“Men in trouble are often in trouble precisely because they are trying to get a grip and act like a man.” Unknown
Growing up, I don’t remember being particularly adventurous and experimental as my peers. I was often the shy guy at the back of the room wondering when school would be over so I could go home to my computer and use the new cheat codes I had sourced from a friend to play Grand Theft Auto. In popular lingo, I was a nerd, and I thrived on it.
I hardly spoke to girls, I was too sweaty and awkward around them. The only place I felt comfortable was with my fellow nerds, talking about games, cars and science fiction. When I wasn’t with the misfits, I was detached from the world. I acted like it didn’t bother me but it did.
When I graduated to university I was shoved into an entirely new environment where I knew no one and no one knew me. The most important thing was I had the freedom to do anything I pleased. I was ridiculously good at pool for some reason so I spent most of my free time hitting balls on a green table.
I played pool with very strong personalities whom at the time, felt like they were virility and masculinity personified. They were big men who smoked, drank heavily and always had a number of pretty women by their side. As I got to know these men, they knew me too. I was a 21-year-old virgin that hadn’t had an alcoholic drink all his life.
Because these men saw themselves as macho men and according to them I wasn’t I was subjected to intense mockery and ridicule. They would often say that the reason I didn’t drink was that I looked thin, delicate and had soft hands. They were implying that I wasn’t man enough, or rather, I didn’t look the part.
Bowing to the pressure, I was initiated into the world of irresponsible drinking. It turned out that I could handle alcohol quite well, I could drink heavily one night and be in class the next morning. This boosted my confidence and made me feel like I was a virile Viking. This newly found feeling was intoxicating and so was the vodka and the lifestyle that came with it.
Eventually, the student becomes the teacher. My roommates and I were too broke to afford fancy booze, so we opted for the cheaper, more effective drinks with illegal alcohol percentages. We went from drinking on weekends to drinking every day.
Every time we went out, I would be showered with praise and adoration because of how much I could drink and still function. I was the man! I was so lost in the misleading validation that I didn’t realize I was flunking in school (or should I say I didn’t care) and my hands had a slight tremor. Two years of heavy drinking does that to a person.
Most of my drinking buddies dropped out of school or deferred. I found myself almost alone with an insatiable quench for alcohol. I must have known that I had a drinking problem, but I would be damned if I voiced it. How would that make me look? Like I wasn’t man enough. Before any thought became an action, it had to be cross-checked to the international rule book of masculinity. Vulnerability was a big no.
Being around the company I kept had made me subscribe to the dark realm of toxic masculinity. Crying was weak, talking about emotions was stupid, and texting a girl first was even more stupid. What made me a man was my drink, my fists, the number of women I had slept with and my ability to cloak my mental, psychological and physical pain.
I had been driven to alcoholism by a need to reassert my manhood and feel like I was a member of the boys club. Peer pressure and toxic masculinity are possibly one of the most common ways in which young men engage in alcoholic behaviour. Alcohol becomes a problem when it is no longer a means of leisure and becomes a measuring stick to determine who is the biggest, baddest man. I went down a dark path and I couldn’t see the way out into the light.