Word of Wisdom: Voices of Experience

The Voices of Experience
(Direct quotes taken from interviews with LDS youth who responded to 12 questions about their experience of drug use and repentance)

1. How did you start using drugs, tobacco, or alcohol?

A lot of my friends were drinking, and it looked like they were having fun. I wanted to see for myself what it was like."

"My sister had been using cigarettes for awhile and offered them to me one time on vacation. I smoked my first cigarette then and gradually tried other drugs as they came along."

"I started using drugs and smoking cigarettes one day at school. I was in tenth grade and there was a group of guys I wanted to fit in with. We were all standing in a circle in one of the back fields, and when they passed around some pot all I could think of was making them think I had used it before so they'd think I was cool. The first time I actually drank was in ninth grade at a party."

"I began using drugs when I was 13 going on 14. The first day I got drunk I had just had a huge fight with my stepfather and was very angry. I ran down to my friend's house, not only because she was my best friend and I wanted to talk, but because for months my friends had been going to her house to drink and get high. I had turned it down at first, but I was so mad I thought it was the only thing that might calm me down. By the end of that night I was drunk, and that's how I started drinking. Before long I was smoking pot too."

"I'm not sure why I started. I tasted beer and found it didn't taste good at all. I began to wonder why my friend would drink this day after day. But I guess I just got sick of saying no all the time."

"I was at a party in ninth grade. My friends were there and so was my older sister and her friends. My sister's friends asked me if I wanted to taste this drink they had made. I'd never been offered a drink before, and I liked being the center of attention at that moment. I didn't think it would hurt to try a sip of it. It actually tasted kind of good, so I asked for another sip. Then they gave me the whole glass. After awhile, I started to feel a little buzz. The next weekend my friends and I bought our first case of beer, and that's where it all began. Once I started drinking I had no problem trying a cigarette. We would drink every Friday and Saturday night and any time we drank, we'd smoke."

"I started smoking when I was in the ninth grade. I had some close friends who one day 'lit up' in front of me. I remember thinking, 'When did they start smoking?' At first, it made me very uncomfortable, and I felt shocked at their choice. Then I shocked myself. After weeks of them offering me cigarettes and me saying no, one day I just reached across the table, picked up my first one and smoked it. I thought it made me seem cooler and older. The next weekend I tried drinking and pot too."

"When I was 12, we moved from Colorado to California. I went from having lots of good friends to having no friends at all. After a few weeks I finally got invited to someone's party. When the kids there offered me some pot I just said okay. I knew it was wrong, but I had to be accepted."

2. Why do you think you started?

"I started as a form of rebellion and to prove to myself that I could do anything that I wanted to do. I couldn't be forced to obey any restrictions set by my parents."

"I think there were many things that contributed to me starting to experiment with drugs and alcohol. The first thing that made me want to try doing drugs was so that I could feel more accepted by a particular group of friends I had. They all started messing around with marijuana and alcohol at about the same time, so it just sort of happened. Another contributing factor was just plain curiosity. I was curious about how drugs and alcohol would make me feel. I was also curious about the whole culture surrounding drugs. It makes no sense to me now, but for some reason I wanted to be a part of it."

"I went to a dangerous school with a lot of gangs. I wanted to be part of this group of guys that nobody messed with, because I didn't feel safe at school. When they started smoking pot, I did too. I wanted to be known as one of those tough guys so nobody would beat me up."

"I drank because I was angry. My dad had left my mom when I was only six years old, and I didn't get along with my stepfather at all. I kept drinking because of the way it made me forget everything that made me mad."

"I think I started because I had never really made up my mind ahead of time not to. I always knew it was wrong to smoke and drink, but when I was confronted with it, I didn't understand why I shouldn't try it. I didn't care about the consequences."

"I resented my parents, teachers at school, and people at church who wanted me to live by their rules. I just couldn't do it. My sister amazed me because whatever they told her to do, she always did. I used to wonder if something was wrong with me because I had to question and challenge everything. I felt like I wanted to be different from my sister and recognized for who I was."

"I basically started because it was so accepted, and I didn't want to be on the outside."

