I’ll tell you in advance: I’m going to sound like a boring person. An uncool, preachy guy who has never lived.
Couldn’t be further from the truth.
For more than ten years I was an alcoholic and drug addict. And I’m here to tell you that was not cool at all. It was a nightmare and it almost killed me.
I started drinking at age 9, sneaking a few slugs of a spirit called aguardiente, which is like the national drink of Colombia, where I was born.
My parents moved the family to California to escape the the drug cartels and the violence they brought to the country, and to give me and my brother the chance of a better life.
And it was a better life, but drinking had me in its clutches even at that tender age, and I experimented with every drug I could get my hands on until I became hooked on meth.
My life had no structure because as soon as I could flee the nest, I did. I made the rules and rule number one was: no rules.
I got into bad trouble because I was out of control. I did two years in prison.
I’m not saying you’re in danger of going down the same road, but it’s a possibility. And you can do yourself a huge favor by getting a grip right away. You’re in charge.
If you’re not sure exactly what it is to be out of control, you should learn what addiction is all about.
Nowadays I’m pretty together. After prison, a brush with attempted suicide, then drug and alcohol detox and rehab, I slowly got back on top and now I’m a partner in a successful company that helps people in the tech world. I’m fit and healthy and have a good life.
And I want to help people to avoid wasting their youth as I did.
For many teenagers, the start of college feels like the start of adulthood. It’s the first time you’ve been away from the family for more than a few days at a time. No parental supervision. No curfew. No restrictions on what you do.
And it’s true: it is in many ways the start of adulthood. But it is also the start of responsibility: for yourself and for others.
What that means is the decisions are largely down to you now. It means that if you are going to have a good life, a successful career and fulfilling, meaningful relationships, you’re going to have to make good choices.
There’s a grownup word for you: structure. Ever thought about what it means? Yes, it can mean the way a building is put together, but it also applies to the way you live.
While living at home and going to school, there is a structure. There is a time to get up, then a list of things to do, from taking a shower to getting dressed to having breakfast to leaving the house to having lunch to doing schoolwork to playing sports to getting home again to having dinner to doing homework to going to bed.
Your favorite music? Most likely it has a structure: verses, choruses, a middle eight (sometimes known as “the bridge”), which breaks the song up and leads into the final section.
Be it a thunderous heavy metal song or a gentle acoustic ballad, it’s not thrown together at random.
Likewise your favorite movies. While the writer and director can take things in whatever direction they want, they know where it’s going to end up and they know what they have to do to get there.
Life is like that, and as a student, you become the composer, the writer and the director of your life. That means you control what happens next, or at least what you want to happen next.
College life can entail long periods of what seems like “down time”. Lectures and tutorials for a few hours and then nothing until the next day or maybe the next week.
How you treat that “down” time is up to you, but it doesn’t have to be – and shouldn’t be – unproductive.
One way to waste the time is to drink alcohol. Sure, you could spend all night in a bar – and all afternoon if you want – but you’re flying a plane called Your Life, and if you want to land it safely and get it up in the air again tomorrow, you’re not going to achieve that while out of your head.
So: structure. Have the occasional drink if you like, but don’t let it be the focus of your existence.
Alcohol gets people into trouble. It causes:
- Car accidents
- Sexual diseases caused by sleeping with people and not taking precautions
- Pregnancy caused by… see above
- Sexual assault, either against you because you’re out of control and getting in dangerous situations, or by you because you’re not in control of yourself.
- Poor performance (academically, socially and also sexually)
- Lack of money (because you spent your grant and/or allowance on booze)
The three main ways to avoid trouble
- Get some structure in your life. Plan what you’re going to do. Free afternoon? Cool – write that essay, do some shopping, call that girl and take her for a walk. Do something productive.
- Be careful who you mix with. The first few weeks at college you just need someone to hang out with, so you might choose the wrong people, just for the company and a little fun. But once you’re a bit more settled, be selective and ditch the losers.
- Be careful where you spend your time. It is not obligatory to spend your free time in bars and clubs. There are lots of good people outside those environments, so when you’ve found some of them, hang out at your place or theirs; go to the movies, the theatre; spend your afternoons exploring the town, having fun by the river, having a coffee on the corner.
So there you have it: words of wisdom from a man who diced with death and almost lost.
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