Sobriety and the ‘college experience’

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Berkeley Elias / Lead Photographer

By: Cooper-John Trapp, Staff Writer

Coming to college, I had two goals – to do well in my classes and to have the ‘college experience.’ For me, the college experience was inextricable from drinking. Parties were cool. Girls went to parties. Alcohol equaled liquid confidence. I feared that if I didn’t drink like a fish and do crazy s***, I would miss out on early adulthood’s defining rite of passage.

FOMO is the acronym for ‘fear of missing out,’ and it has weighed on me ever since I started high school. I internalized every college stereotype ever told. With a smile of nostalgia or a twinkle of eagerness, my friends, older siblings and movies repeatedly reinforced stereotypes of drinking, partying, 2 a.m. all-nighters and various shenanigans. My high school years I spent grinding through AP classes, student government and National Honor Society. I sold my soul, desperately driven on by this dream of college.

It took living out my freshman year stumbling up the stairs to the fourth floor of Upton all the way through the end of spring semester to identify the empty, dissatisfied feeling that a party oft brought. Usually I dealt with that by drinking more and more until I passed out for the night – but not before wolfing down my survival snack pack from the 24 hour 7/11 down the road (bless those guys, honestly).

It’s hard for me to say this out loud, but it never was alcohol, dumb antics and brushes with law (and bodily injury) that enraptured me. It was the cultural significance. It was approval, value and inclusion. Booze was our ticket stub. our wrist stamp. Yes, we had been there. Yeah, we threw down last night. To talk about alcohol in college is to touch upon this sacred institution of American youth.

It is a deep urge, this yearning for intimacy and belonging we seek. Alcohol lowers the barrier by which we allow ourselves to engage with that desire. I believe that for men especially, we mask those urges by bonding over something, as to not put the emphasis on people.

There is another side to this beverage of fermented plants, the numbing of emotional pain, that brings one to the bottle. Of this I am well-acquainted. But, that is a story for another time.

Back to the point – booze is a means to an end. Too have fun in college and not imbibe requires that understanding.

Thus, to live out the college experience (be what that may be to you): figure out what it is you want most from drinking, and find another way to get it.

To get there, you will have face FOMO. To overcome it, I have decided, requires working from the inside and out. Internally, I had to understand why I felt this way about drinking in college and try to achieve what I truly feared ‘missing out’ through other means. And, externally, to protect against judgement, I had to learn how to still partake in classic ‘college’ activities like partying, but on my own terms.

I went to parties – with non-alcoholic beer. I flirted with danger – but didn’t break any (too many) laws. We went ‘crazy’ – but chose how far we took it.

Some of the most impacting moments of male bonding happen under times of mutual reliance and shared identity. It’s when you get each other, and face the world together. Its feeling understood, empowered and alive.

How to get there?

Be honest with those close to you. Painfully so.

Join people that you can build relationships with. Sports clubs. Greek chapters. Support groups. Residence halls.

This will help you find your people. Living as someone we’re not, because we’re scared, represses our genuine human needs and ability to find kindred souls.

Try to keep these goals close to heart in day to day living. Love, acceptance, validation, and security is what we crave, deep down inside. And yes, feeling high on life is a real thing.

I had my last drink July 13, 2018. The personal journey I now undertake is to relearn how to do ‘college’ and to have these experiences, sober. This is a much less complete list than I had hoped to share. When I think of more insightful things to say, I’ll be back.

Now put your (non-alcoholic) drinks in the air and say cheers – to the college experience, done on your terms.

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