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None for the road?


Emily-Rose Rolfe, Lifestyle Editor, has never touched a drop of alcohol. Well, that’s not true, but she is at least mostly dry for January.

Image credits: brosner
Image credits: brosner

The topic of drinking at University is documented time and time again in student media. It barely needs to be said that the most frequently noted stereotype of students is our hedonistic drinking culture. Do we drink too much? Is it necessary to drink at University to have fun? What will everyone think about my relationship with alcohol? Frankly, it doesn’t matter whether you drink or don’t drink. It’s whether or not you are enjoying your time at university: plenty of people get lashed under the weight of expectation, whilst many drink for the pleasure of being intoxicated. It’s not for anyone else to make a judgement on how much you should be drinking: the only person who should be ordering the shots is you. I am merely writing to give an account of my experiences of being a sober student.

Sobriety is not what students are notorious for, our reputation is intrinsically linked to the amount of alcohol we consume on an almost daily basis and how many scrapes we get into because of this. Binging is what students gear themselves up for in the summer leading up to Freshers’ Week, and we stampede through all succeeding nights out terrified that we will never see a drop of alcohol again when the sun sets on our university days. Excessive consumption of booze is what almost every anecdote arises from and what every student signs up for when they press ‘send’ on their UCAS application. However, there are students who stay sober throughout their university days. This is not to say being sober is being teetotal, Jesus was sober whilst still enjoying a nice glass of wine.

In first year I was stone cold sober throughout: I can count on one hand the amount of alcoholic beverages I drank. Your instant assumption after reading that sentence is that I spent every night sitting in my room watching Friends, eating lots of McVities, and fulfilling every sweet-as-sugar girly stereotype in the book. Whilst I freely admit I did spend evenings enjoying the comforts of a cup of tea, I was not a prude, and neither were the friends around me who lived the same lifestyle. Just because you don’t drink when you go out, doesn’t mean you don’t have fun. Monday Mosaic was teeming with acquaintances and awkward encounters;  I didn’t notice Arena’s cheesy Tuesday stench; Timepiece was absolutely mental; Rococos was raving; and I immersed myself in the disco vibes of the Lemmy. Just because I didn’t drink doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy fresher.

In third year, I have started drinking. I don’t know what happened over summer, but all of a sudden I seem to have caught the craze. I had a better time when I didn’t drink. I bounced off everyone surrounding me rather than being incredibly selfish. I never annoyed people when I was sober, whereas now I have accounts of taking up too much space on the dancefloor and saying incredibly stupid things. I was there to have DDMCs (Drunk Deep Meaningful Chats) with as well as to energetically run around with. I remembered my nights, and other people’s. I spent less money when I drank water not wine. And, being narcissistic, it was nice to not be a member of the pack and to stand out from the crowd. It was a stimulus for engaging conversations, something to define you amidst the furor of fresher confusion and identity crises. Personally I prefer drinking a maximum of three drinks a night, it keeps a buzz without stinging the night to death, and it also keeps your dignity and your liver healthy.

Is there peer pressure to drink at university? Of course there is. But if you don’t want to drink at initiations AU societies won’t make you, they’ll give you nasty concoctions of ketchup, peanut butter, egg yolk, milk, and brown sauce, but as long as you aren’t a bad sport and refuse to down it they won’t penalise you. I know a few prominent members of AU clubs who don’t drink but are not seen as any less macho or more boring because of this difference in lifestyle. Most people simply ask ‘why don’t you drink?’ in the same tone of voice as ‘I didn’t realise that pigs flew’, and they respectfully listened to my response. You might be called a shlad in Arena when you ask for tap water, but if anyone was judging whether or not they were having more fun than me, it didn’t impact on my hype. It’s easier said than downed, but if your place within your friendship group is based on the frequency of your chunders then I would swiftly either put them in their place or find more interesting friends.

The primary reason for me not getting trashed is because I’m a Christian. Specifically looking at the topic of drinking, probably the most relevant characteristic of the Christian life is balance: on not living excessively in any area of life. It is following the life of Jesus, who as we all know from Sunday school enjoyed a glass of wine, without downing it. He didn’t abstain, but neither did he encourage intoxication. Christians at Exeter University, despite occasional typecasting, do not live as monks do. They enjoy sobriety whilst sitting in a pub, party with and without drinking, have a huge variety of friends and are active members of many societies on campus. Christianity is not about abstention, but equilibrium. It’s also not being judgemental: I don’t walk into a club and sneer at the amount of antics and affection. I wouldn’t rebuke someone for stumbling home, it may not be my way of life but neither is it my place to reprimand.

You may think you’re a better person when you’re inebriated, but I have never met someone who is better drunk than sober. Ever. I just find that drinking doesn’t improve you: it can result in feelings of regret, embarrassment and irritation that you’ve wasted the rest of the day, and guilt if you’ve drunkenly confronted a good friend about a non-problem. Past the point of no return I can’t understand most of what you’re saying or where you’re going. You’re still great, and I don’t really care, but you’re objectively better company over a coffee or a casual pint.

Despite our frequent moaning that we are all incredibly poor, lavish amounts of money are spent in bars and clubs across Exeter. Financially, drinking just doesn’t make logical sense: we live on a budget yet knock back pounds like they’re pennies. It is also bad for your body: there are seven calories per gram of wine, almost as much as pure fat. The health-freak mindset of gym bunny Exeter is completely at odds with the spoonfuls of indigestible sugar mindlessly devoured each night. Nonetheless, you are paying £3,000 / £9,000 for tuition fees, and we all applied to Exeter for the student experience; not just to join the Library Society. Any pounds that leave your purse or go on your hips on a night out will probably not be regretted by future you. It is still something to bear in mind though.

Choosing the sober student life isn’t inferior to boozy days and nights, and vice versa. University is about enjoying yourself to your full capacity, and finding what you’re made of before entering the scary realms of ‘the rest of your life’. Whether you choose Dry January or a liquid lunch, your pint glass is always half full at uni.

Emily-Rose Rolfe, Lifestyle Editor

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