Before reading further, please note the following material reveals details about when I started drinking and experimenting with drugs, how much and how often and why. This may be shocking to some or completely relatable to others. Regardless, my story is my story. You have yours. But I hope you find hope woven between these lines. I’ve been there, and welcome you to stay connected with me for continued support, and to hear the how the story unfolds.
(Excerpt from chapter two, titled “Where It Began,” of the Second Edition, No More Vodka in My Orange Juice, by Justin Daniels, Copyright 2018. “***” Refers to condensed material.)
Taking sips of wine coolers lasted for about two years until I wanted more tingle. The first time I got drunk, I was 13, though I can’t tell you the details anymore. I guess it wasn’t scary enough for me to learn my lesson; I continued drinking with friends whenever I got the chance. Then a friend offered to share a joint with me. I took a few hits and wasn’t really sure if I liked how it made me feel. I felt sort of slowed down and tired, but again, I was willing to keep trying it to figure out for sure what I thought of it—for scientific purposes, of course.
The summer after my eighth-grade year, I broke down and begged my parents to let me stop horse reining. The pressure was too much and the trainers were just too mean. I couldn’t do it anymore. I had hit an impasse where I just couldn’t convince myself to “hang in there” and “deal with it” anymore like my father had suggested. I had already achieved so much in a short span of time, and I knew people on the circuit had very high expectations for me to have a brilliant reining career, but my heart wasn’t in it.
To my surprise, my parents didn’t give me a very hard time about quitting. I suspect it had to do more with the financial burden than my wellbeing. I took up martial arts instead, which my younger brothers were already into. Buttressed by the same competitive mind frame that had enabled me to get ahead in horse reining, I quickly moved up the ranks in martial arts, too, and probably stole some of my brothers’ thunder, further increasing the animosity between us. Martial arts was one of the few positive things they had going for them; they were already pretty deep screwups by sixth grade. I knew that they smoked pot then, though I didn’t know until years later that they also did speed and that they sold drugs. We mostly avoided each other, except on the couple of occasions we smoked pot together.
In my freshman year of high school, my parents went out of town, and I threw a house party. We drank Canadian whiskey and smoked bowls of pot, and when we ran out of marijuana, we sprayed paint into the pipe and smoked paint fumes. Then we thought it would be smart to try smoking bug spray fumes. And although I say we, I can’t really blame anything on peer pressure; I was at the front of the bad decision line, egging others on.
All I thought was, I wonder how this will make me feel. I was fifteen and immortal, so obviously smoking paint fumes was perfectly safe. At that point, it was a relief and escape from the insanity of my house.
I found that the more inhalants I used, the stronger effect I got. I felt dizzy and euphoric and, mixed with the whiskey, more and more unguarded and energetic. Alcohol is funny in that it affects people in different ways: Some people become lazy, while others speed up and become aggressive. I was solidly in the second camp.
Toward the end of the night, the room started spinning. Everyone eventually left my house, and I passed out soon thereafter. I woke up sick the next morning but not sick enough to deter me from what had become my favorite pastime.
The thing is, drinking alcohol made me feel good. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t have kept doing it.
I am the coolest person I could possibly be, I thought when I was drunk. I can be anything and do anything I want. For a guy who was otherwise pretty quiet and well-behaved, this stuff made me feel invincible, daring, and popular. Most importantly, it made me feel something. I was so used to feeling numb and stuffing my emotions away. Drinking took down those defenses. It allowed me to laugh, cry, scream, and talk about things I wouldn’t otherwise talk about.
I preferred harder stuff to beer, though I’d drink whatever I could get whenever I could find a party. Starting when I got my driver’s license on my birthday during sophomore year of high school, my drinking got more and more frequent. Friends and I would get together to smoke pot and cigarettes, and then we’d drink grain alcohol until we blacked out. In June, many of my friends were graduating and going on to the military or college, so the summer was one long going-away party. I worked at a Chick-fil-A where most of the other workers were seniors at a larger high school than mine, so I got invited to all the big events. My social status shot way up.
