I remember the day I turned 18 like it was yesterday. It came with a feeling of power and determination and the opportunity to finally put to use all of those things I knew to be true. I was young, dumb and, well, you can finish that phrase in your head.
We spend our teen years so sure of things. Those of us lucky enough to have nurturing, caring parents grew up in a cocoon of love and support. Our conceptions of the world are based on rose-tinted glasses telling us how the world should work.
I always got the usual eye rolls when I claimed something as fact that clearly wasn’t true. But now I was free to prove everyone wrong. I knew how the world worked and I was going to make it work for me. So, I didn’t need anyone’s help, right?
I was off to school. I had the freedom to stay out late and decide how I’d spend my free time. I could even choose not to go to class and make all of my time free time. I understood the value of an education, as I had seen my parents struggle growing up, so there was no way I was going to lose out on a world-class education.
But, I had the same theory every other freshman had. I believed I could stay out all night partying and still wake up for class in the morning without letting my grades slip. For all of you soon-to-be freshmen out there, I would like to draw your attention to what I like to call the “College Triangle Dilemma.”
I found myself choosing to have a vibrant social life while still getting good grades. That meant very little sleep. So, I turned to energy drinks. Lots and lots of energy drinks in the morning and afternoon would keep me fully awake in class. I swear, there were times where I could literally see sounds.
But chugging energy drinks meant that when I desperately needed sleep I couldn’t simply doze off. I turned to heavily drinking alcohol before bed. A couple screwdrivers would usually do the trick. I found that I could crash virtually on demand. Blacking out from alcohol is a very predictable way to fall asleep.
I was developing unhealthy habits. The more I relied on stimulants and sedatives to control my sleep/wake cycle, the more I was losing control and requiring heavier doses. My tolerance was my worst enemy. I kept drinking, consuming and sometimes even shooting more and more.
Amazingly, I earned a 4.0 GPA that year, but winter break was a disaster. Coming home for a few weeks meant my parents could monitor me.
Summer break was even worse. Months of trying to smuggle a case of Red Bull and vodka into the house wasn’t easy. Plus, my parents knew I was a bit “off.” My personality had warped into a more dependent version of me. If my levels weren’t just right, I was moody and incredibly mean. I knew I couldn’t keep poisoning my body. I knew I needed help.
The last thing I wanted to do was admit that I had failed to my parents. My grades were amazing and I had lots of friends, but mentally I was losing it. How could I admit that I needed help when I so desperately needed to show them I really was smarter than them and knew how the world worked?
I started Googling for answers. I thought that I could just go cold turkey and break the cycle. Some people can, some people can’t. Withdrawal can take weeks, months, or years.
Going back to school in a few months meant I needed answers quickly. So, I gave in. I asked for help and I had a long, painful conversation with my family. To my surprise they were supportive.
Recovery cost me a year of my education. I stayed at home and worked part-time at a grocery store to make ends meet. Then, when I was ready, I returned to school with a newfound respect for the “College Triangle.” I focused on finding balance, even when it was hard to say no to hanging out with friends. Creating a schedule for studying and sleeping allowed me to better budget my free time. Calibration is tough, but developing the willpower to balance yourself in the real world is a lifelong skill.