“Sometimes God redeems your story by surrounding you with people who need to hear your past, so it doesn't become their future.” This quote by Jon Acuff is the central point I remember from when I had the opportunity to give a talk on a topic similar to this one two years ago. Now, as a second semester senior, I find myself looking back on my time in college with a perspective I could only have gained through my failings. I’ve made many great decisions in my time at LMU, and I’m grateful daily that God led me here, but I have undoubtedly learned the most from the times I came up short of being my ideal self. With about two and a half months left here in LA, I hope I can offer a bit of wisdom gained through my shortcomings.
As a first semester freshman drowning in free time and being parched of supervision, I made approximately the choice one would expect in regard to drinking: lots of it. All of it, really. Aside from it plunging me headlong into the dreaded freshman fifteen, it put me, to put it lightly, in a precarious position with my academics. Sure, my social life was doing pretty well, but only looking back three years removed do I realize that the tug-of-war between my wants and needs put me in an academic hole I never quite dug myself out of. I eventually realized that who I was with alcohol was not someone who was all that academically or socially responsible, but I never took the time to wonder who I was without alcohol.
“Why is he writing about this?” would be a reasonable question to ask right about now. Well, dear reader, if you aren’t aware (which it seems quite possible you aren’t), I’m currently on day 28 of 90 of no alcohol (as well as a whole host of other ascetic/spiritual practices, but that’s a different story). Relinquishing my right to ingest alcohol was not exactly what I had in mind for the second semester of my senior year. In fact, I planned to do just the opposite and partake in as much as I could. However, after some thought and some prodding from my friend Luis to take up this challenge with him, I realized it was going to be beneficial. In fact, it would be most beneficial precisely because it came at a time where I had no desire to do so.
It is, as I expected, not easy. Although, in fairness, it is also not as difficult as I expected it to be either. Contrary to what I expected, I’ve been very supported overall by those I’ve mentioned it to. It hasn’t always been easy, and it’s been a little uncomfortable at times to say that I’m on a temporary hiatus from drinking. I haven’t actually told all of my close friends because many of my friends also enjoy going out and drinking at the same level I do, and it’s just not a conversation I’m ready to have. People have found out, or it’s come up and I’ve had to say something, and I would say the results have been overwhelmingly positive. It’s nice to have the support. I know that my friends will support me in this journey, even if it’s inconvenient to them because they want to go out drinking with me (and I like to think I’m quite fun to go out with, usually). Granted, I do still go out sometimes, and I actually enjoy it.
For example, last night I went to a bar with some of my housemates and friends. I was knocking back water on the rocks as we were all watching the karaoke stage in the background. I settled in quickly and found myself really enjoying the night. It was an energizing time being around people I care about and cheering on the karaoke singers, not worrying about the fact that I’m purposefully ignoring the main function of a bar. I find that I’m someone who can get overwhelmed fairly easily, so, as you may imagine, trying to implement a whole set of lifestyle changes at once has not been the smoothest transformation. However, I realized that I just have to focus most on the ones that are the hardest for me and trust that the easier ones will come along in tow.
Most of all, this experience so far has taught me the value of comfort with myself. Growing up as someone who held less-than-ideal levels of self-confidence has, I think, ingrained some perceptions of myself that don’t really fit who I know I am. Granted, at this point in my life, I am well past middle school and now quite like myself. I think I’m pretty cool. I am also no longer a first semester freshman and have a much better knowledge of how to balance going out and staying on top of my schoolwork. However, like every other person in the world, there are a couple things I would change about myself if God gave me the blueprints for making me, and those creep up on me from time to time. When I would go out, if I had a couple of drinks, I wouldn’t have to worry about those nagging self-doubts. However, having been smacked with sobriety and a social media hiatus, I have been forced to confront myself in a way that is entirely new to me. I’m nowhere near perfect, nor have my self-doubts completely gone away, but at this point in my journey I’ve accepted that I’m just me. Just me. No more, no less. And honestly, that’s fine by me. Centering our self-worth in God’s love is the only viable foundation for loving ourselves. It’s important to remember, though, that this radical trust in God for self-love doesn’t happen overnight and we have to be kind to ourselves on this journey. I’m getting there and I sincerely hope and pray that you are too.
Now, this isn’t a vilification of alcohol. Far from it. I’m personally a fan, and I think, when used well, alcohol has the potential to enhance friendly gatherings. However, as anyone who’s had any sort of encounter with alcohol can tell you, there is plenty of potential to use it in a problematic way. I’ve fallen into that plenty of times myself, and while I’m much smarter now in the realm of responsible drinking, having spent the majority of my college tenure using it in any way but responsibly has forced me to un-learn engrained habits.
Think of this piece as more of an invitation to reflect and ask ourselves if our use of alcohol allows us to have fun in a healthy way or if we’re disrespecting ourselves in our use of it. I know I’ve been in both places, and that being in the former is much more enjoyable than the latter. I’ve woken up more times regretting the night before (assuming I remember it) than I would care to share, so rest assured that I’m not here to judge.
I think the biggest takeaway here is we can’t be scared of alcohol if we realize that we aren’t using it in a way that’s maximally conducive to human flourishing. Last semester I became brutally aware that I was far more likely to regret nights than look back on them fondly if I drank, but I plan to drink again after day 90. If I make mistakes again, I will correct them again by facing them head-on instead of shying away. We can’t run through life without falling sometimes, but we can’t slow to a crawl because we’re petrified we might trip.
There’s never a bad time to turn around and try again, nor are there a finite number of chances to do things the right way. God gives us the strength to try again (and again), and our job is to accept that strength. This is easier said than done, I’m well aware. However, I invite you to identify one thing that is preventing you from giving yourself to God more fully. One fewer drink, fifteen fewer minutes on social media, ten more minutes in prayer, one more act of love for the marginalized: these are the kinds of things that bring us closer to Him. He’s waiting for you, so what are you waiting for?