Yesterday I gave a talk at Mahidol University. The subject was my book Dead Drunk and my experiences with alcohol addiction. The opportunity to repeat my story came as a great honour; especially as Mahidol is such a respected institution here in Thailand.
Middle Aged Guy Lectures Young People about How Not to Mess Up Their Life
Talking to young people about my experiences as a drunk brought up a lot of memories for me. I wondered how I’d react if a middle-aged guy started talking to me about how he had messed up his life with addiction. Then I remembered that I already knew how I’d react because this did happen quite a few times. I hit my first treatment facility at twenty so I’d plenty of lectures about the dangers of the booze. I’d agree with these people that I was messing things up in my life, but I always found it hard to take these lectures seriously. Somebody who was over forty was just too old to have anything relevant to say to say to me. I wouldn’t have accepted that they understood what it was like to be my age; the fact that they had once been my age wouldn’t have made any difference.
I think it is normal for young people to feel invincible – I know I did. Anything seems possible at that age. It can be easy to dismiss something like addiction as irrelevant. I always pictured drunks as old people who had red noses and smelt bad. I had many days sitting in AA meetings cursing my luck; I’d hardly started my drinking career yet I was being coerced into listening to old people whine about how they went wrong in life. It was only when I saw friends my own age die from addiction that I could appreciate that it impacted my life too. When I was 20 my doctor advised me to have my liver checked; it came as a huge shock to realise that you could damage this organ after only a few years of alcohol abuse.
Mahidol Students Learning about Addiction
I was impressed by the students at Mahidol yesterday. They genuinely seemed interested in what I had to say. After I’d finished speaking they asked questions that really focused on the important issues – I was impressed that they were so well informed. Maybe my story of addiction is more relevant to their lives than I would have previously assumed. I forget that not all young people are as arrogant and dismissive about things as I once was.
I know that anyone can take a wrong path in life; even students who are benefiting from a good university education. I hope that my story be something that will change the views of some of those who were there yesterday – even if it is only a little bit. Maybe let them see that addiction isn’t just something that happens to people who are bad or otherwise inferior specimens of humanity.
From Dead Drunk to Public Speaking
If you asked me a few years ago to speak in such a situation I’d have been terrified just by the idea of it. I worked as a nurse in a university hospital and this meant that I did occasionally have to lead a seminar, but it was something that I dreaded almost to the stage of panic. It is strange but these days public speaking doesn’t bother me at all. I gave a public talk when I was back in Dublin and I didn’t even feel nervous beforehand; yesterday was the same. I’m not sure if this is just due to those years I worked as a teacher or if it my meditation practice that has chilled me out. I still struggle horribly to have a one to one talk with a stranger, but stick me in front of a group of people and I’m fine. My intention here isn’t to brag about my new public speaking ability, but to marvel at how much I’ve changed. I once fully believed that not being able to speak in public was part of who I was; just like addiction was who I was – it seems that I was wrong on both counts. Maybe it is only us that put the limitations on our life?