My Vices

I have mentioned here before that I have a family history that predisposes me to an addictive personality. As so many silly children do, I spent much of my early twenties partying with alcohol, and (at my parents’ insistence) I was on the constant lookout for any signs of alcoholism. Lucky me, I’ve never seen any.

I thought it might be fun (and/or useful) to review my history with with addictive substances, for posterity as it were. So far, none of them has been my downfall, but it’s an ongoing investigation.

I have never tried any illegal drugs.

Really, I’ve never had the opportunity. I had a couple of friends in high school who did, but never around me and they never invited me to try. I guess I grew up in the right part of town, and hung out with the right crowd, and I’ve been consistent enough about that throughout my life that it just never happened.

When I was in New York, visiting D–, we spent one evening at birthday party for a friend of his, whom he had met while he was living there. The party was in a cramped little apartment (as they all are in New York City, and there were many guests, and the food did not appeal to me but I was too polite to say so, and I may have already been a little bit drunk before we ever went over there, so all told I wasn’t in too good of shape.

Of course, the worst of it was the crowd of strangers. I had a pretty good anxiety attack going on just from that. Anyway, sometime late in the evening the birthday boy gets to opening presents, and one of them was a baggie of what must have been pretty good weed, because he was awfully excited to get it. And, generous fellow that he was, he rolled a joint and they passed it around.

That, really, was my opportunity. Only time in my life I’ve been in the same room as a joint. I was feeling sick, though, and not at all adventuresome, so I passed it right along.

So, that’s drugs.

I’ve smoked some cigarettes, out of boredom more than anything else. I remember one time when I got trashed at Brad’s place (which will, necessarily, be described later), Brian recommended that I smoke a couple cigarettes in the hopes that the stimulant effect would, I dunno, bring me down. I did, and it didn’t, and the night did not end well (as will be shown).

Apart from that, I’ve smoked maybe a total of a pack of cigarettes, at various times — all of them have been when I was hanging out with D– at some bar (usually with a larger social group), and I bummed some cigarettes off him just for something to do while everybody else played pool and danced and joked among themselves. More than once I’ve had a cigarette when it was just D– and me, sitting across the table talking, just because, y’know, if he’s going to be blowing smoke in my face, I feel like I ought to get some sort of vengeance.

Some of that might sound like D–‘s a heavy smoker. Not at all, really, but he tends to take a pack with him when he goes to a bar, and sometimes the mood strikes him. That’s all there is there.

I’ve had four or five cigars in my time, too, and I’d love to have more, but I enjoy saving them for special occasions. That, and I’m not wealthy enough to buy things yet just to set them on fire. And I’m still a little too pretentious to buy cheap cigars. I’d rather not smoke at all.

So, yeah. When it comes to smoking, it’s only ever been occasional, and never tempting toward addiction.

Oh, sweet alcohol.

Actually, this bit is long, even hitting just the highlights. Feel free to skim over it. If you know me at all, you probably know most of these stories.

We moved to Wichita when I was twelve or so, and bought a house, and apparently when we moved into the house my parents found a couple bottles of liquor left there by the previous owners. Knowing liquor doesn’t really go bad, they decided to keep it, but a desperation to be good parents had kept my parents from drinking anything at all for as long as I’d been alive (at least, as far as I know of).

So they tucked the bottles away in the very back of an old buffet that stood in our living room, and probably forgot all about them.

I was looking for a deck of playing cards one day, and stumbled upon them. They fascinated me. After that I waited, always looking for an opportunity, and one evening they left me home alone and I seized my opportunity. I dug out the two bottles. One was labeled “Gin,” but I opened it and it didn’t really have any smell to it. I took that to mean it probably had no real flavor, so wouldn’t be too exciting a thing to try. The other bottle was nearly sealed shut by the thick, long-congealed sugary syrup under the cap, and when I finally wrenched it open it smelled strongly of peppermint, and the sour smell of alcohol. This, I thought, was good liquor.

So I poured probably half a shot of peppermint schnapps into a tall glass of Dr Pepper, and drank it down. It was nasty. I probably wouldn’t have liked a Gin and Dr Pepper any better, but I shudder to think that this was my first cocktail. I was probably fourteen.

When I was fifteen, I was babysitting some kid at somebody’s house, and I noticed an open bottle of wine in the fridge. I waited until the kid was down sleeping for the night (and the parents weren’t due home for some time), and I stole a sip of it, expecting delicious things. It was just sour and nasty. I spent some time trying to figure out how to warn them that their wine had gone bad without admitting I’d tried it, but finally gave up, realizing they’d have to figure it out for themselves.

