I recently went to a party, where the other kids were doing things they shouldn't have been doing. I've always been a good kid, but I ended up smoking something that is totally illegal, and not just for under-aged kids (hint). Anyway, I felt so guilty afterward. I felt dirty, I felt awful. I had to scrub myself constantly. I was totally ashamed that I didn't have the guts to say no.
I thought that those kids were my friends, but now I'm not so sure. I'm pretty sure that a lot of them are addicted to being high, and though I love them more then anything, I know it's not right for me to be around them. This breaks my heart, and I basically threw away all of my old friends because I was so stuck on them. I feel awful and alone. I feel so lost. I know that I lost sight of myself, and now I don't even know who I am. I've pushed everyone away, even my siblings and my parents.
I guess my question is, how do I turn my life around for the better? How do I deal with getting pressured? How do I face myself in the mirror knowing I did something so wrong? I don't think I can forgive myself, Auntie. It was illegal, stupid, and completely against my moral code. If I can betray myself like that, how do I keep from doing it again?
Sigh. You know, guys, I really question the wisdom of the current anti-drug movement if this is the result—a world where a totally normal teenager plunges himself into a miserable, guilt-stricken, self-flagellating spiral of hopeless despair over one ill-advised toke at a high school party.
Because that's what we're talking about here, Sparkler. One mistake. One instance of poor judgment. One little blip on the radar of your life, in which you did something you shouldn't have. This isn't a massive betrayal of your values or a life-altering stain on your karma. It's a single moment in which you said, "Hey, why not?" and ended up regretting it.
And while yes, it was illegal, and yes, it went against your personal code of ethics, that moment does not define you. And it was also presumably not the only time in your life that you've made a mistake. So tell me: would you still be beating yourself up like this if just once, you'd copied a friend's homework? Or ran a red light at an empty intersection? Or pretended to be sick so that you could stay home from school and watch Law & Order: SVU reruns all day?
Of course not, right? Because even though you'd be disappointed in yourself for cheating or lying or breaking the law, you'd take whatever lessons there were to be learned from the experience—and file away the memory of your guilt for future reference—and move on. And there's no reason why you shouldn't do the same now. The fact that your mistake involved an illicit substance doesn't make it any better, worse, or more morally-compromising than a similar mistake that didn't.
Which brings me to this: it's easy, thanks to the visibility and volume of our various anti-drug campaigns, to see drug-related errors in judgment as somehow separate and more terrible than any other mistake, ever, that you could possibly make. But while the stakes can be higher with illicit substances than with other youthful follies, the joint you smoked is still just an object; it doesn't have a moral value any more than a can of soda or a pair of sneakers. What makes drugs problematic isn't that they or the people who use them are inherently evil, but that the things people do in pursuit of them can be very destructive... with "can" being the operative word.
So while you may want to avoid your old friends (or at least, avoid partying with them) to keep yourself out of situations in which you might be tempted against your better judgment again, there's no reason to believe that your friends aren't your friends just because they get high. And if you love them—if they're caring, loyal, reliable, responsible, supportive, and all the other things that make a good friend—then there's no reason to shut them out of your entire life when you can simply decline to participate in one part of theirs.
And that's not just because your friends' worthiness as people is determined by factors far more complex and wide-ranging than whether or not they smoke pot; it's because yours is, too, darling. And when you grasp that and forgive them, you'll be free to forgive yourself, too—and to stop seeing this moment as a soul-incinerating screw-up from which you will never recover and don't deserve to. It isn't. It's just a misstep, like any other. And you can prove it every day just by moving forward, doing right, and letting the memory of this moment be the thing that makes you say, "No, thanks," the next time.
Have you ever had to forgive yourself for making a stupid mistake? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at email@example.com.