“Finally legal:” pretty tame for 21


Kamrin Baker

Photo courtesy of Kamrin Baker

The last Wednesday of winter break, I turned 21. I was the last of the core Gateway staff members to reach such a milestone (now we can all go to Beercade after production meetings), and while I thought it wouldn’t feel very special at all, there’s a little bit of me that feels a little bit more legitimate—a little more special.

The night of my birthday, I dined at M’s Pub with my family and closest friends, and I ordered my first drink. I held out my license like a ticket to a fair probably three seconds before I could even say “I’ll have an amaretto sour, please.”

I turned to the other five people at my table; “I just wanted to look cool.”

It was so uncool.

I have never been a drinker and have never had the urge to drink very much. In high school, when the common rebellious thing to do was go to parties and shotgun a Busch Light, my rebellious thing was driving five over the speed limit to the nearest Sonic to buy a four-piece order of mozzarella sticks. As far as conventional disobedience went, I wasn’t one to push the envelope. I don’t say that to be quirky or different, and I still don’t consider myself boring or drab. I’m hilarious and introverted, yet friendly and full of conviction. I never needed alcohol, and I still really don’t. I mean, nobody really needs alcohol; some people simply enjoy it.

In addition to this—and much more importantly—I have an anxiety disorder (which we’ve been over many times), and the idea of getting tipsy, high or inebriated sets off a chain reaction in my amygdala. I have experienced a lack of control before. I have felt nauseous, loopy, blocked by a headache, and overwhelmed so many times. The possible outcomes of a few adult beverages just don’t sound fun in the slightest, and the way I would personally experience them would likely send me spiraling.

In fact, Healthline states that, although, in the heat of the moment when drinking can be fun and reduce stress, symptoms of a hangover– like dizziness, nausea and dehydration– can make an anxious person more anxious.

I talk about my anxiety a lot, so it is often a simple exchange for me to turn down a drink. (Also, I was, up until very recently, underage). However, people have definitely pushed.

“Are you sure?” Yeah, I’m sure.

“Aw man, it would be so fun to see Kami drunk.” No, you’d have to stroke my hair while I cried.

“You must have huge plans for your 21st!” Yeah, I’m eating a Funfetti cake made specifically for me.

It’s more than my own fears, too. While I don’t personally have a long history of alcoholism in my family, I know so many who do. I know that my fight or flight system most likely wouldn’t lead me to a life where alcohol became a fixture, but I know that the possibility exists. I don’t want that. I don’t want the people closest to me to fight with addiction. I don’t want to remember that the day I got a horizontal license changed my life for the worse.

I say now that I don’t have an inclination to drink, but I also know that once I get more into the casual drinking culture, I may find a dependence on it, as it does alleviate stress and depressive symptoms. The UK’s Mental Health Foundation emphasizes that those with mental health using alcohol as a coping mechanism may be self-medicating.

“A major reason for drinking alcohol is to change our mood – or our mental state,” the MHF website says. “Alcohol can temporarily alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression and people often use it a form of ‘self-medication’ in an attempt to cheer themselves up or sometimes help with sleep…but it can make existing mental health problems worse.”

While I used to be very anxious around people who were intoxicated for many of the above reasons, I am becoming a little bit more accustomed to a mature social life. And, now that I’m 21, I’m becoming a little bit more accustomed to having fun. I doubt I’ll ever get wasted, and I am not planning big weekends that center around the wonders of the liquor aisle, but today, I spent $6 on a bottle of Barefoot Pink Moscato, and the world—okay, Target—opened up a little bit more for me.

The cashier asked to see my ID, and I had a lot more chill about it this time. I handed it to her and she said “Oh, just recently! Mazel Tov!” It really was like a ticket to the fair. I could go more places, see more things, and maybe even walk on stilts. I am an adult now. The only thing left is to turn 35 and run for president.

Alcohol is something different for a lot of people; a treat after a long week, a hobby founded on fermented grapes, or perhaps a piece of family history that hurts to discuss. For me, it resembles a small frivolity, like a trip to a roller rink or a reminder that I’m aging with grace. It is a piece of responsibility that I refuse to flavor with fear—when it already tastes a little weird to me.

My life isn’t going to change very much now that I’ve reached the big 2-1, and I’m not special in saying that. However, I know I’ve always wanted to hear someone say they don’t care much about drinking, either, so here I am for someone else.

I’ll have a couple glasses of very sugary, very colorful wine a month, and maybe, if I have a little more spending money, I’ll grab something when I’m out to eat. Otherwise, I know Adult Kamrin will still sleep with a stuffed animal, and she’ll still use pink and purple pens to draw flowers when she’s taking notes, and she’ll spend her hard-earned dollars on mozzarella sticks.

It’ll be so uncool— just how I like it.