The worst place to be teetotal in Britain is at university.
In the first year, I lost count of the times I declined alcohol, answering questions why I didn’t drink and looking at disappointed faces when they realised requests of “Go on! Have a drink!” wasn’t going to end my sobriety.
My peers were living away from parental responsibility for the first time, which meant they were intoxicated on irresponsibility before a drop of alcohol had even wet their lips.
It was a long and painful first year, each morning navigating empty cans, take away boxes and unwashed plates, trying my best to ignore the beery piss smell.
And some people say university is the greatest days of your life…
It was a lonely existence, you’d hear stories of “unforgettable” experiences of what a great time everyone was having. You couldn’t help feeling you were the only one who didn’t live to spend their time in the union bar.
I would love to say the next three years went by sticking to my principals, but acceptance is a powerful thing and the elephant in the room was always the non-alcoholic drink in my hand.
My resolve broke and I became a part of the binge drinking culture I hated, sacrificing values for approval.
If I had to advise my younger self, I would tell them the following:
Find the (right) tribe
Isolation was a major issue as I struggle to find my place at university. I sought counselling and was directed to the Christianity society.
This just made me feel more lost, being sober doesn’t necessarily mean being a true believer.
I wanted the middle ground, a tribe where there was a healthy relationship with alcohol and where drinking or not drinking is not the measure of a man.
These tribes exist, it’s knowing where to look or creating the networks to build these friendships.
(Most) University friends aren’t for life
“Just remember, your degree is for life, the friends you make here aren’t”
A lecturer used to say this all the time as a warning not to half-ass your work just because you’d rather go to the tarts and vicar’s night at the union.
The lesson is remembering where you place priorities – friendships forged on drink shouldn’t be anywhere near the top.
I didn’t believe him, by graduation I’d built such close friendships, I didn’t believe anything would break that.
When we left the university bubble and returned to home towns, careers, women, … I realised he was right.
It’s only after graduating you learn what “true friendships” are. When those old drinking buddies make no effort to meetup or flake on your wedding after they said they’d come, you realise who mattered.
Alcohol isn’t the magic solution to your insecurities.
In the UK there is standards for what is and isn’t acceptable for advertising alcohol – it would be great if alcohol could talk to you explicitly telling you it won’t solve all your insecurities.
I drank to be accepted, loved, popular and respected and yet, six years after graduating I drunkenly wandered the streets one night never feeling more alone and pathetic.
The “fun” had with alcohol always looks more appealing observing from the outside, … it’s a lot worse under the influence.
If you get stuck in a drinking culture you can either fight it, escape it or join it.
I never regret the decision to break my sobriety, … my reasons were just wrong, thinking it would make me fit in – all those years I drank, and I don’t think it ever made me feel accepted.
I don’t drink much now and only consider myself an addict of the validation I craved, it makes me realise there are a lot of other people out there like me whose whole relationship with booze is just messed up.
I hear stories of those who judged me making a mess of their life after university, one person ending up a heroin addict – to think my mindset was so weak I wanted this type of persons approval!
For anyone at university, keep strong, find a tribe and don’t let the opinions of others rule your life.
Take care of yourself!
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Until next time,