I thought drinking at a frat party would help me fit in.
A thick haze of cigarette smoke hung in the air of the fraternity house and the air reeked of alcohol and strong cologne. As I squinted through the haze, trying to make out a familiar face, I found myself being squeezed through a maze of rowdy college students.
It was my first weekend in college and I'd come to a frat party with a group of other freshman girls. It didn't take long, though, for me to lose them in the crowded living room. Suddenly I felt very lost and alone.
As a new freshman, I wanted to get the full college experience by exploring new situations on campus. I couldn't wait to be free of midnight curfews and the regular check-ins my parents had required. For the first time in my life I had no one to follow up on whether I was doing the "right things." No one, that is, except God. But suddenly God felt like a weight around my neck. And while I didn't want to throw away my Christian values, I also didn't want to feel like an outsider. Most of all, I wanted to be accepted, and I thought going to this party would help me fit in and find new friends.
Without a beer in my hand, I soon realized I looked out of place. Partiers kept asking, "Do you want a beer?" or "Why aren't you drinking?" My response was usually a meek, "I'll get one later" or "I'm OK for now." I couldn't get myself to actually say I didn't drink, afraid I'd be asked why. If I told them the real reason, I'd end up being labeled the antisocial God-girl who didn't want to have fun. So to keep from having to answer any more uncomfortable questions, I grabbed a can of beer, wedged my finger under the tab and nervously pushed upward.
The can cracked open and I suddenly caught a wiff of its bitter odor. I looked quickly around at the oblivious partiers and then slowly brought the can toward my lips. Before I took my first swig, I heard a voice cut through the noisy crowd and loud music.
"I've never seen anyone inspect their drink so much."
I turned to see a guy standing behind me.
I gave a nervous laugh, suddenly aware of my noticeable awkwardness. "I guess I'm a beginner."
"So you're a freshman."
"Is it that obvious?"
"Only because you look like you're about to drink poison."
"Have to start sometime," I said fidgeting with my can, and then saw that he wasn't holding one. "Where's yours?"
"Oh, it's not my thing," he said with a casual shrug.
"You don't drink?"
I wondered if he was serious. "But you're at a frat party, you're supposed to."
"Not at all. I live here, actually. And hi, I'm Kevin."
"Nice to meet you, Kevin. I'm Elizabeth. … This is your fraternity? And you don't drink?" I saw a cross necklace around his neck.
"Right. I still go out and have a good time, just without the alcohol. Nobody thinks it's a big deal." He smiled and nodded toward my beer. "Are you sure you want that?"
I didn't say anything, and simply put down the can. I immediately felt relieved, but something still bothered me.
"Doesn't it get frustrating always being the only sober person at a party like this?" I asked.
"Not anymore," Kevin responded. "But I used to struggle with that frustration. It wasn't always easy for me to turn down a drink."
"Did you used to drink?"
"I drank once at the beginning of my freshman year, just to see what it was like. But now I've seen what the other side is like, and it's not worth it. Just look at all these people." He motioned to the dozens of people surrounding us who were stumbling around and shouting vulgar things. "I didn't want to be that."
"But aren't you still friends with them?"
"Sure, they're my fraternity brothers, and a lot of them actually respect me for not drinking. But I have other friends outside the fraternity who don't drink. I just had to look for them."
I paused and thought about what Kevin had just said. "Well, I've been looking, and I sure haven't seen many around. It seems like everyone is into the party scene."
"Not everyone is into drinking. Have you ever heard of Campus Crusade for Christ?"
"No, what is it?"
"It's a Christian outreach group on campus," he said.
"It meets every Thursday night. That's where I met people who shared my faith, but still wanted to have fun on campus."
"I'll have to check it out," I said, spotting my friends who were signaling me at the door. "Well, I think I'm going to call it a night."
"Nice meeting you," he said with a wave. "Maybe I'll see you on Thursday."
The next Thursday night I went to the meeting for Campus Crusade for Christ and I saw that I wasn't the only Christian on campus. In fact, there were hundreds of other students there. Soon I had a close group of Christian friends who shared my beliefs and supported me through tough decisions. And as I got more comfortable with my faith on campus, I started leading a Bible study for freshman girls. But I don't only hang out with people who believe just like I do. In fact, I joined a sorority where I've made friends with girls from all kinds of religious and nonreligious backgrounds.
I still face difficult choices. Sometimes it's about drinking alcohol, other times it may be about sex or cheating in class. Each time I have a difficult decision to make, I turn to God for guidance. As for parties, I now know I don't even have to pick up a beer can to fit in with the crowd. I want to be the kind of person that I would seek out at a party. Amidst the haze, I want to shine.
Written by Elizabeth Miller