A side of Isla Vista exists that a select few of us see – a dark and gritty underground beneath the sunny skies and sandy beaches we lovingly call our home. Cunning, invisible and inviting, it isn’t distinguishable by seedy corners or flickering neon signs. “Take that hit,” it whispers. “Cut that line,” it taunts. And some of us answer in the hopes of feeling whole and great and invincible.

Several weeks ago, I found myself plunging headfirst into the drug-induced haze of this seemingly glamorous underworld. Hitting both the heights of euphoria and the lows of their comedowns forced my life into a state of unpredictability and constant chaos – and God, did I love it. Boredom? Mediocrity? Stress? All nary but distant memories in the illusion created in the dilated pupils of my perpetually bloodshot eyes.

Not once did I believe the turbulence of my lifestyle would bring me face-to-face with the sometimes brutal hands of fate and consequence. But nothing could prepare me for the momentous Saturday night when, in my most bombshell outfit, glammed-out makeup and cutest shoes, I became my own rock bottom – a mess of drugs, lies and secrets who now knew the sensation of handcuffs around her wrists, of shivering blanketless on the cold, hard floor of a jail cell and of fearing that life, at 20, was over.

But nothing could prepare me for the day after rock bottom either. To wake up to a new day knowing that I had been given the chance to trade a self-destructive life for an infinitely better one – that was truly glorious. To stand up and muster the strength to make that trade – that was even more so.

Recovering from my mistakes has presented the daunting reality that life will never be the same. But now, more than ever, I’m realizing the blessing of that reality. Drunk and high on my untouchable pedestal, I thought I was escaping weakness. But in never facing life without the prospect of a quick fix, I was, in essence, weak. Riding through the pain of my problems will take a while to get accustomed to, no doubt, but at least I no longer have to run.

My former self ran dangerously close to leaving UCSB unequipped to deal with life and all its obstacles head-on. Could you run that same chance? How many of us are wasting away, choosing to dodge the real world and fleeing into the deceiving arms of that drink, that hit, that guy’s or girl’s bed? It’s a scary question.

With the recent blitz of arrests, citations and crackdowns on its residents, the I.V. I remember is slowly changing. The stakes are getting higher, the risks are getting more dangerous and, as many of us are finding out, the ever-watchful eye of the law has set its sights on containing the fire of our out-of-control ways. We take pride in I.V.’s wild reputation, but maybe some of us really are out of control. I know I was.

Blink. That’s how long it takes for your entire world to change. And every once in awhile, if you’re as lucky as I am, that blink may very well be your ticket to freedom.

Meghan Palma is the Daily Nexus opinion editor.