I Said No to Drugs
I focus my story on the use of weed, a common drug I encountered throughout my teenager years. It soon became clear that once I knew to detect the signs of drug usage, I began to see it more widespread. The things I hadn’t seen in the past were becoming an everyday reality. It became clear to me how many had tried drugs, and I hardly had anyone left to talk to about it. I describe how wanting acceptance from others may lead to making the choice to try drugs and become dependent on them.
I think one of the main problems with drug usage at an early age is that youths do not understand the extent of its effects on the body. By the time I was 16, I had only drunk one 330 mL bottle of Belgian beer, at a pub in Netherlands with my father’s work colleagues as we celebrated my 15th birthday. In Netherlands, like Germany, the drinking culture is much more relaxed, though there is pressure for young adults to behave appropriately. Growing up I had a few sips and tastes of beer and wine, though only in very small quantities. I was neither disgusted as some children are with bitter tastes nor felt anything special by tasting alcoholic drinks. My parents had a bar full of unopened bottles, because they rarely drank any alcohol, unless it was wine or beer that complemented a meal. I learnt more of the cultural aspect of drinking, focusing on the different grapes used in wines from different regions in France, Italy, Spain or Chile, and how to choose which wine to complement with a style of cooking. I learnt to appreciate the taste of wine in discrete amounts, enjoyed for the pleasure of the senses and not for the pleasure of intoxication.
The first time that I went drinking with my friends, we went to a private underground lounge at a pub in the city. The owners were very easy going and by having a status in the city, we were allowed to consume spirits, despite being underage. I think the owners were Russian, and so they encouraged that we drink vodka, shots of vodka in particular. They didn’t have shot glasses, and instead we used regular 250 mL tall glasses, which could be filled up to our liking, as we bought bottles of vodka to share among five friends. As I drank, I could not feel the effects, other than the strong burning sensation in the throat, but that went away quickly. The more I drank, the less sensitive I became to my surrounding and the more I felt as if I was levitating. I imagine the same would happen if I took drugs; the effects would slowly creep in with hardly any control of them. This is because it takes time for a substance, like alcohol, to be absorbed into the bloodstream, which depends on whether the body is digesting other foods or if alcohol is taken on an empty stomach. Other substances, depending on the style of ingestion, such as being inhaled or injected, have other routes into the bloodstream, how quickly this happens versus how quickly and how long the effects are felt, depends on the drug dose, its entry into the body, pre-conditioning factors (is the dose enough for the person to feel an effect based on previous use habits), the quality of the drug (how pure it is), or personal factors like oversensitivity to certain chemicals and ingredients. I believe that by the time that the effects are noticeable, the individual is already experiencing impaired judgment, and although they may recognise that the effect is taking place, they may no longer have full control of it or themselves.
On another Friday night, I was out with my friends again, but the next day I had a brain scan at the hospital, because I was complaining of constant headaches. Once again, they were going to smoke weed, but I didn’t know this until I was there with them. I told Mitch that I had a very important hospital procedure the next day, and that I could not be present when they smoked. He understood, but my other friend, Will, did not. He was offended that I did not share this event with them. Will did not understand my reason why I did not stay with them, even though Mitch stood up for me. At this point, Will became violent and threatening at my refusal to stand next to them. That night, Kelly, a girl in the grade above us was pressured into smoking marijuana. I’m not sure whether it was her first time, as she had bragged about going to the wildest student parties. After we all returned to Mitch’s house, Kelly laid on the couch, visibly shaking and sweating. Her pupils were dilated, and her movements were impaired. How can she bring herself to doing this? I think the main reason is the lack of knowledge or understanding that one has towards the effects of drug use, even if the use is minimal. It is highly impossible to know one’s reaction to a drug, how could we be sure of its sold by stranger on the streets? Could it be mixed with other drugs or a toxic chemical? Drug dealers who sell to the same person may make a substance stronger or weaker overtime (depending how you reason through it), to increase addiction, to increase business. Over the next couple of months after, Mitch was bragging on how he influenced Cassey and Camille to smoke with him for their first time and he pointed out the funny things they did while high. From this moment, I did not know who to turn to, as I saw a darker side to Mitch. I feared that every single person in my social group was moved by the scent of marijuana.
As the Wednesday approached, I felt that I needed time to relax and socialise with friends before the upcoming weekend. I usually spent my weekends with my parents; going out into town, but this time I wanted to spend some time with my friends. I remembered that another friend, Milôs, was coming in from America that very weekend. Thinking to get together and spend time with him, I sent a text message to Mitch to ask him if he had any plans for the arrival of our mutual friend.
