Why I’m “Drug Free” – Joey Hall

by admin on July 17, 2009


Will you remember my reply
when your high horse dies?
– The Shins

I don’t know how to break the news,
but It’s pretty clear you’ll be asked to choose,
between what you lack and what you excuse
– Aimee Mann

I am 31 years old. I have never tasted a drop of alcohol, never smoked a cigarette or a joint.

This is not a fact I use to introduce myself in mixed company, but when it comes up, for whatever reason, many people seem to be fascinated by it. All my life I’ve had to answer some variation of  “Why don’t you______?” I don’t really understand why it is so interesting, because I can’t remember ever asking anyone I’ve just met why they drink or do drugs. I have come to accept the fact that it is just a component of getting to know people. In answering the perpetual question, I always feel like I disappoint. The truth is, I don’t really have any sort of profound answer as to why I’m drug free, beyond “I just am, I never felt the desire or need to, I’ve just chosen not to.” Perhaps it isn’t a glamorous or interesting answer, but it is the truth.  However, there are some experiences that have influenced my view of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, etc. I’ll do my best to detail them here.

Thats me in the middle, with my bro and sis

Thats me in the middle, with my bro and sis

First, I didn’t grow up around alcohol or drugs. My parents don’t drink. To my knowledge no one in my family does. We didn’t have beer in the house. I was always shocked when I’d go to a friend’s house for a sleepover and there was a six pack in their fridge. It just wasn’t on my radar. My parents were not strict, and we rarely had any sort of discussion about drugs or alcohol when I was growing up. Pot wasn’t really readily available in my middle or high school communities, so I was not exposed to that either.

I can remember the first party I attended in high school where alcohol was being consumed. Freaked out, and outside my comfort zone, I called my dad, saying,  “Dad, I’m at this party and people are drinking, I don’t know what to do.” His response to me made a lasting impression. “Have fun,” he said, “don’t ride home with anyone who has been drinking, and if you decide to drink, call me so I can come get you afterward.” He left the decision in my hands. He diffused any curiosity I had about it.  It wasn’t some forbidden thing, it was just a choice to be made. I had a good time at the party and I didn’t partake in any alcohol.

Ben, Steve, Brian, and I are still best friends.

Ben, Steve, Brian, and I are still best friends.

Another thing that influenced my consumption decisions were my interactions with my three best friends. We met in our high school’s drama club. We started to hang out, and we had all sorts of crazy adventures. We didn’t go to parties, and drinking or doing drugs was never a part of our landscape. We preferred laying on our backs on the high school football field, talking about all sorts of nonsense, our dreams, and various inappropriate thoughts  involving our desires for the opposite sex. We went to movies, we played video games, played Frisbee water polo in my parent’s pool, and frequented the used CD store.


Photo by Yellowboy

At the age of 15 I learned to kayak. It changed my life. Kayaking became my passion. It still is. Soon, I became a kayaking instructor and began working summers at the camp where I’d learned to paddle. At camp I was surrounded by young people away from home for their first time. Lots of alcohol was consumed by the counselors, as well as weed and cigarettes, and even harder drugs like crack and cocaine. Some of my camp friends partook in these, but again, I had no interest in it, and rarely thought much about it, choosing rather to avoid those situations and mind my own business. It was a choice, after all.

After high school I went off to college. I lived in the dorms one semester. I’d already experienced living “on my own” away from home, via my camp work.  The others I shared my dorm suite with had never had that sort of experience.  The old cliche’ of getting out from under your parent’s roof and going wild took hold of them. They partied a lot. There was weed in my room. One night a student on my hall had a bad reaction to LSD and ran silently down the hallway. When he hit the concrete wall at full speed, the wet “fwap” sound that his face made as it caved in woke me up. That kid never came back to school. Again, none of it held any interest for me. I moved out of the dorm and into a house the next semester.

As my college career carried on, I’d go to parties with my friends. We’d sneak into bars. I’d drive them around all night, as they drank beer or Jack and Cokes and I had Sprites or Red Bulls. I was always the designated driver, a title I did not mind, unless they started getting rude, at which point I’d lay down the law.  “Drunk people shut up,” I’d say, and everyone would laugh. We had fun, I spent many nights in dirty bars watching bands play. We’d go to house parties where there was weed and other harder drugs. No one seemed to mind that I did not imbibe.

