52 days into college, and I am still sober.
I know what you're thinking: "Yeah, right, and Donald Trump is going to make a great president! Keep the jokes coming, Zoeb!" Or, if you're not overly sarcastic like I am: "I find that very hard to believe." And I don't blame you. We've grown up in a country where college culture is rooted in underage drinking and partying, where the social scene is defined by bottles of champagne, gallon-size kegs of beer, and, my personal favorite, flaming shots. Even throughout high school, there were certain kids who drank fully and freely, without abandon.
I didn't understand the excitement at first. Wasn't I taught from a young age, as a fundamental part of Islam, that alcohol was simply poison coursing through the veins, that it was haram, forbidden? Wasn't it just a pathetic excuse for college students to "get hammered"? That mindset, coupled with the fact that I could not drink, left me nervous, confused, and ultimately alone during the first couple weeks of college. I knew coming in that Penn was famous for its "work hard play hard" mentality, but nothing prepares you for trying, and failing, to be a part of a group in which you clearly don't belong.
Still, I tried. After tagging along with others to get the ratio up(yes, ratios are a thing), I went to a couple of frat parties. It was amusing at first to see people drunkenly laughing and stumbling around, unable to stand straight for more than three seconds. I quickly realized, though, that having a good time didn't mean meeting and interacting with new people, but rather drinking, dancing, and occasionally making a complete fool out of yourself. It just wasn't the social scene I was used to, and I found myself actually debating whether or not I should compromise my morals to make a few friends.
As I look back on those weeks, I take pride in knowing that I went out of my comfort zone and engaged with others in a different atmosphere. And after becoming more socially active, I can't believe I ever thought of succumbing to alcohol and opposing a crucial part of my religion. Refusing to drink has definitely made college more difficult, but I appreciate the relationships I've made and the experiences I've had all the more because of it. My sobriety has become a talisman, defining who I am and guiding me through the obstacles I've faced thus far. And yes, some people do have a look of disbelief on their faces when I tell them, but many others harbor great respect and admiration for my decision. I may not be part of the social norm, but I am definitely accepted for what I believe in, and that's all I can ask for.
I guess the worst part of all this is that I won't have any outrageous, drunk party stories to tell my friends back home.
But hey, 18 years sober. I guess that's the best story of all.