My First Drink

By Taylor Ellsworth 03/07/12
As a teenager, I was plagued by anxiety and acne—until the night I drank with the cool girls.
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Teenage Wasteland Photo via

When I was 14 years old, I tricked the cool girls into inviting me over for a sleepover. They had all known each other for years. I was the new kid from the weird artsy middle school and I knew exactly two people at my high school before the cool girls took me under their Abercrombie and Fitch-clad wing. I had never, ever been invited to hang out with The Cool Kids at any of the schools I’d attended previously. When I finished middle school, I spent the following summer working out obsessively and purging any sugar I ate—an early outlet for my alcoholic mind—until I had transformed my previously chubby thighs into slim ones that could squeeze into ripped Abercrombie jeans and my tummy into abs that could be flaunted between belly-shirts and low-cut jeans; I stockpiled shoplifted makeup from the Walgreens down the street. I was determined to be Cool in high school. I knew, deep down, that the coolness that had eluded me thus far was the missing link. I spent my adolescence feeling out of place and awkward in every situation, wishing I could crawl out of my skin, that I could be someone who knew what to say and how to act. That feeling of suffocating anxiety followed me for years—it wasn’t until I got sober that I realized how drugs and alcohol anesthetized me to it. When the cool girls invited me to hang out, I knew it was my golden opportunity to step into the world that I had been training for all summer long.

The sleepover was at Lauren’s house, and it began as innocently as all the sleepovers I’d been to with the handful of nerdy friends I had collected in middle school: We watched South Park; we drank Diet Cokes; we talked about who was hooking up and who we wanted to hook up with. I was unfamiliar with this term, “hooking up,” but I was pretty sure it meant making out, because sex seemed like something that only people with driver’s licenses did. The other cool girls, Samantha and Aubrey, told me which girls had already had sex in middle school (“Sluts!” they cawed). I knew that these girls were not to be fucked with. Most of the girls who they viciously character-assassinated were their friends, girls who probably would have been less out of place at the gathering than I felt.

It was like I’d had a secret fly trapped inside me that I’d never realized was there, caged in a jar, buzzing and buzzing and smacking and beating itself endlessly onto that glass wall, and I had finally lifted the jar.

“Brenna slept with Matt on the bench at Mount Tabor,” Samantha said conspiratorially, her nasal voice sharp above the din of Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It like It’s Hot.” She had short, yellow-blonde hair and powdery skin. Lauren and Samantha both wore a lot of makeup. I casually added ghostly powder to the checklist in my mind of items I needed to add to my stash in order to complete the cool-girl look.

“How do you know?” I responded to each new piece of information with this question. Nothing else seemed appropriate. If I agreed that the girl was a slut, I might be overstepping my invisible new-girl boundary. But if I told the truth, that I thought Matt was cute and that I was a little jealous that Brenna had slept with him, I might create a slutty reputation for myself before ever even getting to find out what hooking up was actually like. It was all very political and confusing, too much for me, and so I settled for impartial, childlike remove, which seemed to placate the other girls. Fear penetrated all of my motives.

After the gossip session, we played with the Ouija board, which made me so nervous that I kept accidentally moving the mystical truth teller (which really just looked like a miniature coffee table).  When the summoning of evil spirits (which had always seemed so dangerous in my past life as an uncool girl) started to seem like child’s play, the next step was obvious: We needed a more mature form of entertainment. Alcohol is the perfect vessel in which to travel the massive channel between the immature child and infinitely wise, sophisticated, Cool 13-year-old. Lauren was the first to suggest it, I think, but even if she wasn’t, she should have been. Lauren was the type of girl that simultaneously terrifies and thrills anyone in her presence. Her glossy black mane hung in luxurious waves that extended almost all the way to her sparkly bellybutton piercing. She had huge, twinkling blue eyes framed by a fan of lush lashes, and the aloof, intimidating demeanor that comes naturally to very attractive people, even at that age. Her parents had left us alone in the basement for hours. The lack of supervision made the decision to get drunk a total no-brainer.

