I Said No to Drugs
Chapter 1

In Chapter 1, I tell the story of a first interaction with a drug user. Then, I explore our natural need to learn from life, experience new things through the environment and reflect on the teachings of our upbringing. I describe the struggle between morality and greed, past and future and why I have made it a personal goal to say ‘no’ to drugs. I find the things that worries me most about drug usage, the power others have on someone who has never tried drugs. I learn that this is something that is very common, and I lay out my plan on how to fight against temptation, as I watch others succumb to it. 

“Here, take a hit,” says a known, calm and friendly voice.

I have been noticed. I look down. I see an oddly shaped cigarette in his hand. Slightly larger than the cigarette, with no visible section of where the filter would be. This looks more as if it is hand rolled from loose tobacco bought in a shop. I turn my attention at this kind offering, a friendly gesture, a present perhaps. His hand is not shaking but moves in a hypnotising manner, waiting for an acknowledgment and acceptance. Suddenly, it freezes—it is below my eyes. I see his hand, poorly maintained—fractured skin, which has probably never experienced the protective cover of hand lotion. Its fingertips are remarkably flat. Fingernails appear as if they have been gnawed by a scavenger creature, as if it were trying to salvage the last of scattered remains. Warts and scars most likely induced from burns from exposure to flames. Not too serious that would cause excruciating pain, but the hand may never fully heal, making its appearance poor.  Most of my attention is now focused on the white projection at the tip of his fingers. Cone shaped, with a flaming tip. Opaque paper that I can see that the object contains something green. I immediately know what it is. I look down at it. I look at him. Hypnotised by his relationship to me, I accept. There are more people in the room.  Faceless, but I sense they are close to me. I look around the circle. Why am I inside the circle if I am not fulfilling my role in it? Peer pressure? Maybe. A fear of being an outcast if I do not join in to complete the ring? Absolutely. Looking around for any hope of salvation, I see more bodies. Smoke covers their faces, but I still distinguish them—friends. I grab the joint, as I trust my friends. Suddenly, the spotlight is on me.  The room goes dark and the only visible object is my hand that is holding the joint. I cannot even see my own body and I feel empty. Voices echoing for me to have a drag.     

“Come on, inhale the smoke and show us,” they chant, “and remember, we don’t want you to be puffing. You are one of us, aren’t you? You came over to have fun, didn’t you? This will make your day.”

I continue to hesitate, and the chants are getting more threatening. 

“Bro, it’s one hit,” says a friend. “nothing bad is going to happen, are you afraid because it is illegal? Who is going to know? Just do it or leave and don’t come back.”

Voices are already intoxicating me. Questions, which are so simple to answer, but difficult to be understood and taken into account as a valid reason to get out of this dilemma. So what if it is illegal? Who is going to find out? I do not have to tell my parents every single thing that I do. I will just stay over for the night. The spotlight on me gets dimmer and the rest of the room is beginning to light up. I can again see the faces, whose owners I recognize, annoyed at me for taking so long to make my choice, but at least for their sake it was ‘yes’. Do they feel joy of knowing that I am following in their footsteps?  Do they keep a list of the people, friends, that they have peer pressured into smoking weed? Do they experience any guilt? 

I hold the blunt between the thumb and my index and middle finger. Slowly, I bring the drug towards my face. I place it onto my bottom lip and create a vacuum by closing my upper lip. I feel as if it is burning my lips. The room begins to move violently, as if I have entered a wormhole. Again, the room turns into darkness, and there is no sign of life. The spotlight returns to me, and the only visible object is an unrecognisable body with bright sparking light coming from its face. As I am about to take a hit, the cold and dead image is visible. It is not me.

It is human to learn. In evolution, learning and adaptation promotes the survival of a species. We learn of the things that are good for us and those that can cause us harm, but not everyone has the privilege of being guided well early in infancy. The way we form connections with family members from an early age, forms our inner understanding of emotion, attraction, and care. As we grow and our brain matures, we begin to receive influences from those who raise us, absorbing the knowledge they give us by everyday speech or by lessons. But these lessons and the way they have been taught is as inherited as the genetic traits that have been passed from parent to offspring. We all have different upbringing, some less fortunate than others, but at its core the lessons we learn are based on the experiences of others, compounded through their lives up to and beyond the point when they have children to raise. I was taught not to lie. Whether I did follow through what I was taught is another story. As a teenager, I used to keep secrets from my parents, influenced by the environment in which I was in. Mischievous actions influenced by my friends turned me against my parents’ teaching. I felt no guilt in keeping a secret. I felt no turmoil in my self whenever I did something I knew was wrong. I could look at my parents, have eye to eye conversations with them and say that nothing ‘special’ or ‘interesting’ had happened in my day. I kept its all to myself. At this point I ask myself whether my friends ever revealed anything, or if they were deceiving me. It all became clearer the day I was caught discarding some items that a kid in the neighbourhood had left in my house. To me this was a justified revenge because this kid had thrown a hammer at our cat. 

