“One, two, three, drink!” These words were repeated countless times during my college days. We were young men on our own for the first time making the most of our newfound freedom. We were also in an environment where your manhood is to some degree judged by the amount of alcohol you could consume, and we all wanted to impress both our friends and any girls that may be present. This cocktail of freedom, lack of responsibilities, and Neanderthal like views of manhood created a perfect storm of factors leading to bad decisions. I was no exception to this rite of passage for most young adults, as I made numerous poor choices as a result of these pressures. Thankfully though, I was able to learn a valuable lesson about self-control from these moments that I have carried with me ever since.
One of those lessons that everyone has to learn for themselves is how to handle their alcohol. No matter how many people tell you to drink slowly, never drink on an empty stomach, and not to mix alcohols, you are going to make these mistakes. We all have to experience things like making a fool of ourselves, having a hangover, drunk texting our ex, and even blacking out for ourselves, before we can learn these lessons about how to drink responsibly. Some people, like myself, have to repeat these lessons numerous times before they really sink in. This is simply a part of growing up for people who choose to drink. As important as this lesson is in regards to learning to hold your liquor, it can also serve an even greater purpose as a powerful metaphor for exercising restraint and self-control in your life.
I remember the first time that I woke up with a hangover when I was a freshman at Notre Dame. I looked like death between the headache, dehydration, and nausea, and as a result of looking the way I did, my nurse got a little overly concerned that I may be ill. She insisted that we call my doctor to let him know about my current condition, just in case it was more than a hangover. After she explained to him that I had been drinking and had a bad hangover, Dr. John had the following reaction: he laughed. Amidst his giggles, he replied, “Well, there is no pill for that. Fluids, rest, and learning to drink less is the best medicine.” My nurse and I chuckled about his response, and I eventually recovered, but unfortunately I hadn’t learned my lesson in self-control quite yet.
Over the next year or so, I had a few great nights followed by rough mornings, but for the most part I handled my drinking fairly well. That is, until one epic night the Spring of my second year. My Puerto Rican roommate at the time was performing that night in a musical show celebrating Latin culture called, “Latin Expressions.” He had been rehearsing for months, and being the amazing, supportive friend I am, I wanted to go see him perform. The show was a lot of fun, and my Latin compadre was really impressive in his salsa dancing numbers. Afterwards, the plan was to do some “light drinking” at our place to “pre-party” as we got ready to go out, and then we were going to the actual party for all of the performers and their friends at a club. Like I said, that was the plan.
We got back to our dorm room after the show, and he was so amped up from how well the performance went, that his excitement and enthusiasm rubbed off on me. With both of us riding this tidal wave of energy, we decided to start the night off with a celebratory shot of rum. About 5 minutes later, another performer from the show stopped by to see if we were going to the club that night, so naturally, to be a good host we did a celebratory shot with him. Maybe 10 minutes after that, a couple of lady friends came over to see if they could ride with us to the party. Not wanting them to feel left out, not to mention the fact that we were college guys and they were quite attractive, obviously we had to join them in a shot as well. At this point, things get a little fuzzy, and I don’t remember much.
I am told that I ended up doing about 6 shots in an hour and passed out in my wheelchair. My roommate also ended up passing out, and neither of us made it to the club. To make matters even worse, as we were passed out in our beds that night someone burnt some popcorn so the building had to be evacuated until the fire department gave the “all clear.” Luckily, my nurse resourcefully played the “wheelchair card,” and explained to the firefighter knocking on our door that I was disabled and should only be moved if it was a real emergency (he conveniently forgot to mention the fact that I was drunk as a skunk). When morning came and I woke up, I am sure you can imagine how bad I felt. It was one of those “I’m never drinking again.” hangovers. It got even worse however, due to my disability. Only weighing 55 pounds with no muscle, I get dehydrated very easily, and all of that alcohol had dried me out so much that I had to go to the emergency room to get IV fluids. I ended up being alright, but I could have easily done permanent harm to myself through these poor choices. This was the wake up call I needed to learn to exercise restraint and self-control with my drinking, and in life.
Even though I have not had a drink in almost 3 years, I still find the act of learning to drink responsibly as a good parallel to learning to exercise self-control in life. This night of debauchery shows the importance of knowing your limits and sticking to them. Just like you pay for making the decision to drink more than you know you should with a hangover, you will also pay for not respecting your limits in other areas of your life with negative consequences. For example, if I choose to go out with friends instead of resting my body like I should, chances are I will pay for this by being sore and in pain the next few days. You have to learn to exercise self-control, which often means forgoing short-term benefits, in order to enjoy the long-term benefits of a happy, healthy, successful life. This is something that is becoming increasingly difficult for people to do with our society being in an era of instant gratification. Despite how hard it may be, learning to exercise restraint and self-control in all aspects of your life is critical in creating the most fulfilling life you can.