3. How were you hooked in?

"I think that once you start making bad decisions, you allow yourself to make even worse decisions each passing day because the choices don't really seem that bad compared to the last bad choice made.'I've already done this, so I might as well do that'."

"Drugs made it so I didn't have to think about the unpleasant things in life."

"I wanted to be free from all my bad feelings and not have to deal with my life. Pretty soon I was both drinking and smoking pot every night after school. Once summer rolled around we'd party all day...no one's parents were home. About eight of us lived in the same neighborhood and only one parent out of all eight had someone home during the day in the summer. So, with seven houses to go to and nothing to do, my addiction grew."

"I was hooked in because it was my older sister's friends that offered it to me. I thought it looked like they were having fun. It seemed harmless. It's funny because it's like I forgot everything I'd been taught. At that moment it was only important to look cool."

"Having made one bad choice, it was easy to make more. I began choosing friends who were even more into drugs than I was. I liked being around them because it made me feel safe knowing they were 'worse off.' It made the things I was doing seem acceptable."

"At first it was just a way of meeting people, but then it became physical. I needed those drugs, and I would do anything to get them."

4. What did you like about it?

"It seemed like I was having fun. I also felt independent and like a rebel."

"At first I thought taking drugs was great. I didn't have to worry about anything because they made me not care about anything. I told myself I was having good times with my friends, but those "good times" were pretty hard to remember. In a way, we all felt like we had a common bond. It was like we were on top of the world because we were trying new things and having new experiences. For a while I also liked having the reputation of being a partier."

"At first it just made me feel better. It freed me from my anger. The more I got involved though, the more I got drawn into the whole culture. I grew to depend on the 'friends' and everything that surrounded the drug community."

"I was attracted by the new experience that it was. It was completely different than anything I had ever done. I didn't have any worries. I was just living for the moment."

"In the beginning marijuana made things seem easier. Later on a lot of things got worse, but by then I really didn't care."

"I felt like I was in complete control. I got so I could rationalize just about anything to myself, so what really happened is my life got way out of control."

"Drugs and alcohol took away my inhibitions, and I would act really crazy. No matter what kind of people I was partying with I would have a good time with them. It wasn't till later that I found out how messed up some of them were. By then I was pretty messed up too."

5. What didn't you like about it?

"I didn't like that I couldn't be myself when I was using. I felt like I couldn't be the fun, smart person that I know I am. Instead, I was some other person that I hardly even know."

"The things I didn't like were actually the flip side to the things I did like. Sometimes I didn't like not caring about anything because I saw that my not caring was making my life suffer in many areas. I was dropped from my high school and had to go to a continuation school which I was barely able to pass. I didn't care about any of my family relationships as much and felt a lot of strain between my family and me. I even have found out that one of my brothers was scared of me because he saw me lose control a couple of times and realized I wasn't very stable. Sometimes I didn't like being labeled a partier because it lost me the respect of some cool people. I remember people labeling me as being dumb, which I am not, and that was also very frustrating."

"I didn't like drinking to the point that I got sick, which happened to me occasionally. I never liked smoking pot that much because I thought it was boring, and it made me eat too much. I didn't like lying to my parents all the time. And I didn't like the way my lifestyle made me feel 'outside' of my family."

"One time I had a bad trip that completely creeped me out. I felt like I was thinking all these neat things and that my mind was expanding and understanding these big mysteries of the universe. Then all of a sudden I felt totally scared, like I was trying to get knowledge from a bad source. I felt the presence of evil more strongly than I ever had before, and I never took any drugs again. It was like if I did Satan would be there waiting for me. Really freaky."

"Drugs actually took away my freedom. The more often I did drugs, the more often I had to be high to cope with life. My feelings grew stronger the more I suppressed them, and it took more for me to forget the anger. So what I first thought I liked actually backfired. Looking back, it made dealing with my feelings so much harder when I quit drugs and even to this day. As far as the culture and the friends, it was all a false sense of security and friendship. I have been sober for almost four years now, and only one of my many 'friends' even keeps in touch with me. She was the only one that came to my wedding last summer."