It was a chardonnay, and I’m quite confident it was a perfectly good one. I was a kid, though. All I knew was that wine was made out of grapes, so I expected something much sweeter.

When I was sixteen, I drank for real for the first time. There was a campground just outside of town called King’s Camp, when the church would sometimes have youth retreats and whatnot. It sat in some small woods near a scrawny little Kansas lake, and it only saw any real business during the summer.

My friends and I (Brad and Brian again, as well as a few others from the youth group) had found an entrance to the camp that wasn’t locked up in those long months when the camp was out of use, and so we would often sneak back there for a night out in the woods. Brad and Brian ended up hunting some, when they were older, but I can’t imagine what else we found to pass the time out there. Still, it was a favorite hangout. That’s also where I took my girlfriend Lindsey to dump her on Valentine’s Day. But that’s another story.

One night, though, Brian decided it was time we all learn how to drink. Brad may or may not have been part of this evening, but I know and D– and I showed up, as well as a guy from our youth group named Erin, and another friend of Brian’s that none of us knew. That friend was our supplier, though.

We ended up with a flask of Southern Comfort, a flask of Peach Schnapps, and a gallon jug of orange juice. We made a fire out in the woods, and spent an evening talking about girls and drinking shots and swigging right out of the bottle, and just pretending like we were awfully cool guys.

Everybody drank too much (and the oldest among us was probably eighteen, and didn’t have much more experience drinking than I did at that point). We eventually put out the fire and stumbled back to one of the cabins that had been left unlocked to sleep off the few hours left in the night. Brian, realizing we’d all probably have hangovers the next morning, separately encouraged both D– and me to drive into town and pick up some aspirin, because we were the least drunk. We both remember making the drive (independently), all freaked out that we were going to get caught drunk driving and probably nowhere close to actually drunk, but neither knew the other one was doing the same thing.

I remember when I got back with the aspirin, everyone else was sound asleep. Thinking we would probably want to clear out pretty quickly in the morning to avoid getting caught, I spent some time tidying up before I went to sleep. I threw away plastic cups and other trash, put away the deck of cards, and emptied the remains of the peach schnapps into the orange juice bottle (you know, so there’d be less to carry).

Turns out, Brian’s friend had taken both the orange juice and the schnapps from his parents’ fridge, and when he unknowing put back the spiked OJ, he ended up getting in a lot of trouble. Hah!

Nothing bad came of that night, except for D– getting a little scraped up trying to escort a falling-down-drunk Erin through the trees, and having to make up an excuse for the scrapes on his arms come Sunday morning….

Two weeks later, give or take, I was out to lunch with my mom, and we were talking of all manner of things, and I leveled with her about what we’d done. I’ve always had that sort of relationship with my mom. I think she was probably pretty worried to hear we’d been up to it, but she just said she was glad I could be honest with her, and hopefully next time I’d be a little safer about it.

After that, I didn’t really drink until my Junior year in high school when I met B–, and he taught me how to drink wine. The first time he invited me over, I asked if he would pick up a bottle of Arbor Mist Blackberry Merlot (or something equally crappy), because I’d seen ads and it just sounded delicious. He did, graciously enough, but he also got a bottle of actual, good Merlot.

I remember him laughing when he discovered that the Arbor Mist had a twist top. I also remember I didn’t like it much, even that first time. I still kept buying such stuff for a year or two, but Bruce convinced me that the Merlot was a lot better, and it didn’t take me long to learn to appreciate actual wine.

Early in my Freshman year at college, I was in Wichita visiting for the weekend and spent an evening over at Brad’s place. D– was back in OKC at the time, and he came over, too. Over the last year or two, since I had left Wichita, Brad and Brian had become pretty close. Still, everybody thought it would be fun to get together.

Brad and Brian were smokers, then, and they drank beer. That was most of the plan for the evening: poker, beer, and smoking. Ah, and Brad grilled up some venison, so I guess this was when they were hunting, too.

I was extremely pretentious back then, and I would not condescend to drink beer. D– was okay with it, and Brad and Brian seemed to love it, but when I asked if they had any wine, I was out of luck.

Brad remembered that he’d stashed away a bottle of vodka that he’d gotten somewhere, though, and I said (knowing nothing), “Ah, vodka, that’s a real drink!”

They’d spent some time ribbing me for being to effeminate to drink beer like the rest of them, so when Brad poured me a shot of vodka I slammed it back. That’s something I’ve always been good at — slamming shots without any visible difficulty, just a natural talent apparently. Anyway, they seemed impressed how easily I did that shot, and I felt pretty good about impressing them (and drinking the shot had been remarkably easy), so I told him to pour me another, and I knocked that one back, too.

