A semester without spirits: What I learned while staying sober

For most students, freshman year of college is the first debaucherously succulent taste of freedom. Freedom can be an intoxicating feeling; you sip on this idea of being liberated as it burns down your throat. Party culture has thrived on every college campus, in every frat house and every dormitory suite long before the invention of the keg stand or beer pong. It feels as integral to the college experience as jumping to “Enter Sandman” does (to us Hokies at least), but it can be a serious and overlooked problem.

Recently, I dedicated myself to staying sober for a semester, a decision that would change my outlook on a meaningful life, my “friends” and my so-called college experience. What I learned could fill the pages of an Organic Chemistry textbook, from learning to carry trash bags in my car when DDing, to storytelling different scenarios that sparked my sobriety. However, realizing that embracing the new you and letting the old baggage go is key to living in this new state of mind.

You will be the perpetual DD

When people get a whiff of your sobriety, your phone will be constantly ringing for rides, from football games to date parties, socials and booze-addled booty calls. I probably spent more time driving people around on St. Patrick’s Day than I did at my own party.

It may make you feel happy that no one is driving drunk or going home with sketchy bros from Club Whichever, but in the words of my sewing teacher: “Don’t do any service for free.” Don’t let your friends take advantage of your kindness; ask them to Venmo you $5 for gas or buy you food at Cook Out — any act of generosity to say, “Thanks for not making me take an Uber.”

You will feel disconnected from your social life

I can’t tell you how many times I felt alone because my friends were out at Sharkey’s bingo and I was in my apartment cleaning behind the fridge on a Friday night. You’ll likely have a harder time fitting in at parties, not because you are sober but because it can become more difficult to be around people who aren’t. However, throwing that fear of missing out away can make you realize that being drunk is not the best way to develop meaningful connections, and you will find more fulfilling ways to socialize.

You will question toxic friendships

People’s reactions to my newfound sobriety were not what I expected. Being the frat star that I was before, many of my friends thought I was playing an early April Fools’ joke. Others actually shamed me, taunting me by resurfacing old drunken antics and pressuring me to drink or spike my non-alcoholic beverage. A few of my frat bros even started ignoring my calls to hang out and ended our friendship.

Carrying resentment toward your former loyalists in your heart could have you feeling high and dry. Your newfound sobriety stent could highlight the sinister qualities of your so-called friends, but such a situation would hopefully allow you to grow closer with those who chose to stick with you through your change of lifestyle.

Drinking will never feel the same

My sobriety only lasted a short five months, and I began counting down the days till I could have my first joyous sip of liquor. I even made a wish list of what I wanted when I got off the wagon: a fifth of Bombay Sapphire gin, a six-pack of PBR and one Marlboro Menthol Light 100 cig. I was disappointed though; the liquor didn’t taste as sweet, and I no longer got that same rush from chugging out of a fifth. The urge to get wasted, just like Man Ray’s urge to do bad, was gone. I had a single gin and tonic that night, and the rest of the sky blue bottle still lies dormant in my freezer.

For some, falling off the wagon again will have you sprinting straight to the liquor store. It could make you feel like the freshman slurping on their first sip of liquid burn, as you try making up for lost Jell-O shots and mixed drinks. However, the sensation of sobriety could liberate you from your fears of social seclusion, and sticking with alcohol abstinence might be the way to continue forward with your college experience. Do whatever creates a healthier and more peaceful version of you, whether you stay on or jump off the wagon.

I never thought I would abandon my party lifestyle. I still drink, I still go out to bars and I still love partying, but I no longer use alcohol to socialize or to fit into the cookie-cutter college experience that I thought was the perfect mold for me. From now on, I will be sitting with my two gin and tonics instead of getting blackout with guys named Hunter or Brad.

Ten years from now, you won’t remember half of your drunken antics. You will remember watching the sunrise on the Pylons Sunday morning, or kissing someone in Lane at 3 a.m. Make these years count for the better, whether you dip your hand into the fountain of jungle juice or not, and love every minute without regrets or moments you can’t remember.

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