In that first semester, I forced myself to go to parties, because, for once in my college career, I wanted to appear to be normal.
So I sit there as everyone gets trashed, rocking back and forth in a chair, chain smoking and chugging my Redbull, nervously staring at the alcohol around me. Eventually, someone will come up to me and ask “Hey, why aren’t you drinking?” or “You alright?” And what do I say to them?
No, actually, I have spent years destroying my life with all this shit and have just started to get my act together. I’m forcing myself to be here to appear normal for one second, but no, actually, besides all that lovely stuff, I’m just dandy.
No, instead of that, I opt for the Oh. I’m sick. Can’t drink. or Yeah I’m fine. It’s totally normal to be the grouchy old man in a freshman dorm party with kids drunkenly dancing to crappy Calvin Harris remixes, right? I stopped doing that after the first month and the fourth time I helped someone walk back to their dorm room/throw up in a sink. At parties, there is the hope of meaningful interaction, where I might meet some like-minded, intelligent peers, but that goes right out the window as soon as the bottles come out. So I’m left there alone as everyone drunkenly parades around me as I contemplate my life choices and whether or not I should pick up one of the dozen of drinks in front of me. Why did I put myself in that position?
Being a substance free student can suck. I walk around campus knowing that at least three times in any conversation I have with other students drinking, smoking or parties will come up. I just have to shrug it off and pretend I don’t partake, so the other kids don’t get freaked out. Smelling pot all over campus doesn’t help, walking around unable to escape other students indulging. Furthermore, for a school that claims it’s so inclusive, understanding and willing to help, there are only a handful of people who have asked me if I’m substance free or not before going on a 10-minute rant about how “totally wasted” they got last weekend. For the most part, I can only really hang out with the other substance-free friends I made during orientation because a lot of substance-free kids tend to isolate themselves. I know, I’m one of them. Sure, there is the casual conversation in the kitchen/lounge, but it never goes anywhere outside of what classes they are taking. Even when pushed with more insightful questions, asking about who they are as members of society, they stare as though I’ve just killed a cat in front of them.
The dorm life isn’t much better. Walking on the third floor of New Pembroke 3, the worst smelling dorm on campus is much like walking around in a ghost town minus the occasional interaction when I’m on the can, and someone tries to barge in. Then there is also the problem of the people living in the sober dorm not actually being sober. The fact is, I know at least once a week my hall is going to stink of low-quality weed and that on most Saturday nights I’ll see crushed up Pabst Blue Ribbon cans outside the front door.
Then when I’ve finally had too much of it and blurt out that I am substance free, I will get one of two reactions. The first being complete shock and awe, which is instantly followed by the kid I am talking to questioning their life, how much they drink and if they are nearly as screwed up as I am. It’s silent for a few moments, and then they say they have class or something so they can essentially run away and don’t have to be confronted with my plight. The second is complete respect and understanding, which can even come with a hug or pat on the shoulder. That is a rare one though, so generally expect the first. I don’t want to scare other students, I don’t want to be some freak to them, but I can’t change how they react, so I hide within myself.
I’m not trying to put down all the kids who do partake, but I’m frustrated. I’m tired of spending all of my weekend nights in movie theaters instead of having actual meaningful conversations and getting to know people, which is impossible at a party where everyone is gone. As a sub-free student, I feel severely limited in how I can lead my life. I spend most of the time I have avoiding situations rather than joining in with them.
There are upsides to being substance-free, though. Walking into school, there is a built in community of people around you who inherently don’t want to escape, who want to experience life without a tinted lens. Sure, I really had to search outside my dorm to find other sub-free students, but all of those relationships have paid off in the end. Those are the genuine people I surround myself every day and having them in my life is worth all the bullshit I go through on a daily basis because I choose not to drink.