Thinking back to high school, I remember the first time my friends and I really dove into alcohol. We were juniors: old enough to get around on our own but definitely not out of the parental nest just yet. For that matter, we weren’t even the kings of our own roost when it came to the perks of being the senior class. But we did think we were pretty cool, and so when a friend’s parents left town for the weekend it was time for a proper throw down.
Alcohol was so new to everyone at that point. Sure, maybe we’d had a beer here or there, but not with the intention of partying hard and seeing what this drunk thing was all about. On this night, though, coolers of beer surfaced with every cheap selection you could imagine: the light beers, the king of beers, the hard lemonades.
I reckon’ you woulda’ called it a southern house party done right!
My decision was to stay the night, so I dove right in. Light beer? Yes. Real beer? Serve me up. Hard lemonade? Why not, it’s a party isn’t it? I probably had 3-4 by the time I realized I was buzzed, and 5-6 by the time I knew my night wasn’t going to end well.
I’ll never forget it that feeling: so drunk I didn’t really know what I was doing, or how to control my body. I felt the urge to vomit coming on strong, so I bolted for the back door.
Only, it was locked.
In that state I couldn’t understand how the deadbolt worked. What was I doing wrong? Uh-oh, here it comes… blam! Back door. Vomit, all over. I finally made it outside to puke my teenage brains out.
What an idiot, I thought to myself. How many people saw me spew on my friend’s house? On the inside.
For the rest of the night, my friends came and went while time came to a halt. The grass was cool and the air was thick with Virginia’s moist air. I could hear the planes overhead and the cars in the street, but it was all just sounds without meaning to me. I recall to some friends it was a triumph. To me, though, I didn’t understand what the draw was to feeling like that. It wasn’t a celebration for me.
Similar parties grew as we shifted into college, and I remember always hearing the stories. So and so got wasted and they hooked up, can you believe it?! Friends cheating on their boyfriends and girlfriends, relationships years-deep ending, the intricacies of the fallout discussed for months. Some of it drama; some of it legitimately upsetting to hear about.
I always felt like those stories came from some weird other-space, a bubble I was not a part of that I could look in on and judge. I could point to that and say to myself, Wow, that’s crazy, and that will never be my relationship. Irrationally I would tell myself that it’s not possible for my partner to behave like that. Or that when I’m at a party I wouldn’t slip into a detrimental mindset.
But if I’m honest, such situations have changed my perspective of alcohol multiple times over the years. The outcomes are still working on me today—most as safe guards, and others as past hurts I still battle within.
It must have been my junior year in college when the first trigger was planted. My girlfriend and I at the time had been together for over 3 years, navigating the tricky long distance waters a few hours apart. Increasingly she’d been giving into peer pressure to hit frat parties with some of our collective friends. I felt a tension growing between us.
Thursday nights were the blowout parties. Drunk calls became drunk texts became no texts at some point. I’ll be the first to say the distance was challenging, especially at that point in our lives when it was much easier to party locally with new friends.
I remember often being up clear-headed for my first class on Friday mornings without a text from her. I wondered if everything was ok. It became a cycle that I always felt uncomfortable with. It never felt right, or fair, but I’d never been in that position before and I didn’t know how to communicate well about such specific feelings.
Fast forward to a weekend visit, and she called it quits during the afternoon before she left town. She needed time to think and assess what she was doing in life. Time stopped and tears flowed.
Many weeks after that time I learned that she’d become close with someone at those Thursday night parties. They would ultimately end up dating a few months later. I felt devastated, angry even, and blamed the greater circumstance to some degree; the alcohol’s effects even more.
Entering The World
A few years later I moved out west post-college and was dating a woman that worked and played hard. Her drinking persona was new to me. When drunk, she became aggressive and upset; a flavor of the party I’ve come to learn I don’t want much to do with.
Our relationship straddled our youth- and adult-lives. After college, but remaining together, we didn’t know what we were doing. We played the roles but ultimately hadn’t a clue as to how to be well with one another, and the writing was on the wall.
One evening I was trying to get in touch after a day of unusual silence. By 10pm I wondered if she was alright, so I hopped in my car and arrived to her apartment only to find no signs of life inside. Confused, I gave her a ring, only this time she picked up.
Where are you? I remember asking. I’m at my place. The rush of finding out you’re being lied to hit me in that moment. I told her that I was at her place. She was silent. I heard the blinker of her car on the other end. She was driving somewhere.
Moments later, she pulled around the corner. She opened her door and stumbled over to me, intoxicated. Angry, and yelling. Our relationship had come and gone, long lost to a blurry mess that seemed to be blurred even more by alcohol’s grip.
I’ll never forget the moments where the notion of our partnership seemed to fall runner-up to how alcohol increasingly altered those situations.
Many more years later, a friend of mine and I had reconnected after a tumultuous time in our collective lives. Friends were changing, seemingly strong intimate relationships had torn apart, and a very present and inspiring time of education and reflection had found us both.
We spent time together, recalling her past just as we did mine. We each had horror stories. We each had our own set of morals and values tested. We were both weak, just becoming strong again, navigating life’s waters without much of a raft to get in for safety. And with that, feelings surfaced. Connections were formed. I tip-toed the topic longer than I should have. I wasn’t sure what it meant. Collectively, we weren’t sure what was surfacing.
During a long weekend with friends, she came along to join in the festivities. A few drinks turned in to quite a few for many of us, myself included. In those early morning moments, in that altered state, I put myself in a position where I ended up hurting this person. Lines were crossed, things were asked of me, and in the blur of that night’s long tail, we made decisions we shouldn’t have.
I might have had reassurance that crossing the “friendship line” wasn’t a big deal, but somewhere inside, I knew it was. And she knew it was, too. But we were both greedy, and our friendship was never the same after that night.
These stories aren’t ground breaking. They highlight that youth’s can be lost. That adults are still seeking who they are. That inner weakness can break up even the most unique friendships.
When it comes to alcohol, I find myself pulling from the past and pasting to the present. My guard says it could happen again. So I drink less and fight the urge to close down in “party” situations. I fight my heart closing to the circumstance, however innocent and fun it’s made to be.
It is a battle within to remain calm, because I’ve been groomed to think that alcohol leads to altered thinking, which leads to bad things in a relationship. We all struggle with something, don’t we?
We have inner demons we choose to bring into the light, or that we choose to hide away. We all have triggers that lead our mind’s eye down very dark roads that we must contend with from time to time.
For me, it is often alcohol. What is it for you?
As I’ve told my loving partner in recent months, I do my best to be present with her when those feelings arise. In the end I’m just a simple, scared human being, and I know certain situations to be hurt, and loss, and regret. I simply don’t want that to repeat itself. Communicating this trigger is the only way I am able move forward, even if it seems like a broken record.
I think about us all as kids being scared of the dark: we have a bad dream, become frightened, tell our parents, and end up sleeping with a light on. Not just one night—multiple nights—until we learn that we don’t need to be afraid of the dark. Until we realize that whatever is in our dreams is just in our mind.
What is our night light now, and how long will we need to keep it on to feel safe?
For those that truly love you, they’ll help you understand that there’s nothing to be afraid of, that the dark is safe, and that whatever has been in your dreams will not come out again. That they’re there to protect you just as you’re there to protect them.
Triggers hide everywhere, but we have the power to control them. And those you’re closest to have the power to reiterate that the bad dreams of the past no longer hold you in suspense.
That your past agonies have finally seen the light. That now they’re weak—just as they once made you.