It might not have happened like that if I hadn’t developed a huge friend crush on a pretty, popular senior who happened to live on a winery. I’ve always wondered what it was that Cecilia saw in me—one theory I can’t bring myself to dismiss is that there was something semi-charming in my naïveté—but we became incredibly close dizzyingly fast. I spent almost every weekend at her house, where I learned to taste the difference between the Pinots and the Sauvignons and eventually developed a taste for rosé that occasionally veered off into dangerous territory. I also acquired the vocabulary of an accomplished pot smoker, and I trained my tiny asthmatic lungs to cooperate accordingly.

See, there are a few distinct phenomena that tend to accompany that initial foray into the oh-so-scintillating world of drink and drug. The first one is that a lot of these contraband activities are going to be wholly unenjoyable the first time you try them. Like a lot of other 16-year-olds, at first I found the taste of wine revolting (and don’t even get me started on that vodka). The difference between me and a lot of other people is that I was just a little more willing to push through that discomfort. At first it was a social thing, but once I finally broke through to the high of whatever I was doing and was able to enjoy myself, I started to develop an insatiable curiosity, and I really did become a lot more adventurous. Friends of those beginning to experiment, be warned: As annoying as novice sub-users are (and we’re all annoying when we start out, because we generally either follow more experienced users around and copy every single thing they do, playing lush puppies to their booze hounds; or try to appear confident by pretending that we invented drinking/smoking/snorting/whatever else, which is particularly unattractive), it’s this stage that’s the real concern. Thing is, once somebody actually starts to like messing around with these substances, they often forget how to have fun without them (never mind the fact that they spent their first 16 or 18 or however many years doing just that). And they start to lose the healthy fear that stops them from getting into too much trouble.

My first strike, for example, was entirely my own fault. I took shrooms with Cecilia one weekend and then wrote something about it and left it lying around the house. Of course, my parents found it. Naturally, they worked backwards to deduce that I’d been drinking and smoking, too, and they were none too pleased. The confrontation that followed was messy and painful for everyone involved, and, from my 17-year-old perspective, One Of The Worst Things That Had Ever Happened. I listened as they berated me with the possible dangers of “experimenting with psychedelics,” and the fact that they even called it that made me hate them. How could they claim to understand me or my actions if they were so clearly stuck in the ’60s? A lot of what I was feeling was humiliation and genuine self-loathing, too—in case you haven’t tried it, it’s pretty traumatic to go from being the picture-perfect daughter to the wayward disappointment in one afternoon—but part of the problem was that I was being bombarded with mixed messages. My grades were excellent—I kept up with my responsibilities at school and at home—and I wasn’t exactly a junkie, and yet here I was being told that I had put my life in jeopardy, and violated the sanctity of parent-child trust in the process.

Even worse, my whole relationship with Cecilia got messed up. She barely spoke to me that whole summer, and a lot of that had to do with other stuff she was going through, I think, but still, riding on the coattails of One Of The Worst Things That Had Ever Happened, it was pretty devastating. I remained pretty confused throughout 12th grade, and angry at everybody involved, so naturally I started ingesting just about anything I could find.

I took an entire bottle of Robitussin gel-caps, which fucked with my vision for a good 20 hours but put me in a hell of a good mood, and also made me believe I’d never said the words Buffy, dad, hungry, girlfriend, Stickies, or parents before in my life (I still have the list on my computer). Taking the whole tube of Dramamine the night I had to watch Terry Gilliam’s Brazil for school was such a disturbing experience that I don’t even want to get into it. By far the most intense was salvia, after a hit and a half of which I was parading around my backyard and I felt like a triangle? and I was convinced that I was on a Nickelodeon game show being pushed along a track by invisible shamans (if you thought Miley Cyrus was exaggerating, let me assure you, I have been to that head-place and she was not).

If it sounds like I was desperate, it’s because I was: desperate for escape from the reality of senior year, desperate for any small act of rebellion, and—maybe above all else—desperate for a good story. Problem is, there’s only so much within the realm of the socially acceptable. Apparently, getting smashed with your friends is cool; swallowing an entire bottle of Robitussin on your own time just to see what will happen is pathetic. I’m not denying that it’s stupid as hell—and whatever you do, if you’re going to prove the SUPER IMPORTANT REPORTS right by abusing cough medicine, stay the hell away from Coricidin Cold & Cough, because that shit can kill you—but it just bugged me, hearing people criticize me so harshly when they were going out and getting shitfaced and driving around. Just because that was more mainstream didn’t make it any more benign, and there was so much hypocrisy involved that I started getting even angrier, and going even harder whenever I got the opportunity.