In health class we were drilled with the words: “Not everyone is doing it,” and; “You don’t have to if you don’t want to” and; “Just say no” — as if these were our own personal teenage anthems.
What they don’t teach you, however, is how to react to the relentless peer pressure when someone says “You’re going to regret that,” or how to bounce back when you’re met with unfounded criticism — feeling like a complete outlier. How do you teach a group of highly impressionable kids that it’s okay not to drink and it’s okay not to do drugs when the exact opposite is the norm? How do you ask a teen to challenge a peer to fight the “norm” during a time when they are quite literally trying to manage how to fit in.
In high school, choosing not to drink was a bit easier. There were more excuses: “my parents” or “I’m driving.” I thought that’s how it would be in college. I thought that I would just continue to say no and go about my life as normal.
What I didn’t realize is that I would not encounter peer pressure in its entirety until my first college party. Every person who belligerently offered me a drink responded with confusion and disbelief, to my seemingly rehearsed “No thanks, I don’t drink.” Most people didn’t think I would last through the semester and a few even told me it would be the “biggest mistake of my college career.”
But here I am three years later, at one of the biggest party schools in the nation and still sober.
If I’m being honest, my first semester was a true test of my inner principles. I had to really consider why I chose not to drink and if it was even worth the ridicule. It was.
My reasons for not drinking are not religious, it’s not my family or a significantly poor decision that turned me away, I just don’t. Not having a common answer, is a whole other realm of explanation and sometimes it’s easier to say “yeah I had a bad experience” and move on with it. But it shouldn’t be like that.
Everyday I wake up with the intention to be my best self, and drinking does not fit into the mix.
In order to take care of myself, I need to take care of my body in all aspects that I can control. Over the last few years I’ve had to reestablish that principle time and time again, especially when I feel like I’m on this path alone. There is great strength in being able to say no and it’s important to talk about it.
Whether it’s drugs, alcohol, or just one night that you’re not particularly feeling it, but feeling pressured, it takes strength. People continually say to me, “I don’t know how you do it” but I don’t really know any different. I’ve found myself justifying my decision to new friends with, “but I’m still fun” — as though my decision has suddenly made me socially inept.
Very recently, one of my childhood best friends lost his life to drugs and I can’t help but think that over three years of “No’s” and “I don’t drink’s” are meant to resonate deeper than the individual offering me a drink or any other drug, for that matter. If my experience as a substance-free college student can reach at least one person, that will make a difference. I want to give people the courage to say no, to recognize that you have to take care of your body, not be in this constant war against it, in a miserable cycle of blackouts and hangovers.
Our bodies are resilient as hell and rather than putting that to the test, why not honor it?
It takes an immense amount of strength to have the courage to want to take care of yourself, to say no, to stay grounded in who you are as a person.
There is a fear in not having an excuse, not having a justification for making mistakes and being unapologetically unique, to find where you’re supposed to fit without the mask of drugs and alcohol. Because in any case, these are the experiences, the principles, the personal convictions that define your individuality.
Being in the business of finding one’s self does not correlate to blurry thoughts and unaccounted for nights. Make actions with intention, not substance. A stripped version of who are to the core, is the most powerful.
There is a Greek expression “Sophrosyne” which means “a healthy state of mind and a deep self-awareness for one’s true self that results in true happiness.”
This full version of yourself requires care and kindness. This version is honest and grows with every sober experience, both good and bad. It is a product of self-reflection and embracing your whole self; A self that does not need to abuse drugs and alcohol; A self that is willing and able to say no.
To be perfectly content without altering your chemical makeup, whether it be for one night or your whole life. There’s clarity in being able to say that you like yourself and to recognize that you fit in exactly where you are already standing. Who you are is enough without the bullshit.