Friday, January 19, 2007

I don't have any answers, just experience to share

My first party with alcohol was a complete shock to me. As a teen, I was a bit of a rebellious type, but not that rebellious. My form of sticking it to my parents when I was a freshman in high school came in the types of guys I dated: seniors with tattoos and bad grades. Swoon.

But secretly I was overwhelmed and wasn't sure what I was getting myself into. So when one of those guys took me to a party full of upperclassmen and kegs on a Friday night, I just about shit myself. If cell phones had been less than 30 pounds and affordable at that time, I would've been texting "wtf do i do" to my best friend.

Instead, just to be polite and not look like a complete prude, I accepted a plastic cup filled with what I now know to be cheap watery beer when it was offered to me. It was the strangest setting. There were upwards of 100 kids crammed into this tiny furnished basement filled with smiling family portraits and arrangements of fake flowers that were sure to get trashed. It was obvious someone's parents were out of town, but remnants of them were all over the place, shaking a finger at me.

I knew what beer tasted like because my parents let me try it when I was growing up. In fact, I have very distinct memories of my father drinking a beer while he was giving me and my little brother a bath every night. I always asked for a sip and he always gave it to me. And on holidays, even though I wasn't "of age," my mom would pour me a half glass of champagne so I could toast with the adults.

But I knew it was taboo. I knew I wasn't supposed to have this cup in my hand. It felt very wrong and even more scary because I was out of my element. I didn't have any close friends there and I didn't really know this guy too well, other than he had gorgeous cheekbones and a bit of an introverted, but seemingly worldly disposition.

So I just sipped. And poured most of it down the sink when I went to the bathroom.

Fortunately for me, the guy wasn't as bad as his reputation. He sensed my uneasiness and took me home before the cops showed up.

We didn't date much after that. He shot out his left eye thinking that BB gun target practice in a brick-filled basement was a good idea. And although I went with someone else to his prom, I remember saying hello and admiring that the trim of his eye patch matched his vest.

My first real experience with alcohol came in college. I had formed what I thought to be some of the tightest bonds in my entire life with three girls who lived in my dorm. One of them had an older sister who had an apartment off campus and often threw house parties. I trusted them with my clothes, my secrets and my life. They wouldn't let anything happen to me, nor I them.

Pretty soon I learned the routine. We were good students who saved drinking for weekends, unlike many of our friends who attended parties throughout the week and got kicked out after their first semester for failing to earn even a 1.0 grade point average. My friends and I, on the other hand, waited for Friday, would "pregame" with a round of vodka shots from a bottle of Absolute my friend's sister bought for us, and then walk to the party.

At the time, it seemed like a rite of passage. It seemed like fun. Everything was under control. We had a plan. We stuck together. We took care of each other.

But that all changed one night.

I remember we made it to our favorite pizza place before the 2 a.m. closing. We each grabbed a slice and inhaled it on the walk back to our dorm. But Laura couldn't keep up. She said she wasn't feeling well. Nikki nabbed Laura's pizza when she said she didn't want it.

By the time we got Laura into her room, she looked pale and sweaty. She collapsed on her bed and started vomiting everywhere. The other girls tried to convince me not to get help. They kept saying everything was under control. They told me to get water, but I didn't listen. I talked to the night hall monitor and told him what was happening. He called an ambulance.

And it likely saved my friend's life.

The rest of us got a taxi to the hospital and stayed up all night. She was admitted with acute alcohol poisoning. I was surprised there was anything left after everything she tossed up over her bed, but they pumped her stomach then pumped her veins full of fluids to rehydrate her.

It was my first introduction to the reality of alcohol. When used in excess, it's a very scary thing.

And now that I have a little perspective on my own nights of excess, I realize that alcohol and youth is a very scary combination. Teenagers, including myself at that age, have an invincible quality. Mortality and illness seem decades away.

Add in the liquid courage that is alcohol and you can do no wrong. Ask that hot brunette out at the end of the bar? No problem. Walk home by yourself? Piece of cake. Drive a car? Sure. Other people might not be able to handle their liquor, but not me. Nothing bad is going to happen.

And maybe nothing does. Maybe you get to your destination in once piece and without getting pulled over.