Photo by Pete Blenkinsop

Photo by Pete Blenkinsop

When I graduated, I started my business, and at the same time got more involved in the kayaking industry. I worked my way up the ranks and became a sponsored kayaker. I began to be around a wider variety of kayakers, action sports enthusiasts, etc.  I soon noticed that drugs, particularly pot, were a very big part of the outdoor industry scene. It grated on my nerves when I was profiled by police or the general public as a “pot head kayaker”, just because I had long hair and a boat on my car.  But this was nothing in comparison to the irritation I experienced as pot and alcohol was thrust in my face on a regular basis. Repeatedly hearing “I’m going to get you drunk and high your first time, come on and try it” gets really old, especially when I never had to endure even half that much peer pressure in high school. Having drugs flaunted in my face in this way, experiencing that disrespect, when all my life I’d done my best to respect other people’s choices, tainted my view. I got a chip on my shoulder. I started fighting back by being belligerently anti-drug, vocally opposing other people’s choices, and being judgmental as a response to being made to feel I was in the lame minority that did not consume drugs. I was anti-drug to a fault. It ran (and runs) counter to my view that drugs, alcohol, etc, are a choice, and everyone is entitled to their own, as long as their choices do not impede on my choices. I’m still trying to undo some of the damage that this period of my life has had on my outlook. I am still judgmental at times, though I try to realize when I’m being that way. I’ve known people who threw their talent and ambitions away because of drugs and alcohol. I’ve had friends who saved their own lives by realizing they had problems. I also have many friends and people close to me that use alcohol or drugs, and they are wonderful human beings whom I love and care for and they lead fulfilling lives. They make their choices and I make mine, and I do my best to love and care for them for who they are, without being judgmental, in hopes that they afford me the same respect.  They do.  Sometimes I fail in my attempts not to judge, but I’m working on it.

Article and photo by Yellowboy

Article and photo by Yellowboy

So I suppose my whole outlook on substances is based on the concept of  “choice”. Everyone has choices in life. I just happened to choose not to drink or smoke. I’ve taught many kids how to kayak, and I’ve always  tried to impart to them that they have choices, just as my parents did with me. I think taking away a kid’s choice is a negative and shameful thing.  I try to set a good example, not in so much as “these things are bad and I’m so good because I don’t do them”, but more so in a “I’ve chosen to be this way, and that’s OK, and you can make your own choices” kind of way.

Since Spencer and I started “Drug Free Lifestyle” (whatever it actually IS), I’ve had several people ask me, “Well, I drink, can I wear a DFL shirt? is that still OK?”  and I tell them of course it is OK.  What you define to be drug free is your definition. Personally, I take anti-anxiety medicines that have been prescribed to me by a doctor. Does this run counter to the whole idea of being “drug free”? To many people it would, and I’m sure many people would label me a hypocrite. But I do not have all the answers, I merely know what I choose to do and believe.

So, why am I drug free?

I just am.

-Joey Hall


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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

mom and pops July 17, 2009 at 11:06 am

joey we are so proud of you !
could not have asked for a better son !
love ; mom i typed this not your dad ! how were we ever so lucky !

Randolph Stafford July 27, 2009 at 2:46 pm

Bad ass post, dude! You and Spencer kick ass. I wish you both all of the success that you seek. World peace and bacon grease, Randolph.

Kelly Fischer July 28, 2009 at 3:28 am

Well said Joey Hall. Good luck in Portugal!

rudy hayden August 25, 2009 at 8:24 am

kudos to being a drug free leader in the outdoor industry!

emily August 27, 2009 at 12:47 pm

Hmm ; :/
I wish I could be more like you >.<
I’m 14 years old about to be 15
and I had my first alcohol experience
when I was a young 13 year old .
However , I haven’t smoked a cigarette
which I am proud to say .
I never plan on smoking (:

Carolyn October 6, 2009 at 7:29 pm

I am so glad you are drug free! I am 27 years old and drug free (always have been and always will be). I think you are AWESOME for being proud of being drug free. I am PROUD to be the same! I think more of us should speak up and start a group. I’m glad I saw this. I know I’m not the only one! It’s great!

chelsea October 21, 2011 at 3:08 pm

hi im a 5TH grader im goin TO BE DRUG FREE ALL MY LIFE NEVER PLAN ON DOING DRUGS AND I WILL NEVER WILL !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! $$$$$$$$$$$

Chuck April 29, 2012 at 9:59 pm

Way to go Joey. My name is Chucka nd like you I am clean, never been buzzed or drunbk, never done any drugs and dont know how to smoke a cigarette. Not too many people can say that they are clean and we must resist the in your face peer pressure thats everywhere

Chris November 13, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Hey Joey, just reading this now . . . a bit after you posted it but the perfect time for me as I have a 14-year-old who will soon be making decisions like that you describe:

I called my dad, saying, “Dad, I’m at this party and people are drinking, I don’t know what to do.” His response to me made a lasting impression. “Have fun,” he said, “don’t ride home with anyone who has been drinking, and if you decide to drink, call me so I can come get you afterward.” He left the decision in my hands. He diffused any curiosity I had about it. It wasn’t some forbidden thing, it was just a choice to be made. I had a good time at the party and I didn’t partake in any alcohol.

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