Social Drinking: What's so social about it?

November 15, 2016

We all know UVA’s unofficial motto: Work Hard, Play Hard. I applaud anyone who can balance a rigorous academic and extracurricular schedule with an impressive social calendar. I struggled with this balance my first year at UVA. My first semester wasn’t much different from any typical college freshman’s: I was free to do whatever I wanted on the weekends and I took full advantage of my social independence. Taking shots of cheap vodka in my dorm room before hitting the Corner was a staple of my Friday night. After several weekends filled with random frat parties and nights spent on the Trin dance floor, I came to the realization that I wasn’t actually having fun, I was just pretty drunk and doing what everyone else was doing. I hated feeling like I didn’t belong in my environment. I drank to feel normal and part of the culture, but this only made me feel burnt out and alone. The motivation I had at the beginning of the semester quickly dwindled. I had lost interest in my schoolwork, as it seemed the only reward for a stressful week of tests and papers was another night spent drinking.  I thought this was what my college experience was supposed to be about: staying out late and drinking with friends. It was what I considered to be social. It was how I fit in with everybody else and how I “bonded” with my hallmates from my dorm. I wasn’t sure if I was the only one feeling this way, but it seemed like everyone else was having a great time. I couldn’t understand why everyone looked so natural in this part-hard environment, and I felt so completely out of touch. I drank in high school, but not to the extent I was drinking in college. First year was my first experience with head-pounding hangovers and gut- wrenching nausea. I didn’t know if I could keep this up every weekend, but so long as my friends were doing it, I sucked it up and continued to drink. My winter break was just that, a break from weekends filled with alcohol and procrastinating homework assignments. I spent three weeks at home, thinking about why it was that I felt like I needed to drink to have a good time. I loved the friends I had made at school, and I enjoyed going out and spending time with them, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I actually really hated drinking. There’s nothing worse than waking up on a Saturday morning, head throbbing and stomach queasy from everything you have had to drink the night before. I hated how down I felt after drinking. I had trouble getting out of bed, and sometimes it physically hurt my body to sit up in the morning. Why was I subjecting myself to something that made me feel so sad and so sick? Why did I feel like I needed to drink to fit into the party culture of UVA? I voiced these concerns to my older and much wiser sister Julia. A senior in college at the time, Julia assured me that she the college experience wasn’t defined by drinking or staying out late making questionable decisions. If I didn’t want to drink myself sick every weekend, I didn’t have to, and no one was going to force me to do something I didn’t enjoy. I had to learn to become comfortable with myself in every capacity to really understand what it was like to have fun in college. Returning to UVA for my second semester was difficult. I tried to keep my sister’s advice in the back of my mind; I needed to learn to be comfortable with being the sober one around my friends, because i couldn’t maintain the facade that I liked being drunk. My first resolution was to spend more time with my friends during the day. I invited them to lunch, the library, and even just to sit in my dorm and talk about whatever was plaguing our minds that week. I became closer to a lot of my friends through these daily interactions, and I didn’t feel as guilty when I decided to stay in and do homework on the weekends. I also spent more time off Grounds, exploring Charlottesville and escaping the monotony of a weekend on the Corner. I would go downtown and sit at the Tea Bazaar, a favorite spot of mine, and listen to music or read. I would find new coffee shops to try out, or just sit and have lunch at Whole Foods. I looked forward to going to class and kept on top of my schoolwork. I made a lot of new friends who, like me, often felt disillusioned with the party atmosphere of UVA. I learned this: when I removed myself from the very hectic, hypercompetitive and “party hard” setting of UVA, I allowed myself to focus on what it was that I really enjoyed doing. Gradually, my anxieties surrounding drinking and partying began to lessen, and I felt more comfortable just doing my own thing. My newfound appreciation for myself in any capacity made it difficult to leave Charlottesville at the end of my first year. The independence I had experienced second semester was real and substantial as opposed to what I thought was independence when I stayed out late and spent an incomprehensible amount of money at bars. I would leave UVA ready for a break but eager to return to a place I was learning to call home. My second year at UVA has been filled with new challenges. My classes are significantly harder, and there is still the same pressure to go out and get trashed on the weekends. Unlike first year, however, I don’t live in a dorm. I don’t feel the same need to keep up with everyone else, nor do I feel like I have to drink ungodly amounts of liquor to feel like I fit in at UVA. If I want to go out, I let myself go out. I don’t drink to an excess, and I surround myself with people who I don’t feel pressured to appease with heavy drinking. If I want to stay in, I find a really good movie or start a homework assignment and call it a night. I’ll invite a couple friends over for a glass of wine or quick run to Whole Foods for mac and cheese and lemonade, and we’ll have a really awesome night in. I’ve learned and accepted that going out every weekend doesn’t have to be a norm. I can choose to stay in and not feel guilty. For me, college isn’t about becoming someone I don’t recognize just to feel like I belong. It’s about understanding my own interests and learning to enjoy my own company. I can only hope that as I continue my college career, I grow in my complexities and develop my personality. Drinking and alcohol don’t have to be completely absent from my life, but I certainly don’t want to rely on any kind of substance to feel like I’m having fun. I love the friends I’ve made, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for these relationships in the next two and a half years.

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