I was told I had a drinking problem in college. I didn’t go to a dry school, but for whatever reason, the college decided my freshman year would be the year to really crack down on underage drinking. It was unfortunate timing as I had just found out that alcohol was a key component in talking to attractive members of the opposite sex without stuttering.
The first time I got caught for drinking was admittedly very stupid on my part. It was hot in our dorm room so we turned on the fan, sending tequila and gin fumes straight to the RA’s dorm across the hall. I remember he was very apologetic when he wrote us up.
The powers-that-be sent all first time infractors to an Alcohol 101 class, where we learned that binge drinking was wrong through a cartoonish video game. You put your weight and height into this game and took virtual shot after virtual shot until you expired. I found the game online and tried it again at my current age and weight. This time I made it to 16 shots before kicking the bucket.
We joked the entire way through the class, but between the embarrassment of attending and my fear of authority, I felt no need to get caught drinking again. Alcohol wasn’t that important to me. Surely I could wait a couple more years to drink without fear.
I drank alcohol on three different occasions in my sophomore year and got caught two of those times. The first because when the cops busted the house party, I hid in the bathroom instead of simply exiting out the back door like everyone with any common sense did, and the second because it turns out my double occupancy dorm room was not meant for twenty screaming college students. The dorm hall director that wrote me up for strike three was not as apologetic. He sent me to an intensive alcohol class for a week.
The class had some crazy acronym that strung together a bunch of buzzwords meant to simultaneously belittle its participants and appease the administration. Something like “Underage Drinking Ultimately Means a Mess for You.” There were six of us in UDUMMY that week. We all had the same thought running through our head: “Man, what am I doing here with all these alcoholics? I mean, I’m fine but these people must need some real help.”
UDUMMY was Alcohol 101 without the fun video game, but with a hundred more PowerPoint presentations. I remember little other than the questionnaire we took at the very beginning of the class to determine our relationship with alcohol. Question 1: On a scale of one to five, does alcohol give you pleasure? Well, I won’t put down 1 because then it will seem like I’m just gaming the system, and it’s not like I don’t enjoy drinking. I do seem to be a better conversationalist when I’ve had a few, so I guess I’ll put down a 2. Question 2: On a scale of one to five, how often do you hide your alcohol drinking? Well, I’m not supposed to be drinking at all, so I would say often. And the quiz went on like this until you received a final score. I thought that I took the quiz honestly enough, and surely once they saw my low, low score of 12, they’d realize their mistake and say, “Oh, we’re so sorry, Peter! We didn’t realize what a responsible adult you were. You can leave now with our dearest apologies.”
They did no such thing. With a score from 10 to 14, I was labeled as someone who might suffer from issues with alcohol abuse. I didn’t know what to think. Did I maybe have some issues I had been ignoring all this time? I didn’t think so, but 12 is right smack in the middle of 10 and 14. That score doesn’t round down.
The following year I made the all too obvious decision to move off campus and no longer had to sneak my drink. But the anxiety and aversion I developed around drinking stayed with me for a while. Turning 21 while studying abroad helped to reintroduce booze in a positive environment, but its properties as a social lubricant always trumped caring about what exactly was in my glass. It took a long time to mature beyond a collegiate way of thinking.
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