A Chapel Talk
23 February, 2009
The Webb School Ė Bell Buckle
P. Michael Quinn
(Yeah, that's right. Another "please don't do drugs and alcohol" speech. But hey, it's got juicy gossip fodder, and you can listen to it while you read it by clicking HERE.)
I want to start with some information that I took from FCDís Website. FCD is a nonprofit substance abuse prevention organization.
They say that ďwhen teenagers take drugs, it's not necessarily because they want to "do drugs" or introduce a toxin into their system.
It's because they want to stop feeling bored, angry, hurt, worried, harassed, afraid, inadequate, ostracized, lonely, or anxious.
Thereís nothing wrong with wanting to relax, seek a thrill, take a risk, "escape reality," bond with friends, or disappear into a state of meditative bliss.
They say that getting "high" isn't the problem. How you do it is.
They have been to Webb a few times in the past, and some of you seniors may remember participating in the survey they conducted here about five or six years ago.
According to this national survey about 25 of you sophomores sitting out there right now have used alcohol in the past year.
4 of you 8 th graders, 11 of you sophomores, about 18 juniors and 20 seniors have smoked pot in the past year and about 6 of you seniors abuse prescription drugs.
Remember, this is based on a national survey, not one conducted at Webb. Only you guys know for sure whether or not these results apply to your class.
But, Iím here to talk to you about my own high school days.
I presented most of the following back in 2003. Part of my reason was that some of my high school classmates had kids that started attending Webb and I was reminded of this Bible Verse:
Numbers 32:23 Ė ďBut if you do not do so, then take note, you have sinned against the LORD; and be sure your sin will find you out.Ē
Of course Moses was talking about land wars and such, but itís pretty common to take scriptures out of context to serve your own purpose, which is usually some purpose other than what the gods intend.
Anyway, here is an edited version of a talk I gave a little over 5 years ago on December 3, 2003. I took out some details on the Care Team since it was brand new at the time (and Iím not on it anymore), and I added some new stuff, especially at the end.
If this goes a little long, Iím sorry, and you can hit me later, but I really do feel itís important.
I am really only speaking very few of you, but I donít know who you are, so I have to take you all with me, if you want to go.
I hope I donít make the rest of you uncomfortable.
Imagine that you are taking a walk with me.
We are walking out of the Chapel, out around back, up the hill, past the new gym, past the soccer field, right through the pine thicket, past a cluster of beer cans hidden in the weeds, right by the stinking sinkhole dump that not many see, back through the field past ganja plants no longer managed by their expelled owner;
and on we go through the woods to the creek.
We take a seat on a log,
here by the creek,
in the woods,
just you and me,
where we can tell secrets if we choose to.
This is where I share my thoughts with you.
I do not like secrets though.
And what I am about to say is no secret.
I believe that plain and simple truth is a powerful thing.
If you donít want to hear it, thatís fine with me.
Please sit quietly though.
Iím pretty nervous.
I have the same feeling I get when I hear someone say, ďHey, my daddy knew you in high schoolÖĒ
It scares me to death.
My past haunts me, and there is nothing I can do about it now.
It is impossible to retract regrettable decisions, but it is possible to overcome them, or at least pretend that you do.
Everything I am about to say is true except the names of my friends.
I changed them.
It is a shame when you canít tell people who your friends are.
But I am not ashamed of my friends.
When I was in high school, we gathered in the auditorium one afternoon to watch movies .
State Troopers had come to show us horrible images of death.
Twisted burned and mangled cars with human flesh dangling from sharp edges.
Washed out films of gaping wounds and screaming crying people.
It was safe driving week.
This horror was somehow supposed to make us drive safely.
All I know is it gave me an eternally haunting image of pretty blond girl with round blue frightened eyes sucking her bloody lips down her throat because the steering wheel had smashed away her teeth when a drunk driver crashed into her head on.
They were trying to extract her from the car, but she was trapped.
They could not get to her.
She couldnít breathe.
The camera man did nothing but shoot the film.
She was smothering in her own blood, and she was beautiful.
I loved her for that moment, and maybe I still do.
She gave her life for me and she never knew it,
but it didnít do me a damn bit of good.
All we did was talk about how cool it was to see guts on the road.
But I still remember that beautiful girl.
