My elder cousin Gong always bragged about how much he can drink.
“Last night, I had a case of Budweiser.” He exclaimed to the workers at our family restaurant. “I drank all 24 cans by myself!”
Gong prided himself on his feat as if he set a new world record. He continued to talk about his victorious accomplishment with the other workers, but I just laughingly walked by and shook my head.
In my family, it was a very common trait for the male family members to drink. In fact, many of them also smoked cigarettes. I grew up in a family culture that loved to drink and smoke. In fact, I was exposed to these substances at an early age back in China.
I remembered a dining experience I had when I was 4 or 5 years old. During dinner, I was particularly curious about what the adults were doing. My grandfather was smoking and drinking at the same time. He saw that I was constantly pointing to his cigarette and beer.
“Ahaha…Sheng wants to try smoking and drinking.” My grandpa said in a laughing tone. He grabbed me under my arms and lifted me up to his lap. Carefully, he moved the cigarette in-between his middle and index fingers and placed it on my lips.
I inhaled in the smoke from the filter in one quick breath. Within a second, I started to cough in rapid succession. It felt like my lungs were burning, but the adults were all laughing. I couldn’t understand how and why the adults were torturing themselves and having fun from smoking, it clearly didn’t seem fun to me. Which part of doing something painful sounds fun to a kid?
After a few minutes of recovering from smoking, my grandpa lifted up a small glass tumbler of Heineken beer next to my mouth. I took a sip of the beer and made a very bitter face. The beer tasted like crap. There again I didn’t understand why the adults were torturing themselves by drinking something so nasty. That experience left behind a lingering conviction that I don’t need drinking or smoking in my life.
Fast forward to grade school, I remembered taking the DARE program. The program was known as the Drug Abuse Resistance Education. The primary focus of the program was to teach young adolescents to say “no” to drugs, alcohol, and violence. Now the funny thing about this program was that it used what I called ‘scaring tactics’ to prevent adolescents from doing drugs. The program would use gruesome imagery to prove their point such as pictures to compare healthy lungs and smoker lungs or car crashes due to alcohol consumptions.
Now being the extremely gullible person I was, I believed everything that was told to me. I was further convinced that only people who are incredibly insane or self-hating would smoke, drink, or use drugs. I mean if people are aware of those consequences, then why are they willingly doing these things to themselves?
Clearly, I was missing out on certain other information I need to consider. However, I was also incredibly ignorant on the subject of substance use for the majority of my life.
Close-Mindedness on Substance Use
When I first learned about all the negative aspects of smoking, drinking, and using drugs, I was incredibly frightened and scared. There are many male members of my family who drink and smoke. I fear for their well being, but at the very least they didn’t do drugs.
However, that did not ease my worries at all. My father has been a smoker most of his life. I fear for his health. At the age of 52, he already has many reoccurring health issues. I hated him because he made me worry about him all the time. I promised myself that I will never do drugs, smoke, or drink. I didn’t want others to worry about me because I know what it feels like to worry about them if they use these substances. If you care about those around you, then you have to take care of yourself. Never dig yourself into a hole.
What good can come out of the idea of doing drugs and alcohol than the idea that it was not a good idea? What benefits can outweigh all these negative effects and tragedies? There is none that I can think of.
My breaking point came when I found out one of my cousins smoked weed. Now I know all about the research that goes into marijuana and how it isn’t as harmful as other drugs. However, drugs of any kind are harmful because they attract other drugs. Marijuana is a gateway drug. Before long, my cousin was doing LSD, Shrooms, and Ecstasy. Not only was he doing drugs at one point, he even sold drugs. He bought Marijuana in bulk and sold them to students in his high school. He wasn’t just doing drugs; he was supplying them illegally to minors. I feared for his life from drugs and from the law.
When I learned about this, I was fuming with anger. I hated substances so much because it was ruining the lives of the one I love. It was also directly affecting my life and my relationships with those I care about dearly. I remember acting out negatively during those time periods. Instead of being someone that cared for my cousin, I began to judge him by his actions. My criticism stemmed from a level of concern and care. However, I didn’t know how to properly react to his actions. Every once in a while when I saw him, I would utter phrases like people who do drugs are idiots. What do you think that kind of remark had on my cousin? It only made him relapse further into drug use.
One of the worse memories I had of him on drugs was when he did shrooms. I remembered him hallucinating about his skin crawling with bugs. He was in a frantic state clawing his skin with his fingers. I didn’t know what to do or what to say. I just told him that everything will be alright, and told him to get some rest in bed. That night my mind was racing with all kinds of negative thought patterns.
