My first ever real encounter with alcohol was during my senior year of high school after my friend suggested we throw a Ke$ha-themed party at her house.
And not just any Ke$ha-themed party. Oh, no. A Ke$ha-themed drinking party (yes, that's what we called it -- "a drinking party").
Because Ke$ha was at the height of her fame back in 2010, and because we, the bonafide nerds and losers of Colts Neck High School, were itching to attend absolutely any form of a party, we all thought this was a great idea.
Plus, knowing we were going to have alcohol solidified the fact that this party may actually be kind of cool, which meant we were maybe actually kind of cool for throwing it, right? Right.
Now, most 16-year-olds would have been excited about the prospect of drinking. Feeling out of control and intoxicated for the first time, feigning the confidence to talk to your beloved crush, the thrilling possibility of getting caught -- all of that is enough to exhilarate any teenager.
Drinking had never been a thing in my house (still isn't). Due to an ungodly amount of family issues, my mom had never consumed a drop of alcohol in her entire life (still hasn't), and I could count on one hand the amount of times I'd ever seen my dad drink literally anything (still can).
There also had never been any alcohol around with my extended family during holidays. If you were seen drinking at my aunt's house on Thanksgiving or Christmas, you looked very out of place, and you were probably going to be gossiped about the next day.
And God forbid you were under 21; you might as well have started reciting your Hail Marys right there because no amount of time spent repenting would have absolved you of your sins.
Because of all this, I was under the impression for most of my life that drinking, and those who drank, were bad. So I knew that I wasn't going to drink at the party.
Unfortunately, I also knew I'd probably be the only one who wasn't going to drink.
This left me with two choices: stay home or set aside my judgments and hope nothing terrible happened. And because I didn't want to miss an opportunity to dress up and hang out with my friends, I chose the latter.
The night of the party, I donned my best, most glitter-soaked grunge outfit: a tight leopard-print dress with a ripped grey T-shirt and a denim vest on top and enough purple and blue glitter around my eyes to make me look like a flamboyant raccoon. I was ready.
It all began innocently enough. The music was loud, the crowd was good, and the Hawaiian Punch and Smirnoff was free-flowing. People were dancing, chatting loudly and playing drinking games. Everyone seemed to be having a good time.
Then, at around 11 pm, sh*t suddenly and abruptly hit the fan.
Since I was sober, I remember the evening very, very clearly: people starting to slur their words; the smell of vomit all over the walls of the bathroom; my boyfriend scooping people off the floor and rushing them to a toilet to throw up in instead of on the carpet; the aggressive snores of a dozen teenagers passed out in various corners of the living room.
By midnight, the house was destroyed.
I thanked my lucky stars that I didn't drink that night. And as I laid the third person down and onto his side so he wouldn't choke on his own vomit in his sleep, I vowed to not even consider it ever again until college.
Deciding when to drink to get drunk for the first time is a pivotal moment in every young adult's life, and having a mindset that forces you to approach alcohol cautiously makes it even harder.
Most of my friends chose the night of the Ke$ha party, with all of our nearest and dearest friends and classmates we'd known forever. As for me, after countless moments spent politely rejecting the drinks people gave me at parties, and after realizing not everyone who drinks alcohol is "bad," I chose the end of the fall semester of my freshman year at Boston College, with friends I'd only known for a short period of time.
I realize it sounds counterintuitive for an overly vigilant teenager to do something so potentially dangerous with people she didn't know that well, but I think my decision worked to my benefit.
Because I was in a new, unfamiliar environment as a college freshman, I was forced to be more cautious with how much alcohol I put in my system.
When I drank with those new friends, I didn't know who I could trust to take care of me if something went wrong, so I trusted nobody and took care of myself instead -- I paced myself, watched my drinks and constantly checked in with myself to make sure my head was clear.
This, on top of the fact that my baseline mentality around alcohol was one of caution (remember: no amount of Hail Marys! None!) drove me to tread lightly, to slowly and steadily test my limits, until I became a normal social drinker by the time I was an upperclassman.
I know what you're thinking. You're like, "That's weird. Most college freshmen are so nervous at their first college parties that they pound shots and crush Natty Lights like they've been drinking professionally since they were 14!"
And yes, you're right. Because they have been.
But personally, I find it weird that when senior year rolled around, those freshmen were already "over" drinking, craft beers, hanging out at bars and going to parties, like they were washed up 40-year-old alcoholic has-beens who didn't want to have fun anymore.
Because by the time I turned 21, by the time I was actually legally allowed to partake in those activities, I was ready to embrace them -- to act like the adult that my age said I was.
I also find it weird that it's weird for a college freshman to be responsible. Why was it weird for a teenager to care a little bit about what she puts in her body?
Why is this wrong?
Look, maybe I'm lame for having actively waited so long to start drinking, and maybe I sound like a pompous, prideful, holier-than-thou assh*le for being so damn proud of it.
But all I know is that at 14, 15 and 16 years old, instead of poisoning my body, I was geeking out over celebrities on Disney Channel. Reading fantasy books. Running around a soccer field and getting my knobby knees dirty. Having a goddamn childhood. And that's what I'm happiest about.
Now, let's grab a beer.