He replied, “not really. Might just get together and get high.”
I was left speechless; I had no idea how to reply to this. Is this the only thing they think about, I wondered in defeat. What happened to just ‘getting together, watch a movie, eat pizza’? I did not know at this stage that Milôs also smoked marijuana. So, I decided to ask him about it. I brought the subject into conversation in a clever way, making it clear that I didn’t want to take part in the activity.
“You know, now-a-days everyone just wants to smoke weed, and I get bored because I don’t do it. Do you smoke regularly with friends?” I asked, making sure that he knew that I did not smoke.
He replied, “I would smoke if others are smoking.”
I wondered what he actually meant by this. Does did this mean that he smokes as a result of peer pressure or as a lack of self-control? I felt alone at this moment, because I knew there was another friend would do as others did without a good reason. Milôs had the reputation at school for easily pressured to drink large volumes of alcohol, and to do dares, typically involving alcohol or consuming foods that others would not dare to consumer in such large amounts. I could not tell him how I felt, because we weren’t entirely close friends. In fact, I don’t think I reached a close and interpersonal level of friendship with anyone at my school. Our connection with each other was largely built on superficial and artificial friendships.
I waited for what Milôs had to say about drug use in general and he said, “Weed is not a drug, so it’s cool.”
I have thought about telling my friends that I have smoked week, and not really liked it, but I would face so many questions that would leave me with almost no control over the dilemma. They would say that maybe it was a bad batch or that I smoked with the wrong people. They would continue to urge the weed was actually good and if I got good quality from a trusted dealer, then I should have an open mind and try it again. Then the questions about how many times I have smoked and whether I gave it chance, or simply had a bad experience once and decided that all weed in the world was bad. Finally, they’d make some argument how their weed was the best and that smoking around good friends makes the difference in the world. As we got further into the year, I met Wakely. He was a quiet and shy student although there was something about him that I didn’t find trustworthy. Maybe it was the way he told stories or how he talked about himself, it felt unnatural. He didn’t really have friends, and he was never part of my group from the start, so there was some animosity towards him. He also dressed very casually, without sense of fashion, no branding on his clothing or no luxury items or accessories, hardly any interesting stories of where he lived or of his hobbies. One day, he approached my group of friends during lunch and we started talking about plans for the weekend. Wakely bragged about how he would just sit in his room and smoke weed, which interested everyone else. We learnt that he had started at the school on the same year that everyone in my group of friends started, so we shared something in common. That day, after school, we decided to go into the town centre and have a beer or two. This would have been the first time that I had drunk a beer among friends. Before this, I spent a good two hours with Milôs talking about my experiences of drinking with friends, all lies of course. I did not want to be the weakest of the group, nor did I want them to think that I was boring and uninteresting, since most of their stories were about their past drinking and drug-taking experiences.
As so we went to buy alcohol at a local corner shop. In Germany, the socially acceptable bottle size is 500 mL, and everyone, except Wakely and I, bought two beers of 4.8% alcohol. Wakely said that he bought only one, because he had to get home and that his parents would punish him if he came home smelling of alcohol. Instead, I used a more sensible excuse, saying that beer makes me bloated and cannot drink that much on an empty stomach. Everyone drank their beer except for Wakely, who only drank half of it. So, we decided to share the leftovers. When it was my turn to drink, I poured the contents of his beer bottle into my beer bottle. Immediately, everyone exclaimed on what I was doing and told me to just drink out of the bottle. This simple error in drinking etiquette put me in the position that everyone doubted my stories on drinking with friends, since it is common to drink from the bottles of other people. I knew that the person I was pretending to be was nothing like me. I wondered if the same would happen if I accepted weed under the pretext that I had tried it in the past. Wakely continued to drink with my friends, but he was never part of the group. After some time, he disappeared from our social gatherings and eventually he joined another group, perhaps for approval. He probably fit better in there, mostly musical and math geeks, with their hippy-style clothing. Maybe he was not getting much attention from my group. We did not argue with his decision, since frankly, we did not care what he thought or about him.
