Welcome everyone to the Fall semester. After the quiet summer, I feel the vibrating energy of the returning students and the new freshmen as the campus literally comes alive with enough parking for everyone! College life is one of the most exciting as well as challenging phases of our life that potentially lays the foundation for future success.
I am reminded of my first year as a freshman at Beloit College in Wisconsin. One of my main anxieties during my freshman year was that someone would find out my real age. I turned seventeen during my first semester of college. Being a year or two younger than most other students made me feel very insecure. My second major anxiety was that someone would see me with my huge ultra thick glasses and realize that I was quite near sighted.
I was convinced that both of these conditions combined would wreck my social life completely. To avoid looking like a nerd, I grew long hair and a beard and wore contact lenses 16-18 hours a day. I also carefully observed what the other “cool” students did and tried to hang out with them.
I noticed that many of the “cool” people got drunk often and virtually chain-smoked during parties. This was hard for me to emulate, as I did not like either smoking or drinking. My “cool” friends often told tall tales “the day after”. Typically, these stories went like this: “And then I got so drunk man that I didn’t know what I was saying or doing. By end of the night, I was puking all over the place. They had to carry me back to my dorm. And since this morning, I have had the worst hangover and I can’t remember a thing! My head really hurts. Boy was last night fun or what?!”
This kind of talk always went completely over my head. I blamed myself for not being cool enough to understand.
One day I asked one of my “cool” friends, while he was sober, to tell me really why drinking at parties leads to having more fun.
My cool friend explained it very clearly, “Well it kind of loosens you up. It’s easy to talk to people. You can say things to people when you are drunk and they don’t hold it against you. And it’s great for getting to know girls. In fact, after I threw up on Kelly last month at a party, it really brought us a lot closer together.”
After that lucid explanation, I tried drinking a bit.
The problem was that drinking did not agree with my constitution. It made me nauseous and I did not like the feeling of being tipsy. So I hit upon a clever solution. I started drinking 7-UP at parties but gave the impression to everyone that it was really Gin and Tonic! I occasionally acted silly and brash to reinforce the notion that I was feeling “quite good”. I never had a hangover and thought I had the best of both worlds.
Finally, in the desire to fall in with the “ultra cool” group, I started smoking cigarettes while I drank my 7-UP. My act was so good that I had people cautioning me not to drink too heavily at the parties. “I can take it”, I would say in my pretend macho cool manner. And yes, I could take it. I could put away glasses of 7-UP like it was no body’s business. Of course, it meant a lot of trips to the bathroom; but that was a small price for being cool. As far as the cigarettes go, that was tough to play out. I could never bring myself to fully inhale the smoke into my lungs. It made me cough and feel dizzy. So I smoked but did not inhale. I believe President Clinton used this technique as well when he was in college.
Instead of inhaling, I would take the smoke in my mouth, hold it for a while, and blow it out of the side slowly in as cool a way as is possible. Those were some of my coolest moments, I think. Sometimes I also tried to make smoke rings come out of my mouth by twisting my face in a highly sophisticated manner.
After about a year of heavy 7-UP drinking combined with pretend smoking, I could no longer live a lie and slowly gave up both. I did not have strength to go cold turkey with 7-UP and so yes, I gave it up slowly. I have not engaged in pretend smoking since my college days and almost never drink alcohol or, for that matter, soft drinks. In retrospect, I can understand why I did what I did as a freshman. My need to be accepted by my peers was so strong that it made me act out of character.
Although I was immature in some ways at 17, I was lucky because I never became a smoker or a drinker. Many young people, once they become addicted to nicotine, find it very difficult to give up. This expensive habit is easy to cultivate but very difficult to break. Smoking was much more accepted in public places in the past than it is now.
When I was in college, professors and students both used to smoke in class. My philosophy professor had a huge pipe, bigger than the one Sherlock Holmes ever smoked. During the lectures, when perhaps he ran out of material, our professor would simply smoke his pipe and look very thoughtfully into space. As he appeared lost in a trance, much like Socrates of old days, all of us gazed in admiration and waited for him to break his silence with words precious and pregnant with meaning.
This was back in the early 1970s. Smoking was considered very cool then. Today, it is not viewed as cool, because we know so much more about the health effects of smoking. Some of the commercials I have seen on TV to discourage teenagers from smoking focus on how smoking causes bad breath and is not conducive to kissing.
Alcohol, of course, can play havoc with your body and mind both. It is the cause of much destruction in the lives of people. The grief suffered by parents whose children are harmed due to alcohol related incidents is indescribable. Ask any official in a college or in law enforcement, who has had to inform parents that their child has been in a life threatening accident. They will tell you that it is the most difficult thing to do. I was told this personally by someone who had to once inform the parents that their child had lost his life due to an alcohol related accident. Even listening to him, tell me, about the reaction of the parents, I felt much shaken up at the time.
So dear students, in my own funny way, I am trying to tell you to be careful with yourself in college and in life. For most of you, this is all simple stuff that you already know. For all of us, it is sometimes good to hear things we already know. When we are young, we do many things to impress our peers and to be accepted. I know that many times I was too weak to resist peer pressure.
Getting older, I have learned that when we make genuine friendships, we are accepted as who we are. Many people try smoking, alcohol, and other drugs when they come to college and are away from home for the first time. In the beginning, all these things seem harmless when we see our friends doing it and seeming to have fun. However, the truth is that behind such things lurks unexpected danger and potential harm, which can ruin lives.
The general rule is that you should be suspicious of consuming anything that dulls your senses or alters them in any unnatural way. Human senses are a gift. The gift of seeing clearly, hearing clearly, smelling clearly, and experiencing clearly can only be appreciated if we are in our natural state of body and mind.
Life offers no guarantees to anyone, and we are too limited as human beings to see the future. Nevertheless, our God given intelligence tells us that over the long run, people who avoid alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes and lead a natural life are more alert and likely to lead healthier lives. This is not a moral judgment but an observation based on experience and some scientific research.
If you have a healthy lifestyle and have already made constructive choices about drinking, drugs, and smoking, find others like you and keep their company for support. Community of like-minded people is very helpful in life. If you have one or more of these habits, then the best time to give them up is when you are young.
When we are young, we have enormous physical strength and resources and the will power and can easily make very positive changes in our lives, which go with us until the end. As we get older and the habits become more ingrained, it becomes more difficult (but certainly not impossible) to kick the addictions. For those who feel they cannot give up their addiction or do not want to, my advice would be to be moderate and manage your behavior in such a way so that it is not destructive to yourself or others. This can be done through application of intelligent reasoning while one is sober and rational with sensitivity to one’s own safety and that of others.
This article was originally written for Bryant University students in the Archway Newspaper. HL