This article is by no means a way of telling you how to define your social experiences in college, or whether alcohol should be a factor in those experiences. There are a million different views and opinions on such a personal topic. I'm just here to share my story with you.
Personally, I love to go out with my friends on the weekends. I remember many Friday nights during my freshman year when we would get all dolled up for a party together—the air in our dorm was thick with perfume and makeup, and our excited chatter resounded off the walls and over the crime show rerun on the TV that no one was watching.
I remember the post-party 2 a.m. pizza cravings. We'd all laugh when someone would proclaim that she absolutely needed that 500-calorie slice of buffalo chicken ranch pizza that she would never indulge in if she were sober.
I remember rolling out of bed at noon on a Saturday to meet up and discuss which cute boy said what the night before. Sometimes we’d trade migraine pills and water bottles along with the gossip if we had partied a little too hard the previous night. But drinking was never what gave these experiences meaning to us—it was the time we spent together that mattered more than anything.
Some memories, like those, we still laugh about to this day.
But for me, going out didn’t always end with a fun time and a good laugh with my best friends. There were darker times as well.
I remember the disgust I felt after realizing that a drunken boy was trying to sexually assault me at a party, and the obscenities he slurred at me as I tried to get away from him. I remember getting sick one night from drinking too much and the ensuing panic attack that my friends and boyfriend had to coach me through. I remember coming to the realization that somewhere along the line, I had begun to sacrifice my well-being. I had let myself believe that if my grades and GPA weren’t suffering, then I was doing fine. But in reality, I was incredibly stressed because of how little time I had to myself between classwork, my part-time job, and my involvement with several different campus organizations. It was my lack of healthy coping skills, like partying as an outlet for stress and anxiety, which was the problem—not my crazy schedule.
My busy days were fueled by fast food and coffee, and by the end of the day I chose to sleep for a few hours instead of making time to go to the gym. I had gained 15 pounds. I was deeply unhappy with how I looked, and more importantly, how I felt about myself. It felt like I was losing control of everything. I found myself becoming depressed and incredibly anxious that someone would notice what a mess I was and what a failure I felt like for having let myself down.
I was too embarrassed and too stubborn to reach out to my friends for help. Although I never shared the details of what I was going through at the time, I did let them be there as my support system, because they knew something was wrong. They proved to me that they were there to pick me up, even if they didn’t know what held me down. The time I spent with them, and the way they loved me when I didn’t know how to love myself, was what got me through my low point that year. But as a new term of classes rolled around, I knew something had to change.
During the spring I spent a lot of time reflecting on what used to make happy. One memory that stuck out to me was the rush I got from running when I did cross-country in high school. I remembered the mix of adrenaline, pride, and endorphins when I did something ‘crazy,’ like run ten miles a day with my team. Even though I was unbearably out of shape, I decided to make time to start running again at least three times a week.
I told myself, “I will get fit and strong enough that I can run ten miles and it will feel easy, like it used to,”
I also began making frequent runs to Trader Joe’s so I could cook for myself and treat my body better.
It was the end of winter that I had decided that it was time I started taking better care of myself. When that “a-ha” moment happened and I made a conscious decision to be healthier, drinking to excess and partying subconsciously plummeted downward on the priority list of things to do during my spare time.
While I did spend the rest of the school year creating a healthier lifestyle for myself, it wasn’t until the summer came that it really clicked for me—I needed to spend a long period of time removed from drinking. After all, I didn’t want or need alcohol to be the best version of myself, and I realized my reckless drinking that year was actually an unhealthy and destructive force. Besides, by the end of the year, my friends and I spent more time making dinner in sweats after our weekly gym days than we did out partying—and we were all much happier and better off for it. Our friendship was never about the parties or booze, so when I cut back on my drinking, they didn’t mind. If anything it helped our friendship.
I had started seeing my body and my mindset change as I became healthier and more at peace with myself. I even finished the last term of my freshman year with a higher GPA than any other term that year.