Her dying image haunts me.
I thought about creating a horrible image like this for you today.
I have heard students say that people need to be scared so they wonít use drugs.
Maybe someday I will perform it.
But I donít know how much good it would do.
If someone asked me when I started using drugs, I donít know if I could tell them.
I remember making a conscious choice one afternoon to curse though.
I was known as a real churchy kind of kid at the time, and then one day during a backyard football game I just decided to say, ĎDamní when I got tackled.
So I said it.
It was weird.
It shocked the neighborhood kids.
Shortly after that we moved to another town.
I was a freshman.
Thatís when I remember stealing a cigarette from my parents and sneaking into the bathroom to smoke it.
It was some kind of menthol.
It made me dizzy and I puked.
Pretty soon I was sneaking a smoke fairly often.
I donít know why I did this, but no one caught me or said anything about it.
I kept on smoking for about 9 years.
I still donít know why I started.
The next year when we moved back to my old home town and school, and I felt a little out of place.
People had changed.
I saw some guys that I knew before in Boy Scouts that were always cutting up in class and having fun.
People seemed to like them.
I started trying to hang out with them.
They smoked cigarettes too, so we got along just fine.
I donít know why I started drinking, but I remember one of the first times.
My friend Austin had an older brother who had a paper route.
His brother hired us to help him erect boxes for the newspapers one afternoon, and he paid us in beer.
We were about 15.
After that he would buy us beer whenever we wanted it.
We all had jobs and could usually afford it.
My friend Austin drank the most, every time.
He nearly always got drunk when there was beer or liquor around.
He always took things farther than the rest of us.
I remember leaving Austin on the sidewalk in front of his house one night.
He passed out from drinking and taking downers after school, down by the creek.
We couldnít wake him up and we were scared.
We shouldered him to his front yard and laid him down.
We knocked on his front door and ran to the bushes.
His mother came to the door and screamed.
They took him away in the car.
At school Austin told us that they pumped his stomach.
He said it was scary at first, but then kind of cool.
He nearly died and it didnít seem to faze him one bit.
He still had to get the highest.
At the time I was working as a busboy, and I could drink at work after the restaurant closed.
I pitched in on the beer like everyone else.
I could walk home down the railroad tracks and sneak easily into bed.
No one ever asked me about my drinking, except once.
It was the day we took a school trip to have our senior pictures made.
My friends and I all got drunk and stoned.
My friend Austin was the drunkest of course, since he was also taking barbiturates.
He staggered down the side walk as we watched from a distance, too scared to be caught in his company.
We were giggling and thinking it was pretty funny.
ďWhat is crazy Austin going to do next?Ē
He fell into the glass doors of the pool hall and shattered them.
He was arrested.
The next day I was called into the principalís office and asked if I was one of the ones drinking.
I said yes, but I didnít get drunk.
He asked me who else was drinking.
I said I couldnít tell him that.
I got suspended, but I really donít remember my parents being involved.
I donít think they even knew about it at the time.
I was 18 then.
No one ever asked me to see a counselor.
No one seemed to care.
All I knew is that the principal and coaches just wanted to bust my ass.
But I had gotten the best of them.
I had been stoned at least every week of high school, and sometimes every day.
They never knew it.
Or maybe they did, and just didnít give a crap.
Oh, did I say ďstoned?Ē
I guess I forgot to mention that I had also started smoking dope on a regular basis.
My friend Kevin had brothers returning from Viet Nam.
They had drug connections and would sell us the strongest pot whenever we could afford it.
We all had jobs and weed was pretty cheap.
$15 an ounce, maybe $30 for an ounce of buds.
I spent my school days on weed, acid, or other drugs, nights working and drinking beer, and weekends hanging around parties at the lake.
All through high school and my first two years of college I was stoned more days than not.
My parents still donít know about it all.
I do not tell you these things because I am proud about the way I lived, but there is nothing I can do to change it now.
I was a stupid child making dangerous decisions and staying pretty lucky for the most part.
If I wasnít lucky I would not be here before you today.
I would be dead.
I have to stop for a moment, because I see her trying to breathe.
I see her bloody breath leave her beautiful body.
I see the lonely terror in her round blue eyes.
She still haunts me.
She reminds me of my friends.
