Please Don’t Give In

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    The following is taken from a letter that was sent to the youth of the Church in care of the New Era. It is one of several we have received recounting the bitter fruits of substance abuse. The young man who wrote this account was very lucky. He is alive and is finding his way back. Many who pursue his course do not.

    I guess 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 seemed to think 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 went through a Sunday School teacher every month and were proud of it.

    The members of the ward really didn’t approve of our attitude toward them and toward life, and some of them just gave up on us. Some did not. We had a very patient bishop and some great leaders. Most of them, however, we considered hypocrites, and we used their perceived weaknesses as an excuse for our own.

    In junior high, this same group 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 kicked out before too long.

    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 pot and experiment with other drugs. We saw the chance to make some money in it, and so involved others to increase our own profits by dealing drugs. We were living high. Immorality also became a goal in our minds.

    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 had stayed straight. He took a lot of verbal abuse and pressure, but he did it. I have more respect for him than for any other guy my age.

    We were the leading partygoers all through 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 honor students, leaders, and athletes, dropped out of 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. Some went into prostitution.

    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 my senses were gone. One night I was bored, so I took everything I could find and then sat there and watched TV 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 straighten myself out, 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 went way overboard with alcohol, and can honestly say I was a high school alcoholic. When I decided I wanted to quit, I couldn’t, on my own. 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 LDS girl. She couldn’t understand what I was going through, but she did know I was honestly trying to get out of the hole I was in. It hurt her when I slipped back. I finally quit drinking because I knew it hurt her, and I knew I wouldn’t lie to her.

    Keeping my morals straight was so hard under my weakened condition that I avoided any social contacts with girls except as good friends like this one.

    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 blacked out. Then the physical pain passed, and I just lay there crying. I had a long way to go, 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, chemicals 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 dropped me down 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 it kills me inside to 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 stoned, 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 members 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” (see 2 Kgs. 6:15–17).

    Never be ashamed to be innocent. I envy you that. 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 let them down.

    Photography by Scott Tanner