"It seemed that every time I would go out drinking, something would go wrong. Friends would get in fights, something would get broken, someone would get hurt, or someone would screw up. I didn't like lying to my parents either."

"I couldn't think straight on pot, and a couple of times it made me really paranoid."

"I hated getting the munchies and gaining weight. Once I went to a friend's house and got caught eating an entire cake while I was drying some pot in his mother's oven. I also had a terrible experience that made me realize I didn't like being out of control when I was drinking. Once I woke up in a strange apartment in a total fog and couldn't even remember what had happened. The room was spinning, and I've never been so sick and so ashamed. I found out later that my date had put Everclear in my glass. That really scared me and got me thinking more about what I was doing."

"By the time I was 16, my drug use had escalated to cocaine, crack, and heroin. Once I started getting deeper into these drugs, I became owned by whatever drug I was craving. I had to be able to find it, hide it, and lie about it. I lied to the bishop and church leaders; I lied to my family, and I lied to my friends. It was terrible when I wanted to quit and realized I couldn't."

6. How did it affect your life/change your thought process, etc? (for example, relationships, self-esteem, spirituality, decisions made, decisions not made, physical body, etc.)

"I was much less spiritual."

"The main problems that I faced with drugs were basically problems with my priorities. Nothing was important to me but getting and using drugs. Everything else in my life was shoved to the back seat. My family and friend relationships suffered. My schoolwork was non-existent. I was feeling pretty unhealthy and lethargic. I was missing out on a lot of really neat things that I could have been doing at the time."

"It kept me from ever getting a real testimony of my own. It also got me in the habit of depending on other things like food and caffeine. When I stopped smoking and drinking I started eating too much and drinking tons of diet coke. Now I get a headache when I don't drink two super big gulps every day."

"Drugs changed my life in every way possible. I entered into abusive relationships with boyfriends and never left because I blamed the things they did on 'he was drunk last time,' and told myself it wouldn't happen again. I often made relationships with dealers or boys that could get free drugs. None of these relationships did anything but hurt me. My relationship with my family only got worse. It was so bad at one point that my mom sent me away. I was awful to all the people who really loved me. I would do anything if I could take away the pain I caused my mom. I also had a younger sister who looked up to me, and I know I failed to live up to the person she thought I was. I can never take back the things she saw. I am only lucky she is forgiving and loves me enough to look up to me again now that I have my life in order. My sister is not a member of the Church, and I hope one day I can teach her about my beliefs. It would have been so much easier if I had lived up to the standards of the gospel when I lived in the same home with her. Now I have to try to teach her from hundreds of miles away. I made a lot of bad decisions from being under the influence and just from being in the state of mind a drug user is always in, sober or not. I did things I never thought I would or could do. Things I hate! And there is nobody who is strong enough to keep standards, even the ones you set for yourself, when you allow drugs to rule your thoughts and actions. For example, even after I used drugs I said I would never get into a car with a drunk driver. I can't tell you how many times I broke my own rule. I am thankful I'm still alive and healthy today, because I have some friends who are not."

"Drinking and doing drugs changed the person that I was completely. I could not really see that at the time because it was a very gradual and subtle process. But my focus on the drinking and drug lifestyle was complete, which left room for very little else. My grades dropped because I didn't care enough about school to study. I was constantly fighting with my parents because I wanted more freedom to do the things that I thought were fun. I lost my desire to believe in the gospel because there was no room in the gospel for 'fun' things like drinking and drugs. So my spirituality was very low."

"I quit being involved in anything extra-curricular. I stopped playing sports. I had been involved in the student body presidency before I started, but never returned. Now I had my drinkin' buddies. I cut myself off from my family. My attitude was that if I didn't talk to my parents, I wouldn't have to lie to them. My self-esteem was very damaged. I didn't feel confident talking to girls or doing anything like going to dances unless I had a few drinks. It always felt as though something was missing in my life. I would try to fill the void with girlfriends, but they never filled what was missing. I finally discovered that it was the Spirit that I was missing. I have a lot of regrets from that part of my life. I wish I would have worked hard in school, rather than cut class to buy beer. Now that I'm working hard I'm doing well in school. I could have gotten scholarships and gone straight to BYU, or whatever school I wanted."