But I was embarrassed when I was caught. I still feel disappointment in myself, as I write this. I could not deny it, as I held the evidence in my hand. A black bin bag with items that were not mine. I suppose my mother got suspicious after I showed initiative in throwing out the rubbish. At this point knowing I had nothing left to hide, I felt the pressure to confess under my mother’s vigilance. Since then, I cannot stare into my mother’s eyes if I am deliberately hiding something from her. Even the slightest secret of my personal life that I knew it was okay to keep to myself would be shared, no matter how embarrassing.  Soon later, other secrets were exposed. Following my fall, my friends sought the opportunity to rid themselves of any guilt or association with me and they too confessed. They identified me as the leader of the group, who had made them take part in certain activities. You see, I led a society for those who had a non-sexual urine fetish, as a way to seek self-expression. Typically, a private activity, but I’ve always seen it as an expression of liberation if done openly in the wild, without fear of judgement. No harm came from it, other than the social stigma of it being inappropriate, dirty and weird. As the news of this spread, I was quickly labelled as a freak who took part in disgusting activities. However, I doubt that my actions and pleasures came solely from personal choices. When I was little, I remember being traumatised by a lack of toilets, and often had to withhold passing urine. Most of the time, I couldn’t hold it in, so I peed myself. Over time, this no longer caused shame or embarrassment, and I may have developed a coping mechanism whereby I saw it as normal and even feeling good in peeing myself if out of desperation I needed to pee.     

It’s safe to say that I found escape from reality through my experiences and how I reasoned through them. Behaving different than the rest segregated me from other people who considered themselves ‘normal’, which is a societal pressure in America. As for my decision making, if ever did anything wrong, and I knew it to be wrong, I could not function properly until I confessed to it. I would be able to last a few days, maybe a week or two by avoiding my parents, but the guilty feelings would be too much to handle that I would feel an urge to confess. Until I did, my stomach would feel full and yet hollow, because I wouldn’t feel hunger to eat.  My nerves would get to me and I would start to uncontrollably shiver and shake. At night, I would be restless and lay awake contemplating whether I should confess or not. Avoidance of this state would be the main reason why I could not take drugs; why I chose not to take drugs. It is the look of disappointment that I would see in my parent’s eyes, when I, myself, confess my crime—the crime of disobeying my parents. If I were to take a drug, even if it is inhaling the smoke of a cigarette, I would tell my parents. This is what my friends do not understand. They ask me how my parents would find out, and I always answer, ‘because I would tell them’. This confuses my friends, but the reason is simple: they do not have the same relation to their parents nor the experiences or history that I have with them. Communication in my family is very important and I cannot seem to keep anything from them. I fear the moment when I would confess my doings. I cannot avoid it. If I do not tell them, I would not be able to eat, sleep, or be myself and not being myself would impact me the most. The only way that I could avoid telling my parents, is by justifying my actions. How would I do this?  If I were to repeat my actions over and over, that would do it. But I’d have to take drugs more times a week for a longer period of time, until I consider it part of my daily routine and perhaps only then can I separate myself from feeling guilt. I would essentially be trying to convince myself that what I am doing is right and there is no need to confess.  

However, I accepted that drugs could interfere with my normal behaviour, and I would stick out like a sore thumb.  School grades may begin to fall, appearance may begin to change, and I may become antisocial and more independent. There are also health effects to consider. The long-term effect of drugs in the human body, especially marijuana, like lung cancer from inhaled smoke. Or the short-term effects—an overdose. It is rumoured that marijuana cannot cause overdose.  But, an overdose is different from body to body; it is the amount of a drug that is above the amount that the body can tolerate. I cannot say how much my body can tolerate, but I do know that it would not be close to what my friends tolerate. I do not know how taking drugs will impact me, nor would I like to know. My other fear is that if taking a drug and overtime I do not get a fix from my current dosage, then I would try more, or even try a stronger drug, promoting further addiction. However, my fear of confession overcomes any curiosity that I have for the substance, and most importantly overcomes any influential factors. And furthermore, I fear change.

I was walking to school on day and came across a group of friends talking to an older student from school. I had never seen this person and I hardly made the move to meet other people. As I was passing, I stopped to say hello to my friends, and happened to hear their conversation. 

“Do you smoke, dude?” the older student said to Mitch.

“Cigarettes?” Mitch replied.

“No bro,” the older student said while laughing under his breath, “I mean weed.”

