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Guest: Going alcohol-free at Iowa — it is possible

BY KELSEY DALLAS - GUEST OPINION | JANUARY 27, 2010 7:30 AM

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You go to college. You drink like crazy. You fit right in.

When people ask me about Iowa life, I can almost guarantee there will be the discussion of two topics considered vital to life as a Hawkeye: football and the downtown scene.

As a May birthday girl, I used the age-limit excuse to escape the inquiring minds last year. I would roll my eyes and mutter “I’m only 18” disappointedly when quizzed about the bars.

But come May 27, 2009, it was time to psych myself up for what I knew had been coming: nights out dancing with no idea what to think about drinking.

The issue of alcohol had been hovering around my thoughts since my junior year of high school. Coming from a small town, drinking didn’t become a huge part of life until you were old enough to drive to remote country barn parties. Surrounded by a big group of like-minded friends, the pressure to drink was essentially nonexistent. But when the time came to send my “yes” to the Iowa Admissions Office, I was hit with the realization that I had to decide where drinking fit into my life.

After passing through an initial phase when I felt as though a choice between drinking and not drinking is essentially choosing between having a social life or watching movies in the dorm every weekend, I realized that I needed to stop considering the absence of alcohol a deal-breaker for fun. I wasn’t completely sure I would be strong enough to resist a drink when actually at a bar or a party, but I knew I would regret it if I spent my college nights at home.

But the fact remained that I couldn’t let myself drink until age 21. Not because of a desperate attempt to adhere to every law ever passed, but because of a case of alcoholism in a close family member and a DUI arrest that drastically altered the life of one of my best friends during my freshman year. I didn’t want to live with those consequences.

So there I was, a 19-year-old, bar-eligible sophomore who had stayed clean freshman year but didn’t know what to expect when my naïve self entered the downtown scene for the first time.

Surprisingly, my first few nights out were absolutely painless. I danced like the spastic person that I am and went generally unnoticed by the drinking masses, surrounded by a buffer of friends. I got to the point where I could let go of that level of self-consciousness that alcohol is supposed to stave off, while still blowing zeros on a breath test.

The truth is that the only thing that was going to keep me from having fun was me. A former self-pronounced queen of awkward situations, it took only a few nights to realize that nobody cared whether I was drinking or not as long as I didn’t care whether they were drinking.

I’ve never been one to preach about my decision. Just like I thought through and am confident in my decision to not drink, I trust that the people around me have thought through and would stand by their decision to drink.

All I’m asking is that people be open to the idea of a night downtown without alcohol. That events such as the SoBar Experience — a night of minimal drinking to raise awareness about nurturing healthier lifestyles — happen more often. That I get something other than a “good luck with that” glance when I say I’m not drinking.

Because I go to college. I go crazy without drinking. And I still fit in.

Kelsey Dallas is a UI sophomore.


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