As a youth worker I have many opportunities to gain first hand information about youth culture. For me it is not research it is real life. When I bring up a topic such as underage drinking it is not about some philosophical debate it is about practical ideas. To be honest I rarely confront teens on their drinking because, even if they respect and admire me, they will drink anyway. Then the next time I talk with them they’ll feel guilty and not want to share with me about anything. At the same time I have seen friends and family members suffer the consequences of alcohol misuse. Yesterday was May 3rd, the anniversary date of my brother-in-law’s death outside a bar. As I worked diligently on recruiting comments on my blog post it wasn’t just because I wanted to try a social media blitzkrieg, but also because I really wanted a chance to share my deep feelings on this issue.
When I hear that my young friends attend parties and get “hammered” I cringe inside. I know the bad decisions that can be made in those types of mental states. I am not angry with them, I just am so concerned for their well-being. I really do love these kids and I would much rather attend their graduations than their funerals. I would rather visit them in their work places than in a jail cell.
I know that some of my young readers will think that I am being overly protective or concerned, Maybe I am, but it is hard to merely shut those feelings off.
To be fair I should share a bit of my own life story. I grew up in a small town in the USA that had some very strict views about alcohol use and how it fit in with religious belief. For example any alcoholic beverages were prohibited from being sold on Sundays within city limits. I also had a close friend that had told me that if he ever found out that I had gotten drunk that he would peel the skin off of me and dip me in vinegar. Of course in high school I had friends that drank, but I was petrified at what my parents would do to me if I were to dip into the spirits. I also had the thought that God was watching and waiting for me to screw up in this area. I never touched a drop of alcohol, but I remember one night after facing a emotional break-up that my mind wandered first to a list of friends I knew could hook me up with some liquid courage. I wanted to be drunk so bad, but for some reason I couldn’t force myself to pick up the phone. That night I cried until my eyeballs felt like they would explode. It was overwhelming hurt and I didn’t think I would make it through.
I remember that my mom heard me crying that night and without a word she came into my room and just held my hand. She didn’t even know why I was crying. Had I been out drinking who would have shown me that level of affection. I wouldn’t have wanted to talk to my mom for weeks after that knowing she would be disappointed in me. My mom and I were (and still are) close. I could talk with her about almost anything. I also tended to be a bit of a dare devil driver as most teens are and I would have probably done something stupid with booze running through my veins. (Ask my friends and they’ll tell you I did a lot of stupid things w/o booze).
A common theme throughout the comments on my last post had to do with why people drink. Things such as, peer pressure, escape, emotional overload, lack of support, a way of forgetting. I really liked how Jay summed it up when he said, “Some teens that abuse alcohol and drugs have other serious burdens to bear, i.e., family abuses of various kinds that need to be addressed.” In my life I was surrounded by loving and supportive family and friends and that really was the key to me staying on the straight and narrow. Yet the temptation was still there. How much greater is the draw to drink when you feel isolated, lost and alone.
I ran across an interesting text in the bible as I was drifting off to sleep last night that said:
“It is not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer, lest they drink and forget what the law decrees and deprive all the oppressed of their rights. Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more. Speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:4-7)
This passage really isn’t mentioned too often. Many of those that claim to be religious don’t like to point out areas that are not black nor white. But life is messy and God really understands that. Life hurts and God understands when it is too much to bear why people are drawn to drink and forget – if only for a little while. When Noah lost all his friends, well the whole world, in a flood. One of the first things he does is build a vineyard, make wine and gets wasted. God doesn’t curse him in fact, the curse fall on Noah’s son who mocks his father’s drunkenness. (Gen 9:20-24). However, there is a calling on those who want to make a difference in the world, who want to stand on the side of justice, who want to be leaders to crave something deeper than drink. You can’t lead if you are passed out. You can speak for the voiceless if you are slurring your words, you can’t make decisions with a clouded mind.
For me, I didn’t have my first drink until I was 23. Now I will occasionally have a drink socially with friends. I have made a distinct choice never to be drunk. My motto has been to be self-controlled and alert. I would hate for a young person to call me in need but be unable to help because I was too intoxicated. It is not for leaders to crave beer. I also want to allow God to have control over me - not to be controlled by a beverage. (Eph 5:18). Please hear me, I don't think all drinking is bad, I just see the need for limits. Everything may be permissible for me, but not everything is beneficial for me.
On the youth issue, it is confusing because I know they drink for many of the same reasons that adults do – the issues they face are so hard. I don’t blame them for wanting a way out. My hope is to spend more time loving and caring for these youth so they know they have someone to turn to when it is hard. The answer to the issue is not rule, legislation or education. Although I affirm the law as correct. The real answer to this issue is love. To my young friends I challenge you to make a stand alongside some friends that will support you. Find something to fill yourself with so that you will not look to fill the empty spaces with booze. I don’t have answers that will fix anything, but I don’t think you need to be fixed, I think you need to be loved. Don't let yourself be controlled by the desire to escape, open your lives up to the challenge to make a difference for those that are lost.I believe in you. I welcome your comments.