"I alienated myself from a lot of people I loved, especially my mother. She can still remember, word for word, some of the mean things I said to her. I don't even remember saying them because I was so out of it. The other loss for me was spiritual. When I quit going to Church, I sort of missed it. In another way I didn't want to be there because it reminded me of the things I was doing wrong. For awhile, when I went back, it was a sad reminder of how I had disappointed my parents and myself."

"I've always been pretty thin, and I lost more weight on drugs. I had no appetite and looked terrible. I couldn't concentrate because I had no attention span. The real things didn't seem important to me. I was always looking for my next high. I was living on a day-to-day and sometimes hour-to- hour basis. My whole world was brought down and my goals lowered a lot."

"My self-esteem dropped because I wasn't doing what I was supposed to be doing. I went against everything I believed deep down in my heart, and yet I couldn't make myself stop. I turned against everything my family had taught me. I knew it was wrong, but I couldn't get out of it."

7. How and why did you stop? How long did it take? How difficult was it?

"I always knew in my heart that it was wrong; I always knew that I would change sometime. I just couldn't bring myself to stop the bad habits that I had already formed. I finally decided that I would get my life together during my senior year. I applied to BYU because I knew that it would be a good place for me, and I had a great desire to go there. On the day I sent my application in, I vowed never to use anything again. And I didn't. I had been wanting to stop for awhile, but could never quite do it because I was always putting myself in tempting situations. So the only way I could stop was to totally remove myself from old friends and bad situations."

"I stopped doing drugs because I had a very scary experience on them. At the time I thought it was a seizure, but now I think it was an anxiety attack. I remember having a feeling like my whole body was about ready to quit on me, and I really thought I was going to die. I was just about to pass out when I prayed and told Heavenly Father that if He would take the feeling away that I was having and let me live that I would never do another drug again. Immediately the feeling went away, and I knew that God had heard my prayer. I have kept my promise and have been drug-free since then, but it was very difficult. I went to a drug rehabilitation out-patient program where I had personal and family counseling for a long time. For a few more years after that experience I smoked and chewed tobacco quite a bit. Then one day I just got sick of doing these things and decided I wanted to quit and serve a mission. It was the hardest thing I've ever done, but I eventually quit doing everything and served a great mission. Now I've been sober for five years and wouldn't trade it for anything."

"It was a lot of things at once in my life that made me stop. I was sick of living day to day, waiting for the next high. I looked around and noticed that there was so much to life I was missing out on. This whole time I thought I was expanding my mind, I was really killing it. The world that I thought was so much better on drugs was one of illusion. I was missing the REAL stuff. I didn't want to be like some of my friends' parents who got high with their kids. I wanted more for myself. At first, I wasn't sure how I was going to get more, but it soon became clear to me. I had a good friend who was a strong member of the Church. She had a loving husband, three kids, and was a great mother. I spent more and more time with her. I noticed the pictures of temples she had in her home, and I wanted a temple marriage. I wasn't sure of all the gospel principles, but I knew I wanted a temple marriage. So I started by visiting my bishop and asking what it would take to get me to the temple. I knew that I could never do drugs again. It took a few months from the time I started to feel like I might want to quit until I went back to the bishop and actually did quit. During that time I was gradually cutting back and moving away from a lot of the hard drugs. But once I promised myself and my bishop and Heavenly Father, that was it. I never touched anything again. I am sure this sounds easy, but it wasn't. Every day for at least a year I was tempted. My thoughts were constantly going to drugs. I had trouble falling asleep for at least three months after I quit smoking pot, and I never slept well. I went through panic attacks and depression. I felt sick most of the time. I also had an ulcer from all the drinking. It was the worst thing I have ever gone through, and by far the most difficult thing I have ever done. None of it was worth any moment I had ever been high."

"I began to cut down on my drinking and doing drugs during my senior year of high school. I started to wonder if I had made a mistake. The lifestyle started to look fake and tainted. It took me about two and a half years to completely stop everything. The most difficult part was realizing that most of my close friendships were not good for me, and watching them slowly dwindle as I began to focus on healthier and more spiritual things."

