The first time I got pissed - proper rolling on the floor, wucking up my mucking fords, walking into walls drunk - was when I was 13. It was at my mum's 50th birthday party at our house in run-of-the-mill suburban Christchurch.
It was the booziest affair I could remember at our house to that time. The biggest mistake my parents made, from my point of view, was trusting the bar duties to my 15-year-old sister and her best mate. They dressed up in black trousers, white shirts and black bow ties but that was about as professional as their operation got. I asked my dad if I could have a beer and he said, with what I can only describe as a proud grin accompanied by a bit of a head nod: "You can have one, but make it last son." To me that was code for: "Go for it!" He trotted out the old "make it last" line throughout my teenage years regardless of the copious amounts of booze I consumed. I always tried to make my one last but always failed miserably.
I finished my first one fairly quickly and headed straight for my sister's mate. She plied me with beers all night, as I made myself scarce from my parents. I probably had at least half a dozen Canterbury Draught but, whatever the number, it was more than enough for my skinny 13-year-old body. It was the greatest coup of my life. I remember my older University-aged cousin laughing as I did drunken commando rolls across our games room floor.
In the morning I woke up to find the upper half of my duvet completely smothered in a blanket of vomit. I can still remember that strangely sweet yet rancid smell and the fear of knowing I could have choked on my own vomit and died alone in my room.
However, if there was ever a duvet to throw up on my green and orange paisley number was it. I don't particularly remember my parents being angry or upset. I think the prevailing thought was the shock of the experience would teach me a lesson about the woes of drinking. The prevailing thought couldn't have been further from the truth. I felt like I had done this forbidden, adult thing and, despite my nocturnal pyrotechnics, gotten away with it. I thought I would never be let out of my room again, but life just seemed to go on. I'm not having a go at my parents here. They were probably shocked and upset but were perhaps worried about making too big a deal of it. I get that. In hindsight they may question the standard of their host responsibly, but I was pretty determined.
During the months after the party I regularly snuck into my parents' alcohol cabinet and drank gin, topping up what I drank with water. Did my parents know? They never asked me about it, but surely they noticed the gin was tasting a bit weak. My relationship with alcohol was forming. It was time to experiment. It's a strange thing. At the time I thought it tasted fucking disgusting, but it was equal parts illicit, grown up and mind altering. It was like catnip for cats to a 13-year-old with crippling shyness.
In Christchurch, you drive onto the one-way Barbadoes Street from Bealey Avenue and the lights are timed so you get every green except the last one at Moorhouse Ave. My drinking is like that. I felt like I had been given a green light at my Mum's 50th but ignored the orange, ran the red and ended up getting side swiped by a truck. I've had the green light running on my drinking for most of my life. And I've never been able to recognise where the orange and red lights are. I guess most people are like that. As I've got closer to 40 I've become more and more fed up with the Red Light Nights. That is why I'm living sober.
Tip of the day (and don't get used to pearls of wisdom - I will probably run out by week two): Keep busy. For me, learning how to play this fella's songs on my guitar is better than drinking. Here he sings about the love of a good woman, which also trumps the love of good alcohol. Enjoy!
The First TIme Ever I Saw Your Face