I was 15 when I got drunk for the first time. I went to Hayley Anderson’s* Halloween party dressed up as Beelzebub (we had just finished reading Paradise Lost in English), took probably four sips of Hayley’s parents’ vodka out of a water bottle, and promptly declared myself “schwasty,” at which juncture I proceeded to stagger around proclaiming my drunkenness to the world until I found a boy who would hook up with me. We kissed on the dance floor for a little while before he took me by the arm and pulled me outside.
On the swings in Hayley’s backyard, he told me, “I don’t want to make out with you.”
“Oookay…” I said, wondering what in the hell he thought we had been doing for the past 10 minutes.
He took a deep breath. “Do you want to give me head?”
At that point in my life, I pretty much thought a blow job entailed pushing hot air out of the lungs, through my mouth, in the general direction of someone’s penis. While it’s actually a lot more up-close and personal than that, I found the mere notion of putting my face anywhere near this stranger’s crotch deeply disturbing. “No thanks,” I said.
He stood up and brushed off his jeans. “Bye, then,” he said. He turned around and went back into the house. It wasn’t until one of his anonymous goon friends whistled at me as I slid off the swing that I realized the kid hadn’t even been wearing a costume, and that I was dressed up like some kind of Wannabe Devilish Sexual Predator.
I loved it.
You have to understand: at the time, it seemed like I was eons late to the whole make-out scene. (Later on I’d find out that this was just patently untrue, as a good 60 percent of my friends—girls and guys—were still card-carrying lip virgins at that point. On a similar note, most of them had yet to touch a drop of liquor, contrary to my firm and unquestionable belief that everyone was partying like crazy without me. So much of what I did in my teenage years was contingent upon stuff I thought other people were doing that they weren’t actually doing.) I’d had my first kiss only a few months before, and it had been averagely sucky in the way of too-much-braces and not-enough-tongue, but the overall awkwardness of the situation had been considerably augmented by the fact that it had taken place in an old folks’ home. A fellow volunteer and I dutifully set our charges up with a Fred Astaire video and snuck off to go make out in the hallway, which smelled like adult diapers and vitamin smoothies. I guess I should’ve closed my eyes, but something about the DROP SOILED LAUNDRY HERE sign just to the left of my make-out buddy’s head had me mesmerized. The whole thing was just too embarrassing to handle, and so it didn’t really count.
So as much as I knew that I ought to be offended by this thing that had happened at Hayley’s party, I actually felt…validated. This was how it was supposed to go down–fueled by alcohol on a sweaty dance floor, not out of boredom in the back hallway of the dementia ward at 10 o’clock in the morning. For a long time I had tried so hard to have a normal, functional teenage existence—to get on the map as somebody who goes to parties and gets attention from boys and knows how to have a good time. And it turned out that the whole time the key was right in front of me, in a bottle, 80 proof.
But people don’t just jump from zero to 60 with this stuff; gradually, concessions are made, standards eroded, expectations allowed to shift. A lot of the time, you enter high school as innocent and sweet-smelling as a baby’s bottom and you tell yourself, I’ll go to their parties, but I won’t drink their alcohol. And then something happens—maybe you’re desperate for someone to kiss you, or you get curious to see what all the hubbub is about, or you’re bored and it’s there—and you take those first sips and secretly want to yak but you keep it together and in your head you know something’s changed. So then maybe you say to yourself, All right, I’ll drink their alcohol, but I won’t smoke their weed. But then you make up some kind of bullshit in order to break that promise (really, what’s the difference between an actual high and a contact high? [answer: a heckuva lot]), and from there, it’s only a matter of time before you’re smoking crack daily from your tree house in Mobile, Alabama.
Of course, that whole slippery-slope argument is ridiculous, and anybody who tells you that is probably either a neurotic parent who’s watched a few too many SUPER IMPORTANT REPORTS ABOUT THE CRAZY SHIT YOUR KIDS ARE GETTING UP TO RIGHT THIS MINUTE (jenkem! toad-licking! Smarties-as-gateway-drug!) or on crack themselves. But I think it’s true that a lot of teenagers think they’re invincible, and that their beliefs are set in stone, immovable. Some people’s are, but a lot of people’s aren’t, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing either—the world is really complicated, value judgments one way or the other are inherently dangerous, and the people who know exactly where they stand on every single issue are more often than not closed-minded morons—but when drugs and alcohol are involved, it becomes surprisingly easy to give relativism a bad name.
I know, because I went a little crazy. The summer before 11th grade, I moved to the East End of Long Island, where it was a lot easier for me to get my grubby little paws on alcohol ET CETERA than it had been in my suburban town back in California. The Hamptons were full of cool, creative, wealthy people who partied all summer and really partied all winter, when there was absolutely nothing else to do. My new school was the kind of place where a kid could be expelled one week for snorting coke in the bathrooms and invited back the next because his parents were, you know, important like that. I’d never experienced such culture shock in my life. It was all well and good to flounce around tipsy and giggling at a Hayley Anderson-type (i.e., very classically high-school-ish) high school party every once in a while, but in New York, the stakes were higher; everybody seemed so much older, and so much more adventurous. And somewhere along the way, I made the decision to become like them.