"The day I knew I wanted to permanently change my lifestyle was the day I met my future husband. I wanted so badly to be worthy of his friendship and love, and I knew that a guy who had always focused on the gospel would never take a 'partier' seriously. I began to see more options for happiness...BETTER options. It became very obvious to me that my old lifestyle was a dead-end of absolutely no growth spiritually, mentally, or emotionally. I wanted to grow."

"I think I grew out of it when I started to become more of an individual. At the end of my senior year, I decided I was sick of all the crap and depression I was going through. I would occasionally drink when I was really angry. Those would be the hardest times not to drink when I was quitting, and they are the most tempting times even now. When I'm really angry, I feel like just saying 'screw it' and drinking, just to escape from life for awhile."

"I had a total blackout and lost my memory of one whole night. I still don't know exactly what happened during that time. This was a turning point for me. I never wanted to be out of control of my body like that again. I went through the repentance process and stopped using drugs and alcohol."

"I got to the point where I could no longer fund my habit. I'd already stolen from or lied to pretty much every person I knew, so there was no more way to get money. I also got into legal problems because I'd stolen money from the restaurant I worked in. When they caught me, I was charged with a felony. I spent some time in jail, and it really scared me. I realized my soul had almost completely decayed. I knew I needed help."

8. Share any particularly memorable experiences with using or quitting.

"After quitting and being righteous for awhile, I was called to serve in my class presidency. When I was being set apart, the priesthood leader mentioned three different times that the Lord was pleased with me. I knew that Heavenly Father was letting me know through the blessing and the Spirit that he was proud of the decisions I was making."

"Drugs have a way of deadening your conscience and making it easier to make bad decisions. During the time that I was drinking and doing drugs, I made some decisions that I knew were wrong but could live with because drugs were able to cover up the feelings that surrounded them."

"I was stealing from my grandma and my parents all the time to buy drugs, and I blamed it on the maid or other family members. I still can't believe some of the things I did to get money. It was unreal...stuff I could never have imagined myself doing. It wasn't even me."

"I was starting to think about quitting when something happened to one of my friends that really helped me decide. There was this big New Year's Eve rave at a golf course, and all the cops were there. People were passing out vials, but they were supposed to be legal. We were told the vials were filled with herbal stuff. My friend was on what was called a 'drug-free spree,' so he decided to take one of the supposedly herbal mixtures. About halfway through the night a bunch of kids were getting chest pains and an ambulance came and took them away, including my friend. A lot of people were in critical condition, and my friend died of a heart attack. Later I heard that the vials had been laced with heroin. I never went to another rave, and I stopped all the hard-core drugs after that."

"I never tried many drugs. A friend did give me some poppers though. I didn't think much of them. If you take a drag off the fumes you get this head rush that makes you think you're invincible. I took the little bottle to a party once. I didn't show it to many people. I would take friends into the bathroom and let them all take drags off it. One time I took a friend and his girlfriend into the bathroom because he wanted to try it. His girlfriend started crying and freaking out because he used to be addicted to sniffing gasoline, and she didn't want him to do it. She tried to get out of the room, and he blocked the door and wouldn't let either of us out. He then threw her to the floor after she kept on trying to leave. I freaked out on him and took her out of the room myself. As I left the party I realized how much a substance like that could change a person. I chucked the bottle that night."

"Getting sent to jail was a turning point for me. I was there on charges I knew I shouldn't have committed. I was brought before a judge, and the two guys in front of me had just been sent away for a year or more. When my turn came up, I said a prayer and promised if I were given a second chance I'd make the most of it and clean myself up for good. I was given a suspended sentence if I would get into drug treatment. I got into a program and worked hard at it. I never want to lose my freedom again, and I never want to be controlled by anyone or any substance."

"A couple of months after I'd been clean, when I knew for sure that was what I really wanted, I was praying for confirmation about what I was doing. I hadn't felt the Spirit for a long time, but that night it hit me so hard I got in touch with my spiritual self again and remembered who I was as a spiritual being. It was an intense and incredible feeling, and since then I've wanted to know more about myself and our religion. I read the Book of Mormon all the way through for the first time in my life, and I haven't lost the feeling of having the Spirit with me since."