Consequences? I’d never come face-to-face with a consequence yet, aside from hangovers, so I was content thinking that drunk driving accidents, alcohol poisoning, and addiction were really rare problems that happened to other people, not us. Those things were impersonal statistics and strangers in newspapers. We were just kids having fun, and we thought we were immune to real trouble.
Many of my friends were older, so they could get alcohol easier than I could. When we couldn’t, we’d just drive to the liquor store and wait for an easygoing-looking adult to approach.
“Hey, man, can you help us out? I’ll give you 20 dollars if you’ll go in and get us a bottle of whiskey.” More often than not, we’d have no problem bribing someone.
One friend’s parents were frequently away and had a fully stocked bar in their home. His older sister didn’t really care if we drank there as long as we didn’t drive right afterward. Even some parents felt that as long as it was in their house and not out on the streets, it was okay for us to drink.
After a long night of drinking games, during which I downed as much Mad Dog as I could just for the sport of it, I got sick in the bathroom. I was passed out cold on a girl’s couch when I felt someone tugging on my arm.
If anything, it appealed to the side of me that really liked to tempt fate. Alcohol made me feel like I could take bigger risks and not worry about much of anything. I’d go through my whole week waiting for the weekend so I could drink and escape.
When I was a teen, I recovered pretty fast after binge drinking. I could drink a bottle of peach schnapps and somehow be okay the next day. On rare occasions, I’d be sick the whole day; those were the days I’d cling to the Porcelain God and swear I was never, ever going to do that again.
That would last a few days, maybe a week. Then I’d forget how bad it was, and I’d tell myself I just wouldn’t get too drunk again. I’d just have a couple of drinks. The problem was that I was not a guy who could ever have a couple of drinks—not in my teens and not as an adult. No matter how many times I swore to myself that I was going to have two drinks, somehow I ended up having 10. Two drinks would get me just uninhibited enough to think it was okay to have a third. The third would get me just stupid enough to think drinks four and five were in order . . . and then all bets were off. A few days later, the cycle would repeat.
Turning 21 was a relief for me because it meant that I could go to bars whenever I wanted to and not rely on others to get alcohol for me. Now the floodgates were fully open. I lived on my own, had no responsibilities other than work, and had hit the legal drinking age. There were no more barriers to me becoming a full-blown alcoholic.
For social reasons, I didn’t like to go to a bar sober. Even when I went alone, I would always drink before I left for the bar because I didn’t want to feel awkward or uptight when I got there. Relaxed just wasn’t how you’d describe my personality.
I’ll be ahead of the game if I have a few first, I thought. Alcohol was my friend; it would take away all my anxieties. I kept a bottle or two of vodka stashed in the kitchen cabinet of my apartment, and I’d mix it with orange juice and ice in a big 7-Eleven cup and then drink it at home and in the car on my way. I was quite literally drinking and driving. But you have to understand that this was just fine because I thought, Nothing bad could ever happen to me.
As time went on, it became harder and harder to socialize without alcohol. I had no idea how to talk to people if I wasn’t at least buzzed. When you’re a drinker, you make sure that all your friends are too, and everything you do centers around alcohol consumption. You ensure that whether you’re watching a ball game, going out to a restaurant, or having a backyard party, the alcohol is plentiful. Your own drinking habits blend in easier that way.
I was not completely oblivious to the idea that alcohol could be a problem for people, but I certainly didn’t think it was a problem for me.
I drink because of my family, I’d tell myself. Or because my girlfriend broke up with me. Or because I’d had a bad day. There were a number of justifications I could call upon at any given moment. Those justifications also helped me convince myself that I was not an alcoholic. I was just a guy who had some problems and drank to have fun. What could be wrong with that? It was practically my birthright as a good American. You turn 21, you go to bars. It’s what you’re supposed to do.
At least that’s how I saw it at the time. Drinking is so ingrained in our cultural psyche that it really didn’t occur to me at the time that what I was doing was unhealthy, dangerous, or wrong. I thought the people who didn’t drink were the ones who had a problem; they were uptight and must hate having fun!
As for me, I was a young man on the rise. I felt strong, like I had everything going in the right direction. I was nowhere near figuring out that the direction I was going was a fast track to an early grave.