I did seven shots before the first one caught up with me.

I remember spending the rest of the evening locked in a little half-bath down in the basement, ten feet away from the table where they were playing poker. I’d heard that drinking a lot of water was the key to not getting hungover, so I had a water glass that I kept filling from the sink, downing it as quick as I could, and then just standing with hands on both walls, bracing myself against the world’s spinning, and hoping not to puke.

Periodically, I would stick my head out the door and shout, “Brian…is a bitch!”

I didn’t really come down after a couple hours, and Brad hadn’t intended on anybody staying the night, so Brian drove me to D–‘s place (where I was supposed to be). I remember D– laughing at me, because he’d never seen me really drunk before, and he told me that the best solution to that level of drunkenness was Pepsi and Twizzlers, and he just happened to have both. So he gave me a 24-pack of Pepsi and a 1-pound bag of Twizzlers, and sat back and watched while I gorged myself on both.

Even 7 shots in, I don’t think I would have thrown up that night if not for D–‘s little trick. What a bastard.

Anyway, that’s the worst I’ve ever felt drinking. I’ve had nights as bad as that since then (although only a few), but that was the first, and I really wasn’t sure I was going to make it through.

Then, really immediately after that, I decided I needed to learn how to drink actual liquor. I started out with Vodka, and essentially my goal was to be able, in case it ever became necessary, to face off against a tableful of Russian mobsters and match them shot for shot of Vodka without losing my cool. It seemed like a useful survival skill.

I learned a lot about Vodka in the months that followed, and we threw a big party involving several brands of flavored Vodka for T–‘s 21st birthday, during that time. We rented A Knight’s Tale (which she loved), and made up a drinking game for it. Every time a lance broke, we said, we’d drink a shot.

Turns out, there’s a montage scene in which about fifteen lances break within ten seconds. Luckily, by that point, we were all too messed up to count, so we just gave up on it.

That’s the party where D– threw up in T–‘s drawer, in the bathroom. Her scrunchies were never the same. That’s the same one where…well, I can’t give away too many people’s secrets in one blog post. Everybody got smashed, though.

Somewhere along the way, I caught on to K–‘s appreciation of Jack Daniels, and decided I’d achieved my goal for Vodka, so I switched over to Jack. I remember going through a whole bottle in a weekend, more than once. I would drink it straight, in large quantities. It was expensive, and it wasn’t really that much fun, but I was proud of what I could accomplish.

Yeah, yeah. I was in college. Everyone in college is that stupid.

I remember Toby and I would go for walks around the perimeter of the OC campus, evenings, he with his Mountain Dew bottle full of very strong margarita, and me with my root beer bottle full of Jack Daniels. Those probably weren’t as healthy of an activity as we thought they were.

When we moved out of the OC dorms (first K– and N– into their apartment at the Links, and then T– and I when we moved to Tulsa), things changed. In spite of everything I’ve said, we did have a certain amount of restraint imposed by the knowledge that we could be kicked out of school (and our apartments) if we were ever caught drinking (or even possessing alcohol within the apartments).

That first year that K– and N– had their own apartment, we reveled in the freedom of it. When T– and I moved to Tulsa, we would still often come to OKC to hang out with K– and N– and D– over weekends, or they would come up to visit us, often once a month, and every single weekend involved at least one night of just stupid, stupid drinking (and at least one day of groaning and doing nothing following).

The biggest ones that stand out are New Years party’s, and the Halloween party where my little sister hooked up with my now brother-in-law. We went all out for actual holidays, but we had crazy parties no matter what. If we were getting together, most of us were getting drunk.

T– got tired of it before the rest of us (by at least two years), and looking back on it I feel more than a little shame. We were acting like idiot college kids, really. We’ve all outgrown it by now. Sure, we still drink (and one or two of us drinks too much, at least once a month), but it’s nothing like the parties we used to have.

That’s probably as worried as I’ve ever been, about my drinking. I hated my job, for most of the time I lived in Tulsa, and I hated being so removed from my friends. College had been awesome for me, more because I was constantly surrounded by friends and engaging with them, than for any other reason. Getting out into the real world, where every one of us had responsibilities and life called us away to other cities and states…it irked me. Real life got to me, and I felt like those parties were an opportunity to rebel against real life.

That’s dangerously close to drinking to escape from problems. Still, I knew what I was doing (by which I mean, I was aware just how much I was drinking), and I took care to pay attention. I would spend weeks at a time without drinking at all, in between visits, and I was always asking myself, “Do I need a drink? Or does it just sound like fun?”