9. What was the aftermath of your use? Any losses, issues, etc.?

"I lost time that could have been spent improving myself and growing closer to my Heavenly Father. I made a lot of stupid mistakes during that time that I would normally not have made, but through repentance I know I am forgiven."

"One thing that I really regret is not ever playing basketball in high school. I love basketball but couldn't find the motivation to do anything active or that took commitment."

"I lost most of my friendships. No one ever refused to be my friend or anything but after awhile we had nothing in common, and the friendship just dwindled into non-existing. I had a lot of relationships to try to heal with my family and loved ones. There were a lot of apologies to be made and a lot of things to ask forgiveness for."

"My biggest regret is the horrible example I was to my non-member friends. I was the only Mormon they knew, but I was as bad as they were, and in a lot of cases worse. I've tried to go back and show them that I've changed without being obnoxious about it. I don't think that I can ever fully repair that damage."

"I lost my close family relationships, including my brothers and sisters. I also lost my self respect for awhile."

"I lost my innocence. I wish I could go back and be like my friends who haven't gone through the things I have."

"I lost the trust of all my family members. I lost the girl I wanted to marry. I also lost too many years of my life. I should be back from my mission, almost done with school, and ready to start a family. Instead, I am trying to get worthy and turn my papers in."

10. Does this choice affect you still, today? If so, how?

"Yes, it does. I have to work harder at not being worldly than my friends who never got into drinking or drugs."

"Sometimes I still feel bad about the choices I made. When I got married, it made everything harder knowing some of the bad decisions I'd made and seeing how they affected me in ways I couldn't have predicted. When I was using drugs, I lost my chastity, and even though I had repented so long ago, now I had to worry about whether I was healthy and about getting tested for AIDS and other diseases."

"The choice I made that night when I took my first drink and the many other bad choices that followed for five years still affect me to this day. Through the atonement I have learned to forgive myself, and I know my sins are forgiven, but memories and feelings of those days will always haunt me. Things that happened can be forgiven, but the consequences still follow. Also, I'm not sure you can ever forget the 'high' once you've felt it, and when life gets hard I worry that I'll be tempted in that area again."

"I think I'm more understanding of people who get addicted to alcohol and drugs now. A lot of members have no tolerance for people who have addictions. On my mission I knew how to deal with investigators who had Word of Wisdom problems. I knew what they needed to hear."

"I have a lot of emotional scars, not only from using drugs, but from immorality. The immorality has left a huge emotional scar that will affect me the rest of my life. Those mental images are so hard to block out, and it takes a long time and a lot of work to have them not affect you in your everyday life."

"My choices do still affect me today. I've repented to the best of my ability, but sometimes I doubt my repentance could ever be complete. This doubt can leave me very unhappy at times. I still remember my lowest and most degraded moments, and I still see myself as a person who was once capable of those things. But I am working on forgiving myself."

11. .Please describe your struggle with repentance in general, and any specific experience in particular.

"I kept putting off going to the bishop for months because I was embarrassed and had too much pride. I rationalized that I would go to him sometime. Finally, when I did see the bishop, I felt like a weight was lifted off my chest."

"I had a great struggle with my repentance process because I didn't only have to repent for doing drugs, I had to repent for things that I allowed myself to do because drugs had taken my morals from me. It took my entire mission to feel that I had been really forgiven for the things that I had done. I remember talking to companions who hadn't done any drugs and seeing how guilt-free they were able to be, and I really envied them."

"Describing my repentance process would be almost impossible. I think many LDS youths today choose to drink, do drugs, or have sex because they think they can repent later, like I did. When young people hear my story and see that I have a pretty good life now, they think that it was a piece of cake to do the 'fun' stuff, then apologize and work everything out as if it never happened. I've tried to explain to some young people that I suffered so much because of my choices. Not only did I suffer, but my younger brothers and sisters suffered and my parents suffered. Unfortunately, I didn't videotape the hours I spent crying alone. Nobody ever saw as I begged the Lord to grant me a testimony and got no answer for many months. Nobody felt my self-doubt and depression as I went through the process. It's truly something you can't understand unless you've gone through it. That's why much of this advice will have to be taken on faith alone."

