The couple of times I dabbled with recreational drugs, I had the worst time of my life. While I enjoy a drink as much as the next person, drugs are something I just can't mess with.
When people ask me why, it's hard to pinpoint only one answer. For one, they tend to make me anxious or sad or angry seemingly out of nowhere. Some of them don't even work on me the way they "should", sending me not on the pleasant trip I was hoping for, but through a deathly rollercoaster of less-than-ideal physical reactions. So, as a result of all that, I took drugs off the table pretty early on in my young adulthood.
It's a decision I was very comfortable with, and I didn't necessarily feel like I would be missing out on anything. That was, until I realised I seemed to be the only person in my social circle who'd made the decision to completely abstain — and because of it, I was permanently going to be on the out of something they could all share.
His friends quickly drew the conclusion that I, the 'square', had forced his hand and it was my fault he'd stopped, in their view, having fun.
It extends beyond a feeling I get just with my own friends. With total recreational drug abstinence being the uncommon choice for young adults in a secular community, the feeling that I don't quite belong exists on a larger scale, too. I'm missing out on what many people consider to be a positive and fun part of your young adulthood — and despite being sure I've made the right call, it's not easy feeling like I'm on the outside looking in at what my life is 'supposed' to be like.
Not taking recreational drugs has also impacted the way I date. When I started seeing this one guy who used to indulge pretty regularly, he, out of kindness, eased up on his habits to make me feel more included, and so we could enjoy getting to know each other without him being under the influence. But of course, his friends quickly drew the conclusion that I, the 'square', had forced his hand and it was my fault he'd stopped, in their view, having fun. And that feeling — that I'm the ultimate buzzkill — follows me around constantly.
The pressure to partake in drugs is also undeniably a gendered one, as I've definitely felt more pressure from men, directly and indirectly, to do drugs in pursuit of being the 'cool' party girl. And so, it's not surprising that the times that I did drugs specifically for the approval of men were the worst of all my experiences.
Erin*, 31, is someone who also doesn't do party drugs and has felt the social repercussions of that decision for her whole adulthood. "When I was a teenager, I read Anna’s Story and, to be honest, it scared the shit out of me," she tells Refinery29 Australia.
"I was convinced that if I tried drugs, I’d be one of the unlucky people to have an adverse reaction and die. As I moved through my 20s though, I wasn’t so much scared as I was disinterested. I’ve never liked the idea of losing control of my body or having to wait it out if things went south, and because I never felt like I was missing out on anything, I saw no reason to take drugs."
As for the social aspect of not taking drugs, that's something Erin definitely feels she misses out on. "I’ve had people not invite me to their birthday parties because they just wanted it to be a drug-fuelled night and only people who were willing to partake were on the guest list," she recalls.
Interestingly, a lot of the judgement that Erin and I get from others is the assumption that we're judging them for their habits. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not always 100% comfortable being in a room full of people who are high, but that has to do with my own sense of belonging in the situation, and nothing to do with their choices.
"I think there’s a common misconception that anyone who chooses to abstain from taking drugs must be morally against them, but for me, it’s just not something I personally want to do," Erin agrees. "You do what you want with your body — it’s literally none of my business."
As for maintaining connections where the drug thing turns into a full-blown division, it's a classic example of trying to manage a relationship with opposing interests. "Unsurprisingly, I’ve lost a few friends along the way. But my friends now couldn’t care less what I do and understand that my not participating in doing drugs on a night out has no bearing on the way I view them," Erin says. "My partner and I have also had to have a few tough conversations when we got together, but we found a happy medium over the years."
While risk-taking and figuring out our mental and bodily restrictions are a part of growing up, for people like Erin and I, taking drugs isn't how we wanted to test our limits. The way we each choose to have fun and join in the party takes shape in very different ways. Some people would rather take a pill than be at a party sober, or vice versa — and at the end of the day, it really is to each their own.