And, through it all, I was always pretty sure that, the fact that I was even asking myself those questions probably meant I had a problem. I had been raised to start from the assumption that it was probably a problem, really. Looking back now, I don’t think it ever was. It was stupid, I’m sure, but twenty-five-year-olds are stupid. That’s just how it goes.

It waned, too. We all got older, and I think we probably stopped having those parties more because we lost the youthful energy to recover from them than because we matured out of it, but maturity came along close enough behind, and we could look back and chuckle at our own antics.

Not…not that we’re all that mature now. I don’t have any trouble remembering back to the last time one of was too drunk to remember it. I don’t ever really have to worry that I might be an alcoholic these days, though. I have alcohol in the house all the time, and I go days and weeks without pouring a glass. Then I might go a week or two in a row averaging a glass a day (and much of that bunched up in three or four nights), and it’s still not particularly responsible, but it’s not dependency, either.

I guess I always sort of assumed I would end up an alcoholic, and I certainly didn’t try too hard to avoid it, but I’ve managed so far to dodge that bullet. I’ve got an awful lot of stories where alcohol is concerned, but it’s not the vice that’s going to bring me down.

Video Games
Well, I’ve already covered all the substances. I could go into detail on “Food,” but frankly, it would be boring. I’ve got health issues and diet is a part of it, but it’s not the biggest part and never has been.

I recently read a book, though, that discussed the addictive nature of video games, and pointed that modern games, MMOs especially, implement a reward and dependency system that impacts the brain in exactly the same manner as dopamine-based drugs.

I’m not surprised. In fact, I’ve knowingly turned to video games in precisely the ways I would never allow myself to turn to alcohol, when my problems became too much for me to handle. The MMOs I’ve played have included Asheron’s Call for most of college, Star Wars Galaxies while I lived in Tulsa, and World of Warcraft for longer than any of the others. Now I’m playing Age of Conan, of course, but I could just as easily lapse back into WoW any day.

The thing is, I obsess. I do have an obsessive personality, and if I don’t have something benign to focus that on, I focus it on my real life problems. I can build myself into a full anxiety attack over finances, home repair, relationships, frustrations at work, whatever. Finances are the easiest, and I find myself constantly worrying over them, no matter what else is going on.

When I’m actively involved in an MMO, though, I worry about that instead. I’ll spend hours just sitting, idly considering what I need to do to improve a character or make progress in some dungeon I’m trying to conquer.

It’s stupid, it’s inconsequential, and I know that. That doesn’t bother me at all. It’s something that doesn’t matter, but it fully captures my attention — it lets my brain work overtime on a problem without actually building up any real anxiety, because I know that at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter.

I can’t do that with my writing. I wish I could just aim my addiction in that direction and churn out pages and pages. I wrote a post two years ago about how that doesn’t work for me, though. I write from calmness and security, not from chaos. It’s just who I am.

I use games to vent, though. To escape. It’s not harmless. I spend too much of the little free time I have on it, especially when I don’t bother to limit myself. Without careful attention, I can let myself come home from work every day and sink into my game until late at night — while away whole weekends with my only social interaction occurring when friends or family log into the game with me.

It is an addiction, and if I don’t wrestle with it, it takes a toll on all of my relationships. Still, it’s the most benign of the addictions I think I could have fallen prey to. It works in my life, if I can just maintain a little balance. But, yeah, it does work for me. It helps me handle something that needs handling. I use video games to cope with the stress of real life.

I guess…I guess that makes video games my anti-drug? Ugh. I’ve become one of them.

Anyway, yeah, I’m counting down the minutes until I can get off work and go play Conan. Don’t judge me. It’s just who I am.

2 Replies to “My Vices”

  1. ‘m pretty sure Trish spent her 21st birthday in England, because it was days before our wedding, which you missed because of being in aforementioned England. So I think The Night The Lances Broke was about a year and a half later, sometime after Kris and I invited you to Bennigan’s for “desserts and drinks,” which means we would have had to have been legal then. So there! At least we weren’t breaking the actual law, just the OC law. My first venture into real wine was at your hand, bearing pouilly-fuisse and beaujolais. Thank you, Louis Jadot!

  2. Hmm. Your timeline sounds accurate. I stand corrected. Of course, it stands to reason that I’d get some of the details wrong, given the subject matter….

    Thanks for the correction, though. This is for posterity, after all. It’s a shame I left out “desserts and drinks,” too. That was as much a coming of age moment for me (drinkwise) as the night in the woods.

Comments are closed.