I’d have to say that it all started with a bad attitude. When I was about ten years old, I formed the opinion that most people around me weren’t as “good” as they thought they were. This feeling of disillusionment grew as I grew.
While there were other youth in the ward, even others my age, who enjoyed church and got something out of it, my friends and I became the group that caused so many problems for their Sunday School teachers that the teachers would quit. And we were proud of making them quit.
The members of the ward really didn’t approve of our attitude toward them and toward life, and some of them just gave up trying to help us. Some did not. We had a very patient bishop and some great leaders. Most of them, however, we considered to be hypocrites, and we used what we saw as their weaknesses as an excuse for our own behavior.
In my early teenage years, this same group of boys and girls excelled in scholarship, athletics, and popularity. We had a lot of fun and decided we didn’t need and didn’t want the Church. When “forced” to enroll in seminary, most of us managed to get ourselves expelled.
We didn’t really give in to peer pressure—we exerted it. We were among the first of our age group to start drinking. We were the first to smoke marijuana and experiment with other drugs. We saw the chance to make some money in it, and so we involved others to increase our own profits by dealing in drugs. We were living a life of luxury. Immorality also became a part of our lives.
Some of my friends resisted. They said we were stupid, that there was no way they’d get involved. But by the time we got out of high school a few years ago, only one hadn’t given in. He took a lot of verbal abuse and pressure, but he remained strong. I have more respect for him than for any other guy my age.
We went to more parties than anyone else in the school. The scriptures say, “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:16). I don’t know all the fruits of our behavior, and I’m thankful for that. I do know many of them, though. Many of my friends that I grew up with, even some top students, leaders, and athletes, quit school. One committed suicide. Most have spent time in court, and some in jail, for a variety of things. I knew a lot of girls who had babies or abortions while in high school. Others became prostitutes.
I quit taking drugs when I had some serious health problems. I almost died a few times—many times actually, both from overdosing on drugs and driving while I was unable to control my actions. One night I was bored, so I took every kind of stimulant I could find and then I sat and watched television while my pulse dropped to 20 beats per minute. I forced myself to stay awake, because I felt that if I went to sleep I wouldn’t wake up.
In order to take control of my life, I had to leave my friends. Afterwards I tried to help them quit too. A few of my old friends came with me, but most really didn’t care anymore.
After I quit drugs, I turned to alcohol. I can honestly say I was a high school alcoholic. When I decided I wanted to quit, I couldn’t—at least not by myself. I didn’t care enough about myself to do what I knew I needed to do.
Then I became close friends with a good, active Latter-day Saint girl. She couldn’t understand what I was experiencing, but she did know I was honestly trying to get out of the mess I was in. It hurt her when I slipped back into my bad habits. I finally quit drinking because I knew it hurt her, and I knew I couldn’t lie to her.
Keeping my morals straight was so hard under my weakened condition that I avoided any social contacts with girls except with ones as good as my Latter-day Saint friend.
I hadn’t prayed for years, but I finally had to go to my knees. I was afraid to, because I knew my guilt. That first time, honestly wanting to change and repent, was the biggest turning point in my life.
I tried to pray, but I couldn’t. I started to cry, the first time in years, and I felt like I was being torn apart inside. I fell over, still in a kneeling position, and my body went into convulsions. I kept praying in my mind, “Please help me!”
I almost fell unconscious. Then the physical pain passed, and I just lay there crying. I had a long way to go to clean up my life, but I knew that the first step was the hardest. I didn’t understand the Atonement, but the feeling of peace and comfort that engulfed me left no doubt that it was real.
There was a lot more. You see, chemical substances that are used to cover or bury emotions tend to cripple a person emotionally, because you stop growing. I recovered pretty well physically and mentally. I started progressing spiritually. But emotionally I was a mess. The girl who helped me so much for so long didn’t understand that, and I lost her as a friend while trying to overcome the scars of the past. She saw the outward changes and thought that was the hard part. The hardest struggle was inside me, emotionally. My pride was a fierce adversary, and the painful memories sometimes sent me into depression.
I still have a long way to go, and a lot of work to do. I am now trying to help other people with similar problems. It has taken a few years so far to get to where I am, and I’ve done a lot of fasting and praying. When I look back, the memories hurt. I know now that we learn through experience, from our successes and our mistakes. I just wish I could have learned more without the burdens and scars that came with my method of learning—mostly from my mistakes.
I put myself through a lot of pain, and my spirit cries out in pain when I see others following me. Young men, young women, think about yourselves and your friends. Before you give in to temptation—and believe me, pride and a bad attitude are temptations—think about the effect your actions will have on others, and on yourself in the years to come.
It is always possible to repent and come back. But it is so much better not to begin. Please, please, don’t give in. You will never regret staying pure, keeping the Word of Wisdom, coming home on time—the rules are there for a reason. I have seen the results of ignoring the rules, of saying, “That won’t happen to me.” My friends and I knew that no matter how clean a girl was morally, if we could get her drunk or get her to use drugs, she would eventually give in.
The first step down is the easiest, and the first step back is the hardest. When you’re on your way down, there are a lot of people who are eager to help you, but the farther down you go, the more alone you will be when and if you start back.
I have gained a strong testimony of the truth of the gospel. My fellow Latter-day Saints are still not perfect, but I finally realized that their imperfection doesn’t make the gospel any less true. It just shows that they, too, are human.
I know the power and reality of the adversary, but now I know the power and reality of the Lord and of the priesthood, and I know that “they that be with us are more than they that be with them” (2 Kgs. 6:15–17).
Never be ashamed to be innocent. I admire and envy people who still have their innocence. Once innocence is lost, it is gone. Please, be strong. More people than you will ever know are counting on you—your friends, family, and unborn children. Don’t disappoint them.