I was so angry. I just wanted to beat up all of his so called friends who introduced him to these substances. What kind of friend does that to a friend? Who introduces these dangerous substances to another friend? I was dealing with an internal turmoil of wanting to physically assault his friends and trying to stay calm.
I kept thinking that some people are so weak mentally. How can they fall into the influence of drugs and alcohol? I just don’t understand. They are such powerful and intelligent human beings. Why do they relinquish their power to drugs and alcohol? Can’t they just take a look around them and observe their surroundings? Surely you can see the aftermath of those who do drugs, drink, or smoke.
I have heard so many stories in college and witnessed so many drunken students. Apparently it is fun to get wasted and blackout drunk on the streets. Apparently it is fun to put yourself in a state where you cannot think clearly. Apparently it is fun to just let go and live. You only live once is the excuse that so many people use to do stupid things. But tell me, what part of that is intelligent living? What part of drinking to the point of throwing up is conscious living? If you only live once, wouldn’t you make this one the one where you make the best choices?
I had a friend who told me that whenever she is sad, she loved to get wasted and drunk. I told her that that is nonsensical. Alcohol may remove you from pain by messing up your current negative thought patterns. However, problems may never be resolved. She will only push it further into the future. True strength comes from facing your sorrow. Why wouldn’t she do some self reflection? Why wouldn’t she dig deeper into the mine of her mind? The answers she was looking for can probably be found within her. However, apparently it is easier to turn to external, temporary remedies like alcohol.
The same is true with drugs. What is so desirable about them? Do they enhance your life and give you clarity of purpose and goals? Do they make you see things differently and make you feel good? And if it does, is it worth your health? I can’t understand why people turn to drugs because I can’t see what is missing from reality. Life is amazing. The world is enough to fill us a thousand times. To me, doing drugs is nothing less than an admission that the world is not enough. If we only search for new experiences and to reach new heights of sensations and feeling, then we will miss out on what is right before us.
Have you ever ran a marathon and felt your legs cramping up to the point you can’t take another step? Have you ever had real conversations with people you love and cried afterwards? Have you ever stood outside in the rain and let the rain drops gently fall upon your body? Have you ever watched lightning flashing in the clouds like nature’s fireworks during a thunderstorm? I have done all of these and yet they are all small, small wonders of life. There are many more I have not witnessed. How are they not enough for a fulfilling life?
I guess overall I didn’t like the idea of people using drugs and alcohol as an excuse for unconscious living where they are causing harm to their own wellbeing. To me, I was close-minded because I saw drugs and alcohol as evil things that can destroy people’s lives. However, what I realized later in my life was that there is no right or wrong answer as I initially thought there was. Drugs and alcohol are not evil. They are what they are. I am often reminded of the weapon analogy. Is a gun’s purpose to shoot and kill people? Nope. It is the intention of the person wielding the gun. The answer is the same for drugs and alcohol.
Letting Things Be
What I learned about drugs and alcohol is that they are merely man made substances. They are not inherently evil, but they do contain within themselves high possibilities of misfortune. They promise so much, but they have their own bargain. I like to call it the devil’s bargain.
Before I was incredibly hostile towards people who use drugs and alcohol, nowadays, I tolerate these acts. I used to get so hung up on the idea that any substance use is bad for you. When I denied drugs and alcohol from my life, I also created a barrier between me and a lot of other people. By resisting what other people do, I was constantly judging people and creating problems for myself. I know where I stand. I’ve always known that. It doesn’t matter if people have different opinions about drug use or alcohol consumptions. It is their decisions to make and it is their responsibility. I have to let people I love make their own decisions, be it in resonance with mine or not.
Letting things be is to let the people I love do their own explorations. Let them make their own mistakes. Let them face their own responsibilities and consequences. Everything is a learning experience and I want them to understand that truth. Perhaps fascination with drugs and alcohol is just a phase. Perhaps there is something that I do not understand or comprehend. Whatever it is, I just want them to be sure that they are doing it consciously and understandingly.
Certain rituals and spiritual practices use drugs. Certain social gatherings use alcohol. I know all about this. I also know about the basic principle of moderation. If you use things in moderate amounts and never in excess, you can still live a fine life without too much influence from drugs and alcohol. I learned that all this is true just by observing others, but I know that it is still not a path for me. Take a look around you and within you to see if what I said is true. Perhaps you will come to your own intelligent decision.