The transition from high school to college was already difficult enough. Now try adding in the fact that I’d never even seen alcohol in-person before I came to Chapman.
I’m not a loser – I promise! But growing up where I did made me susceptible to a life without partying, without drinking, without even knowing what weed smells like.
I grew up in Utah, a state known for its religiosity. It’s also the state that has the least amount of drinkers overall, features some of the strictest laws on alcohol consumption in the country and even has laws that prohibit the sale of alcohol on Sunday. These strict policies are largely due in part to the fact that over half the state’s population are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a religion which explicitly forbids the consumption of alcohol. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Utah has an entirely different culture surrounding drinking.
I love Utah, don’t get me wrong. It is stunning, has the best snow on earth, is dominated by towering mountains and filled with vast natural parks. The entire state is a nature-lover’s paradise and I love it more than I can say. But it does have some caveats. Like the drinking culture.
According to Utah law, alcohol sold at convenience and grocery stories cannot have more than 3.2 percent alcohol by weight. Anything over this 3.2 percent has to be purchased at a state-run liquor store. For reference, most beer contains around 4 percent alcohol by weight. That means, in order to sell beer in Utah, companies have to modify their beverages in order to make them eligible. And the state-controlled liquor stores are not easily accessible either; most are guarded by an on-duty police officer who checks your I.D. before you can even enter the store. Not only does that prohibit curious high school students from purchasing alcohol illegally, but it makes it difficult for anyone to purchase alcohol alone, because it forces one to drive all the way to the liquor store. And while you can order alcohol online, it cannot be shipped it your house – it has to be shipped to the liquor store.
My parents don’t drink either. So the classic trope of ‘stealing alcohol from your parents’ liquor cabinet’ didn’t apply to me. My grandparents don’t drink, my brothers don’t drink, my friends didn’t drink. When I was living in Utah, I didn’t want to drink either. But even if that was the case, I wouldn’t have been able to find anything to drink.
This all being said, it’s really no surprise that I had an irrational fear of drinking and partying. On my first day at Chapman, like everybody else, I was an anxious mess. I had no idea what I was doing, no idea where I was going and no idea how to work Blackboard. So when my roommate started putting away a case of beers in the fridge, I lost it. Did people actually drink this often in college? Were movies right all along? I was mortified and frankly unprepared.
The same thing happened when people in my dorm hall told stories about how drunk they were at their high school proms. I was appalled. People did that? Looking back now, it makes total sense that people would get drunk at their dances. But in Utah, it’s just not a thing, so I was never exposed to it.
I went to my first real party that week and it changed my entire perception of the world. People actually drank and partied. People actually consumed alcohol before the age of 21! You could buy alcohol at a grocery store! It was a shocker to me – I’ll never forget the look on my face when I discovered you can purchase a bottle of wine at Target.
Even now, after two entire years at Chapman, after a semester in France – where everyone drinks wine at every time of the day – I still flinch a little when I see alcohol in someone’s house. Even though I’ve completely assimilated to the culture here, even though I enjoy going out with friends, enjoy a glass of wine before bed, enjoy a nice cocktail at a bar in France, I still find myself nervous at the fact that people actually drink in the real world. An irrational fear maybe, but it’s just how I was raised.