It might not have happened like that if I hadn’t developed a huge friend crush on a pretty, popular senior who happened to live on a winery. I’ve always wondered what it was that Cecilia saw in me—one theory I can’t bring myself to dismiss is that there was something semi-charming in my naïveté—but we became incredibly close dizzyingly fast. I spent almost every weekend at her house, where I learned to taste the difference between the Pinots and the Sauvignons and eventually developed a taste for rosé that occasionally veered off into dangerous territory. I also acquired the vocabulary of an accomplished pot smoker, and I trained my tiny asthmatic lungs to cooperate accordingly.
See, there are a few distinct phenomena that tend to accompany that initial foray into the oh-so-scintillating world of drink and drug. The first one is that a lot of these contraband activities are going to be wholly unenjoyable the first time you try them. Like a lot of other 16-year-olds, at first I found the taste of wine revolting (and don’t even get me started on that vodka). The difference between me and a lot of other people is that I was just a little more willing to push through that discomfort. At first it was a social thing, but once I finally broke through to the high of whatever I was doing and was able to enjoy myself, I started to develop an insatiable curiosity, and I really did become a lot more adventurous. Friends of those beginning to experiment, be warned: as annoying as novice sub-users are (and we’re all annoying when we start out, because we generally either follow more experienced users around and copy every single thing they do, playing lush puppies to their booze hounds; or try to appear confident by pretending that we invented drinking/smoking/snorting/whatever else, which is particularly unattractive), it’s this stage that’s the real concern. Thing is, once somebody actually starts to like messing around with these substances, they often forget how to have fun without them (never mind the fact that they spent their first 16 or 18 or however many years doing just that). And they start to lose the healthy fear that stops them from getting into too much trouble.
My first strike, for example, was entirely my own fault. I took shrooms with Cecilia one weekend and then wrote something about it and left it lying around the house. Of course, my parents found it. Naturally, they worked backwards to deduce that I’d been drinking and smoking, too, and they were none too pleased. The confrontation that followed was messy and painful for everyone involved, and, from my 17-year-old perspective, One Of The Worst Things That Had Ever Happened. I listened as they berated me with the possible dangers of “experimenting with psychedelics,” and the fact that they even called it that made me hate them. How could they claim to understand me or my actions if they were so clearly stuck in the ’60s? A lot of what I was feeling was humiliation and genuine self-loathing, too—in case you haven’t tried it, it’s pretty traumatic to go from being the picture-perfect daughter to the wayward disappointment in one afternoon—but part of the problem was that I was being bombarded with mixed messages. My grades were excellent—I kept up with my responsibilities at school and at home—and I wasn’t exactly a junkie, and yet here I was being told that I had put my life in jeopardy, and violated the sanctity of parent-child trust in the process.
Even worse, my whole relationship with Cecilia got messed up. She barely spoke to me that whole summer, and a lot of that had to do with other stuff she was going through, I think, but still, riding on the coattails of One Of The Worst Things That Had Ever Happened, it was pretty devastating. I remained pretty confused throughout 12th grade, and angry at everybody involved, so naturally I started ingesting just about anything I could find.
I took an entire bottle of Robitussin gel-caps, which fucked with my vision for a good 20 hours but put me in a hell of a good mood, and also made me believe I’d never said the words Buffy, dad, hungry, girlfriend, Stickies, or parents before in my life (I still have the list on my computer). Taking the whole tube of Dramamine the night I had to watch Terry Gilliam’s Brazil for school was such a disturbing experience that I don’t even want to get into it. By far the most intense was salvia, after a hit and a half of which I was parading around my backyard and I felt like a triangle? and I was convinced that I was on a Nickelodeon game show being pushed along a track by invisible shamans (if you thought Miley Cyrus was exaggerating, let me assure you, I have been to that head-place and she was not).
If it sounds like I was desperate, it’s because I was: desperate for escape from the reality of senior year, desperate for any small act of rebellion, and—maybe above all else—desperate for a good story. Problem is, there’s only so much within the realm of the socially acceptable. Apparently, getting smashed with your friends is cool; swallowing an entire bottle of Robitussin on your own time just to see what will happen is pathetic. I’m not denying that it’s stupid as hell—and whatever you do, if you’re going to prove the SUPER IMPORTANT REPORTS right by abusing cough medicine, stay the hell away from Coricidin Cold & Cough, because that shit can kill you—but it just bugged me, hearing people criticize me so harshly when they were going out and getting shitfaced and driving around. Just because that was more mainstream didn’t make it any more benign, and there was so much hypocrisy involved that I started getting even angrier, and going even harder whenever I got the opportunity.
I realized something had to give this past August, when I went down to Celebration, Florida, with my mom for a family funeral. Celebration, for those that don’t know, is the Disney Company’s own Stepford, master-planned to have the look and feel of the happiest town in America (I should have known this was a recipe for disaster going in). The minute I walked into the deceased’s house, I thought I was absolutely going to fall down and die because the place was chockfull ceiling to floor with Disney memorabilia. This, combined with the unbearable awkwardness of having had relatives I hadn’t seen since I was two cry on my shoulder all day, proved too much for me to handle, so I made a beeline for the minibar. I probably had six glasses of red wine in total before I ran into the widow.
