them that she truly doesn't care if they choose to vape. But she feels like they don’t believe her. She feels the exclusion at social events and she feels it through social media.
After hearing my story this wise young lady started to connect the dots. She realized that the problem didn’t really lie with her, it was with the group of girls. They were excluding her because they didn’t think she could have the same kind of fun they were having while vaping. Her presence at a social gathering without vaping makes them uncomfortable and maybe they view her as trying to be “better“ than them. She feels the peer pressure to vape just to belong, but doesn’t want to do something that she doesn’t believe in. She doesn’t want her friends to ditch her over her choice. She is struggling to determine if these girls are healthy friendships or unhealthy friendships. Not an easy thing for teens to figure out!
Who would have thought that a teenager and an adult can have the exact same feelings?
My snooze has helped me relate to her situation and her emotional struggles. I can empathize with an 8th grader in a way I probably couldn't a year ago. This young teenager is learning how to navigate a world of peer pressure. While we talked this weekend it helped me realize that peer pressure still exists in the adult world.
We have more in common with teenagers than than we think!
After talking we were both left with the same question; If we truly are not judging our friends for their choices - aka vaping or drinking - why can’t they do the same for us? How do we stick to our goal of not vaping/drinking when we feel social pressure to do so?
I will be the same person after April 25th whether I choose to drink or not. I hope people will continue to accept me for who I really am and not the social choices I make.
Footnote: I asked the young teen if I could share this story on my blog. She said yes, but that I couldn’t use her name. When I asked her why she said, “what if you get all famous and the blog is on The NY Times and all my friends see it!” Okay, that one gave me a chuckle. i assured her that it Is unlikely of her friends would ever see this, but I told her she would remain anonymous!