Now that IU is back in full swing, I get to walk around town and see students drinking in yards, porches and balconies at various times of day. It seems that for these young people, there is always enough time and money for partying. After all, this is part of the college lifestyle that is used as a marketing tool to recruit students.
IU is famous for Little 500, also known as the World’s Greatest College Weekend. There is also a T-shirt I see periodically to the effect that Bloomington is a drinking town with a basketball problem. It’s meant to be humorous but with a hint of pride about the legendary partying. I find it ironic because it is incredibly accurate.
Bloomington also seems to be acquiring a reputation as a place where young women disappear after a night out at the bars. It is instances such as these that make me wonder what it is going to take to for everyone to sober up and acknowledge excessive drinking as a real, serious problem on university campuses as well as in our greater culture.
We need to think about this — students are coming to this place to learn, and this is what we’re teaching them? I remember once sitting outside eating dinner when some guys came out of a bar; one of them threw up on the sidewalk and the other guys just laughed it off. The other people eating around me were disgusted, but no one did anything. This is normal here.
Why? Think about this a minute. If you are throwing up, then your body is trying to rid itself of something bad. You are intentionally poisoning yourself when you drink to this point. This is brushed off as a phase, but even if it is, what is going on with people psychologically that they would willingly subject their bodies to such abuse?
There is the issue of peer pressure. You’re coming to a new place, a new stage in your life. You’re insecure and want to fit it. So you do what everyone else is doing.
This might be a good strategy in some situations, but not when everyone around you is jeopardizing their health with irresponsible behavior. I’d think at some point you’d question why you’d want to fit in with people like that.
The rest of us aren’t exempt from these admonitions either. Perhaps post-college alcohol consumption might not be as dramatic, but it can be just as pervasive.
Think of the happy hour events you feel obligated to attend to get ahead in your job. Even golf scrambles, which you’d think would be a relatively healthy event with exercise and fresh air often have an expectation of alcohol consumption.
Drinking to excess just flows out of our western culture of consumption. We must have the biggest houses, the fanciest cars, the latest gadgets — and we have to keep up with everyone else. We overeat, as shown by the rise in obesity rates. So with that sort of underlying mentality, why wouldn’t we drink to excess?
Now I’m going to seemingly contradict everything I’ve just said by this statement: Alcohol isn’t the problem. It is a symptom. It could be anxiety or depression; it could be fear of dealing with real emotional pain or grief. But I will go so far to claim if you are emotionally healthy then you do not feel a need to drink to excess.
I can draw these conclusions because I have been there. I finally admitted that alcohol wasn’t the problem; I was. I was drinking to cover up various problems that I didn’t know how to work through on my own. I have been very open about my situation since I gave up alcohol over three years ago in the hopes that I might be of help to someone else.
It’s interesting because I was reluctant at first to share my experiences with others for fear of rejection.
But the opposite thing happened; people told me they were proud of me and admired my strength and resolve. I could finally dare to be different and not follow the crowd.
My life has been getting better ever since. No way could I be doing any of the cool fun crazy stuff I’m involved with now if I were still drinking.
I challenge everyone to give this some serious thought; it might apply to you or someone you know. There is a better way out there and many people willing to help.
Stephanie Haines is a writer from Greenfield who now lives in Bloomington. She can be contacted through her website, www.stephaniehaines.com.