Name: Shannon Whalen
From: Baltimore, Maryland
The Importance of a Story
Addiction Awareness Scholarship
The Importance of a Story
I was never one to advocate for addiction awareness when I was younger. I obviously knew it was an issue, but I mostly daydreamed during those school assemblies.
That was until I almost lost two of my four brothers in a drunk driving accident.
I was a freshman while they were seniors in high school. Yes, the drinking was illegal, but they didn’t seem to care. I saw them drink with their friends, but they didn’t do anything, so I didn’t. I regretted that so much. Maybe I could have helped them. Maybe I could have spared my mom the trauma of waking up at 2:00 am with a call from a police officer, telling her that my brothers had flipped the car. Maybe I could have saved myself the trauma of going to the car park and seeing the absolutely destroyed machine that my brothers managed to survive in.
I think that’s the problem with the youth today: they don’t believe that addiction can actually cause so much grief until they see it. I was like that, I know so many people are like that, but I wish they weren’t.
My brothers weren’t exactly addicted to alcohol, per se, they were addicted to being the “cool kids” at their school and being viewed a certain way by their peers. I think that’s where all youth addictions stem from. This ideology of being unafraid of the consequences lead to bad choices and a family of seven almost going down to a family of five in just a second. No one seems to realize that PowerPoint presentations about why marijuana is bad for you won’t change these teenagers’ minds; they already know marijuana is bad. That’s what draws them to it, they want to be bad, because to their friends, bad is cool.
Each and every day, a child dies because of peer pressure, whether that be from an overdose, drunk accidents, or worse. This is a crisis because teenagers naturally don’t want to listen to their parents that beg them to stop until it’s far too late. If they listened to their mom telling them not to go to that party, they wouldn’t have been arrested, or they wouldn’t have been killed by a drunk boy itching for a fight. Psychologically speaking, teenagers crave social acceptance and in their minds, taking a sip from that bottle or taking a bite from that brownie might give them more friends.
They don’t anticipate it getting them closer and closer to their last breath.
When I saw the car that my brothers crashed, I could see them dead in that car. I could see the police officers coming to our house to tell us that these two teenagers were dead in a car that stank of alcohol. I could see me sobbing in their rooms, begging for one more chance to tell them that I love them. I could see my already depressed mind trying to find ways to join them just so I would be with them again. I could see me convincing myself that their death was somehow my fault, when I wasn’t involved in any way in their decision.
I could see my family falling apart and begging for the day where we join them again.
No one wants to think about loosing a family member, not even to natural causes, but it hurts so much more when it’s unnatural. When it’s preventable. The demons in your head would find so many ways to convince you that you are the reason they are dead. The death of one individual to a poor mistake could lead to the crumbling of a whole family, friend group, and community. Death is a quick way out, those alive have to suffer with the aftermath.
When I was a junior in high school, my school asked Chris Harren, a former NBA player that had been involved in drugs, to come and speak about it. I was already aware of the consequences of addiction, but his speech pushed it quite a bit more. As I said before, teenagers don’t believe those stories in power-points until they hear or experience them. Motivational speakers may seem simple or easy, but I know each and every person in that auditorium was moved in some way by Harren’s story. That’s the best remedy for peer pressure and youth addictions: a story.
I can’t speak for those who suffer through addictions or make those bad decisions, but I can speak for those who know the consequences and how it effects everyone else. I had friends in that auditorium that would go to parties and smoke with their boyfriends and after that speech, I watched them write emails to Harren, thanking him for how much he helped them. It’s a terrible thought, but if you want to train someone to think something is bad, you have to show them just how bad it can get. Some may say it’s a form of manipulation, but it’s the only way teenagers will listen.
Peer pressure goes much further than many think or those bad teen movies show. It goes further than forcing a girl to put in contacts and change out of jeans and sneakers into a pink skirt and heels. It gets to the point of suicide, murder, mental illnesses, addictions, lives being ruined, and so much more. People only seem to care about it when it actually gets to those points, but don’t bother to do anything about it when it’s at the stage where it can ruin a life. Hopefully, with people beginning to share their stories on social media and actually speaking out about it, that can bring a change.
Maybe stories can save a life before it has a chance to begin its end.