But after working in the newspaper business for almost seven years, I can tell you first hand that not everyone is so lucky. In fact, the most recent story in my area involving drunk driving was a horrible fatal accident. A 22-year-old guy got so disoriented that he entered a highway using an exit ramp. He continued driving the wrong way down the expressway until he careened into a minivan carrying a young family of five from Canada on their way to Florida. They were meeting their entire extended family for a Christmas vacation cruise. And, as luck would have it, only the boy survived uninjured. Weeks later, the mother and one child are still struggling for their lives in a local intensive care unit. The rest of their family died instantly.

I know that seems dramatic. I know not all instances of drunk driving results in something so horrific. But I can also tell you that even a DUI conviction can tear a family apart. Ask my brother, who after losing his license and selling his car to pay for attorney's fees, finally learned his lesson. I love my brother dearly and I'm thankful every day that he didn't face anything worse than a field sobriety test. And I'm happy to report that he now has a clean record, a new car and a better understanding of the U.S. legal system.

As for me? I know I made some bad choices in the past in relation to alcohol. I can recall waking up a few mornings where if I had owned a guillotine, I might have opted to use it. Anything to end the devistatingly painful pounding in my head -- even permanently severing it from my body. But now I enjoy alcohol for what it should be: an occasional drink when the mood strikes. If I had to give it up, I wouldn't miss it.

I know that drinking seems like a glamorous thing. Well, no wonder with all those alcohol advertisements with gorgeous people having the time of their lives. It almost makes me want to suck the last drop of Disaronno amaretto liquor off an ice cube, too.

But it comes down to limits and choices. And if I've learned one thing, there's no shame in excusing yourself to go to the bathroom and pour a beer down the sink if you're not strong enough yet to say no.


Meg said...

Perfect timing! And thank God, because I couldn't stand playing “Pick the nose hairs, win a free ringtone!” and “Shave the legs on the woman, and get an iPod!” games on Myspace any longer.

Thank you so much for answering my question. I'm sorry to hear about your friend, but if it wasn't for you, she would have been worse, right?

I would have asked my mother, but she's not as humorous as you, and she would have played 500 questions the next time I wanted to go out.

I’m sure she’d question whether I was drinking water, or vodka, and maybe even get the alcohol-tester breath strips – which I don’t even know why they make those, because if you even have to question yourself whether or not you should drive, then you shouldn’t.

Anyway, thank you so much! I hope you don’t mind I share this with my teacher. I’m sure I’d get bonus points 

novelle360 said...

Meg, I know exactly what you mean about asking your mother. Part of me has a distinct feeling my mother cringed her way through this entire post.

Hi mom! Love you!

But thank you for posing this topic. It made me think long and hard about what, if anything, I had to say about it.

And of course you can share it with your teacher. Far be it for me to deny anyone some bonus points!

erica said...

I'm just somewhat of a passerby in reading your blog, but reading this was actually quite reassuring. I just recently had one of my first experiences with such a situation. I was at my friend's house filled with people, and literally I was the only sober one in the house. I was the only person who could help these kids if they needed a ride home or were going to do something exceptionally stupid. Even the older person there somewhat "supervising" the whole thing was drunk within the hour I was there. They bothered me about getting some stuff for a little while, but soon respected my decision. So, although I already had my own principles with the whole thing, it is nice to hear it coming from someone else.

Tiffany said...

That family of 5 lived in a town not so far from here. But regardless of who was from where and who did what, it still boils down that drinking and driving are a tragedy, more so because it's a tragedy that could be avoided.

While accidents happen all the time, sometimes it's factors we can't control, like the weather. But alcohol? So easily avoidable. To me, it's the greatest tragedy of all.

Christie said...

Wow, so I don't know that I should be admitting this but the post has me thinking... when I think about how lucky I am to still be here after my summer of partying a couple summers ago... wow. I drove home every morning, drunk off my butt, never for a second thinking that anything could ever happpen to me. So you are right... when saying no isn't enough, pour it, throw it away, whatever, but don't drink it. And don't drive. I learned my lesson without anything dramatic happening, but now every time I even think about having a drink when I have to drive, I abstain. I figure I used up all my luck that summer. Thanks Kelly. As usual, your post offers wonderful advice.

the Plainsman said...

Its all a balance, though. Sometimes the answer is not in raising drinking ages beyond adulthood and lowering alcohol standards to levels which effectively enforce prohibition.

Those numerical efforts do not address those with the addiction, those who are usually caught with a BAC that would kill the rest of us, those who are the ones that usually kill the innocent on the Interstate or winding back road.

In my view, the primary answer is in raising our kids to make adult decisions early in life. So that when they get to college, there is no need to let loose with the the "forbidden fruit," no need to join in the in the nightly or weekend binges, all, just because they now can.

