When I was 17 years old, I was expelled from high school for nearly overdosing in class and having Xanax in my bag. I was sent to an alternative education program where I cleaned up my act and received my GED. Shortly after, I got a job as a hostess at Slo-Poke’s BBQ Sports Bar near Baylor. I thought getting a job would be beneficial for me to start over and meet new people. I made a commitment to myself and to my mom that I would stay clean. No more weed and no more pills. I had no idea how formative that job would be; it was the beginning of an unhealthy love affair with a dark scene in Waco, Texas.
As I transitioned from hostess to waitress, I learned the cliques. The Good Kids were the Baylor students who works a few shifts a week and were only in Waco for school. They would go out occasionally, but nothing was more important than their school work. Then there were the Bad Kids. This clique’s mission statement was “Let’s Party!”. A lot of them were Waco natives who worked almost everyday and partied damn near every night. They also made fun of the Good Kids for leaving the bar early.
Needless to say, I quickly identified as a Bad Kid. We would take shots, drink beer, listen to music, and gossip about our managers. “Let’s get hammered” or “let’s black out tonight” were common phrases we threw around. We were SO COOL. I found that confidence and flirtation came easily with a drink in my hand. Before 18, I was partying in clubs, smoking cigarettes, and hooking up with guys. People wanted to be around me. I had tons of
drinking buddies friends. I was finally achieving the popularity I was craving in high school.
A few months later, two co-workers needed a roommate. In my clouded mind, moving in with them “just made sense”. Finally being free from the reigns of living at home with mom, I had unlimited opportunities to make poor decisions. I was leaving work with $100 every night and I spent it as fast as I earned it. I ignored all responsibilities because life was a series of parties.
Before I knew it, my calendar was filled with excuses to get drunk: concerts, birthdays, traveling, bad days, good days, you name it – I was there and I was ready to party. At the time, I honestly didn’t think that I was doing anything wrong. I began to reintegrate smoking pot regularly, but I rationalized it since I still wasn’t taking pills. Denial taught me how to surrounded myself with people who lived the same lifestyle so I could justify my behavior.
I eventually became a bartender, spending a decade working in the Waco bar scene. I hopped from Slo-Poke’s BBQ Sports Bar to Cricket’s Grill & Drafthouse to Treff’s Bar & Grill to Diamondback’s Steakhouse to George’s Restaurant & Bar. I left each bar thinking the next one would have a better scene. The scenes didn’t changed and neither did I.
In this line of work, I worked with people from all walks of life. College kids who fell in love with a local Wacoan and stayed. People who got “real” jobs, but went back to bartending on the weekends because they realized that bartending is half the work for twice the money. Entrepreneurs who capitalized on this work environment to learn more about business. And those who turned bartending into a lifestyle and a career. All of those people were me, until I hung up my bar tool at age 28.
While I left the bartending lifestyle behind, I established a consistent presence on the other side of the bar. I loved the scene; the smoke, the music, the people, the smell – it all felt like home to me. After moving to New York, I began to find comfort in other environments. I noticed that book readings, coffee dates, and yoga classes were on my calendar in the spaces where I used to plan my excuses to drink.
Looking back, my experience with alcohol was never healthy. I grew up knowing that my grandfather drank himself to death and my father (now 10 years sober) looked to alcohol to self-medicate his depression. For some people, that family history would steer them away from booze for good. For me, I had the classic case of “it could never happen to me”.
It did happen to me.