Last night I was reading through a magazine and came across an ad. I’m assuming it was distributed by a non profit and was meant to be a PSA about e cigarettes. It was targeted toward teens and young adults and it was trying to school the reader on how damaging smoking e cigs is for brain development. It said something like “You Can’t Buy a New Brain” and had an image of brains in a vending machine.
Confused? Yeah, me too.
Now I am not picking on this ad in particular. However, something hit me. ALL of the ads around harmful substances are threatening. Don’t do this or this bad thing will happen. Don’t do that or that bad thing will happen. Don’t be like them or you will end up like them. You know?
I stared at this ad for a while. I thought about all of the teens and young adults I know and wondered what their level of concern was regarding brain development. Probably pretty low. While I know that these facts are so important and need to be understood-I think there’s got to be a better way.
Growing up, most of the information I got about drug and alcohol abuse was simple. If you use these substances you are a bad person and you could severely mess up your life. It kind of worked on me because I was scared to get into trouble.
I remember my DARE officer showing me pictures of people who were arrested and strung out on drugs and alcohol. They showed images of gruesome car accidents and mug shots. I believed that was true but I just never saw those types of things happening in person.
Instead, I saw adults looking like they were having the time of their life. Laughing, smiling, dancing, and living it up! I was (and still am) being bombarded with ads about how epic life is while drinking. I can’t get through two pages of Cooking Light before wondering if maybe white wine would be better to drink with fish.
These two very drastic forms of information left me feeling….well, confused. I started to question the source. I mean it couldn’t be that bad if all of these people were doing it and their life was going as great as the ads made it seem. Who is lying here?
When Kate was a toddler she barely spoke. She was quiet and serious. She took in everything going on around her and she communicated well but rarely used words to do so. I remember this one time we were walking into trader joes. She was 2ish and it was fall. There was a giant display of their canned veggie chilli. There were probably two hundred cans all stacked up with pumpkins and mums around them.
Kate said plain as day “Dad sure would like those IPA’s.” My jaw dropped. I was shocked that she had completed a full sentence let alone one that described her dad’s favorite kind of hops.
It’s not our words that were shaping her. It was our actions.
As I looked at this ad with images of brains I wondered how I will communicate about drugs and alcohol with my kids. I want them to know the facts about the harms and dangers. But it’s not just that.
I want them to think that life is epic. I want them to feel so free, confident, and fun that they don’t need to use chemicals to alter how they are feeling. I want them to feel as though they won’t need anything to make their situation better because they have presence and peace. I want them to be so fulfilled internally that they need nothing more externally.
I want them to see ads of sober people having a blast. Sober people being brave. Sober people dancing and partying and living amazingly fulfilling lives. I want them to see magazine pages, commercials, facebook sponsored posts, and constant images of sober people doing epic things.
I want every ad with sporting events, vacations, dinner parties, rock climbing, singing, dancing, boating, brunching, and family gatherings to be filled with images of just that. No booze necessary. Nothing in hand except the essentials for the situation. No beer cans sitting on the edge of the mountain. No bottles of wine on the table. No perfect family gathering with everyone holding a drink.
Instead of saying don’t because bad things will happen I want to say don’t because good things will happen.
You don’t need alcohol to ease the anxiety because you know how to manage that feeling. You don’t need alcohol to make it fun because you make choices that you want vs what you think you have to do. You don’t need alcohol to take the edge off because you go for a run, or you call your mother (please please please), or you talk to your therapist, or you do some kind of future sci fi thingy that doesn’t yet exist.
Pie in the sky thinking? Maybe. But it’s worth a shot. We have got to change the narrative. Maybe they still choose to drink. But at least they will do so with complete and full understanding on their own terms. Not based on big business images that skewed their thinking.
Life can be so good just as it is. Let’s start talking about that for once.