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WOSTER: The great feeling that isn't worth it

The decision to drink alcohol or not was such a simple one for me in high school. I didn't do it.

I'd tasted the stuff as a kid, conspiring with my cousin to pilfer a can of beer from an ice-filled tub out in the garage at my uncle's place during a wedding reception. I was 10, maybe 12, at the time. The forbidden nature of the substance made it exciting. The taste was unimpressive. Even so, I took a sip, swallowed and sighed contentedly, the way an adult might, if an adult were a total doofus.

After that, I didn't try the stuff until I was out of high school. I had chances. A couple of my pals pushed a few times but realized I wasn't going for it. Eventually, it was accepted that I didn't drink. If that made me less than heartily welcome at parties, I wasn't unwelcome.

I didn't judge the drinkers. I had my own reasons for abstaining. I thought my parents would be disappointed. I thought I'd get caught and tossed off the track team. I thought I'd get arrested. I thought it was pointless.

My buddies would buy a six-pack or whatever, offer me one, shrug at the expected shake of the head and go about their business. They seemed to take no offense.

That lasted all through high school. Graduation week came and went, with several opportunities to drink. I turned them all down, effortlessly. The guys knew I would. Graduation night arrived. We did the cap-and-gown stuff, the processional, the nervousness about giving a speech, the walk across the stage, the flipping of the tassel and the congratulations. High school was over.

Three of us decided to cruise the streets and shoot the breeze, the way we'd done so many other warm spring evenings. We pulled up to a tavern, where one of the guys managed to buy a six-pack of beer. We drove along a back road on the river bluffs, found a quiet spot and parked.

"Want one?'' my buddy in the passenger seat said as he pulled a can from the pack.

He'd already started to hand it to guy in the back seat when I said, "Yeah, sure. I'll have one. Why not?''

My buddy did a double-take worthy of a stand-up comic, shrugged and poked a triangular hole in the top of the can of Hamm's with his opener. He handed it to me and cracked a couple more. We took big swallows and sighed, the way I suppose we figured adults did, never thinking for a moment we were doofuses. In fact, I don't know what the other guys were thinking. Me? I wasn't thinking much at all. I was feeling. And what I was feeling was good. Better than good. I was feeling fine, as if I'd found the key to shedding all of the uncertainties and insecurities and doubts in my life.

That was the start. The end -- so far, anyway -- came 16 long years later, after I'd lost control of my drinking and temporarily lost many other things that make life worthwhile. What I didn't know that late spring night in 1962, what I learned years later, was that it wasn't a good sign that the alcohol made me feel so different from my "normal'' self. I loved the feeling of being high. It took a long while for me to realize that every time I drank after that first night, I drank to get that feeling again. I wasn't being sociable. I didn't particularly like the taste. I didn't even do it to be one of the guys. I drank to get the feeling of being somebody better than I knew I was.

That graduation night comes to mind sometimes when spring arrived and proms and commencements are in the works. I have nothing against drinking when it's legal. Most people handle it. I just wish I could find that one kid like me and tell him the feeling isn't worth it and there are other ways to feel OK.

I suppose that kid, like me, has to learn that for himself.