A Designer Addiction

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New Youth Connections, New York

My name is Dee and I’m a recovering junkie. I was hooked on the strong stuff. Ralph wore my pockets thin. Calvin was no friend of mine. And then Guess? what? – I finally got the monkey off my back, although it took me a while to get on the right track.

I got hooked on Brand Names six years ago when Ralph got me to join his posse. It was real easy. If you didn’t have a job, you could steal to be down with him. I had a part-time job and wasn’t making much, but I didn’t care. I scraped my last dollar to be able to wear Ralph’s emblem on my chest like a badge of honor and respect.

My mother told me I was messing up. Homework didn’t matter anymore. Old friends were out. I was too fly to hang with them. Ralph offered me clout. The fellows adored me; the females were jealous. I became a fiend for the attention.

It was all about Ralph and me, until along came Calvin, George and this new guy named Tommy. Since I was all that, I had to be down with them, too. We exchanged goods: my money for their names.

My mom started nagging again. Out of worry, she started snooping around my bedroom to see where my paycheck was going. She had set up a savings account for me, but I withdrew all of the money – $1,000 – to satisfy my habit. Then I charged $600 to my credit card for a quick fashion fix. Things were getting out of hand.

I didn’t think I had a problem until the day my mother found the receipts in a shopping bag. She yelled that I was crazy. She wanted to know why I was giving all of my money to men who already had plenty. I told her she was behind the times and didn’t know any better. I was looking good, and that’s all that mattered.

Until my money started getting tight. I was so busy buying more stuff that I couldn’t do anything else. I even resorted to borrowing money from my mother. The more I took from her, the more she rubbed it in. I was sick. I needed help.

Just to prove my mother wrong, I wanted to show her that I could stop Brand Names from running my life, any time I wanted. It was my choice.

So, I watched how other Brand Name users lived to see where they were headed. For example, one guy dipped in Guess? was trying to talk to me in the train station. When the train came, he asked me if there were any cops on the platform. I shrugged my shoulders and he hopped the turnstile. The guy had on $70 jeans and couldn’t spare $1.25 for a token? I guess he really wasn’t going anywhere.

A popular jock at my school named Jay used to boost Ralph’s clothing every single weekend. Even after getting locked up, he continued to boost. I got bold and asked him his purpose. “I’m taking from the white man,” he answered with a sly grin.

I kept quiet, because he, like me, didn’t know any better. Jay couldn’t understand that while he was doing jail time for boosting, Ralph would be collecting cars, furniture and houses. Didn’t Jay realize that while he was earning zero dollars a year trying to look good, Ralph would be worth about $700 million?

Armed with this new knowledge, I vowed to leave Brand Names alone. I started buying sensible clothes that looked fly. There was plenty to choose from. On the road to recovery, I bought $30 Levi’s instead of $70 Guess? jeans. As a reward, with the money saved, I treated myself to a Broadway play or a funky art museum. That made the withdrawal less painful. My bank account got fatter, and I gradually got stronger.

When my friends started getting heavy into Brand Names, I tried to warn them. But they thought I was jealous and couldn’t afford the stuff anymore. I explained that it was my choice not to support the luxury lifestyles of the Brand Name dealers. They told me to mind my business. I couldn’t get through to them. Brand Names made them feel like I once felt: important.

To this day, I see teenagers denying their addiction to Brand Names even when the warning signs are obvious. If you aren’t using, don’t start. Be proud that you can survive without losing your identity to a name not your own.

© Youth Communication/New York Center. http://www.youthcomm.org.