“I smoke weed,” said Mitch as he synchronised his laughter with that of the older student.

I never knew my friends did drugs until I heard the older student ask Mitch about it. I suppose I was more aware of what to expect from this day onward, and it wasn’t too long of a wait to find out. One Friday afternoon, I went over to my Mitch’s house after school with another group of friends. It was the night before we sat the SATs, a night we were advised to get plenty of rest and sleep. Of course, being with my friends having a good time and doing cool things took priority over anything my parents or the school advised. Sitting around the television, Mitch took a small bag out of his left pocket and everyone looked at him awaiting his next move. He passed the bag around and somehow my body language may have hinted that it was the first time that I had seen a bag of marijuana. I was handed the bag and told to smell it. Everyone one else was smelling it as if it was something pure and delicious. However, it is the exact opposite. It is not pure and arguably it did not smell delicious; from a distance it smelt like crushed garlic that was allowed to rot for weeks. I could not say that I did not want to smell it, because then I would be ousted by the group. So, I put the bag up to my nose, but I did not have to inhale. By slightly lurching my chest forwards, I imitated the action of inhaling. In reality I was holding my breath. How would my friends know that I did not breathe in? They cannot possibly tell. But I feared that I possibly could not fake if they asked me to take a hit, unless I puffed it, I thought. Puffing would be okay, so long I did it well enough to hide the fact that I didn’t actually inhale into my lungs. I reasoned that the effect would be minimal, although I would still have the disgusting taste in my mouth. That’s a terrible idea, I thought, they would simply test me if they suspected that I was puffing and force me to show them the smoke was inhaled. However, I had planned that if they hesitated that I take a hit, I would then have no other choice to leave; it was not worth doing something that I knew I would regret. Nor was I prepared to lie and say that I have already done it, because then I feel they would have a stronger argument against me of why I wouldn’t do it with them. Perhaps they would even feel insulted. The harder I tried to stay in control, the more I realised I wasn’t.  

On the night before one of the most important tests in our high school days, my friends decided to take drugs. Everyone, myself included because I did not want to go home, and instead wanted to spend time with my friends, snuck out of Mitch’s house and walked to an empty field nearby. The air was empty and cold, dark and silent. There were no signs of life anywhere. We gathered in a circle around Mitch who was trying to prepare the joint while it was pitch black. The conditions were very unpleasant; the field was muddy, and my new shoes were getting ruined. There was a strong wind, and I was getting cold. A sacrifice to be among friends, I pondered. I was not suitably dressed for this weather and I feared getting ill. It was also getting late and we were far from any roads or bus stops. At the time, I lived one hour away from the school. Mitch’s house was located 15 minutes by train from the school, but trains passed less often at night, so I was anxious on how I would get home. A midnight curfew was advised for those that were under 18, so that made me more prone to be stopped by the police. Could the exhaled smoke of the marijuana affect me as well? Would police be likely to tell and assume that I was high? All this made me very uncomfortable, and yet, I remained by the side of my friend as I used the light from my bright phone screen to make his rolling job easier. As soon as he was done rolling, he asked who wanted some. I thought I was the only one that would say ‘no’ and be the only outcast, but there was one other friend, Percy, who said ‘no’. He told us that he has done it before and that he was trying to quit because he became physically addicted to it. He also said that he thought that it is bad for the brain and over time will affect response times. Suddenly, I did not feel alone in my decision to not to smoke. Having Percy there saying ‘no’ increased my confidence in myself to say ‘no’.  

Then I saw the effects of the drugs on Mitch. He could barely walk after a couple hits from the single joint. Another friend and I had to help him walk by having him put his weight on our shoulders, as he giggled all the way home. Seeing him in such a condition, would influence me in saying ‘no’ louder and more confidently. I figured that saying ‘I smoked weed’ might sound very cool and awesome, but saying ‘I said no to drugs’, would feel even better. This is because people might ask ‘how could you to stand your ground to peer pressure?’. Peer pressure is very powerful and most of the time it is successful, and it can come from anyone, even those we consider to be friends. But I can still be friends with my friends; drugs will not influence whether I like them or not. However, this is not an excuse to let my guard down, I knew that there were going to be days ahead that would challenge me. As I continued to say ‘no’, and my close friends lost their interest in asking me to do it. The occasional question comes now and then, but they are less demanding. Mitch has only one condition and that is that if I ever want to smoke weed, then I must do it with him. Very kind and inclusive of him to say so, but I do not fall into this trap. I believe that a smoker influencing a non-smoker to smoke, gives this person some power over others and self-gratification. Would I be closer to my friend if I were to join him in a smoke?  Perhaps, but it would only be artificial. Friendships should not be artificial.  

To be continued…

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