Talking to Students in Thailand about Addiction

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?

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16 thoughts on “Talking to Students in Thailand about Addiction

  1. Paul,

    You can damage your liver very easily. At the moment their is a binge drinking culture in the U.K, and doctors are seeing youngsters coming into A&E departments all the time due to alcohol related problems.

    After returning from Thailand back to the U.K I was amazed at the amount of people who were now drinking wine. Why? Because they’ve been brainwashed into it by the media.

    It’s the newest thing! They associate it with being swanky or posh, because the stars on their favourite soaps do it. So while you’re giving speeches about the dangers of drinking, the media is busy promoting it to get new recruits!

    How do you get new recruits? Make it look good, cool and above all associate it with a few TV celebs. After that sit back and watch the people follow.

    1. Hi Mark, there is a lot of mystic around wine drinking and this belief that it is good for you. France is a big wine drinking country and they have terribly high rates of liver cirrhosis. You don’t have to be a rock bottom drunk to destroy your liver; regularly drinking over 30 units a week might be enough to do it.

  2. I never thought I’d be a public speaker either, much less actually have something worthwhile to say.
    Yet it makes a difference. A big difference, usually in ways and with people you never meet again….

    1. Thanks Phra Pandit. There are a lot of people who had a big impact on my life because of something they said; they might not even have thought what they were saying was that important at the time. I suppose we never know what effect our words will have.

  3. Well done, Paul! One of the principal fears identified by the Buddha is, guess what?, Public Speaking! And to talk about something so personal and ordinarily shameful… whew! A big accomplishment. It was a nicely understated post on this… but in reality you deserve a huge pat on the back and I hope you feel well rewarded by the positive response of the kids most of all.

      1. Paul, there are some folks who can reach kids in that age group, and thankfully you are one of them. I think they have a finely tuned bs detector, and when they sensed that you are honest, open, truly caring and non-judgmental, I bet you had them at your first words. Way to go!

        1. Thanks Zentient, I would like to think that my honesty came across in the talk. I agree that young people seem to be better able to spot a fraud; maybe because they are still challenging the world.

  4. Bravo Paul! A well-written post that made me laugh out loud a couple of times. And as a writer, I know you’d like to know which ones:

    My intention here isn’t to brag about my new public speaking ability, but to marvel at how much I’ve changed.

    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.

    How did you score this gig by the by?

  5. Paul

    Couldn’t wait for the book to arrive from amazon so I purchased it on the kindle. I’m very excited. I’ll keep you posted on my thoughts.

    Paulie from Oz!

  6. Paul, great post. It’s hard enough to speak publicly in front of a group of strangers but to do so about intimate details of your life and addiction seems like it would be the hardest thing to do.

    It’s a very brave thing to do and a very important thing to do. Hopefully the kids took home something very important from your visit.

  7. Hi Paul, I am a 20 year old young woman who has been battling alcohol abuse for over four years now. I discovered your blog recently and am since hooked- every one of your posts has managed to inspire and uplift me and has brought hope that I will overcome this struggle. It comes as no surprise to me that other young adults were just as inspired as I am by your story.

    1. Thank you Isabelle, it really makes my day to receive comments like this. I’ll never forget the pain of addiction so I guess it is a subject that I’ll always write about. The idea that my thoughts on the subject are actually of value to other people is humbling. It is such a huge turnaround on how things used to be.

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