“You going out tonight after work?”
Oh the monotony of this question. My usual answer? “Eh no on a Friday I like to go home, watch some Friends reruns with a nice cup of tea then head to bed with my good friend Facebook” and to me that sounds pretty enjoyable. Yet, when I say this to most people it results in a few seconds silence, an awkward laugh with accompanying abrupt change of conversation.
Not long ago I would have tried to pretend I was going out somewhere hip, even when I wasn’t, simply to fit in. However, that was simply another way of me being validated by the opinions of others and I don’t like lying to fit in.
It’s unfortunate but being a college student nowadays is synonymous with wild, uncontrollable drinking and partying. Normal socialising in the pub with friends is not enough to be ‘living in the moment’ anymore. No if you want to be a successful student, and I don’t mean in your education, you have to hit to be ready to hit the club scene hard. When I am tired in work on a Sunday I am overwhelmed by the number of people that wink and say to me “Rough night last night eh?”. No it’s just Sunday morning and I miss my bed. There is an expectation that as a student I have to live every moment at a faster and crazier rate then someone who is in their thirties. Drinking and socialising takes on a whole new level when you reach college age. If you are not drunk before you get to the club then you are not doing it right. Pre-drinking at home ensures students can lose all their senses without losing their money. For girls, and I am giving this view because I am a girl, gathering together before heading out includes taking many photos of ourselves pulling ‘ugly pretty’ faces, bending at weird angles to appear slim in tight, short dresses while drinking copious amounts of cheap vodka and all of this is a way to affirm to one another that we are not alone in entering this world. It’s a bonding thing, a validation of our beauty and a measure of how much we rely on the assurance of others that what we are doing is a good thing.
The culture of drinking has moved on and alcohol is abused in order to change one’s own character, to make us more open, sociable, chattier, flirtier and less caring about our worth. It’s all about bringing yourself to the point where you have just enough of yourself left that you can feel the wildness of the night but lose enough of yourself that all the shame and the dirtiness of the night is a blur of bright lights, dizziness and pleasure. If you can clearly remember all the people you hooked up with then will certainly have failed at having a good night, because nobody wants to remember the desperation of what can often be termed as a ‘whore race’. After all the point of getting hammered is to forget the loneliness, avoid the wrongness of your behaviour, feel good and satisfy carnal urges without moral hangups. Most young people go out searching for something that if they are honest they don’t really find or they find the wrong thing. If what they were doing made them feel good then they would be proud of being with guys who don’t even care what their name is, they would love reliving the dirty names they called the drunk girls and they would enjoy the ways they allowed people to grab and grope their bodies without the hindrance of conversation. I find it sad when I see people of my generation believing that embracing life is only found in chasing the ever elusive high, in searching for an experience that not only overwhelms us but sustains us and is easily accessible in lewd and dangerous places, such as in mind-altering substances or in sexual relationships. Modern social culture bombards us with the message that this can only be found in overindulgence of a wild and responsibility free lifestyle. Musicians love to tell us that our youth is shortlived and that we need to be crazy and sociable and lose ourselves in a culture of party, drink and drugs in order to make the most of our youthful time.
However, I am not denying how young and vibrant it feels to get dressed up, to hang out with people and to go out and dance to some epic tunes. But you can’t really get to do that anymore in Ireland without getting hammered; if you are a girl it is almost a prerequisite to leave your self-worth and class at the door and if you are a lad well you need to forget to be respectful to women and learn to prey on their neediness. It’s a maddening culture that is growing and addictive. As I matured I was never one for this sort of lifestyle not because of any assumed morality but because these activities have always been presented as ‘cool’, parties that ‘beautiful’ and ‘free’ people can engage in, and I never felt cool enough or unbound by my insecurities. I always felt that the ones who owned the night would see through my playacting at being carefree and I was scared of letting go and forgetting who I was to fit in. I tried at first, to fake it till I made it, and then I did. I worked it out, how to give up myself to a new me, a looser me who truth be told didn’t feel worthy of anyone let alone my Father in Heaven who was probably crying out for me to realise that my worth should never have been found in those circumstances, those people. I was ashamed of who I was, I craved acceptance so I went in search of the ‘great’ night out. Except it never was a great night, not the next morning when I felt like dying and with every pang of my head a flashback of my behaviour would shame me. Oh how it haunts me to this day, the time I was escorted from a pub for fighting a girl over some random lad, the time I fell asleep with my head in a club toilet and they had to knock the door down to get me out and the countless times I thought I would find the love of my life by getting drunk and acting slutty for him. Somehow I was truly thought that the only way I could be loved was if I acted like everyone else and forgot me. Eventually I grew weary of the searching for something that would make me feel whole. I no longer counted my worth by the amount of drunk men who told me I was hot and wanted to kiss me, I didn’t want to stay up all night trying to find meaningful relationships and I wanted to dress up without feeling the competition of other girls, or the pressure to look sexy and appealing.
The beauty of realising how low this culture can bring you is when you find where the real joy in life is, it is an uplifting and validating thing and it allows you to live in a way that makes you happy and comfortable without caring about the judgement of other people. For me it was accepting and allowing Jesus to be a constant presence in my life, to actually listen to what He is saying to me and to see myself in a true light, in the way He sees me. Now I no longer go out to find myself, to pave over the pain inside me. Granted I have a lot of issues still there and stuff I have not dealt with yet but I am relying on a different source for healing. I am turning to God because living with Him in real terms, while not easy, is so fulfilling and can bring the kind of high that restores you and carries you when things are not so great. On the rare occasions I do go out it’s simply to hang out with my friends, or to listen to music and to provide a way for them to get home safely. So I refuse to be ashamed if I prefer to spend my Saturday night painting romantic pictures, knitting shapeless socks or having tea with friends. Just as I know plenty of people who really enjoy the party lifestyle and engage in it in a healthy mindset. I have friends who have fun in these environments and don’t lose themselves to the darker side of it and I don’t think they should feel ashamed for that at all. To each their own after all. Life should not be about shaming people out of this lifestyle anyway, it is a seductive and addictive way of living and we are all tempted by it. What we should try for is to not let our identity be consumed by the party culture, to not find ourselves through losing our inhibitions and realise that what other people think of us in no way affirms who we are. In no way am I advocating teetotalism as that would be nonsensical and frankly no fun at all, after all one of the most lauded Christians of all time, C.S Lewis, did most of his writings in a pub. It isn’t the action of drinking that is destroying and consuming young people but the void that we are trying to fill and the dissatisfaction with ourselves that we are trying to run from. Living while we are young should be about letting go of the fear that we are not enough for this world and embracing that we don’t need mind-altering substances or experiences to enjoy ourselves and find peace in who we are.