College: where it all started…

We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.

39216_458599814953_4267907_nA few months ago, a fraternity brother of mine sent me a list of questions related to my recovery.  I’ve been mulling over answering them directly or on the blog and after discussing them with my fraternity brother decided to answer them on the blog.  Before I start that series, I think a little background on my college experience might be in order.

University Park is located at the exact center of Pennsylvania and is mostly surrounded by the borough of State College, PA.  The town is a total of 4.5 square miles and is surrounded by farmland and mountains.  In the 1990s, the town boasted a total of 42,000 residents and the student population was approximately 40,000 undergraduates.  The entire area is peaceful and relaxed and goes by the moniker “Happy Valley.”  To say that it is an idyllic location is an understatement of perhaps the greatest magnitude.

When I was in school, there were 56 fraternities registered with the Intra-Fraternity Council and 23 sororities registered with the Panhellenic Council. Within the confines of the 4.5 square miles, there were approximately 25 bars.  There were at least 10 beer distributors within ten miles of the town.  Due to Pennsylvania’s insane liquor laws, you can only buy beer in cases or kegs at beer distributors – if you want a six pack, you have to go to a “six pack shop” where you pay significantly more than at a distributor.  And if you want wine or liquor, you have to go to a state store.  There were two state stores in the town.

Penn State University Park is officially a dry campus.  This does not mean that you can’t possess alcohol if you are of legal drinking age.  This also does not mean that you can’t drink alcohol if you are of legal age.  All it means is that  you can’t buy alcohol on campus.

In the 1990’s, if you were under age, you didn’t dare present a fake ID.  The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) was incredibly powerful and liquor  licenses were golden in the borough.  No owner wanted to lose their license and so enforcement was strict.  If you were caught with a fake ID, not only did you the establishment take your ID, but the proprietors would detain you until the police showed up to arrest you. And so bars were off limits to under age students.

In contrast to the PLCB enforcement, there was a tacit agreement that the IFC was responsible for self policing fraternities and so the police did not raid fraternity parties.  With the fox watching the hen house, the fraternities were the safest place (from a getting busted perspective) to drink if you were underage.  Despite Penn State’s official status as a dry campus, there is no denying that alcohol was pretty much everywhere and readily accessible to all students regardless of age.

I arrived at Penn State’s main campus, in May of 1990 at the ripe age of 17 and a half years old. I had experimented with alcohol a little in high school, but I was in no way a party guy.  I was a complete light weight and would get drunk on one beer and was passed out after three.  I had absolutely no interest in fraternities and was actually dead set against them when I got to school, and then the first weekend arrived.

Everyone I knew was going out to fraternity parties and despite not really wanting to go, I found myself with a group of kids running from house to house drinking foul keg beer.  What it lacked in quality, it made up for in quantity, and you couldn’t beat the price – free.  That’s right, free.  No cover, no charge, no nothing.  Just show up at the door and get drunk.  A night out cost me a total of $1.18 for a pack of smokes and $5 for pizza after we’d all gotten shitfaced.

While I didn’t like most of the fraternities, I would go out with the group because it sure beat sitting in my un-airconditioned dorm room by myself.  One night, my friend Gus asked me to go with him and a few others to a house and I said, “No, it’s not really my thing.”  When pressed I told him that I didn’t really see myself getting into the Greek scene.  Gus said, “this house is different.”  I didn’t believe him, but I went anyway.

It was different.  It was small.  It didn’t have letters on the outside.  A guy who looked like the lead singer of the Fine Young Cannibals answered the door with a glass of milk in his hand. This was Delta Phi.  This was my house.39216_458599919953_7040056_n

I started hanging out there and had a lot of good times.  Gradually, my tolerance increased and gradually I got comfortable with the scene in general.  In the fall, I pledged with Gus and 3 other guys.  Over the next four years, I spent a lot of time with these guys in my fraternity house, in other fraternity houses, and finally in bars — drinking all the way.

We became fast friends. I’m still in contact with all of these guys, and most of the fraternity brothers.  I do not regret the fraternity or Penn State, but I know that my experiences in college laid the foundation for my drinking career.

 

 

18 thoughts on “College: where it all started…

  1. A lot of drinking went on for me in college too, but once college was done, the drinking was too.

    I can’t say I ever overdid it. I have a high tolerance and mostly only went out with very close friends, but I suppose I can see where this gets habit forming for some.

    All the best with your recovery.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I chilled out for a long time after school, and I don’t blame it on school or the fraternity – but I had to acknowledge the early days before writing about some questions from my friend.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Read it, wow. I’m not surprised that having a kid somehow fed the drinking. I drink more since I’ve been married, so hey lol. Not enough to get drunk or anything like that, but I have a glass with dinner as long as I have a bottle handy.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Damien!
    I went to University of Wisconsin in Madison, and I lived at home in college.
    Drinking age at that time was 21.
    That kept me from going nutty with drinking.
    However, when I did get a chance to drink I was a binge drinker for sure!
    But then, so is most of Wisconsin!
    xo
    Wendy

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have a fraternity brother who lives within walking distance of the stadium of Wisconsin. I’m hoping to visit and tailgate sober there someday for a game when Penn State is playing the Badgers. 🙂

      Like

  3. This post really stayed with me. I keep thinking that it’s wonderful to be able to get sober while we still have a good chunk of our life left to enjoy, but wouldn’t it be great if kids didn’t feel compelled to drink in the first place. Like, wouldn’t it be nice if the guy who answered the door with a glass of milk in his hand were more the norm instead of an anomaly. Because I’m sure you weren’t the only brother to develop a drinking problem, you’re just one of the few who did something about it. This is an awesome and thought provoking series and I’m really glad you shared it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks K! I’ve often had thoughts about how things might have been different.

      “What if, I’d gone to Saint Mary’s College in MD instead of Penn State?” (SMCMD was my first choice, but I got wait-listed).

      “What if, I’d moved into a different dorm that summer, maybe with a crew who wasn’t into drinking?”

      “What if, I’d had the confidence to apply to the honors program and gone to the honors dorm?”

      But there’s no way to change the past. And there were numerous great things that came out of my college experience – and specifically my fraternity experience. It was part of my path and made me who I am today for better and for worse.

      But you are right, there are other members of my fraternity who have developed drinking problems. It is because of one brother’s kind words that I got the courage to go to a meeting with an open heart and open mind. He is in recovery and we talk frequently. As you know, it’s not my place to point out other people’s drinking problems – all I can do is share my experience, strength and hope with them.

      Still, I’m encouraged by what I’ve discovered at Penn State recently. There is an organization for undergrads in recovery at Penn State now Penn State Collegiate Recovery Community (CRC). There is also a group that I’m just starting to get involved with for a group for alumni in recovery called Lions in Recovery. Both of these groups are relatively new but it’s a start. CRC and LIR host sober tailgates at Penn State games, which is huge, and I’m really looking forward to attending one.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. With two daughters of my own who will presumably go to college, your description of current campus support systems sounds like things are slowly but surely getting better. (I went to Towson and drinking was a part of daily life there too.) Your involvement as an alumni shows true leadership and is inspiring.

        I’m relieved in many ways for my past because it all led to sobriety. No regrets. Enjoy the sober tailgate and thanks for the response!

        Liked by 1 person

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