How the ordinary feels unusual

This post is from my second semester at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Spring 2014.

This past semester has been one of the strangest I’ve had to date. At the age of 23, having attended a total of 9 semesters for varying lengths at 4 different colleges and universities, I’ve seen a lot of strange. I’ve studied in Shanghai for six months, where I tried coke for the first time in the basement of a dingy bar with a Ghanaian drug smuggler.

In my first semester of college I joined the club hockey team at SUNY Albany, and was initiated through a “rookie night” wherein the upper-classmen tricked the rookies by telling them after a Friday night game that we’d be having a team dinner the next day.

“Dress nice because we’re going to the Olive Garden,” they told us.

And, in my excitement for a good team dinner, I fasted the whole day, arrived at the given address, and became very confused when myself and my fellow rookies were corralled into the back yard, instructed to pick-up all the debris that had accumulated from the previous years’ parties, and given beer–warmed in the oven to maximize our enjoyment–to drink. Needless to say, this rookie night got weird and, you might guess, involved absolutely zero food or motherfucking Olive Garden. Instead, I was fed copious amounts of Genny and plastic-bottle-vodka. Actually, they fed me some bread and crackers later in the night, but only after I began crying.

Why was I crying? Well, after a few hours of vodka and cheap beer stewing in my virgin stomach, strippers appeared while I was running around the house in a drunken state of freshman excitement. Of course, after realizing there were big breasted ladies in the house I wanted a lap-dance like all of my teammates. The only problem was that I had no cash to pay for said lap-dance. So I tried claiming my stake in the lap-dance chair until someone would take pity on my stubbornness and pay for me. Instead, the upperclassmen just shoved me out of the chair and escorted me into the basement. On the way I cut my forehead by head-butting a window in protest. When the blood began to gush is about when I began crying.

So, instead of bonding with teammates over a good dose of lazy-eyed, oversized, fake boobs, I got to spend that lovely time in the basement, by myself, covering up my forehead with paper towels and crying while I ate plain bread.

But this past fall semester at HWS? Probably a bit more strange.

It was strange because it was the first time I sought help to understand who I am, how I got this way and why that matters, with the final goal to take all of these ideas, internalize them, and try to live a better life. And this help came in the form of an appointment at the counseling center.

In my experience, college students generally have a clear picture of how they view addiction. It’s the student who goes out four nights a week and skips class frequent enough that you have to guess when they’ll be there. Or maybe it’s more extreme. Maybe they fall down the stairs in a drunken stupor and have to wear a neck brace for the next eight weeks. Either way (again this is anecdotal) I rarely encounter people who wonder about how that “addict” doesn’t realize their issue, if at all. What are the contributing factors to their behavior? How does one even admit an addiction? And what comes after that?

It was these sorts of questions that made me question my drinking. Many would say if you question whether you have an addiction you probably have one. I think that’s a bit over simplistic, but, after having attended some counseling sessions I learned that I’m 98% likely to become an alcoholic. This is based off of my personal drinking habits, which I perceived as normal for someone my age, and various other factors like the rate of alcoholism within my family (existing in both of my grandfathers, with my dad being a “dry drunk”). Somewhere in my story about strippers and cocaine the strangeness I experienced this Fall at HWS may have been lost. Without going into too much detail, my choice to cut back on drinking–a lot–and to go to the counseling center, along with the introspection which accompanied these appointments, were the main contributing factors. I felt uncomfortable in simply setting up an appointment. And it seems problematic that these healthy actions felt so unusual and burdensome. Hopefully writing about these topics will help weaken the stigma surrounding the counseling center, simultaneously making it less strange for others who feel the same way as I did when setting up my first appointment. Something as simple as meeting with someone where you can say whatever you want, without any fear of judgment, shouldn’t feel so heavy or wrong.

I’m not telling you to not do something. If you want to try drugs with Ghanaian smugglers or drink ‘til you pass out, that’s your decision. It can be pretty fun. I’m just saying don’t be an asshole to someone when they start figuring out the repercussions of their actions and want to sort out their life. College can be a crazy time. If you’re not the one feeling strange now, you will at some point. And it’ll be nice to be able to sort that out without added difficulty.


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