I Just Couldn’t Say No

What would one drag on a joint hurt?

by Jason Gomez as told to Christy Heitger-Casbon

I glanced at my watch: 6:55 p.m. I couldn’t believe there were only five minutes left in youth group. For as far back as I could remember, I’d been connected to these people. Flashbacks of retreats, church lock-ins, pizza parties, and progressive dinners filled my head.

As we bowed our heads and grasped hands for the closing prayer, my grip tightened. Physically and emotionally, I didn’t want to let go.

The clock struck 7:00, and everyone began hugging and saying goodbye. My friends talked excitedly about leaving Tallahassee and heading off to different colleges, but I didn’t share their excitement. I wasn’t moving anywhere but was staying right in my parents’ home to attend Florida State University. As my friends exited the room, I stood there frozen, feeling alone, afraid, and abandoned.

Out of place

That fall my pastor suggested I attend InterVarsity Christian Fellowship on campus. I took his advice, but from the beginning, I felt out of place. Most of them were graduate students, talking about their wives, husbands, and dissertations. Where are all the undergrads? I wondered.

Desperate for fellowship, I continued attending meetings but didn’t enjoy them. I missed being with people my own age, so after a semester, I quit going. Mom suggested I try another Christian organization, but I vetoed the idea. Why risk feeling misplaced or rejected?

With no friends, no girlfriend – not even a college roommate – I started hanging out with Rick and Brian,* two guys I’d known since middle school. One day I complained to them about how miserable freshman year was. I was not prepared for Rick’s response.

“Pot will chase your blues away,” he promised, pulling out some marijuana and lighting a joint.

My eyes widened. “Nn-nn-noooo, thanks,” I stammered nervously. As the smell of marijuana permeated the room, I grew tense. I considered leaving but didn’t want to look like a dork.

“We’re hitting a club tonight,” Brian said. “Come with us.”

Forget it! I thought, then wondered, If I say no, will they reject me?

I was still skeptical, but since I knew I could resist drugs, I figured there was no harm in tagging along.

Temptation

For the next month, I went to a bunch of parties. The routine was the same: People offered me drugs; I declined. Then they looked at me funny. Some even asked why I came if I wasn’t getting high. After awhile, I started asking myself the same question.

Maybe I should say yes just once, I thought. After all, it seemed safe enough. No one was vomiting, blacking out, or being carried out on a stretcher.

One night I sat down next to a beautiful girl with long, red hair and deep green eyes. She offered me her joint. “One time won’t hurt you,” she said simply.

I caved. I reached for the joint, placed it between my lips, and inhaled.

This isn’t right, I told myself. I should stop. But as I scanned the room, I suddenly realized I wasn’t the outcast anymore. As I continued inhaling and the drug took effect, my guilt faded. Rick was right: Pot was chasing my blues away. For the first time in a long while, I was happy, relaxed, and accepted.

Party on

After that, it became increasingly easier to give in to temptation. Within weeks, I was smoking pot daily. I still managed to go to classes and keep my grades up, but concentrating on school became more and more of a struggle. Since I lived at home, my parents soon noticed their son was a strung-out, doped-up mess. When they begged me to stop and I refused, they adopted the “tough love” mentality and kicked me out, hoping I’d seek help. But I didn’t want help. I just wanted to get high.

A sober friend felt sorry for me and let me move in with him; but because I spent all my money on drugs, I couldn’t afford rent. He soon booted me out. I began hopping from place to place, crashing on different friends’ floors. Most of them were junkies, and they exposed me to more drugs, including acid (LSD), cocaine, crack, crystal meth, heroine, and Ecstasy.

Although I didn’t have any living expenses, I was still broke – and desperate for drugs. One Friday night, I asked a dealer what I could trade for cocaine.
“I like your pants,” he told me. “Hand ’em over, and I’ll set you up.”

Without hesitation, I stripped to my underwear and gave him my pants. My pride had vanished along with my morals.