The mixture that we created, which was the first real drink I ever had, was not a “drink” by any adult standards. It wasn’t the kind of drink that has a standard recipe and is bearable—or even enjoyable. It was instead a foul concoction consisting of every type of liquor and mixer in Lauren’s parents’ liquor cabinet. Wild Turkey, Jack Daniels, Absolut, Peach Schnapps, Tanqueray, Jameson, plus some Coronas snatched from the fridge. 

Immediately after taking two small sips, I wanted to spit it out. But I didn’t. I had seen family members drink before and I’d heard other kids in school talk about getting wasted, and they all seemed to have something I didn’t. The desperate craving to have what I saw in them, the careless joy, the illusion of having it all figured out, drove me to inhale half of the mixture in one chug, and I felt a warm sensation creeping down my throat and in into my chest. Moments later, I felt warm and relaxed. All of the edges seemed fuzzier. A fog more comfortable than reality began to manifest in my head. It was like I’d had a secret fly trapped inside me that I’d never realized was there, caged in a jar, buzzing and buzzing and smacking and beating itself endlessly onto that glass wall, and I had finally lifted the jar. That first drink opened up an inch of free space in my head for that annoying fly to escape from, and suddenly I could breathe and see and feel the right way—the way I should have always been able to. By the time I had finished the glass, I knew I wanted to feel that way for the rest of my life. That peace of mind carried me through to the next morning, when I woke up.

I remembered nothing.

I couldn’t wait to do it again.

When we woke up, beer bottles littered the basement floor and Samantha was asleep on the couch adjacent to mine, her blonde hair a dreadlocked mess. As I took in the scene, I realized the corner of my mouth and collar of my sweatshirt were both encrusted with rancid-smelling vomit. I attempted to scan my brain to retrace the previous night’s events, but a large chunk of my memory seemed to have vanished. I had blacked out. This mental blankness left me shaken, but regardless, I rinsed my mouth with Listerine, used some of Lauren’s expensive MAC makeup to freshen up before the other girls awoke, and attempted to shake off the strange mixture of shame and excitement that seemed to have replaced my memory.

Despite my embarrassment, when I shook Samantha, and Lauren awake to say goodbye as my mother waited impatiently in the driveway, they didn’t seem angry. They giggled when they blinked open their heavy, hung over eyes and saw my haggard appearance. 

“You were so funny last night, Tay!” Samantha gave me a suffocating hug as she called my by the nickname that is usually only used by my family. “We’re going to the mall today. Do you wanna come with us?” I was shocked. Whoever I had been the previous night must have been much cooler than the girl I felt like today; she belonged. I nodded my head in excitement and hugged her back, hoping she couldn’t smell the vomit that lingered on my sweater. I ran upstairs to my mother’s car, shouting, “I’ll call you after dance team practice!” as the evidence of last night disappeared behind me.

I had found my new best friend. Not Samantha or Lauren or Aubrey, but alcohol. Alcohol understood me and made me better; it made me comfortable in my own skin. With alcohol, I was smarter, prettier, and cooler than the real-life, anxiety-prone, acne-ridden real me. I was in love with the feeling of comfort that I’d found. I didn’t realize how much of life I was missing out on until that first drink put a tingle in my fingertips and opened my eyes to what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing. Like the beginning of any abusive, dysfunctional relationship, it was a whirlwind—an all-consuming affair that was so exciting, I never wanted anything about it to change. Which is why, when the blacked-out nights became less amusing and more demoralizing—so much so that the temporary relief I’d come to rely upon was no longer worth the nightly memory loss—it took all the strength I had to say goodbye.

Taylor Ellsworth writes from Portland, Oregon. She has also written about getting fired by a sponsee and eating disorders for The Fix. Follow her on Twitter here.

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