By Joshua De Oliveira
My first year of college felt like an expansive test of my willpower. Within the first few weeks of school, I had to strap a backpack to an asphyxiating friend who had been carried to my room at two o’clock in the morning after having consumed too much alcohol. Only a couple of weeks later, some dorm mates and I would stay up with a friend well into the night as he made incoherent and rambling conversation, a trashcan between his legs and vomit all over his clothes, sheets, and the rug at his feet. He would later laugh at all the stupid things he’d said that night and thank us repeatedly for not hospitalizing him.
Over the past year, many people have asked me to explain why I’m teetotal. The answer could be simple—albeit reductive: I could just say, “I’m an Adventist, and Adventists don’t drink,” and leave it at that. But I find that, for me, the answer is a lot more complicated than that.
I grew up in the church, the son of a pastor, and I was surrounded by Adventists during my childhood in Berrien Springs. Even after leaving the Adventist school system for the local public middle school, most of my closest friends were Adventist. For that reason, alcohol was not of any cultural importance to me. As sheltered as it might sound, discovering that any adult I knew at the time drank would have truly shocked me.
Despite a drastic demographic shift in my friend group and wider community when I moved to Colorado and began attending Boulder High School, the sway of alcohol was not all that great. I knew plenty of kids who drank, along with a pot dealer I bunked with while in Italy, but my core friend group was ultimately uninterested in boozing. And, I think, because they weren’t interested, I wasn’t interested. While I can attribute a good deal of my lasting sobriety to my straight- edge, rule-following, risk-avoidant personality, I can also easily state that I am not a person of above average willpower—I could have easily begun drinking and it wouldn’t have particularly mattered that it was “not Adventist” to do so, simply because I had no real reason to believe that it was a destructive behavior. I hadn’t seen enough of it to know.
When I eventually arrived at university, the sheer pace of the drinking culture came as a shock. I initially balked because alcohol had always felt foreign. Also, I was—and continue to be—afraid of the police and of breaking the law, and I felt completely out of my element. I didn’t refuse because I was Adventist, although I would certainly argue that my Church-supplied estrangement from the wider drinking culture for much of my life contributed to my initial refusal.
However, when things slowed down and there seemed to be less vomit in the bathroom stalls and fewer hospital visits, I had to seriously consider why I had chosen to be teetotal. I came to the somewhat uneasy—and not particularly glamorous, spiritual, or pious—conclusion that the reason I don’t drink is a whole combination of different influences. I can’t easily say that I’m a “grade A” Adventist who follows all the rules perfectly and that’s why I don’t drink, because I’m not perfect and a lot of the time being perfect isn’t even my fore-most concern. But I can say that growing up with Adventism and all its unique cultural appendages has given me the power to step back and think about what I value and determine what I really want out of my life.
My first year of college was a steep learning curve, in ways I never anticipated. But that same first year also gave me the opportunity to make some concrete choices in my life, to finally stop drifting through indecision. Because I have come to the conclusion that I don’t want alcohol to be a part of my life, I own that decision. It is mine. But no matter what, I can’t dismantle my understanding that without Adventism in my life, I might not have even thought of sobriety as a decision for me to make. For that reason, I’m thankful to my faith community for giving me the space to ask questions and come to my own conclusions.
–Joshua De Oliveira is a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, where he studies environmental earth science.