"Repentance was the worst and the best of feelings all at once. Most of my repentance was from choices I made while involved in the drug culture. Those choices led to disfellowshipment from the Church for one year. It was a long and slow road back. I had so much to learn and to accept about the gospel. I spent hours and hours in my bishop's office. We cried together, and we laughed together. Making a 360 is never easy, but through that year I learned to forgive myself and others. Most of all, I learned Heavenly Father always loved me and was only waiting for me to ask forgiveness so that he could let me feel the love of our Savior in my life. But the year following my repentance process was hard too. I moved away from home. It was the only way to get on with my life. I felt more alone than ever. I had not had LDS friendships for so long that it was hard to know how to make LDS friends. My bishop was no longer there for me to lean on. Repentance is a lifelong process, and I had five years of spiritual 'catching up' to do."

"When I drank I messed around with a lot of girls. One night I took it way too far. The next day I felt sick and miserable with regret and shame. I didn't date any more for over a year. I didn't feel too close to my bishop, so I kept it bottled up inside until I left home for school a year and a half later. I was pretty unhappy during that period of time. It was an incredible feeling to finally have that burden lifted when I went through the repentance process."

"I felt terrible about what I had put my parents through. Later on they told me how helpless and sad they felt. They felt like nothing they could say to me made a difference. Luckily, they hung in there and kept trying."

"The first few months of my mission I felt a lot of guilt and unworthiness, even though I'd already repented with my bishop before I went. I was having trouble feeling forgiven, so I kept going to my Mission President and confessing the same old things over and over. He finally helped me understand that Heavenly Father had already forgiven me, but that the hardest thing of all was going to be forgiving myself."

"Repentance is not an easy process. The steps are simple, but repentance is hard."

12. Finally, knowing what you know now, what is your advice to LDS youth on this subject?

"If you're having problems, go seek your bishop's counsel; don't put it off. He loves you and wants to help you. One thing my bishop said to me was that he was sorry I had to bear that burden alone. Go talk to him even if you feel like you can handle everything yourself. If you feel like you can't stop, because you already have made so many bad choices, make the commitment today to stop. Tomorrow will be a new day and a new beginning."

"My advice is not to start using drugs. They seem like fun, but they are really very harmful. They mess you up way more than can be seen at first glance."

"If you're using drugs you probably don't want to believe right then that the Church is true. You might not ever find out either because you don't really have the Spirit. A way you could find out if you're right or wrong is to try obeying the Word of Wisdom for six months. Go to church and do all the things you're supposed to. At the end, see how you feel. If it sounds too hard to stop doing everything for six months, you probably need to get help for addiction."

"My advice to LDS youth is to focus on the things that you enjoy that do fit with the gospel. You don't necessarily have to become a religious nut to help yourself grow. Focus on the things that you are good at, that make you unique, and improve those things. You don't have the time to waste in a long and unhappy repentance process. You'll be happier to just avoid it altogether. Don't be fooled by THE LIE, that the drinking and drug lifestyle will bring you happiness. The fun is temporary and comes at a very expensive price."

"I would advise LDS youth to stay away from all types of drugs. Don't let curiosity kill you! Learn to deal with your feelings you have now. Someone who becomes dependent on drugs never learns to cope as long as they are doing drugs. And it is much harder to handle a twenty-year-old's problems when your emotional maturity pretty much stopped at age thirteen. There is so much more to life than drugs can offer. Learn to have fun on your own, and you won't need drugs to do it for you. The plus side to that is you can remember what you did the night before. Life is hard enough, so don't make it harder by adding drugs to the equation. Most importantly, learn to love yourself and know that you are a child of God with many important things to do while you are here... and if you're high, you can't do those things!"

"Stay away from drugs! Stay close to your family. They're the only ones who have been there from the beginning and will always be there for you. Listen to your parents, and be honest. You can't get help if no one knows you have a problem. Be up front about what you're doing so everyone around you knows what you're dealing with."

