Beliefnet
One City

by Lodro Rinzler

Before
Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment at age 35 he was a confused
twenty and thirty-something looking to learn how to live a spiritual
life. He had an overbearing dad, expectations for what he was supposed
to do with
his life, drinks were flowing, lutes were playing, and the women were
all about him. Some called him L.L. Cool S. I imagine close friends
just referred to him as Sid. 

Many people look to Siddhartha as an example of someone who attained nirvana, a buddha. But here we look at a younger Sid as
a confused guy struggling with his daily life. What would he do as a
young person trying to find love, cheap drinks, and fun in a city like New York? How would he combine Buddhism and dating? We all make mistakes on our spiritual journey; here is where they’re discussed.

Each
week I’ll take on a new question and give some advice based on what I
think Sid, a confused guy working on his spiritual life in a world of
major distraction, would do. Because let’s face it, you and I are Sid. 

Have a question for this weekly column? E-mail it here and Lodro will probably get to it!

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My 17 year old son has been homeschooled all his life and just went into public school this year. He was at a party on an empty stomach and drank straight vodka from a flask. He apparently left the party, tried to walk home (about 4 miles) and passed out. I got a call from the ER 5 hours after. He came out with flying colors, no injuries, no hangover, no headache!!!! I’ve talked with him about not drinking, but he chose to do it anyway. So what else to do? Should I hold onto this fear I have for him or be grateful nothing happened? – Arleen



First off Arleen, however you feel, be it fear for his health, gratitude that he’s safe now, or a mixture of the two is fine. We feel how we feel and the only thing we can do is embrace that without getting too attached to story lines. So when you experience strong emotions around this issue the best thing to do is just be present with the underlying feeling of them without spinning out fantasies or justifications for them.

With that being said, if I were you I would still probably spend a significant amount of Friday and Saturday nights wondering what my son was up to. It’s hard (and some may say irresponsible) not to. It seems that you’ve tried to impose on him the logic around why it’s not a good idea to drink and that he’s testing that logic out for himself.

If he walked away from his first experience with alcohol relatively unscathed I would not be surprised if he continues to experiment with it. Particularly since he is new to school and, most likely, trying to find his place amongst new friends who are also drinking. Talking to your son may not be enough to prevent him from experimenting with alcohol. There’s a difference between hearing that electrical sockets are dangerous and sticking your finger in one. In other words it’s hard to ask someone to refrain from something if they don’t actually know first-hand what the ramifications are of that action.

It’s hard to put my finger on what Sid would do in this case. From a conventional point of view Sid was not a good father. He walked out on his family as soon as he heard that he would be a dad. Granted, his motivation was good and the results were excellent. That does not change the fact that little Rahula (for pete’s sake, he named his kid “Fetter,” or “Obstacle!”) grew up without a father. There is a happy ending to this particular story: Rahula meets his father at age eight and tries to claim his inheritance but instead, surprise surprise, ends up becoming a novice monk.

Sid did not then have to talk to his kid about alcohol use. Still, I will venture a guess that if Sid were amongst us today he would encourage you to continue to speak openly with your son about the effects of alcohol while leaving room for him to communicate back what he is doing and why. Ideally the next time your son is in a situation where he has been drinking he’ll feel comfortable calling you to come get him.

I don’t think Sid would say ground your son, tell him never to see his friends, and take away all of his privileges. You can talk to him about hanging out with the wrong crowd or carefully monitor where he’s going but to outright condone his actions may close down those lines of communication that you want to foster. If your son feels that he cannot share with you what he is doing, you may end up thinking he’s seeing a movie with a new friend only to receive another call from the emergency room.

Now here’s a controversial part that I’d be curious to hear other people’s comments on: it might be a good idea to introduce your son to alcohol in a safe environment, i.e. your home. I’m not planting a flag for underage drinking; in fact if you feel that he will not be going out and partying like that again stop reading here. But, if you think he is going to keep experimenting with alcohol you might want to have a role in shaping his experience with substances.

Some people may have had the forced “smoke a carton of cigarettes” method applied to them when their parents found a pack in their sock drawer. I wouldn’t recommend that. There are ways for your son to encounter alcohol with your supervision. I wrote about “Right Drinking” a few weeks back; perhaps something in there might prove helpful. Your son’s re-introduction to alcohol could be over a dinner party with other adults or just alone with you. Doing that may make drinking more familiar and his partying safer. If you go that route you need to be clear why you’re introducing him to alcohol so that he doesn’t think it’s okay to drink whenever he wants and go too far.

I’m curious to hear from parents who have worked with this issue. How have you related with your children experimenting with alcohol? What has or has not worked?

I realize that this is a scary topic and hope that through two-way communication you and your son will develop a way for him to adjust to his new public school life without sacrificing any aspects of himself. Of course it is always okay to recommend he just says “no” to drinking. Good luck Arleen.

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