Our Love Affair with Substance Use

I grew up in a very small town.

My hometown consists of a graveyard, a community centre, a couple of convenience stores, a church and about 100 houses. It’s also a 15 minute car ride to the closest more substantial small town. It is part of a large but underpopulated county in southern Ontario, Canada. My high school had about 500 students, grades 8 -12, many of whom were bussed close to an hour to get there.

Admittedly, I was an odd kid. I was teased in elementary school for being quiet, shy, a bit too liberal for that small farming community, and well… we’ve chatted previously about my home life, I didn’t think I belonged there either.  By the time I made it to high school I had cultivated a tougher persona. I lacked confidence in my appearance and my self and I tried to disguise that by being disruptive, argumentative, opinionated, and a general pain in the butt.

It’s safer to be feared than loved.

– Machiavelli, the Prince

I remember the first time I drank excessively, I was about 15. A girlfriend, that had an equally complicated opinion of herself and desperate need for approval, flirted with an older boy to get us a bottle of pear liquor. It went about as well as you’d expect. I still associate pears with hangovers. However, I persisted.

By the end of my high school career I could out drink most of my classmates (male or female), snuck into bars, experimented with several gateway drugs, was a chain smoker, a master of several drinking games, and spent most of my time in a perpetual state of party. Through those actions, I had the illusion that I gained acceptance. People seemed to find me more approachable or maybe, like many drunks, I just had an inflated sense of self-importance.

At university, in my final year, my party life ended. I was 23 and developed a blood disorder. As a result of this, I have to maintain a moderate lifestyle. Drinking in excess and drug use carry the very real threat of death. It was a lot earlier than I wanted to accept my mortality but, looking at the trajectory of my life, I could have easily graduated to full addiction so I am somewhat grateful.

Following my medical crises, my ability to fit in got worse. While I’d been partying for years, many of my conservative small town friends were just getting started and there were very few social events that didn’t involve excessive use of something mind altering. I found people who were intoxicated hard to be around. It no longer seemed fun to me; there was always drama, someone crying, fights, and conversation that can only seem interesting to people in a similar state.

I kept getting polite invites but I noticed I made people uncomfortable. They would question why I wasn’t drinking and pressure me to join them. When I politely refused, they would appear uncomfortable, like I was judging them. I eventually mostly stopped going to bars and gatherings where the intent was to party and it started to feel like my presence was requested mostly to avoid cab fare.

Later, as my friends started settling down and having kids, I started going to more events. I noticed that the drinking and the drugs didn’t stop. Name the occasion and I was offered alcohol and/or a joint was being passed: children’s birthday party, christening, baby shower. Again, with the questions about why I wasn’t drinking more or why I didn’t want to get high.

Substances are widely accepted to punctuate many life events and are a common theme in popular media.

Bad day at work? Have a drink.

Broke up with your boyfriend? Let’s get stoned.

Got that promotion? Cocktails!

Engaged? Vegas binge till we blackout, y’all!

Over time I developed the ability to nurse a drink or two for an entire evening, but generally still find it easier to leave before people get too sloppy and start asking questions about my relative sobriety.

I guess the point that I’m trying to make here is that I feel like we need to seriously look at our relationship with substance use. Especially following recent changes in legislation in Canada that make it easier and easier to obtain various legalized substances. Notably, recent changes to provincial liquor law providing more retail options for purchase of alcohol and allowing drinking in public, which was previously regulated. This nips at the heels of federal legislation reform on cannabis.

While I don’t necessarily think that regulation is the answer to reducing addiction, I think that increasing the availability of these substances without more discussion on how Canadians relate to them is a mistake.

Getting drunk or stoned is not romantic, it doesn’t make you cool, it’s not for everyone, and ultimately it should just be for recreation. Substances do not solve your problems, they are not a valid way to cope, they don’t make you more attractive or desirable, and are they really how we want to punctuate our happiest events — by potentially not being present for them?

Everyone is entitled to occasional escape, being a human is at times complicated and challenging but I wish we would do more to remind ourselves that substance use is a privilege, a personal choice, and should be approached with in a healthy state of mind.

5 thoughts on “Our Love Affair with Substance Use

  1. I find that people who are really honest with themselves and their happiness are sober. You make great points. We have to remember, too, that misery loves company and we used to be on the other side of the coin in not understanding sober people. I just thought about the fact that there are people who couldn’t imagine how to come by an illegal narcotic when to me it is so obvious. We are all in our own little bubbles of life as we see it and there are a plethora of perspectives in the world none wrong or right, just different shades of grey.
    Really enjoyed your writing and perspective. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Appreciate your thoughts. I agree, we do operate within our own little spheres. It’s comfortable and orderly. It’s unfortunate that most of the time it takes dropping to no other choice than to evolve beyond it. And yes – another point for why regulation isn’t the only factor in combatting addiction. If it was, there would be no controlled substance concerns. Thank you for your thoughts and perspective! They are appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I found this piece really insightful and timely as I work through my recovery. I’m at the point where my lifestyle needs are changing and I don’t quite know what to do with myself or how to spend time with friends sans substances. It feels like everything is changing, like I’m out of some club. Thanks for putting words to this 🙂

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    1. Hi Pearl, always enjoy reading your words! Recovery is tough no matter how you slice it, it’s a lifestyle overhaul and it’s full of compromises. It’s discouraging feeling excluded, but in my case at least, it’s proven to be much healthier. I hope the same or better for you!

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  3. jonicaggiano

    I tried not to fit in during school. My parents were both alcoholics and embarrassed me many times. I wore long skirts had hair below my waist but wore it in a turban and wore peasant blouses when no one else did. I also stopped smoking pot because I was sick of everything becoming centered around it. I didn’t have a lot of friends but I had a few solid people who cared about me. Also everyone was having sex with every one but I didn’t. Some times we just have to be excluded to be better or safer or just not be what or parents were. I think you are doing the right thing. You should be proud of yourself. Enjoyed reading your story and thanks for your honesty.

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