Split Perspectives: Sobriety at College

Why is it that you choose not to consume alcohol?

RS: I was first asked to drink beer when I was seven years old by an extended family member who thought I was too much of a stickler for rules. I didn’t have any desire whatsoever to accept the offer, so I didn’t, and I’ve found this has continued to be my experience with alcohol since. I’ve been offered drinks and pressured to change my stance on drinking by family, friends and peers consistently since I was about 15, but I’ve always resisted that pressure. My main reason for not drinking has always been that I’ve never actually wanted to drink, I’ve just been told I should want to.

CC: I never wanted to be the person who got drunk and acted like an idiot in front of my friends. I wanted to be a good drinker. I don’t mean that I wanted to be able to drink a lot – I mean that I wanted to have a good relationship with alcohol. But for my first three years of ‘drinking’, I was definitely not that person. I felt dependent on alcohol, and I felt as though I needed alcohol to have fun. I did and said things that were not how I truly felt and, at times, I felt my drunk actions taking their toll on my relationships with people I loved and respected, as well as on me. So, in December of my first year at university, I decided to try 12 months without drinking.

Do you find you are treated differently because of your personal stance on drinking?

RS: Surprisingly, my parents have been the people most disappointed by and opposed to my decision to stay sober, because they believe that doing so will be socially isolating. In high school, this was probably true. In university, however, I’ve found being a non-drinker far from as isolating as it was in high school. Initially, it was a little awkward attending residential college social nights where the majority of other attendees were drinking, but I’ve found that the more I attend, the more I get used to it.

CC: For me, the strangest thing about not drinking has been telling people and listening to their responses. They vary from ‘Wow! That’s awesome’, basking in the martyrdom of my sobriety, to a very circular conversation in which the phrase ‘But, why?’ is repeated at least three times. There’s also the classic assumption, ‘So you don’t go out now?’ Essentially, I think each of these epitomises why I felt the need to stop drinking in the first place. While there was a specific event that caused me to start my year of sobriety two weeks earlier than planned, it was the fact that I found myself espousing the idea that a sober night is a responsible night, or a sober night is a night in, that made me really think about my relationship with alcohol.

Do you find yourself able to still have fun on a night out?

RS: There comes the point where you realise that most people either don’t care or don’t notice that you aren’t drinking. For those that really do believe I don’t know how to have fun because I choose to stay sober – well, let’s just accept that we have a different idea of what fun is!

CC: Still early in my year, I’ve found that going out without drinking is at times not as fun. But the fact that I still think this is why I haven’t given up on my year of sobriety yet. But being a self-conscious person I still notice the weird stares I get because I look like an idiot when I dance, I don’t attempt cartwheels as often, and I don’t come up with conversation starters as well people who’ve already had a few. I guess I’m just working towards being at a point where I don’t consider the amount of fun I have had as reflective of whether or not I am drinking. At a college where lots of the events are structured around drinking, it is an interesting experience being sober. I drink a lot more water because I feel like I should be drinking something. I also don’t spend as much money because I don’t buy drinks or drunk Maccas at the end of a night, and, best of all, I don’t wake up the next morning with any regrets.

What’s one thing you would like people to understand about sobriety?

RS: One thing I do still find, even with people that accept that I don’t drink, is that people want me to have an interesting reason. Often, I give the reason that I don’t think alcohol would interact well with my long-term mental illness which, although true, has never actually been a consideration as to why I don’t drink. To me, that justification has always seemed to imply that I have wanted to drink, but have chosen not to anyway to keep my mental health under control. That’s not the case. Drinking is so central to Australian culture – especially in the rural area I grew up in – that a lot of people I meet can’t understand the concept of not wanting to drink. But for me, it’s always been just that: I don’t want to drink alcohol, so I don’t.

CC: I think it’s important to note that my answers here are all based around the idea that drinking is always negative. It’s definitely not, and I have countless role models around college of people who have healthy relationships with alcohol. But I also see numerous examples of the people who feel like they have to drink to fit in, like they have to be drunk to be honest with people, and have to be passed out or vomiting in a gutter before admitting they don’t have a healthy relationship with alcohol.

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