Your decisions to dump the excess brew in the sink and to get help was an example of the level of wisdom and maturity that you learned before getting to college, learned before you turned 18.

Easy, of course not! But a lot more effective than "feel good" legislation that addresses only numbers.

haering, reading stories like yours are a good part of the education, of that maturing process. It has already reached two of commenters.

Ps. Bathroom sink? Lots of guys learn to skip the kidney processing and dump the brews directly behind the bushes, too!

Karrie said...

I apologize for what I know is going to be a super long comment. This is just a sensitive topic for me.

I believe I'm a rarity in the US society - I never drank until the age of 22, and I've only been a little beyond tipsy about 5 times in my life so far, at the age of 26.

My mother's father was an alcoholic, and my father's mother was one too. We never had alcohol in our house growing up and I think it was because my parents both witnessed the mess it could make of people's lives and decided against it. I'm so glad they did, because it could have easily gone the other way and my life would definitely be different.

Then, in college, I was hit by a drunk driver. It totaled my car and put me in physical therapy for 8 hours a week for a couple months. That changed the whole trajectory of my life - it was my senior year of college and I was just starting to apply to graduate school. Being in physical therapy 8 hours week, and arranging rides to get to the clinic across town, and keeping up with all of my other engagements, I just had to drop the idea of applying at that time. I ended up taking three years off to work before going back to grad school. I'm now three years behind all of my classmates - meaning I'll be 30 by the time I graduate and get a real job. And this guy didn't even think he was impaired (which, pretty much every person drinking thinks, in my experience).

This past weekend, I was at a party at my boyfriend's house. A group of people that had been drinking a good amount decided to also partake in some weed. They decided that the dark little park a block away was a good place to do it, and went down there. When they came back, they informed one girl that her boyfriend was seriously puking in the park. He had been drinking quite a lot and apparently the pot served as a catalyst to initiate the vomiting. I was one of 4 people at the party that I knew were sober (I had had a 1/2 glass of wine about 2 hours prior), and the only one that knew the kid, so I ended up driving him home because he was in no shape to walk, even the three blocks home. I was really concerned that I was taking home a person that I really should have taken to the hospital. But, I listened to his girlfriend and my boyfriend and just took him home. He's ok now, but I was still worried sick that I might have made the wrong choice. I felt like I was stuck - I was the only one who could drive him home, but I felt like I would be responsible if anything were to happen.

I am probably pretty on the conservative side in the way of opinions about alcohol consumption, but I just don't think it's necessary in order to enjoy yourself. I also think that it's a dangerous thing that can get out of hand way too easily. I also don't enjoy putting myself in a situation where I'm not in complete control when I'm not with people that I completely trust.

I often wonder how I can successfully raise my future children to not feel the invincibility that I have seen in so many people when it comes to alcohol and drug use. It's a scary thought.

Thanks for the great post.

joanna said...

As a freshman in college, and having graduated high school from a massive drinking town, I have to agree that alcohol is a scary thing. I spent my last year of high school in a town that used it's strong German heritage as an excuse for the flowing rivers of beer throughout every household. Kids get plastered, parents are sloshed- if not every single weekend, they do it daily. It's scary, but everyone seems to accept it.

I've chosen to try and stay away from alcohol for the most part. I've seen it do too much damage to so many of my friends, and I'm not willing to do that to myself or allow it to affect those around me. Sure, I drink here and there if I'm in the mood for it, but never, EVER to get drunk. It's just not worth the consequences.

allison said...

wow. i'm a sophomore in college and it seems like every night of the week while im getting ready for bed EVERYONE else on my floor is going out to get completely plastered. and i know they don't realize all the dangers and risks involved.

Kay said...

I hate the taste of alcohol so it's not easy for me to get drunk. However, the first time I ever got drunk was in college and by the time I was tipsy I didn't care what it tasted like...I was really sick by the time the night was over. I didn't end up in the hospital but I was lucky. I agree with your view: drinking and youth are very bad combonations. Your friend was lucky you were there to look out for her.

Candi said...

Excellent post! Exactly the sentiments of a very large portion of the American public.

Janice said...

That was a very powerful message. I'm in college, so it makes me think of my friends that go out on Thursday nights to different parties. It really worries me sometimes that they're not safe, but thus far nothing has happened to them.