Dancing with death

Without so much as a glimmer of guilt, I began stealing from the restaurant where I worked to support my addiction. This enabled me to party with greater frequency and experiment with new drugs.

One night I tried magic mushrooms. At first, I was euphoric; but soon my carefree mind went numb, and I began hallucinating. My eyes darted around the room as I watched my friends with heightened suspicion, sure they were trying to kill me.

Dizzy, I couldn’t tell up from down. As sweat rolled down my forehead, I glanced at my chest and saw my heart pounding hard and fast through my shirt. Am I dying?

Petrified and confused, I pleaded with a friend to take me to my parents’ house. When Mom opened the door, her face turned white. “What’s wrong with you?” she gasped. Scared for my life, she frantically called 911.

At the hospital, doctors pumped my stomach to empty the drugs from my system. This near-death experience scared me enough that I abandoned drugs for a few weeks.

But I was still miserable and lonely. One night when a friend told me about a party she was going to, I went along and immediately felt at home. The music was pumping, and the smoke was so thick, my eyes burned.

“Here – have some Ecstasy,” Danielle offered. I considered saying no, but I couldn’t resist. Before long, I was flying.

A shriek from the bathroom shattered my hypnotic state, and I rushed to see what was wrong. “They won’t move!” Danielle cried, referring to two guys lying on the floor, motionless and staring into space.

I knelt and studied their hollow, lifeless eyes. “What are they on?” I asked a guy who’d been partying with them.

“Ecstasy,” he said. “They must’ve gotten a bad batch.”

Shivers shot through my spine. I, too, was high on Ecstasy.

Will I end up in a coma, too? Or worse? I panicked. I’ve beaten the odds before, but how many times can I dance with death before it claims me?

Personal reflection

I knew then that things needed to change. If I survive this, I promised myself, I’ll stop.

I left the party and crashed at a junkie’s trashed apartment. I sat down in the kitchen, cradled my head in my hands, and stared down at the filthy floor.

Haunted by the two guys at the party, I thought, That could’ve been me! My life is so messed up!

I suddenly realized this hadn’t just happened; I had done it to myself. I’m at this dead end because I’ve cut God out of my life. It made perfect sense.

I fell to my knees, sobbing. “Please forgive me, Lord! I’ve been sinning, and I’m so sorry. Help me!” I pleaded. For hours, I continued telling Him everything I felt. Then, drawing from His strength, I picked up the phone, called my parents, and asked for help.

Road to freedom

Mom had a friend who told her about a Bible-based organization called Teen Challenge. Through a year-long residential program, they help adolescents deal with life-controlling problems and focus on total rehabilitation: emotional, social, educational, and spiritual. When I learned it was in Athens, West Virginia, I hesitated.

I’ll be cut off from drugs, my friends, from everything I know. How will I survive? Despite my fear, I determined to get straight.

Arriving at the center, I felt rattled. What’ve I done? Dozens of worried thoughts raced through my head. Then the director of the program put me at ease. “Don’t be nervous,” he said. “I’m not here to judge or blame you. I’m here to help.”

I looked closely at his friendly, sincere eyes and felt safe. I knew the road ahead would be hard, but his warm reassurance told me I wouldn’t walk it alone.

During the residents’ group sessions, we confessed our sins and discussed our addictions. When I saw the pain, frustration, and hurt in their eyes, I knew exactly how they were feeling. Over the next few months as we shared our stories and prayed together, their support helped me move toward freedom.

Living through Christ

One day at group, Jim asked me, “How have you changed since you stopped doing drugs?”

“When I was using, my heart was empty and bitter,” I explained. “But now I’m filled with Christ’s love.”

“What’s that like?” Jim asked.

I closed my eyes and thought for a moment. “It’s like for 15 months, I stopped breathing. But when I turned to Jesus, He brought me back to life.”


* Some names and details have been changed.