Smoke Free

February 10, 2024

Edo Somtoo, Low Entropy Volunteer Writer

Even after the smoke cleared, Alex’s remarks continued to have a lasting impression on me. I was surprised when he suddenly blurted out, “Clarity comes from reflection.” It looked as though time had stopped since our high school years, as yesterday and today blended together perfectly. Is this Alex, the same Alex I knew years ago? I couldn’t help but wonder if his mother knew about the transformation he had gone through. Even though they lived in the same house, there was clearly a distance between them.

There was no denying that Alex was a force to be reckoned with during our high school years. He exuded an undeniable charisma, not only as the second-fastest sprinter, but also as a talented musician. His intelligence was striking, and now, as a brilliant data analyst working remotely, he was clearly excelling in his chosen profession.

But as Alex extended an offer to give me a hit of his marijuana, the stigma weighed heavily. I was judging him too soon because of the strong smell that pervaded the room. I believed he was more than just someone who indulged in substances. My heart raced with confusion and concern, and my emotions overflowed as I yelled at him, unable to comprehend what had happened. Was this mere pleasure-seeking, or was it the result of some immense pressure he had succumbed to? I realized that I needed to understand his well-being on a deeper level, prompting me to probe further into his relationship with substances.

As we delved into the intricacies of Alex’s life, a profound truth began to emerge—his story was not one of isolated struggle, rather it was a reflection of the shared complexities we all face. This realization sparked a call to action, compelling me to discard the oversimplified black-and-white narratives through which I tended to view those who engaged with substances.

To truly understand empathy, it became necessary to consider the inward struggles Alex had endured. The criticisms from society simply made his inner battles worse. Rather than making snap decisions, I tried to pause and examine the complex fabric of his feelings. As Alex disclosed, substance use was not only a rebellious gesture; rather, it was a complex coping strategy, a response to a society that frequently overlooked the gray areas.

To instigate change, I propose a paradigm shift in attitudes. Let us replace judgment with genuine curiosity and condemnation with compassionate conversation. Rather than marginalizing individuals who engage with substances, it is vital to bring their experiences into the spotlight. By doing so, we can foster an environment where open dialogue triumphs over hasty conclusions.

The path toward this change implores us to embrace a more compassionate and sensitive stance. We must engage in profound conversations that surpass the realm of judgment, forging an atmosphere where empathy reigns supreme over condemnation. I was surprised to find a brief but insightful text message on my phone as I said goodbye to Alex and left his house: “I take substances, bro, and I’m not a bad person.”

In a society where preconceived notions and inflexible beliefs often prevail, it becomes our duty to challenge ourselves to look beyond the surface. Substance use should not define a person’s worth or potential, as it merely represents a single facet of their multifaceted identity. We have the ability to build a culture that truly values diversity and recognizes the complexity of the human experience by embracing empathy and understanding

As we examine our perspectives again and face our preconceived notions, we realize that everyone we encounter is engaged in their own silent battle. The burdensome weight of stigma and judgment only compounds their struggles further. Establishing a discussion that is free from judgment and that allows people to feel comfortable sharing their experiences is essential.

In conclusion, let us replace judgment with understanding, ignorance with knowledge and condemnation with empathy. By making these individual changes, together we can dismantle stigma and build a culture that honours and supports each person’s journey—regardless of how they relate to substances. We have the ability to bring about a long-lasting change by working together, leaving behind a legacy defined by compassion and acceptance.

I’m Edo Somtoo—a passionate chess player who loves making friends and enjoys the game’s strategic challenges. With no judgment in sight, let’s connect and embark on an exciting journey together.

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