It's so true that teens think they're invincible. I, in fact, think I am sometimes too. My views of the future always contain college graduation and a family and such. I don't think of death or something like that until I'm at least 80.

corbow said...

The Plainsman makes some good points. I have long held the belief that part of our alcohol problem is the taboo we place on it; we make drinking more attractive by forbidding it.

My mother always said 'I'd rather you didn't try things, but if you're going to anyway, do it at home.' She allowed me to drink at home, citing the idea that kids in Europe were allowed to have wine with dinner.

As a result, I never saw the appeal of getting plastered. There was never the sudden I'm-free-from-parental-control-and-now-I-can-go-crazy mentality when I went to college.

Making alcohol taboo until age 21 obviously doesn't work; maybe we need to find a better way. said...

Being an unpopular person in High School pretty much decided that I wasn't exposed to under-age drinking. (You can't drink if you're not invited to any of the parties)

My rules about alcohol were pretty much established in College.

1. If i'm driving, I don't touch a drop.
2. If you need alcohol to have a good time, you're probably not much fun to hang out with anyway.

Don't get me wrong. I love going clubbing with some friends that I trust, and getting smashed... But I don't HAVE to drink.

Hell, I have a 12 oz bottle of Wild Turkey (my favorite alcohol) that's almost a year old. Bought it for last year's Super Bowl.

But working for a news radio station, I get to hear and read about every single drunk driving accident in 8 counties. Unfortunately it's almost never the drunk who dies in the crash. The law is absolutely too lenient on repeat drunk drivers, and i'm all for the breathalyzer being installed in the offender's car. Because after you plow through a school zone, double the legal limit, I don't care about your "rights" anymore.

Celina said...

Very well said. I lost a friend to drunk driving just out of High School and it still hurts. I grew up in a small town where drinking was/is the norm for teens. It is a sad wakeup call when many kids are still doing it and dying from it. I remember doing some pretty stupid things growing up and I am glad I am still around to learn from them.

Tiger said...

Excellent post! Wish more teens really understood what alcohol can do. It's not pretty.

Leah said...

Thank you so much for posting this. Some people just don't realize how dangerous alcohol can be.

ajandmac said...

what were the most painful wounds alcohol caused in my life?

was it...

-late nights of not knowing where the heck i was.
-morning after puke-fests.
-the horrible taste some drinks left in my mouth.
-the fact that i knowingly endangered myself.
-the fact that i knowingly endangered others.
-the memories of being stoned.
-the things i DON'T remember.


none of those.

the most painful wounds are... now that im 22 and have learned my lessons the hard way, im watching the person i adore most in the world, my little brother, make the exact same mistakes.

because he learned from watching me.

that's what hurts the most.

Kristin said...

I poured my beers down the sink in the bathroom in high school as well.

There is a very fine line to walk when you're drinking. It's easily crossed and most people don't even know when they've gone too far. I've certainly been there.

It's such a shame that young people feel like they have to drink to have a good time. I have friends who even at 25 or 28 feel like they need to drink to enjoy a night out.

Thanks for sharing

Ashley said...

thanks for sharing. my grandpa was an alcoholic and killed himself in a drunken driving accident. luckily (depending on how you look at it) he was the only one who died.

now, being 21, i find myself rarely drinking alcohol, only when "forced" upon me. i can count on one hand the times i've been drunk and think that has a lot to do with seeing what it did to my grandpa.

thanks for sharing.

Maria said...

Good, good, good post!

Sandra Dee said...

Gosh, I remember the college years. Seems like not very long ago, I was doing just what you and your friends did -- pregamed then partied, only to wind up completely trashed and then miserable the next day.

Seems like a silly cycle now!

Laney said...

-- It's Meg (on my Blogger account). Anyway, I got a 35/30! My teacher laughed about the licking the beverage off the ice, and quite a few classmates said they would have text 'wtf do I do' to their friends.

So, thanks again!

Anonymous said...

A year ago someone I knew from high school was killed by a drunk driver who had entered the freeway on the exit ramp. She had just turned 20 and had gotten married two months earlier. There were four people in her car; two survived after intense physical therapy and surgery, and two died on impact. The drunk driver made it out of the accident without a scratch.

That incident alone has completely redefined my experiences with alcohol.

Tiffany said...

That's the way I felt all through high school and college- I can take it, or I can leave it, no big deal. Fortunately, I had friends who felt the same way. It's really sad though to see some students who practically live for bar night and feel invincible...

Kristin said...

It's good that you brought this up. It got me thinking about things. Thanks :D