Freshmen year of college is perhaps one of the most exciting times of life. It’s a time of new experiences, friendships, and a completely new way of life. Many are also living away from their parents for the first time and are experiencing a freedom they’ve never known. But along with this newness, comes a recognition of the old. Our frame of reference is built upon our foundational experiences and where we come from. And we view everything that is new to us new through these experiences.
After shedding some tears as I watched my family pull away from my dorm, I remember asking one of my roommates, “What’s our curfew?” to which she replied, “Oh Mariah, there is none.” When realizing I had made a somewhat humorous assumption about what life would be life going forward, I stood a bit confused and overwhelmed. What would I do with my time? Who would I spend it with? Would I make the most of it? I vowed not to live college like I lived in high school (isolated and depressed). So I did the exact opposite of what I did back then. I followed what the crowd was doing and went to a frat party, while at the same time flocking to a remnant of what was familiar to me. My abuser.
I attended my first frat party just a couple of hours after my family left. I had never been in an environment like this and was extremely intimidated. Then someone offered me a beer.
I felt a relaxation I hadn’t felt in years. While receiving a Generalized Anxiety Disorder diagnosis at the age of 9 and taking anti-depressants since the age of 13, I had tools to mask and manage what I was feeling on a surface level. But at my very core I was exploding. With that first beer, I was able to interact with those around me in a way I had never been able to. I had forgotten about “the him” who inundated my messenger inbox. I returned to my dorm at 3 am after drinking more than I had in my entire life and smelling horrible.
Upon checking my phone I saw several messages from a person I had grown emotionally dependent on for years. Of course I responded to him telling him all about my new found freedom and the fun experiences I was having.
But very soon came the guilt trips, like those I received throughout high school.
“You go to college and you forget about me, I see how it is”
I wanted more than anything to actually forget about him but I couldn’t because of words like those. They put a hook in my heart that I was doing something wrong by ignoring him or telling him to go away. I didn’t want to hurt anyone but I failed to recognize I was hurting myself. “How would my new friends look at me if they knew I was continuing to message this man?” I felt like I was living with a mask on at all times.
Then I remembered how this impossible conflict seemed to go away when I was drinking at the party. For the next few months this became the habit I flocked to any chance I got. And when there wasn’t a party to go to, there was always alcohol to be found somewhere. It eventually got to the point that I found myself needing to drink, every night, just to take the edge off.
It got to a point where every new thing I added into my life was simply a distraction from reality. Everything from my new found relationships to the Xanax I was prescribed half-way through the semester because I was having trouble sleeping. I was living for momentary relief in things that had long lasting consequences. I was searching for the life I craved in places where death reigned.
Miraculously, I somehow got through that first semester without failing a single class. But at the end of it all, something changed in my outlook. I came to the realization that I wasn’t happy, even though I had these distractions and what appeared to be total freedom. I realized I wanted more. I didn’t want to constantly feel like I was living a double life. After having my heart broken in a relationship with another freshman that I was way too emotionally invested in, I realized I wanted to be able to live in complete authenticity. I didn’t want to hide parts of myself anymore, and do things I was uncomfortable with just to maintain relationships that ultimately drove me into deeper depression and killed my soul.
When I returned to campus that next semester, I flocked to the one thing that gave me hope and was a driving force in the switch that seemed to go off in my brain. A relationship with Christ. Because of my familiarity with the Church through a childhood that spent a great deal of time in the sacristy, I knew exactly where to look.
In this story I continued to fill my broken and wounded self with things that gave me temporary relief. And while anti-depressants can help a person manage their feelings, much more is required for a person to heal and receive lasting joy. Through the pain of this first semester I was able to reason, through the grace of God, that I would not find joy and peace from the improper or excessive use of good things (relationships, fun, wine, etc.). That first semester I let in people and things that left me more depressed than I would have been otherwise.
It was this pain that was the impetus for me to learn who I was, with the help of the Church. I discovered that my desire for relationship and peace pointed to what I was ultimately made for–a relationship with God. In understanding this I became unashamed of the desires I was acting on and began to actually love myself. I began to realize I was simply acting on them in the wrong way and that no matter what I did, I could not eliminate my value as a human person. Through recognition of these errors in the Sacrament of Confession and a change in lifestyle I was able to begin pursing the life that I was made to live. And while I still struggle every day to fully do so, I’m not as far off as I once was. Because I know that I can’t do it on my own. By surrounding myself with people who desire life to the fullest in Christ and desire my authenticity, I am freer than I’ve ever been.
It is only in understanding who you are that you will know what gives you true joy! Perhaps those desires you’re ashamed of are pointing to something good. It is simply your job to look in the proper places and to open your heart through the way you live your life to receive grace.
“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” (Luke 24:5 RSVCE)