Going To College... Sober
Alas, August has arrived.
Some of you may only be contemplating the prospect of returning back to school, while many of you may actually start school in August... eek!
Fortunately, sobriety allows us to see our full potential; so, getting a stable 9 to 5 job, pursuing our life-long dream, or going back to school may be prominent prospects for the near future. Unfortunately, the thought of these new-found talents and motivation often surface emotions other than excitement... Emotions like fear.
Fear of failing, fear of temptation, fear of not being good enough, smart enough, or talented enough to excel.
The good news is: 'fear' is just False Evidence Appearing Real.
If you start school in a month (or return to school in a month) and you're feeling a tid-bit antsy in regards to your overall 'Sober College Experience,' no need to fret, we have some tips to help you out.
Getting Sober in College: A Short Story
I got sober April 15th, 2012, a month before the end of my junior year of college.
My junior year, charted, must have looked like the second half of a bell curve. I started strong, as I always did, but then the conflict of drinking, partying, self-pity, and depression would take over and I would skip class more often, party more often, make less than great choices, and experience life burn-out in the span of 8 months.
You never end up in an AA meeting by accident; I attended my first AA meeting in March, drank until I became aware of my complete lack of control (thanks AA) and got sober a month later. Only problem: I still had a month of school left.
Since rehab isn't a part of my story, I didn't have the opportunity to take a deep breath and clear my thoughts effectively until summer break, instead, I had finals.
Luckily, my mom was allowing me to stay at her condo in San Clemente (the Mecca of AA), so I started going to multiple meetings a day in an attempts to stay sober and develop a fellowship, and I would commute up to LA for classes essentially forfeiting my apartment for the time being (while still paying rent).
I didn't really know how to cram an entire quarter's worth of content into such a short period of time without the assistance of a mind-altering substance, so I stocked up on energy drinks and cigarettes (approved by my fellowship), ran on 2-3 hours of sleep a night for a week, and only took a break to go to meetings.
By God's grace, I passed all of my exams with A's and B's, and faced the opportunity to spend the next three months on my recovery.
When my senior year rolled around, I had a few tools in my toolbox which helped me stay sober for my last year of college; hopefully they will help you.
8 Tips for Staying Sober in College
These are general guidelines, which applied in my college experience, helped me to stay sober in a 'boozey' environment.
When we get sober, we are blessed with this new 'freedom' as a human being; we are no longer a slave to the bottle or the drug, which provides a new-found appreciation for life and our surroundings. We can do anything and we can be anyone.
That being said, I was once told: "If you hang out in a barber shop for long enough, you're going to get a haircut." Brilliant words of advice.
When I took a step back, I realized that if I kept attending the same events I was attending, going to the same parties, and hanging out with the same people, I would end up in a drunken blackout, waking up in my apartment not quite sure of what happened the night before.
So, for preventative measures, I applied these guidelines as aforementioned, to give myself direction and purpose in my last year of college, not to prevent myself from having fun; frankly, I had the time of my life!
1. Make weekend plans in advance.
This was a key contribution to maintained sobriety during my senior year.
I have and had the tendency to revel in my boredom when I didn't have plans. Reveling in boredom led me to self-pity and self-pity led me to the bottle.
When I made plans for the weekend in advance, even if it was just 'study for an upcoming exam,' I had a mental to-do list which, if anything, led me to feel guilt if I wasn't studying... So I ended up in the library instead of my apartment, eyeballing my roommate's bottle of vodka in the freezer.
2. If you have the option to live off campus, take it!
I could not imagine how stressful it would have been to live on campus, sober.
With the constant dorm parties, casual drinking while watching the next episode of your favorite show, or smoking pot and then playing 'Guess Who?' there is a very blatant opportunity to drink or use when it comes to campus life.
If you have the opportunity to live off-campus, I highly suggest you do so. Living off campus is actually cheaper than living on campus. Grab a roommate, or two, and split a small apartment; the rent is cheap and the temptation is lower.