As I began summer break, I had to brace myself mentally before spending three entire months at home and away from the friends who had supported me during that tumultuous year. Initially, I missed them and city life so much that it was agonizing. I’ll admit that even with the positive changes I’d been making, I missed going out to parties with them. I soon realized that it was the time with my best friends, not the partying, that I missed and I decided to use the summer as time to focus purely on myself. I wanted to be healthier and to be a better version of myself by the next time I saw them. I owed it to myself, and I wanted to be able to show them how much their unconditional love and support truly helped me to get where I am today. During this time I amplified the changes I had begun making in the spring. It was at the beginning of the summer that I stopped drinking and partying completely. It was the last and most important step in my health overhaul. With the immediate love and support of my family, and that of my best friends, I stopped drinking for those two months.
During those two months I fell back in love with running. Every single day I went out for three to five miles on long, hilly country roads. I began lifting weights almost every day and got into fantastic shape. I even reached out to the president of my university’s cross-country team and registered to race in several invitational runs taking place in our league. Struggles with depression and anxiety cut my high school competition years short, but I’m determined not to let that happen again in college.
During this time I also fell back in love with writing. Several weeks of my summer were spent generating new articles and pitching a new column idea to the Assistant Editor and Campus Correspondent of my university’s Her Campus chapter. I’m even considering pitching one of those articles to Time Magazine—but I’m getting ahead of myself here.
While home, I spent precious time reconnecting with my family and my dogs, all of whom I had missed terribly during my time away from home. I was happier than I had been in a very long time, and I hadn’t had a drink all summer. Honestly, I realized how much more I felt like myself again during my time without alcohol.
The school year has since started up again and I’m now happily reunited with my friends and the city that I love so much. I needed that time during the summer to really evaluate what was best for me.
This year, I am even busier than any point during my freshman year. Between working full time at an internship and occupying several leadership positions for various student organizations, I usually don’t even have 30 minutes in the day where I can sit down and just do nothing. The difference, though, is that this year my top priority is taking care of myself.
I now buy all of my own groceries and cook for myself every day. I run and go to the gym at least four times a week, and sometimes I’m completely fine with wishing my friends well as they go out together, and I sit at home and just relax. I’ve passed up a party more than once in favor of going to the gym, or cooking for myself instead. It could be so easy to just say that I don’t have time, or that I’m too tired to do those things for myself, but that’s how my freshman year began to go downhill. I’m much smarter and stronger now.
When I take time to prioritize my health and overall well being, I’m happier, and that’s what matters most. I still do enjoy going out sometimes, but if the last year has taught me anything, it was keep my life in balance. The negative experiences I’ve had have been a wake-up call—they taught me that putting myself first is a must.
As for my friends and I, we still laugh about those early days in freshman year. But we’ve since admitted that we all learned during that time that our destructive habits left some scars on each of us. We’ve learned from our mistakes, but the support and inspiration we gave each other to be better was what has helped to make us so close to this day. Once summer ended and I got back to campus, I did resume going to the occasional party with them. The majority of time, if we do drink, it’s at someone’s apartment with a glass of wine as we talk about our day. Looking back, we’re all very proud of the changes we initiated in our own lives. We’ve all learned the value of moderation and enjoying ourselves while also prioritizing our well-being.
So collegiettes, if there is anything you take away from my experience let it be this: there’s no shame in admitting that you haven’t been making the best choices for yourself. Think about what truly makes you happy and how you are going to accomplish those things. You don’t have to wait until you reach your breaking point to make changes. Your support system is there to celebrate you at your best and to guide you through the difficult times, so don’t make my mistake and choke on your pride when asking for help. Set goals to better yourself, and don’t be intimidated if they seem impossible in the moment. You are your own biggest fan and you are incredibly powerful because of that.
After all, it took me seven months, but I earned my ten-mile easy run last weekend. And let me tell you, that feeling was better than any happy hour buzz could ever be.