Far too many young people use drugs and alcohol to mask the pain of verbal and physical abuse, motivational speaker Ron Glodoski told the Jefferson City High School body Thursday afternoon.
Glodoski - who grew up in an abusive household where violence was a daily occurrence and a criminal life on the streets seemed to be an escape - uses his own experiences to show students how they, too, can turn their lives around and even avoid the pitfalls of addiction.
The event was sponsored by the Council for Drug Free Youth.
Glodoski - author of the ironically named self-help book, "How to Be a Successful Criminal: The Real Deal on Crime, Drugs and Easy Money" - has spoken at more than 2,000 schools across America.
With a machine-gun pattern of speech, he launched into his tale by declaring that society lies to teens when it glamorizes drugs and alcohol. Televised sporting events feature between 15 and 25 commercials for alcohol-related products, he said. Beer commercials typically feature fantastically beautiful people and television shows portray drug dealers as smart, rich and powerful.
"They never show a drug dealer riding around in a 1985 Volkswagon," he mocked.
He noted the result of making a drug-fueled life appear fun is that millions of people become addicted in America every year. And, once hooked, it costs each person thousands of dollars to break that addiction. He also made the case that it's a lot harder to "get clean" than it looks, by noting that the odds of beating a lifetime of alcoholism - if a person decides to quit at age 40 - is three in 100.
He said the average age of addiction is 14.
"Do you think the tobacco and beer companies care about you?" he asked. "These companies spend billions of dollars every year to seduce you. I'm sick of the lies."
He made the case that the lives of most people in American have been touched by the pain inflicted by addiction.
He asked students to stand as he posed a series of questions: "How many in this room have a loved one who has died from drugs or alcohol addiction? How many know someone in jail? How many know someone who has lost a job, or been separated or divorced? How many of you have experienced violence at home? Or know someone who has been in a bad car accident?"
By the end of his query, only a handful of the 1,800 or so students remained seated.
"You are not alone," he told those standing.
Glodoski said people become to susceptible to drugs and alcohol after hearing, and internalizing, repeated negative messages of their worthlessness.
He said his own problems started at age 4 when he suffered a traumatic brain injury that almost caused him to lose his eye, destroyed his ability to speak clearly and caused him to forget two years of his life. When he arrived at school as a kindergartner, no one could understand his speech and he looked different from the other kids.
"Before that, I had normal self esteem. I was an innocent little boy. By first grade, I acted as if the name calling ... they called me stupid ... meant nothing," he said.
Soon he was a miscreant who spent more time out of class than in it. By the end of high school, he was reading at a fourth-grade level.
"I didn't care if I lived," he said. "Why would I care if I hurt you?"
He turned his life around at age 33, eventually moving away from his life as a drug dealer, toward a legitimate business career. Dropping his negative friends was his hardest choice to make.
"You've got to drop your attitude," he exhorted the teens. "Your thoughts create your reality every day."
He argued too many people believe the old idiom about sticks and stones. He admonished students to be careful about how they talk to one another. More deaths have been caused by words than weapons, he said.
"The power of a word can end up destroying a person's spirit," he said.
And he told the girls in the audience to never allow a boy to hit them.
He elicited a burst of laughter when he said: "If he slaps you one time ... don't kill him." But he drew a round of applause when he said: "Get rid of his sorry butt fast!"
His father beat his mother, he added.
"I thought it was insanity, but I thought it was normal," he said. "I found out later it wasn't."
He said people who experience that kind of violence want to find ways to numb the pain. Drugs and alcohol make them feel better, but leave them addicted.
Students at JCHS have spent the week thinking about bullying and ways to stop it. This week teens signed pledges to "be kind" and scattered Post-It notes with positive messages around the school.
Sydney Adams, president of Students Against Destructive Decisions, thought that Glodoski's message will make a difference with some kids.
"You need to think before you speak, because works do have an affect," she said.
Senior Madison Painter said many of the kids in her class are experimenting with drugs and alcohol, but Glodoski's message connected with them. "And the fact he was able to be humorous was really great," she said. "I hope this assembly changes their minds."