I had an apartment in Westwood, Los Angeles, a few blocks from campus, a mile walk from fraternity row, and about 5 miles from sorority row, which made staying sober a lot easier.
3. Get involved in intramural sports, clubs, student government, etc.
The more activities in which you are involved, the less time you have to think about drinking and using.
At one point (proving my all-or-nothing, addiction mentality) I was: senator for student government, member of the civics committee, member of the finance committee, director of communications for a college political group, and an anchor for the news station.
The result: no time to think, which meant I was doing pretty well.
Research the clubs and groups on your campus and find something you like; they have all sorts of options for all levels of interest. On most campuses, they have a Quidditch team, which I was extremely close to joining. I say, go for it!
4. Joining a fraternity or sorority is not a great idea; neither is attending their parties.
Though the concept of joining a fraternity or a sorority might tickle your fancy, I highly suggest against getting involved in that world.
How I see it: when you get sober, you automatically have hundreds of thousands of connections around the world, just because you are an alcoholic... and it's free! If you join a sorority or a fraternity, not only are you going to be thrust into the party scene on a weekly basis, you will also be caught up in membership fees, party fees, and event fees.
Who likes fees anyway?
5. Make a study schedule for the week.
Cramming means stress, and stress leads me to the bottle.
Creating a study schedule for the week was extremely helpful; I would allocate a period of study time during the week for each class, and write my essays (English major) over a span of a couple of days as opposed to a couple of hours.
Plus, creating a study schedule prevented idle time during the week to avoid the 'Taco Tuesday' and 'Thirsty Thursday' drinking shenanigans.
We understand the struggle is real.
6. Get a job, if time permits; the more responsibility you have, the less time you have for distractions.(met great people)
Managing a job and school at the same time is quite a challenge, but it is a great way to practice time management.
I found that working and going to school helped me to develop better time management skills. When I received my schedule for the next one to two weeks, I was able to compare the schedule with my syllabi and determine both a study schedule and segmented 'free time,' which I could use to nap, watch Netflix, go to the gym, etc.
Having a job also stood as a great excuse for those few people who didn't understand I am sober and continued to ask me to party on Tuesday and Thursday nights. "Hey wanna come to the kegger at my apartment?" Says Bob. "Thank you, but I have work in the morning and I have to study tonight! Have fun!" Says me.
7. Don't be afraid to set boundaries with your roommates or your friends.
If you choose to live with roommates off campus, make sure you work on communication.
Don't feel comfortable with parties in the house? Tell your roommates. Want to study in the evening, so you need some quiet time? Work out a 'quiet time.'
The more open and communicative you are with your roommates, the less resentments you build, the better you feel about your sobriety and your college experience, and the better you feel in general.
In my experience, I have never had a negative outcome from a conversation with my roommates. We always came to an agreement or determined a 'happy medium.'
8. Remember that the 'college experience' is less about drinking and partying and more about discovering yourself; you're not missing out.
Often times, when young, sober alcoholics and addicts go back to college, we get caught up in the idea of the 'college experience,' which we believe to be a combination of drinking, partying, and participating in as many activities as humanly possible...
Fortunately, the college experience is not at all about drinking and using (thank goodness). The college experience is about getting to know yourself, developing relationships with people you otherwise would not have encountered, and testing your willpower.
The good news: as an active, recovering alcoholic, we have a total leg up on our competition. We are aware of our weaknesses, as determined by AA steps six and seven, we admitted our powerlessness over people, places, and things (step one) and realize that no matter the outcome of any exam, study session, or grade we are going to be O.K. We understand dedication; we are dedicated to staying sober one day at a time for goodness sake! What a feat.
What you don't realize, is that under all of the fear and inadequacy you feel right now... You are actually way more prepared for this journey than the average Joe. If you stay sober, today, and make the decision every morning to make your sobriety a priority, you will be more successful than you ever could have imagined.