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What It’s Like Being Sober in College

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

13 months and counting — I’m pretty sure that’s the longest I’ve committed to anything. My relationships haven’t lasted that long. What I want to do with my life changes every few weeks. I mean, if a TV show has more than five seasons, I start to get nervous. However, I’ve stuck with this. I think it’s because I finally started seeing the meaningful changes it was making in my life. Making the decision to stop drinking, especially at this age, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it has also had the largest impact on my life of anything I’ve ever done. Because it wasn’t just about not drinking, it was about what not drinking allows me to accomplish: no more blacking out, no more waking up and having to piece together the night before, and no more figuring out who I have to apologize to this time.

The most difficult thing I think is that it’s a reoccurring issue. Every time I show up to a party, the flashing LED lights stun me for a second as I try to adjust to my surroundings. I wonder who’s here, who do I know, and what are the vibes. Then, someone always comes up and asks if I want a drink. Red cups fill the hands of the people around me, sloshing about and definitely staining the floor below. I don’t even crave the alcohol, but it’s just that you never realize how left out you feel until everyone else is doing something that you’re not. I’ve found having a cup or bottle of water really helps. Slowly sipping it over the night tricks my brain into thinking I’m participating, easing my anxiety.

Each time I tell someone new that I don’t drink, I get a little nervous, holding my breath for just a second as I gauge their reaction. Everyone takes it differently, but most ask a follow-up question. “Why?” “What happened?” “Are you sure?” That last one is my least favorite. Because no, I’m really not sure. I’m not sure if I’m doing the right thing, but I’ve found something that makes me feel a bit better and I’m trying to stick with it. There are days I miss it. I miss having a drink at dinner with friends, a glass of wine at the end of a particularly stressful day, or having some fruity drink that’s sneakily strong among the crowds of people at Center Street before a big football game. But I’ve found it’s much more amusing to be the sober friend, capturing all those ridiculous moments of your friends, making sure they’re okay throughout the night.

I got really lucky with friends. One of my biggest fears of not drinking in college was that I would start to get left out of things. I was afraid people wouldn’t invite me to go out or hang with them because I was seen as rigid or weird for not drinking — like I would judge them, or worse, rat on them for doing so. Let me be very clear, I in no way judge others for drinking. It was just something that didn’t work for me. I hate that as a concept being sober can often come off as “holier than thou,” like you’re better than everyone. Ironically, it’s actually because I was so much worse than others that I had to stop drinking. They don’t judge me, at least not that I’ve picked up on, and that’s good enough for me. They invite me out. They don’t pressure me to drink. They check in on me occasionally if it’s a really crazy night, making sure I’m still comfortable throughout the night. I don’t think they know how much I really appreciate them. I am grateful to have such genuine and caring people in my life.

My dad told me he had a friend in college who never got hungover because for every beer she had, she had water afterward to take a break. I like to think that’s what I’m doing, just taking a really long break. I might start drinking again someday — in an environment that’s a little more conducive to moderation. College is not really conducive to moderation of anything, so I’m fairly certain I’ll stay sober for most of this year and maybe into my senior year. I’m not sure. I’m trying to not put any restrictions or timelines on myself because I can’t schedule this like I do every other aspect of my life. I can’t write in my little spiral-bound planner “start drinking again today” because I don’t know when I’ll be comfortable doing so. I hate living with that uncertainty because it creates this constant sense of dread that I’ll make the wrong decision. However, t’s a whole lot better than the uncertainty I used to have: never knowing how the night was going to turn out, what I was going to do, or who I was going to hurt.

It’s also forced me to actually re-examine my life and start taking better care of myself. Rather than drinking to dull my feelings, I actually have to sit with them and process them. Yes, it can be painful and ugly at times, but processing them actually helps me move forward and not feel so weighed down all the time. It was a domino effect. I started taking my medication regularly, going to therapy, getting proper amounts of sleep, and eating better. Each decision was built on the one before, and while they have all had this incredibly positive effect on my life overall, I really do credit my sobriety will starting it all.

Sometimes I still feel like I’m back in middle school with all eyes on me, judging me because I’m the odd one out. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in college, it’s that people care way less than you think they do. I did what I did for the sake of my own wellbeing. While it can cause a few challenges and be uncomfortable at times, it’s been incredible for my health, both mental and physical. I never thought I could be this happy or, more specifically, this stable. I’m actually on top of my schoolwork, keeping up with my health, and maintaining relationships. I used to see people like this and resent them for having their lives together. I envied them. Now, I like to think I’m one of them. Well sort of anyway, I’ve still got a long way to go. For now, I’ll stick to drinking my water, watching out for my friends, and enjoying my hangover-free mornings.

Loralee Hoffer

Virginia Tech '23

Loralee Hoffer is a junior at Virginia Tech majoring in Psychology with minors in Creative Writing and Adaptive Brain and Behavior. She is excited to write about health and wellness, relationships, body positivity, and campus life. Proud to be a part of the Her Campus team, she hopes to empower women and gain valuable experience, education, and friends along the way.
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