Wakely had also changed by now. He no longer cared about drinking small amounts because his parents would notice, and he started drinking more heavily. There were other days he spent lunch with us, but he was just a muse. He continued to talk about how he smoked weed and hashish, but I knew he was lying because the way he described the experience was the same way that I would have explained it, if I chose to lie about smoking weed before. However, everyone believed him; why shouldn’t they? Wakely continued to hang around my group on days when I wasn’t available. One day I heard that everyone had gone to the park, where Wakely threw some dog shit at another friend. This friend then chased Wakely, tackled him, and rubbed the dog shit all over his hair. I wondered if Wakely was really enjoying himself, or just accepted that being the newly accepted member that it was okay for him to be treated that way. A few months passed and we happened to find ourselves having a small gathering at Mitch’s house. This time, Wakely was also there. The night was fun, but the clean and calm atmosphere was destroyed when Mitch took out his marijuana, once again from his left pocket. As it was passed around and got to me, I smelt it, because I was curious. It smelt horrible; a lung-stabbing, undistinguishable smell, that was almost like a road killed skunk. Wakely took a deep breath, making sure that everyone heard it. Mitch wasn’t rolling it this time; I got the feeling as if others complained about his performance. Instead, we all watched as Leslie, who was more experienced in doing drugs, began to handle the marijuana—all this happening one floor beneath Mitch’s parents. He took out a cigarette and spread its contents onto the table alongside of the marijuana. He carefully put a mixture of weed and tobacco onto the rolling paper, and with such delicate movements he rolled it into a cone. It was like watching an artist at work. He then twisted the end and said it was ready. Everyone knew the code, as if it was rehearsed. We all got our coats and shoes and went outside—this time not to the field, but just outside into the street a few yards from the house. They began to pass the joint around, again I refused, but another target was there, Wakely. He did not hesitate and accepted it, as he would if he said that he had smoked many times before. However, he did not know how to smoke it. He was just puffing; everyone could see that, even me. At this point everyone began to demand for him to inhale it. At this point, I confess that I too did not try to stop him.
“Dude, don’t puff, it’s a waste of weed,” I exclaimed, as I noticed the irony.
I did not say this because I felt it, but it is something that the smokers would appreciate, in the sense that puffing does not do anything and that it is just burning their valuable weed away. If I ever wanted to fake smoking weed, Wakely did it just like I have would have done it. He tried to puff it; a trick known by many. I was disappointed at Wakely’s weakness in not standing his ground, but it was entirely his fault. Since he had bragged before on how he used to enjoy smoking weed, he had no power to convince others on the reason for refusing it. Was the night any different to Wakely? Was he accepted into the group? Was he noticed more easily? Not really. He passed out on the couch and snored like a hibernating bear and was unable to continue to socialise with us that night. We found him extremely annoying and he ruined the mood for us. In school, we showed no signs in accepting him back into the group that he once chose to leave. He became a drifter. Drifting from group to group. Everyone could be his friend, but he does not belong in any group. It was a result on how he portrayed himself and how he ultimately acted among others. He made himself look good and act like that person that he was not, and the consequences cost him his chances of being liked in our class. There was no change in his social ranking after he took drugs; it was his other actions that affected his social status.
And then, there’s Vinny. Vinny was the more laid-back student, who didn’t really care much about social status and the way he appeared in front of others. He was liked and accepted by his charisma and respecting others. He had an older brother, who I think was cooler, so Vinny followed in the shadow of his sibling. Unlike many of the other school kids, Vinny didn’t smoke, not even cigarettes. His brother did smoke, but for some reason, it hadn’t influenced Vinny. I respected that as it takes guts to keep to one’s values. One day, Mitch bought a Shisha pipe and we all decided to go and smoke with him. I agreed to go along and so did Vinny, though both of us didn’t have the intention to smoke that night. We gathered in a shed outside Mitch’s house, set up the pipe with apple flavoured tobacco and started smoking. The ventilation in the room was poor, and after taking in so much second-hand smoke, I decided to have a drag of the tobacco. I had smoked a cigarette or two before that, and so I knew what it would be like. But the smoke was almost delicious, as it flowed into the lungs. It wasn’t the same feeling as inhaling cigarette smoke; it was much smoother. Vinny still refused to have a hit, even though everyone in the group spent at least ten minutes trying to persuade him. As he continued to refuse, he became a target in which smoke was deliberately blown into his face. Even though Vinny looked annoyed, he stayed. A few months later Vinny went over to a Mitch’s house with my group of friends. I did not attend that night, because it was the night before a tournament that we had to play. I came to learn the next day, that Mitch had persuaded Vinny to smoke weed and that he had accepted. I also came to learn about the funny things that Vinny did when he was high, and recall my friends commenting on how they laughed at him. I also saw his condition that next morning. He had changed, he did not seem himself. I talked to him, asking him how he felt about smoking weed.
