They say the first step to healing and feeling free is admitting the truth about who and what you are, regardless of potential social reprisals. Among friends and family, I’ve been somewhat honest about my socially unacceptable condition. But in public circles and my social scene, I have yet to be forthcoming, so it’s time to come clean: I am a sober vegetarian, and I have been for over 15 years.
Admittedly, it hasn’t been an easy road for anyone. My family, friends, significant others and innocent event planners have all suffered a great deal. Their attempts to understand, accept and accommodate me have been greatly appreciated, as enabling as it may seem. But it doesn’t keep me from feeling isolated—not because I miss the barbecue or booze. The difficulty has come with the process of admitting my sober vegetarianism to the rest of the world and then trying to quell the awkwardness that ensues.
As a result, I’m constantly explaining myself at dinners and parties. It makes for a less than relaxing time. Walking around, from person to person, refusing cocktails, beers and wine, as well as meat-infused appetizers and entrees, it’s all I can do not to simply stand on a table and make an announcement, followed by an apologetic and explanatory speech. I find myself eventually pouring grape juice into my wine glass and claiming a lack of appetite just to avoid the whole experience.
Of course, there are those unrelenting strangers who, regardless of my claims, will force a meaty dish onto my plate and insist I just pick off the parts I don’t want to eat. My vengeful side always has me devising a tofu-laced appetizer, with which I suggest these particular dinner guests do the same. But alas, I ultimately choose serenity and keep that glorious act of vegetarian vengeance confined to the dark corners of my mind.
Devout meat-eaters aren’t the only ones who’ve tried to save me. I can’t even begin to measure the amount of alcohol I’ve poured over my shoulder, onto the floor or into a trash can beside me, in an effort to be polite to those who use alcohol as an icebreaker, as respectful gestures or for friendly toasts. To those I’ve offended by admitting the wasteful ways in which I’ve discarded these drinks, I make full amends.
I realize honesty is the best policy, and I know it seems immature to simply play along, rather than admitting the truth. But I’ve tried simply refusing, and it always leads to a long line of questioning—an intervention—during which I spend a great deal of time listening to the medical reasons I should consume meat or alcohol. Evidently, I’m in denial about my iron and protein deficiencies and at risk for high blood pressure due to a lack of red wine.
That’s been my life for the past 15 years—living the shame only other sober vegetarians know. It seems the double-life I’ve had to lead while pretending to be eating meat or drinking alcoholic beverages has finally caught up with me. So I’ve taken a personal inventory and come to terms with my part—the life choices I’ve made which inconvenience others and leave me frustrated with the expectations and assumptions of the meat-eating, alcohol-consuming majority. With that said, I’d like to clear my conscience, completely.
I apologize to the waiters and waitresses in nameless establishments whom I have victimized by claiming you missed the most important part of my order, where I clearly stated “No meat!” Additionally, I absolve the resentment I’ve harbored for friends and family members who continually insist restaurants which serve side salads offer vegetarian options. Moreover, I release the guilt I’ve felt for spiking unwitting significant others’ meals with tofu, without telling them, in an effort to secretly win them over to my side.
To my neighbors, I openly apologize for tricking your olfactory senses into believing I’m barbecuing chicken or beef, when in actuality I simply soaked eggplant and veggie burgers in steak sauce prior to grilling. Also, to the attendees of any Super Bowl party I’ve ever hosted, please don’t hate me for confessing that I took pleasure in watching you get drunk on nonalcoholic mixed drinks while devouring meatless wings. Finally, to my dearest friends for whom I occasionally actually do make very strong drinks in an effort to score some cheap entertainment, I only hope you can forgive me for the many hangovers I’ve caused and the pictures and videos I’ve soberly produced and publicly shared.
Fifteen years is a long time to live life in secrecy and shame. As a result, I know the awkwardness others will feel around me will not change overnight. It will take steps to achieve. But with the support and forgiveness of friends and family who’ve been subject to my social experiments, I know I can at least honestly and confidently state, “My name is Toshia, and I’m a sober vegetarian, and that’s OK.”