February 24, 2011
My name is Erik and I am a dean’s list student at Penn State. When I came to State College as a freshman, I knew I wanted to be involved in as much as I could. I was extremely involved in high school as a student leader, athlete and scholar. With my love for Penn State, I wanted to continue this over the next four years in Happy Valley.
Freshman year I accomplished everything I set out to. I studied hard, became involved in myriad activities, and assumed prominent leadership roles. Bleeding blue and white, I considered myself to be the consummate Penn Stater. Unfortunately this meant I also partied like a true Nittany Lion: hard and often.
Eventually my drinking landed me in the hospital from an alcohol overdose. Because that was my first time in the emergency room, I wrote it off as bad luck. I had not had a history of binge drinking in high school and wasn’t worried about my frequent drinking habits at Penn State.
My first trip to Mount Nittany Medical Center would prove not to be an isolated case. The second time I ended up in the hospital, a few months later, I considered it an unfortunate case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Judicial Affairs warned me that if I had a third offense in the same calendar year I would be suspended. There is nothing in the world that I loved more than being a Penn State student. I vowed to control my drinking.
However, control was not in my vocabulary. Six months later I woke up in the hospital, incredulous I could have gotten myself into this situation again. What had happened to me? Why couldn’t I control myself?
I knew the consequences of my actions yet I still allowed myself to engage in dangerous behavior. Facing imminent suspension along with the thought of failing everyone back home brought me to the lowest point in my life.
My parents understood that I had a problem, one they were familiar with. My grandmother had died at an early age from alcoholism, and other members of my dad’s family had issues with alcohol. They brought me to my first 12-step program meeting.
Walking through those doors was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Admitting I had a problem was incredibly difficult and humbling for a person who was used to success. However, attending 12-step meetings and counseling and the support of family and friends made me realize my suspension was the best thing to happen to me. I was able to come to terms with my problem and discover my life was better off without drinking in it.
Eventually I simply stopped drinking and started living out my sobriety. Alcohol abuse is a gradual progression down to each person’s respective bottom. It is also a gradual process of recovery and living in a new way. I will always be vulnerable to alcohol, but I will continue to grow and learn about this more enriching way of life.
As a requirement to return to Penn State, I had to write a letter to myself about the pros and cons of drinking versus remaining sober. This forced me to really think about what is important. I read the letter at least once a week to remind myself of all I have to lose by drinking. It also reminds me of how much I have to be grateful for and how good my life is today.
I have returned to Penn State and am once again involved in activities, leadership roles and my school work. I have not returned to my drinking habits and have been sober since that fateful day of my third hospitalization.
A problem with alcohol does not have to dictate how the rest of your life plays out. I am grateful for all my experiences because they have made me stronger and more aware of what my priorities in life are. I am able to take advantage of everything life has to offer.
This is the gift sobriety has given me. It is one I wish to share and is available for anyone who needs it.
Erik volunteered to share his story. His last name has been withheld.