The first time I got really, truly drunk was also the first time I blacked out from alcohol.
I was 15.
That night, I lied to my parents and snuck off to my friend’s house for a co-ed sleepover. I knew what my parents would think if they found out who would be there and that the parents weren’t home. But I didn’t care. Everyone was doing it, I told myself. I didn’t want to miss out and feel like a complete outsider.
Up until this point, I had not been to that many parties. Drinking still made me nervous, and I was working on the art of twisting the top off beer bottles. I had not yet perfected the craft of sipping so as not to let the foam spill out the sides. I was still nervous and reserved in social settings, always yearning to fit in. But I knew, when I drank beer, that a looseness came over me. I was always careful not to let myself get too out of control, but I felt myself relax a bit the few times I had sipped a Bud Light.
I knew enough that getting really out of control was frowned upon by other kids. In order to be cool when you drank, you had to know how to not make a total scene. You didn’t want the whole school talking about you on Monday morning. I also never wanted my parents to catch onto what I was doing. It was a delicate balance of pleasing both my parents and classmates.
That night at the sleepover, I told myself, “I will just have one or two shots.” I had never had hard alcohol before. I wanted to get outside my comfort zone, and I wanted to have some fun. I had the entire night ahead of me, so I was going to let loose. I felt the safety of my friends and the fact I didn’t have to face my parents until the next day. I knew that I might get drunk, and I was okay with it.
I brought the tiny shot glass up to my mouth. The painful sensation of the Jack Daniels stung my lips and burned my esophagus, filling my stomach with warmth, overtaking my head with a woozy sensation promptly after. My limbs felt like butter, melting into the darkness of the pool deck. My friends laughed around me, morphing into an eruption of cheers and a thumping in my ears that frightened me ever so slightly.
“You want another?” they asked me.
“Hell yeah,” I said.
I wanted to chase the warmth. The tingly happiness inside my brain. That buzz. I needed to keep this feeling going forever.
I didn’t want to let this euphoria slip away.
I felt so open. So detached.
There was an untethered comfort, and I wanted to stay in this space forever.
I took another shot of the Jack Daniels, and I let it smolder my insides. I felt brave, for once. Excited. I reeled with delight.
This was going to be my night. I poured another, slamming the glass bottle back down onto the teak deck with conviction, spilling a bit on my jeans and shirt.
“It’s fine, it’s fine!” I said to nobody in particular. I laughed some more, alone in my thoughts.
I followed a boy I liked into the shadows beyond the grass, into the trees, our fingers touching and nothing else. A pulse of electricity between us. A connection I had never felt before. The voices of our friends laughing in the distance were muffled through the trees, and I could barely make out the outline of his straight brown hair in front of me through the darkness. Part of me wanted to go back to the rest of the group, scared of what lay ahead of me, but most of me wanted to stay. I wanted to be there with him. As nervous as I was, I felt wild and confident. A feeling as unfamiliar as the touch of his warm skin against my own.
And suddenly, we were awkwardly wrapped around each other’s arms, our teenage bodies fumbling for one another in the moonlight. Unsure of what to do, I let him put his arms around my waist. With a confidence so unknown even to me, I stared into his eyes and felt myself melt away. And then he kissed me.
I laughed and pulled away from him as he chased after me out of the trees across the lawn toward the light. I needed more alcohol.
The music played from the large speakers attached to the guest house. The Backstreet Boys echoed across the vastly manicured lawn, and we turned up the bass even louder.
Everyone continued to drink.
We laughed harder. The sounds and colors around me began to create a mixture of both simultaneous slow motion and fast-forward fragments of time. I stayed beside him, and the noises grew louder. The music echoed off the tall oak trees. The cheering ensued.
All the while, there were no parents around. No one to tell us to stop. No one to tell us that was enough.
I spun around in circles, staring up at the stars around me.
He smiled at me.
Another shot lit up my insides.
I was indestructible.
I needed to keep feeling this comfort. This feeling that I could do anything.
This pleasure was everything.
A feeling of flying.
Being unbound. I needed it all coursing through my body.
The sounds became too heavy, the warmth became too thick, and the world slowed down.
The spinning became constant, and I couldn’t stop.
I hit the ground hard, smashing my face into the pool deck.
Pain shot through my face and limbs. No more butter or softness. Only sharp fire. And more darkness. The images became starless and indistinct.
And I was slowly being submerged into a feeling of uncertainty. I was teetering on the edge. Unsteady and shaky, the spots in front of my eyes alluding to a darkness on the horizon. Until there were no more memories. The curtain had come down.
Things went completely dark. And the rest of the night was engulfed in a thick, velvety blackness.
I was told that I eventually spent the entire evening with my head over the toilet. The party came to a crashing halt for me. And my memory was blanketed in black, fuzzy confusion.
What strikes me as alarming about this night is that I wasn’t concerned the next day about the fact that I had forgotten several hours of the evening. I wasn’t worried that an entire night of my life was almost completely erased from my mind for the first time ever. I blacked out, and I wasn’t the least bit phased. Instead, I focused on the fun moments I had with a boy I loved. I reminisced and laughed with my friends about the silly parts I did remember.
I was timid and nervous to take that first shot, but I quickly found it to be the social lubricant that I had always needed. It was the magical elixir of fun, a potion that gave me what I believed to be comfort, confidence, and relief from all of my insecurities. It allowed me to get outside myself. It made me feel larger than what I believed myself to be. It gave me more confidence in my mind and body. But in reality, I was completely out of control.
And unfortunately, I wanted to do it again and again. I was hooked.
It would be another 25 years of heavy drinking before I would come to realize that alcohol was not my friend. It would be many countless nights of blacking out before I would learn that it was not the precious potion I believed it to be. Instead, drinking would take me down a long, dangerous path of destruction.
But eventually, one day, I would finally escape its deadly grasp and find my freedom.