I Was a Sober College Student - Page 2

By Lily Weinstein 09/18/12

With school starting this month, I've been reflecting on my sober university life—which involved an a cappella singing group, a Pimps and Hos fraternity party, depression and, ultimately, freedom.

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Sober beer pong, anyone? Photo via

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I went off to England exactly three days after my boyfriend—who I'd been dating for six months—dumped me. I literally wept for 10 hours straight on the plane and I was sure I was making a huge mistake by leaving the country. It was the most vulnerable and fragile I’d ever felt in my three years of sobriety and I was leaving my friends, family, sponsor, and meetings behind. I was scared of drinking, for the first time in my sobriety.

When I arrived in England, my assigned roommate, Nancy, turned out to be a born-again Christian. She was a virgin; she didn’t smoke; she blushed when I cursed. Holy shit, I thought, this is going to be a nightmare. Why do I even get my hopes up anymore? College just isn’t my thing.

But Nancy surprised me.

About a week in, I was still incredibly homesick. And heartbroken. And squirrelly from lack of meetings. The drinking age in England was such that I could go to any pub and order an armful of Stellas and of course no one back home would ever find out. I could sauce it up in Great Britain and then pick up my sobriety where I’d left off once I got back to the States.  

Did I have the Animal House experience? The Less Than Zero experience? Absolutely not. To be honest, I didn’t even have the Revenge of the Nerds experience. 

They say that, sometimes, the only barrier between you and a drink is your Higher Power. But my Higher Power was the AA group itself, so what was I supposed to do when I was thousands of miles away from my fellows? I remembered that AA taught me to be willing to do whatever it takes to stay sober, so I swallowed my pride, all the way down, and asked Nancy to pray with me one afternoon.

I told her that I didn’t drink because I was a recovering alcoholic and that I was scared I was close to a relapse. Let’s keep in mind, this was a girl whose idea of debauchery was sharing a beer with a girlfriend—I can’t even imagine how strange she thought I was. But Nancy didn’t even blink when I asked her to pray with me, and for me.

We held hands in our shitty bedroom and prayed silently. I prayed for my heart to heal and for my desire to drink to be lifted, one more time. I think she prayed for Jesus to save me. Whatever it was that we sent up into the sky, though, it worked. I stayed sober and my heart did heal. My time in England ended up being thrilling, and heady, full of late-night discussions about politics and Shakespeare and religion—finally, I was having the true college experience.

My last two years of college were a blur: I took the hardest classes I could, I did internships, I had a hectic social life and somehow I had wound up sponsoring nine (oy!) girls. It was one of the happiest times in my life—every second was accounted for, in the best way. I felt like I was finally acting grateful for the incredible opportunities that had been afforded to me.

I graduated from college on time, with my entire family watching. Three days later I celebrated five years of sobriety and when I took my cake, I was able to talk about how much I’d struggled in school and how I made it through without picking up a drink or trying to kill myself. I get to share that experience with my sponsees today and be an example of how to balance the program with wanting to be a normal college student.

Did I have the Animal House experience? The Less Than Zero experience? Absolutely not. To be honest, I didn’t even have the Revenge of the Nerds experience. There’s only one person I still talk to from my university days (no, not Nancy) and most of that communication takes place through Facebook comments. I only went to one real frat party, which, for the record, had a Pimps and Hos theme. I left after five minutes, when I realized I was the only girl wearing pants or a shirt.  On my way out, I was groped by several sweaty Zetas. I celebrated my 21st birthday by going on a date with a boy (from AA, natch), then to a bar with two sober girlfriends and my sister, and was in bed by midnight. I did not take 21 shots of anything, nor did I scream “Woooooo!” at any point.  

Going to college sober was a lesson in sacrifices. I didn’t have the social experience I had hoped to simply because the only people who didn’t drink or smoke weed were…kind of lame. And the people who did drink—well, they drank, and it’s never fun to be the only non-drinker in a room full of boozy college kids. But what I did get out of college was a world-class education and a sense of accomplishment and the satisfaction of meeting and exceeding my goals. And when I get resentful that I never got to do keg stands in a frat house, I try to remember that I had that so-called “college” partying experience in high school.  

There’s a line in the Big Book that talks about how, if our programs are strong, there’s nowhere on earth we can’t go as long as our motives are good—even, as it turns out, to Pimps and Hos parties at the Zeta house. I’m living proof.

Lily Weinstein is the pseudonym for a West Coast-based sober writer. She's also written about being a non-zealot in AA and about sexual predators.

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