Thursday, May 9, 2013

Mike VanOuse: Realizing over time the slow damage of drunken admiration

When I was 13, one of my friends had an older brother who supplemented his income by selling marijuana. Every Friday, we would go to his house after school and smoke dope for free. Shortly after this routine began, my dad got my brother and I jobs working in the kitchen of Devon Plaza. We both had to work every Friday. The routine ended.

Before we got involved in drugs, every adult told us to avoid them like the plague because it would ruin our lives. But we discovered in the culture that some of the best students in our school were doing it. Some of the best athletes were doing it. The brightest, funniest, most talented kids were doing it, and it wasn’t ruining anyone’s lives.

I had to drop out of that scene because of my job, yet I still associated with the potheads. But by the time I graduated four or five years later, I noticed that several of them were a mere shell of what they had formerly been. They’d become hollow-eyed zombies with no attention span.

My dad ran Devon Plaza, tending bar there in the evenings. I looked up to my dad and learned to admire the things he admired. We had a few customers who could drink liquor all night, but it would have no visible effect on them. They never slurred their speech or staggered when they walked. Dad marveled at them. And so did I.

So when I came of age to drink, understanding that humans build a tolerance to alcohol, I made up my mind that I was going to increase my tolerance by ingesting as much alcohol as I could, and then a little more, until I was impervious to its effects. I’d made up my mind that I was going to be like those guys.

Somewhere around age 25, I realized that my efforts were fruitless. No matter how hard I tried, I turned stupid around 12 beers. My tolerance never increased, and I gave up my quest.
In the interim, I was able to observe the long-term effects on those men I knew from my adolescence who could consume super-human quantities of alcohol with no visible effects. More than one of them had lost their job due to their habits. More than one spent time in prison for repeat drunken driving arrests.

One of them killed someone else with a single gunshot, just to prove a point. You don’t make real wise decisions when you’ve been guzzling liquor, even if you can walk and talk straight.
Now I’m pushing 50 years old. I know other men who have reached that goal that I was pursuing, and realize that I never had any business admiring them.

Substance abuse takes time to ruin lives. If it happened quickly, it would be easier to discourage. Ecclesiastes 8:11 says, “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.”

This article appeared in the May 7, 2013 edition of the Journal and Courier. VanOuse writes a weekly column in the J&C.

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