One night last week, a student at a tri-state area yeshiva high school got drunk. It didn’t take much alcohol, but the student was entirely under the influence. The world around them spun, their legs felt slow, their head felt heavy. But the night was over. It was time to go home. Fortunately, the kid’s car wasn’t parked too far away. The student reached into their pocket for their car keys.
I am a senior at a local yeshiva high school, and I can tell you firsthand: the above story is not uncommon. It does not describe a specific student; it describes dozens—maybe more. On a weekly basis.
I am especially attuned to these stories. I seem to notice them more than my peers do. I take them to heart.
Because I am an abuse survivor. And because my abuser was an alcoholic.
But I’m lucky, too. Over the last four years, I sought and received the help that I needed to recover much of what alcohol, and the user I knew best, took from me. Recovery is an ongoing process, but I’m on my way.
As I progressed through my recovery, I also progressed through high school. I quickly learned that alcohol abuse didn’t just haunt my past. Rather, it posed a present threat to my friends, teammates, peers and to my greater student community.
As the semesters passed, I observed with confusion, then true disappointment, that the vast majority of my peers had almost zero education about the harmful substance. Yet, nonetheless, many used it freely.
As someone who grew up face-to-face with the dark side of alcohol use, and who struggled daily to process its harm, I was shocked to suddenly find myself in a world where alcohol abuse was so common yet never discussed, hardly ever confronted and apparently not recognized as the tormentor it could be.
Still, confused high schoolers aren’t rare. Puzzled as I was, sophomore year passed, then junior year. As my peers and I got older, the drinking around me grew heavier. Kids got more comfortable with the drug. They also got driver’s licenses. I witnessed, with increased concern, as alcohol did what I knew it does best. It started to hurt the people I love.
But as my concern for my community climbed, suddenly, this past summer, my experiences—in my parents’ house, in my personal recovery, in the halls of my high school—synced.
By watching my friends struggle with the same chemical-induced troubles that devastated my past, I began to consider whether my experiences weren’t limited to my past. Maybe, in a far more positive way, they could inform my future.
There are many solutions to alcoholism. Sometimes these solutions work, and sometimes they don’t. But there are also enablers to alcoholism. One of the most harmful of these enablers is silence.
Our yeshiva high school community is far too silent on this issue. I have been in the yeshiva day school system all my life. Make no mistake: alcohol abuse exists in our community. We simply do not talk about it.
And while we weren’t talking about it, I’ve seen my friends laid out in hospitals. I’ve seen my friends drunk behind steering wheels. I’ve seen my friends struggling to tread water toward the deep end of addiction.
Why? Largely because they were under-informed. Or worse, totally uninformed.
The vast majority of yeshiva high school kids who play with this fire have never been burned. And because of our community’s silence, they have hardly even heard of someone who was burned. They don’t realize that if you bobble this flame, it very well might burn everything in its path.
That is why, this summer, I resolved to talk about alcohol abuse to the yeshiva high school community.
I realized that my story, a peer’s story, might help the kids around me understand the dangers of alcohol abuse. That another student’s words might offer a perspective that could help our towns and schools confront the alcohol epidemic at hand.
So I spent my summer developing a program. With the help of many friends, mentors and professionals with expertise in mental health, addiction, social work and law, I developed an address to deliver to my peers. I also recruited student volunteers to come up with an array of practical resources to help our community address alcohol abuse among teens in particular.
Over the course of this school year, I seek to speak at every yeshiva high school that will have me. Thanks to the support of its administration, my home school will be my first stop. There, and at other schools, I will tell my story to my fellow students and deliver these resources and strategies in person.
My program, and the group assembled to support it, is called the Empty Glass Society. Our numbers, among both students and mentors, are growing daily.
Our goal: To create a reality in which every kid in our community makes an informed decision when they consider whether or not to drink.
We will accomplish this goal by fostering a movement. Speeches fade, assemblies hardly register. But this is not a matter that we can afford to let fade. The society’s in-person address is therefore just an intro. Through that experience, we hope to start a conversation. To reform our community from within by educating and assisting each other in a way that only we can. We will work to erase the ignorance and confusion that fills our community on the subject of alcohol abuse. We will shift the conversation of alcohol abuse by also focusing on mental health, on the underlying causes of addiction and on the resources made available by the society and by our greater communities.
Most importantly, we will end the silence.
We hope to visit your school soon.
By Yitzi W.