5 Things I Learnt Being Sober At University

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University culture and drinking culture are almost synonymous with each other. We have on-campus pubs and clubs, the university students we see on TV are almost exclusively seen with red solo cups, and during our preparations to leave for university we get endless advice on treating hangovers. When we become students, we are expected to not only have the occasional drink but to get drunk regularly. Being sober is simply not considered an option.

At university, drinking is the norm. That’s why, when I decided halfway through my first year of uni that alcohol was not for me and that I was giving it up for good, I felt scared. I knew that I was going to be the odd one out. While that fear came true on many occasions, after over a year of sobriety I can confidently say that making that decision for myself was completely worth it. I learnt many valuable lessons which I wouldn’t have learnt any other way. 

Quitting drinking does not mean quitting fun 

The biggest misconception about sobriety is that it’s boring. As a society, we think of sober people as serious, unadventurous, and quiet. When we think of fun, we associate it with intoxication. For this reason, the thought of giving up alcohol in my early 20s was daunting. What else would I be giving up? 

Today I know that the answer is: nothing. Instead, I gained so much. After getting sober, I enjoyed many crazy nights out with my friends and I learned that I actually love clubbing! I was not a big fan of it as a drinker but without the alcohol, I can lose myself on the dancefloor until dawn. After a night out, I wake up happy and refreshed, instead of dealing with a headache, while anxiously wondering what I did last night.

Not being under the influence gives me a clearer idea of what activities I actually find fun and which activities I was just told that I should enjoy. Not to mention being fully present for every experience and therefore getting the absolute most of it! For me, sober fun is real fun. 

I am enough, even when sober

Have you ever felt that without some alcohol in your system you are not as funny, confident or charming? I surely have. Like many other first-year students, I didn’t know anyone at my university so I wanted to make the best possible impression on everyone I met. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be liked but it’s easy to be caught in a trap of needing to have a drink in order to believe in yourself. 

When you never drink, you are always in your natural, sober state. Eventually, you learn that you don’t need a chemical boost to be an amazing person. In my sobriety, I found other ways to increase my confidence but also learnt to accept that there is nothing wrong with being shy. I embraced my personality the way it is and eventually attracted the right people who don’t expect me to change my ways. 

True friends don’t judge

At university, we might be adults but peer pressure is still very much real. If you’re a uni student who’s considering going teetotal, there are going to be people who will try to make you change your mind, make jokes, or even stop wanting to spend time with you. But do you really want friends who judge your lifestyle decisions? 

For me, sobriety turned out to be the greatest test of who I can really count on. I quickly realised which people wanted me in their lives just for the purpose of getting wasted together. Thankfully, I also have friends who turned out to be the most supportive people I’ve ever met. These are the people who I can happily join in the pub and not be stressed that they will try to pressure me into drinking. They are also the people with whom I can have breakfast with or who will provide me with a shoulder to cry on whenever something is wrong. 

True friends don’t judge – knowing this also makes it easier to make new friends in sobriety. People’s initial reaction might tell you everything you need to know to decide whether they’re your kind of people. 

Fitting in is overrated

The time we spend at university is a time for education but also a time to discover who we really are as people. Getting sober made me realise that trying to fit in with other people was only stopping me from personal development. I don’t mean that in a deep, spiritual sense, but in an everyday way – figuring out what it is that I want to do in life. Sobriety allowed me to discover my likes and dislikes, my values, and my real personality, which I sometimes concealed under a “cool girl” mask.

Notice how the people we usually find the coolest are the non-conformists? People who go against the grain, who don’t care what others think of them, who pursue their passions without looking back. Ditching the drink was a way for me to become my own person, not dependent on other people’s opinion. I quickly started evaluating my other life choices and living by my own rules. 

It doesn’t have to be sobriety. For other people, it might be, for example, going vegan or giving up shaving – but saying no to a lifestyle choice that is considered the standard will most likely make you reconsider the way you look at societal norms and other decisions you make in everyday life. 

Saying “no!”

The moment you decide to go teetotal is the moment you stop being a people-pleaser. I used to be the type of person who avoided upsetting other people at all costs, even if it meant sacrificing my time and energy, or doing things I didn’t really want to do. I had trouble saying no but when I gave up drinking in an alcohol-filled environment, I had to learn to say it over and over again. 

I couldn’t count the number of drinks I declined even if I tried but the real struggle was learning what to say when people asked why. At first, I had a long and detailed response crafted and ready to recite whenever the question arose but with time I learnt that “because I don’t want to” is a perfectly valid reason. This applies to virtually any aspect of life – even in formal situations, it’s perfectly okay if paraphrased to sound more polite. Knowing I always have the option to decline anything makes life so much easier. 

Saying no in sobriety can also mean trusting your inhibitions, which we are often told are a bad thing and should be loosened with alcohol. I’ve done many things drunk which I never would have done sober. Now, as I navigate through the difficult time of young adulthood without substances, I can feel confident that I won’t easily cross a personal boundary. 

University is hard as it is. For some students, a little alcohol might be a fun way to let loose but it doesn’t serve everyone – it most certainly didn’t serve me. All the things I learnt being sober at university made me a better version of myself. I’m not going to urge anyone to make the same choices as me but I certainly would encourage every student to use their time at university to find out what does and doesn’t benefit them in their lives. Perhaps try going teetotal for a little longer than Dry January – you might be surprised with what you find out about yourself.

Words by Aleksandra Wasześcik


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