He turned to me and said, “I cannot believe what I’ve been missing out on.”
Vinny began to smoke cigarettes, cigars and weed more frequently. He began making his own parties, calling them ‘exclusive smoking parties’. He bragged about it, and yet he did not at any moment pressure me in doing it, not as much as Mitch ever did. He felt so cool that he would tell everyone that he had smoked. Other friends started bringing him weed, especially for his birthday, and things seemed to be going well for him. Vinny was already accident prone, but accidents seemed to happen more often as his parties became wilder. His attitude didn’t seem to change, that is until the day he was caught by police. This was just before graduating; we were spending a week abroad, a chance to be with everyone for one last time before we would go to university. He was subject to a stop-and-search and was caught carrying two joints of marijuana and ecstasy pills. The evidence was collected, and he was booked into police records. After that, he was paranoid on how this could affect his life and promised to never to do drugs again. That night Vinny, Wakely, a few other guys from school with whom I never socialised in two years, decided to go out around town and walk. In fact, it wasn’t really our choice because the hotel had banned us for 24h due to excessive alcohol consumed onsite and disruptive behaviour to other guests. I was personally banned from hotel grounds for sneaking in after-hours to use their pool. I even ran from staff as they caught us swimming in the pool, but unlike Percy and Will, I was able to jump over the wall we used to get in, and ran out into the street. Just before 10 PM, we left the hotel carrying a bottle of vodka and black label whiskey. Vinny was still upset about being stopped by police, but I told him we should forget it by walking across the city and not returning to the hotel until we accomplished this task. But we had no idea how large the city was, until we asked a local person about it. I remember she told us not do such a stupid task because we would severely come to harm from it, noticing that we were intoxicated. But for us, it became a challenge. Our only problem was being stopped by police for public drinking, but I was able to negotiate us out of a €1,500 fine each, if we agreed to dump the alcohol. No bother, we just went to the shop to buy more. And our adventure continued, as we meandered through the city and its beaches, walking without direction, thinking that we had walked hundreds of miles. As we got further away and into the less tourist part of the city, we met more locals, including a local drug dealer. Vinny wanted to know whether the police record could be accessed by authorities in Germany. The drug dealer was very friendly, and he reassured us that they wouldn’t ever know.
He said, “Don’t worry about, getting caught with two joints and a couple pills of ecstasy is not a big deal. I’ve been caught for carrying cocaine, but I say it’s just for personal use, and they usually let me go with a warning.”
I tell Vinny this and offer my thanks to the drug dealer for the information.
The drug dealer turns to leave, but before he goes, he asks “would you like some cocaine? The first hit is on me.”
I turn to my friends and ask if they want some cocaine, but they say no.
“No, thank you,” I say to the drug dealer.
“Are you sure,” he asks, “maybe some E, smack, weed?”
“I appreciate it, but we’ve had a long night and we’re not in the mood.”
“Okay, if that’s what you want.” He says as he walks away, tucking his hands in his tight leather coat.
“Thanks anyways, and take care of yourself,” I say, as I wave him goodbye.
I didn’t really know if I would have accepted the cocaine, I kind of relied on my friends to answer that question for me. But it didn’t interest me, I didn’t feel a need to buy or take any cocaine, even though he said one hit was ‘free’. I don’t think I was going to start taking advice from strange men from the street. Overall, the night was fun, until we lost one of our friends. He just disappeared, and our attention went from seeking advice to searching for a lost friend. We retraced our steps asking around for a ‘German looking guy wearing shorts and flip-flops’, laughing at the fact that I had no idea how to describe him. Eventually we found him. He said he had lost his passport and needed to go back the way we came, only to realise it was in his back pocket. We celebrated our reunion and because we couldn’t return to the hotel until later, we decided to sleep outside on the beach. Despite our efforts that night, I learnt that Vinny had resumed taking drugs when he moved to university. He still brags about smoking weed, and I brag to him on how I do not smoke weed. Like falling dominos, more of my friends were being influenced into smoking marijuana. Mitch was able to persuade another set of people during this trip abroad, at least two other girls and one guy who had received the top grade of the school and had been accepted to one of the UK’s most prestigious schools to study international business. I still spent the summer with friends, Mitch would continue smoke in front of me, as if he was showing off that he was smoking. But as graduation came nearer, his days of influencing others were slowly coming to an end.
To be continued