Let me tell you about my high school friends.
My Friend Kevin was the funniest.
He played guitar and was always laughing.
He has done well.
On his second marriage, but no real problems.
He quit doing drugs long ago, but he still drinks occasionally.
My Friend Harold has been in drug rehab twice.
He still struggles to stay clean.
My Friend George was a literary wit.
A near genius who could shoot down any teacher in a clever style that never got him in trouble.
He was rumored to shoot heroin but I never saw him do it.
He had a nervous breakdown when he was 18 and had to be hospitalized.
My Friend Barry is a Viet Nam Veteran.
He was busted for growing pot and served 3 years in the federal penitentiary.
He is a good person, just anti social.
My Friend Helen drove straight into a tree and died at the age of 18.
They said it was an accident, but also said she was drunk or stoned and just had a fight with her boyfriend.
It was a closed casket funeral.
My friend Frank died at the age of 45 of heart failure.
I nearly killed him 25 years earlier when I fell asleep at the wheel of my Volkswagen during a night of drinking and smoking dope.
I wrapped us both around a telephone pole, 20 feet off the ground.
Miraculously I only dislocated my shoulder, but I cut Frank up pretty bad.
I fell out of touch with Frank after that, but I heard he never stopped using narcotics and drinking.
He left behind a wife and two little girls.
I was asked to speak at his funeral.
When I stood in front of his mother and looked into her sad eyes, I couldnít think of anything to say.
All Frank and I ever did was drive around and get stoned together.
Now he was gone.
I felt ashamed.
What about me?
I thought I was having a great time for the most part, but the parts that arenít great are devastating.
I have many embarrassing, dangerous and shameful stories that all relate to drug and alcohol use.
I spent time in drunk tanks, and nearly lost my mind.
But I was lucky.
I had frightening experiences but lived through them all.
I started quitting things one by one.
Cigarettes, then hallucinogens, then speed, then pot, and finally alcohol.
Each time due to a close call with death or insanity, well, except for cigarettes.
I was just afraid of getting cancer, since a lot of my relatives were dying from it.
I met a wonderful woman and fell in love.
I had finally laid it all down by the time my first son was born, over 20 years ago.
I am an alcoholic, and addictive lifestyles run in my family.
My second cousin died at age 18. She was a young mother addicted to methamphetamine.
Another close relative has had 4 DUIs. He has been clean and sober for over a year now.
I am too afraid to drink now, but I really would enjoy a glass of wine or a cold beer now and then.
Iím afraid I could not stop at one or two drinks though, and it would be just like high school.
I also thought if I did not drink or do other drugs that my children would not have an excuse to use them, and I would be better equipped to justify my position when I told them I would not tolerate it.
I did not want them to end up like me or my friends.
This assumption was shattered when I learned that my older son was drunk at Webbís prom party when he was a junior.
He may have started drinking before that though.
While in college he totaled his car during a drunken blackout, and quit drinking for a while.
Now both of my sons still drink. They say they do not ever drive after drinking though.
I do not condone it, I donít like it and they know it, but they still do it.
Drugs are sometimes stronger than a parentís love.
Who am I to impose my fears and standards upon them now that they are adults capable of making their own decisions?
What else can I do, but love them? I am proud of them for many things, but I am also worried about them.
And this is what truly haunts me.
Why did I start using alcohol and other drugs?
Why did my sons?
Why do some of you?
There are as many reasons people use drugs, and donít use drugs, as there are in this room right now.
I sometimes analyze my life.
I have my suspicions, but still canít point to a single simple reason.
But when I look back at it, I see that I could always get drugs and alcohol from people that I trusted and admired.
My parents never gave me cigarettes, but thatís where I first accessed them.
My friends, their older siblings and co-workers supplied whatever drugs or alcohol I needed until I was old enough to buy it myself.
And whatís the harm?
I turned out OK, didnít I?
That assumption is my greatest fear.
I was one of the lucky ones.
But my friends, relatives and other dear ones were not so lucky.
Who are the lucky ones?
I think the truly lucky ones are people who never use alcohol or other drugs.
They can enjoy life without them.
I know Webb students who have died or been seriously injured in accidents involving drugs or alcohol.
Some have been arrested for drug offenses and yet seem to ignore the amount of trouble and pain they have caused to themselves, their family, and others.
