Valparaiso University hosted an event on Oct. 23 called “Soberocity: Creating an opt-in social life for all students.” The two speakers, Shannon S. and Josh P., wished to only be referred by their first names for privacy sake. The two spoke about their struggles with alcohol addiction that stemmed from their college years. The Office of Alcohol & Drug Education helped sponsor this event as a part of a Communities Talk initiative through Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Both Shannon and Josh began drinking around 14 years old and were both heavy drinkers in college. Shannon shared that her alcohol use came from wanting to be involved in partying and Josh was heavily influenced by alcoholic family members.
“I was influenced by the need to impress others. Being an outcast was one of my biggest fears [but] what’s more important- staying to try and be the life of the party or going home to have a life,” Shannon said.
Shannon’s alcohol use led to her failing her freshman year of college and transferring to a different school. She later left an abusive relationship and became a single mother. Shannon continued to drink, using it as an excuse to go out with friends and comfort herself through the hardships she faced. Eventually, she reached a point where her drinking was getting extremely dangerous and she joined a twelve step program to seek help.
“I was afraid to go to sleep, thinking I wouldn’t wake up,” Shannon said.
Shannon brought up many alternatives to drinking that have helped her with her sobriety- going with a friend who will keep you accountable, having an exit plan for parties and finding other things to enjoy, such as volunteering. For Shannon, the most difficult stage of achieving sobriety was accepting that she had a serious addiction and was in need of help. Women are often expected to be put together and as a result, it can be scary to admit that you are struggling.
“As a mother, society expects a certain thing from women. I wasn’t ready to accept that I had a problem, let alone tell someone else,” Shannon said.
Instead of drinking creating issues with school for Josh, he thrived in college. He spent many nights doing homework and studying while intoxicated, still passing with A’s and B’s because the coursework came naturally to him. He developed poor habits of scheduling his life around drinking and using any event as a reason to reach for the bottle.
“I always put effort into alcohol. Every experience, good or bad, led to drinking; I was just working to drink,” Josh said.
After college, his continued addiction spiraled and went on to cause him to lose two high ranking jobs, his marriage and become a single father. He lost a fancy house and a nice car, a life that seemed picture perfect on the outside. No matter how many times things came crashing down around him, Josh refused to believe that his addiction to alcohol was causing his problems. He tried, and sometimes failed, to hide his drinking from friends, employers and even his spouse.
“No matter how successful I was, I was still escaping; ego had everything to do with the way I was drinking. Fun turned into fun with problems, that turned into problems with fun and problems with problems,” Josh said.
As Josh stated, “Not everyone can drink responsibly,” but this doesn’t mean those struggling with alcohol abuse have no options. Both Shannon and Josh were able to find strength and companionship through participating in twelve step programs. Meeting other people who are also working towards sobriety makes it easier to discuss your feelings and have fun without substance abuse. Josh urges any students who feel that they are already or are on their way to becoming an alcoholic to look at soberocity.com. This platform offers online chat rooms and details about local events to live a sober life. The ability to talk to someone online instead of in person or over the phone can be reassuring for those concerned about anonymity or who are hesitant to share their feelings. The OADE is also available for Valpo students looking to seek help at 219-464-6820 and firstname.lastname@example.org.