Content warning: This article contains descriptions of alcoholism, domestic violence and verbal abuse.
I will never forget the thumping. I find myself on the ground, my head spinning so haphazardly that I can’t stand up. I lay on the floor of my kitchen and stare at the ceiling above me; it falls in and out of focus. The shock of the initial contact begins to fade as a grueling pain settles over me. I feel the hot tears streaming down the sides of my face. At that moment, I don’t think I’m ever going to get back up; facing the world again would be too hard. But in between the waves of pressure on my brain, something deep inside me pushes me forward. My mother’s nonsensical screaming begins to come back into focus as I see multiple glimmering empty bottles sitting at the side of her chair.
After having my head smashed on the kitchen counter, I lie mute, hoping that ignoring her will make the verbal abuse end sooner. My heart pumps uncontrollably as the fear of the woman she becomes after a night of drinking courses through my body. I jolt awake from another nightmare with the feeling of tears streaming down my face.
“This one was worse than usual,” I think to myself. Three years of being away at college can only remove you so far from some pains of your past. For me, the nightmare begins and ends the same way every night. I look around to see my roommates sleeping soundly. I glance down at my charging phone to check the time.
“2:46 a.m. … great,” I think cynically. I roll out of my bed, head out to the common room that I share with my roommates and sit at my desk. I stare at the wall, trying to deal with the complex feelings that these dreams elicit in me. I open the bottom drawer of my desk and pull out the pictures that I look at every night. I stare at the pictures of my mom, my grandmother and I smiling. “If only we were as happy as we look in these photos,” I mumble glumly.
I pull out a bottle and drink to cope with the hard feelings that course through me. I came to Bowdoin to break the cycle of alcoholism and the pain it has caused my family to experience. However, the further along I get in my time here, the more difficult it becomes. I look around at the incredible friends that surround me at Bowdoin and wish that I could be more like them. I wish I could deal with the stress as well as they do. I wish I had a family like theirs. I wish I could be less anxious and be a better and stronger person like them, and I wish I didn’t sometimes rely on substances to feel the happiness that I see in them. I try every day to be that kind of person, but sometimes it is just complicated and hard. Alcohol pushes the ghosts of trauma far away from my mind and allows me to try to keep up with the huge day-to-day demands that Bowdoin places on all of us. Our intensive workloads, time-consuming extracurriculars and pressures to have a dynamic social life put heavy pressure on all of us.
Further, as an first-generation/low-income student, the pressure of being tasked with changing the course of my family’s future and raising them out of poverty while carrying all my traumatic experiences is another layer of anxiety that is mounted on top of all the other stress that I navigate at Bowdoin. These anxieties and stressors are why I often let the relief alcohol can provide crash over me like a wave. That wave carries me away to the positive feelings that otherwise elude me in many situations. I am not ashamed of the relationship I have with alcohol, because life is complicated and it can sometimes be extremely hard to do what is best for ourselves and our health. However, it’s still really important to put forth effort to try to find healthier and more productive ways to cope with how we are feeling, even when it can be really hard. I implore whoever is reading this and may feel similarly to get help. There is a lot of strength in being honest with yourself in these moments, even though it may not feel like it sometimes.
I feel that many students at Bowdoin feel uncomfortable talking about serious personal struggles and issues that we face, whether we are at Bowdoin or at home. Instead, we act like they don’t exist. I can think of multiple occasions of opening up to other classmates about my experiences and having my openness met with their averted eyes and clear discomfort. I then retract my openness and apologize for having shared in these awkward encounters. Maybe in many cases this happens because most other students just can’t understand what I am feeling or where I’m coming from. Which is okay. But when someone asks me, I never really know how or what to say anymore about my life and my family. I don’t want to make people uncomfortable, but I don’t want to lie, either. It feels wrong to lie about who I am, the struggles I face and the experiences that have shaped me. It should be okay for us to be honest with one another and ourselves about how we are feeling. We are only human, after all. We should try hard not to lose that realization, but I feel like we are losing some of that humanity to fit into the roles our prestigious liberal arts institution wants us to fulfill. I, for one, wish this wasn’t the case.