Her Story: Living Substance Free at Smith College

First, I want to start off by saying, this is a personal reflection; this is my story, my opinions. These are only my thoughts: right or wrong.

There I sat on a couch in the Quad, where I currently live. I had been talking with a group of girls for several hours; we discussed the latest Orange is the New Black episode and enjoyed tea together. We snorted with laughter about celebrity crushes and exchanged reflections on our pasts and who we hoped to become in our future. I thought, “I’ve met my friends for life; these are the people who I want to be around.” Big statement, right? And maybe a bit idealistic. The girls eventually started to get up from the couch where we had been planted for the past three hours and asked expectantly, “Do you want to go get beer with us? There is a house party going on- it will be fun.” I was shocked. Bright red, I mumbled... “I’m substance free.” The girls on the couch in the living room looked up–their faces were dumbfounded as they asked, “But why...?” Another chimed in, “What does that mean? No drugs, no alcohol, or both?”

This scenario has played out several times over my first two months at Smith. This “why” question seems to be the most popular response to my declaration- why I have chosen this lifestyle, and what does substance free mean? To answer the second question; my definition of substance free, and it differs drastically person-to-person, is being committed to living healthily, free from tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs. At eighteen years old, I have never had alcohol/tobacco/drugs in my life and... I intend on being substance free for the rest of my life.

Wow, you must be saying-I am probably a complete lunatic, right-leaning, religious girl, who has been sheltered and brainwashed. And furthermore, you must think I am crazy. To choose to forego substances in college of all places, where you’re supposed to let go and experiment; it seems incredibly stupid, right? College is the last time rules, obligations, taxes, and mortgages don’t plague you and your decisions; you are limitless- I must be missing out on the quintessential “college experience.” The question remains: why did I make such a decision? And why make such a decision while living in the Quad, known to be the party area of campus, where a large majority of the population drinks?

I made this decision- difficult as it has been- based partly upon my genetics, which speak to the fact that if I were to drink, I would face a large probability of becoming an alcoholic. Furthermore, I made this decision because simply, it was a decision. I hoped that deciding to be substance free would be a liberating decision. I wanted it to inspire independence within me, similar to my decision to be a vegetarian. I also knew what I liked to do: cooking, baking, watching corny comedy films, practing yoga and mindfulness, meditating, and Zumba, didn’t coincide with the drinking and the college bingeing attitude. My main goal is and was in college to find independence, and ways to be happy and healthy. Susbtance free was a title that described the way I want live my life. It was a title that I realized, fit me.

It has been difficult. I’m not going to lie. I have realized I can’t physically be around someone who is drinking, smoking, or using substances of any kind. This decision has shut me out of many social interactions that define Smith traditions, such as Quad Riot, or parties after Convocation. At times, I’ve felt I haven’t had the full Smith or Quad house experience because of my choice to be substance free. However, the question still remains: Can I be friends with people who drink? I have figured out a way to say yes; I currently have friends who drink. I do not hate people who drink, that’s just not how I want to live my life. I have learned to separate people from their actions. I think however, that the dynamic of a relationship does change once you realize that a person does not have a similar value system; the friendship cannot go beyond a certain level. Furthermore, I have learned the hard way that social life in college comes at night. I can’t meet people during the day consistently, everyone has somewhere to be, homework to finish, or papers to write. Herein lies the problem: meeting people at night means meeting people while drinking. Whether you are at a house party, or just a get-together- drinking is a social activity at Smith. For someone who doesn’t drink and lives in an area of campus where on weekends that is the primary mode of activity, it can get quite lonely. I ask myself, is my choice worth it? Is it worth missing social opportunities where I could meet other people? Should I try to fit in? Aren’t I tired of feeling excluded?

But, two months in, the two months that most college students have spent “experimenting,” I have been reflecting. I am more sure of who I am and what I stand for than ever before. I have found myself and discovered so much about myself in my dedication to stay substance free. I have had to defend my lifestyle, and in defending it, I have found answers for myself. It is empowering to stick to your guns. I have found a small group of friends in my area of campus who don’t drink, love to knit, read, and eat sweet potato fries at the Campus Center into the wee hours of the night.

The social life at Smith will continue to be a challenge, but it is working out for the better with time. My current roommate and I have an agreement when it comes to substances. We have agreed to never bring alcohol into the room and we don’t have guests in the room who have alcohol with them. Thankfully, my roommate has been entirely respectful of my decision to remain substance free; I am so thankful for her support.

I have not given up my identity or my values to be “cool.” I know at parties in the first month at school, I was lonely and tired of sitting in my room, conflicted over whether or not I should lose a part of myself. I’m so ecstatic that I am me and that I will remain substance free. I am living my life unapologetically. I am blissfully free of guilt, baggage, or shame. I have found friends who understand me and respect my choices. I have found that in reaching out, no matter how disappointing and heart wrenching it can be at times, I can find those friends who sit with me in the Campus Center until 11:00 P.M., sharing a mudslide and giggling over Zac Efron’s sculpted abs.

With these new friends, I will happily never drink. 

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