It’s official. I have arrived. I am a college student at USM! I get to attend an institution of higher learning and expand my mind. I get to wear a hoodie and a backpack and walk to class. I get to hang out in front of the library or at the Cochran Center in between classes. I get to go to athletic events and get in with my student ID. I get access to an incredible library with thousands of books and resources to advance my learning. I get to meet other students outside of my ethnic group. I get to establish my own identity and boundaries. I get to learn how to balance school, work, friends, activities, and downtime. I get a chance to do all these things, simply because I’m a college student. Again.
You see, I’m 42 years old. I actually did this once before. Back in the mid 90’s and eventually rolling into a whole new century, I went to college here at USM. At the time I hated the idea of going to school. I didn’t need a major or a degree or “higher learning.” I was a pompous, know it all 20-something. I was too arrogant for my own good and too smart to be told anything by anyone else. I didn’t care about getting an education; it was just a means to an end and way to keep my parents off my back. I wasn’t interested in going to class or expanding my mind, at least not in the traditional regard.
My idea of the college experience was doing what I wanted. That meant skipping classes a couple of times a week to sit on a patio for happy hour from 2pm until dark. It meant going barhopping at night and sleeping through my 8am and 9am and 10 classes. It meant taking 3-day weekends once a month and dashing down to the coast or New Orleans. It meant meeting new and exciting people who were living life on their terms. It meant hanging out with hippies and vagabonds who had traveled the country following Phish or working at Yosemite or living on a fishing boat down in the Keys. It meant meeting all the wrong people for all the wrong reasons. It ended up meaning wasted hours, days, weeks, months, and semesters with nothing to show for it.
To everyone’s surprise I finally burned through and out of school and graduated from USM in December of 2001. To put that in perspective, 9/11 happened the last semester of my senior year. I got my bachelor’s degree in English, thus my proclivity to write. Eventually I found myself out in the real world. I was scared to death. I had no idea what I was supposed to do. The only thing I knew how to do was have a good time. I could hold down a patio chair or barstool like nobody’s business. I could turn happy hour into a $100 tab that got charged to my credit card followed by a drunken drive home. I could turn drinks after work into a weekend long party. I had no limits or OFF button. I lived wide open.
What I came to realize, but only recently got the courage to admit to myself and the rest of the world (in case they didn’t already know), is I am an alcoholic. I’ve spent the past 20 years believing that the road really would go on forever and the party really would never end. Without boring you with all the shocking details, I hit rock bottom this past year. I was dead broke, without a job, and on the verge of being homeless. I called my parents and begged them to put me in treatment to get help. They agreed. That was 6 ½ months ago. Let’s just say here I sit at age 42 with nothing to my name but my sobriety and a second chance. A chance to embark on the opportunity of a lifetime I blew 20 years ago. I am excited beyond words. I am grateful beyond words. I am humble beyond words. But maybe more than anything, I am ready.