I am so proud of each one of you who has chosen to not use alcohol or drugs.
You should be very proud of yourselves as well.
I am still lucky, and Iím still staying straight, so far.
It may be weird to think that someone can attend Bonnaroo or Burning Man absolutely straight and have a great time without being stoned on drugs or alcohol.
Sometimes the music and the creative energy itself can actually make me high.
On good jams I can dance myself into a silly trance that takes me into momentary bliss.
But really, Iíd like to drink a glass of red wine at the end of the evening, or enjoy a cold beer on a hot day, but I canít. My neurons and my body chemistry make it too risky for me.
And what does all this repenting have to do with you?
I donít know, really, except I honestly donít how else to make something good come from it all.
I donít know that it will, but I simply donít know what else to do.
The round eyed girl that haunts me now also haunted me all through high school,
but she still didnít keep me from wrapping my car around a telephone pole.
My personal intent with this thing is simple.
I want you to take better care of yourself and your friends than I have.
I hope you do not cause yourself pain, or have to see your friends go through the pain I have seen mine go through because of their decision to use drugs and alcohol or have unprotected sex.
I know that some of you already have personal stories that are more horrifying than my own.
This is such a wicked paradox:
The corrupted old ones telling the young to do better than they did.
What a cop out.
Why didnít I do it right when I was your age?
How can I hold you to a higher level of responsibility when I screwed up my own life?
Itís simply that I donít know what else to do.
I am just a teacher.
I canít even keep my own kids from drinking or doing drugs.
How can I help you or your friends?
Well, I can listen to you. I didnít know of anyone who wanted to help me at your age.
Believe it or not, the Administration would rather help you than bust you, and you can talk to them.
The Care Team can help you or your friend find someone who is trained to help you.
(Iím not on the Care Team anymore, but I can talk to them for you if you like.
Other adults here on campus might feel comfortable doing that as well.)
You can always approach our Counselor, Dr. Chapman, confidentially, for help.
Help is usually pretty energy intensive, but well worth it.
Sometimes we try to make it too simple though.
Have any of you ever heard these drug free slogans?
Well, I came up with a slogan that I think is more realistic:
ďEven if live in or I go on a field trip to a country where the drinking age is 18, and even though I know a sip of champagne or glass of wine at dinner now and then probably wonít damage me forever, and even though I canít watch tv or look at a magazine without getting bombarded by messages and images telling me how wonderful alcohol is, I know my brain is still developing and Iím really not mature enough to make such a potentially hazardous choice, so I will try to not even think about drugs or alcohol until I am at least twenty-one years old.Ē
But that wonít fit on a t-shirt.
When I was a kid Smokey the Bear had a slogan that said , ďOnly YOU can prevent forest fires.Ē
Only I could prevent forest fires.
That was a pretty big responsibility to put on a kid.
But then I started thinking about how forest fires and drug and alcohol use have a lot in common.
A small fire keeps you warm and comfortable, just like a few drinks during a party with friends can make conversation easier and hanging out seem more fun.
Some people are careful around a fire and donít want to get burned. Some people are careless and take great risks.
Sometimes you think the fire is out, but embers still remain.
And when the fire gets out of control, we may need a lot of help to put it out.
So I thought about another slogan, ONLY YOU.
Only You can make the decision to live drug and alcohol free.
Only You will be there to make the decision when your friends offer you a bowl or a cup.
There is nothing I can do to help you in those moments.
So I made a bunch of these little fellows I call ďOY BuddiesĒ.
To me ďO.Y.Ē stands for ďOnly YouĒ, but ďOY!Ē is also a sound of exasperation.
Anyway, the OY Buddies donít have a mouth, so they canít tell you what to do.
They can only remind you that you are always the one in control of your life, and sometimes it is hard to keep that control.
They are made from air-dried clay. They are fragile, just like a promise, and must be handled with care.
I was going to ask you to come up right now in front of everybody and get one as a testament to your commitment to live drug free, but then I thought, ďNaw, thatís too much to ask and it might be embarrassing for some, especially those 20 seniors.Ē I kid!
So, if you like, stop by my classroom and pick one up later.
If they run out before you get one then Iíll be glad to make more.
But just for you.