She caught my arm as I was drunkenly staggering into the kitchen, and complimented the one Disney accent in my entire wardrobe, a small Piglet decal on the underside of my iPhone. “I play Piglet!” she exclaimed brightly.
I was happy that she was happy, but I didn’t quite understand. “Excuse me?” I slurred. I then listened for 10 minutes as this tiny 70-something-year-old woman told me how she worked at Disneyworld as a cast member (i.e., one of those people in costumes).
“Is that why you moved to Celebration?” I asked warily.
“Well, no,” she said. “Mostly we moved to Celebration because it’s the ultimate Disney souvenir!”
“Excuse me,” I said again, and found my way to guest bathroom, where I proceeded to vomit all over the tub. The next thing I knew it was two in the morning, and I was back in the hotel room with my mom.
It was so much more embarrassing than the old-folks’-home incident—who gets blackout drunk at a funeral reception? As horrifying as it was, I kind of needed something like that to show me that my priorities were way out of whack. Some things are just not OK, even when you’re a relativist.
I’m now in college, where it’s easy for people who are particularly susceptible for whatever reason to the allure of drugs and alcohol—people like me—to get a little carried away. It’s particularly challenging because here, the party never has to stop. There are about a hundred things going on any given weekend night, and they’re all within walking distance, so you never have to worry about your parents driving you around (or even knowing where you are or what you’re doing). You can keep booze and weed and whatever else your little heart desires right there in your room, and as long as you’re not a loud idiot about it, nobody in authority ever has to know. It might sound like paradise, but it can easily turn into hell. (Because remember that whole higher learning thing? You also kind of have to save some room for that, too.)
The Celebration Affair had been a wake-up call, and so, when I got to college, I decided I might as well head the whole descent-into-hell thing off at the pass; I started seeing the drug and alcohol counselor of my own accord. And you know what? It was awesome. She was really cool and she listened to what I had to say and didn’t judge me and laughed at stupid things I’d done that were funny, because she knew that I was smart enough to know that they were stupid. She helped me to make sense of the chain of events that led up to my puking in a newly dead man’s bathtub. And she worked with me on harm reduction, which I’d never heard of and which I thought was especially cool because it meant that I could still drink (and smoke weed, I’ll admit it) on occasion and in moderation.
So, if I could go back and time and stop little Lexie from sipping those sips at Hayley Anderson’s party, would I? Probably not—I might stop her from going outside with that jerk, but, hey, we all have to come up against some jerks sooner or later—but I would definitely give her some advice:
1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You can have concerns about your lifestyle (or anybody else’s lifestyle for that matter) without having a “problem,” and you can have a “problem” without being an alcoholic or a drug addict. And should you find that you are an alcoholic or a drug addict, that’s OK, too, because it doesn’t mean that your life is over and you can’t ever have fun again. There are people who can help you deal when stuff gets a little hairy, and these people include drug and alcohol counselors, friends who are smart and not unduly judgmental (but also not crazy party animals who can hardly take care of themselves let alone advise you), and (le sigh) even parents.
2. Try not to lie. I ended up spending the better part of three years lying about who I was with and what I was doing, and let me tell you, it is a job of work; your energies are better spent elsewhere. If you’re doing something you have to lie to your parents about, you would probably be better off not doing it, at least until you’re out from underneath their All-Deciding Parental Thumbs. Which brings me to my next point…
3. Slow your roll. There is plenty of time to throw caution to the wind and experiment in all kinds of ways. I’ve just realized by the time I become “legal,” it will have been six years since I started drinking. Again, I could definitely have used those six years to try other stuff that might have been more constructive. Like reading up on what can happen to you when you’re under the influence of alcohol so that I wouldn’t have had to find out what a blackout was the hard (read: funereal) way.
4. Do your research. I CANNOT stress this enough! If you are determined to do drugs, go online and find a number of reputable sources with information about what you should do to minimize the risk. Anything with a .gov or a .edu is likely to have some good scientific information, but obviously a lot of it is seriously biased in the don’t-do-drugs direction, which is only going to piss you off if you’ve already set your mind to it. For something a little edgier, try erowid.org. They have great information about history, legality, dosage, and long-term and short-term effects. The experience vaults (aka “trip reports”) are useful too, but bear in mind that they recount the experiences of randos and that you should take them all with a grain of salt.
5. Watch Brazil sober. Really, it’s a good movie, and you will just not understand it if you try it any other way. I mean it. ♦
Lexie K. is in her first year at an imitation East Coast liberal arts college in Southern California, where she spends most of her time playing Scattergories with the campus cat, snorting crushed-up little pieces of Goldfish crackers, and lamenting the fact that she has no future in the current economy by repeatedly banging against her head against various hard surfaces.
* All names have been changed, for obvious reasons.