"My advice? That's tough to sum up. Gain a real testimony for yourself—find out if all of this is true. When you do find out, make a commitment to yourself and Heavenly Father. Be tough and stand up for what you know is true. If it gets rough at times, suck it up. Learn from other's mistakes rather than your own. You'll save yourself a lot of regret. Last of all, know that someone understands. If there's nobody that you know that understands, know that Christ understands."

"I hope you can listen and not be like me and have to find out the hard way. I wish I could go back and make my decisions again because I have a lot of things that I feel bad about in my life, and it isn't that easy to get over them."

This column has been written by remarkable and generous young men and women who have willingly shared their real feelings and experiences with you. (Thanks, everyone!) It isn't always easy to learn from someone else's experience, but it can sure save a lot of heartache. Let's seal their words with the addition of some wise, loving, and inspirational thoughts from Elder Boyd K. Packer. It almost seems like he's spoken to some of the young people quoted here.

"Youth suffers from a lingering thirst that has become a drive. Though it gnaws within them, it is not physical. They want to know what it all means—they are seeking the true meaning of life. There is something missing from their lives, some vital substance they have not tasted.

"Many of them unfortunately seek it in physical satisfaction. They smash down the boundaries of morality and...indulge themselves in every manner conceivable to the limit of physical experience, seeking in physical gratification some taste of life. They come away less satisfied than before, the thirst and the craving more acute.

"Then many of them turn elsewhere, seeking to escape the futility in life. They turn to drugs and find for a moment the escape they seek. At last their spirits soar. They reach beyond themselves, erase all limitations, and taste for a moment, as they suppose, that which they have been seeking. But it is a synthetic, a wicked counterfeit, for they return to a depression worse than the one they left. Then they become players in the saddest of human tragedies. For, as they turn again to this release, they are not seeking what they sought before, but indulge to escape the consequences of each previous adventure with drugs. This is addiction! This is tragedy! This is slavery! When a remedy becomes worse than the disease, then we have found futility itself."

President Packer continues by offering this advice: "If...young people would listen for a moment—listen seriously enough that I could speak from the depths of my soul—there are some things I would tell [them]...

"...There is a spiritual answer to your need; I hope you won't dismiss it or ridicule the possibility. 'Don't knock it till you've tried it' is sound counsel. ...You may say you've been to church, that you've tried religion and not been satisfied. ...No one can compel you to taste of this living water. It can come only when you consent. There are no conscripts, only volunteers. If you are to find it, you must pay more, by a thousandfold, than you ever paid before, reach farther than you have ever reached, use more courage and self- discipline than you ever knew you had. But at the end of all that comes the promise: 'Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am; And that I am the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world'." (D&C 93:1-2).

The apostle's closing words hold both a warning and an explanation of the Lord's promise. Elder Packer speaks clearly: "I must be plain to say to you, my young friend, that when you come to know [that He is], it will be on His terms—not on yours. 'Therefore,' He has said, 'sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you will see him: for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will'." (D&C 88:68).

And now for the good news! "The fact—the positive, irrefutable truth—is that what you [the youth of the Church] seek...exists. And when you find it, it will not take you out of the world. You will find a greater need to be in the mainstream of life facing the same issues that are so disturbing to you now, but you'll face them with a different light."

Finally, an invitation is extended: "We bid you—our restless, seeking youth—to come, quench that spiritual thirst. The Lord has said: 'Whosoever drinketh of...water shall thirst again; but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life'." (John 4:13-14).

Elder Packer closes with his testimony: "I bear to you my witness, as one among those authorized to bear that witness, that God does live, Jesus is the Christ, this is His church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He directs his church and ministers in the midst of his Saints. There is a prophet of God directing this work. Youth is needed to carry it on. We bid you to come, in the name of Jesus Christ" (Boyd K. Packer, CR, October 1969).

What do you think other prophets have said on this subject? (Talk about word [s] of wisdom!) In next week's installment, we'll find out.

Comments and feedback can be sent to feedback@ldsliving.com