Testimony – The Prequel: Rich Smith

I share this post to give some insights into what my life was like before discovering Catholicism, and more importantly, what I now recognise was wrong with it.

I don’t intend to share these pictures for vanity, or any similar purpose. I simply acted in a manner very different from what I would permit myself to do now – mainly in terms of drinking very heavily, going “out” partying and clubbing with explicitly illicit purposes.

At the time I was a moral relativist, or at least hadn’t come across a convincing argument for moral absolutes due to lack of opportunity.

I hope by sharing some personal stories, I can help you understand why such a lifestyle is bad and isn’t meaningful (if you are fortunate enough not to have gone through such a period). Many of us Catholic men have children, so I am keen to let you know what dangers lie ahead if your children end up following a similar path to my own.

For those that don’t know, I converted to the faith 2 years ago. I grew up in a non-religious household, and went through a very liberal phase and, between ages 15-19-ish, I was trying to party the hardest in my friendship group. After 19, up until I encountered Catholicism around age 23, my liberalism was more social / political / philosophical.

These pictures were taken when I was 16-20 ish. I’m sure there are worse pictures out there of me, and I don’t mean to say that worse things couldn’t have happened to me i.e. some people have had things much worse. My point here isn’t to say how “bad” things are but to try and make a point based on personal experience.

I acted recklessly and when I look back I wouldn’t hesitate to say that I would act differently if given the opportunity. Sometimes I look back at some of my history with shame and regret, though I remember that the Lord loves us and, if anything, I try to use this as motivation to stay holy and give thanks to the God that I have found the righteous path.

Rich, before – and after!

In many of these pictures, I was trying to get as drunk as possible, because that was how I thought fun was to be had. It was almost as though I had to get drunk to have fun. I was bored by a lot of things I now recognise as authentically fun, such as reading. At the time, I was spending time studying too hard (I was very inefficient at studying and would study at the expense of spending time with friends), and when I wasn’t studying I would play on the xbox. This isn’t a healthy lifestyle choice. My father passed away when I was young and my Mum was quite hands off so I just did what I wanted; what was easiest.

In turn, given my hobby imbalance and how it wasn’t fulfilling, I went to parties relatively often. I drank a lot, in fact in part due to my personality, I drank the MOST. I had a lot of fun at the time. A few regrets, though my point here is that this lifestyle lacks meaning. I kept trying to drink more, to do even more stupid things, in order to get the adrenaline.

Doing the same thing twice wasn’t fun. Just doing what everybody else was doing wasn’t fun. It wasn’t satisfying. So I threw myself out of trees into bushes (in mimicry of characters from Jackass), put traffic cones on my head on top of buildings I’d climbed, to pose for pictures whilst pretending to be a gnome. Yet none of this was ‘satisfying’ in a spiritual or deeper sense. I was having enough funny moments to feel like I was “getting by”. Yet over time, I came to realise that this wasn’t rewarding or sustainable.

This kind of changed when I left home for University. Until then, at parties I had done lots of stupid stuff for laughs, though largely remained innocent in that I probably hadn’t committed a lot of mortal sins. At university, there was a hellstorm of temptations. The whole dynamic changed. I think this is the same for any western student without a strong Christian moral compass who takes extreme lengths to distance themselves from the prevailing temptations of “the culture”. You will all be familiar with these kind of stories I expect, though in this case, I wasn’t interpreting these circumstances with the Catholic lens I now do.

I just did was seemed fun, with the view that morality is your own truths. “Nobody else can tell you what is wrong or right”, was my attitude. University life was a whirlwind of partying, with people having league tables to see who could have sex with the most partners; sexual encounters were spread around as gossip but in a way that the individuals involved weren’t scandalised but were rather elevated as “lads”. This is just one example – there were many more.

Fortunately for me perhaps, I was never much good at these more morally sinister games, mainly due to incompetence on my part rather than from exercising the Catholic moral conscience that I hadn’t developed yet.

It wasn’t enough if you managed to ‘pull’ one person; it had to keep continuing. You had to do more and it had to escalate. The same encounter or experience wasn’t exciting or thrilling.

However, I started to realise that one can’t keep escalating worldly experiences (in some sense). After I moved out of university halls, my life settled down a lot. I stopped going out as much. I didn’t drink as much. Not because my conscience was becoming more Christian, but because I was exhausted and unsatisfied with that lifestyle. I came to realise that it was a facade, behind which lies an empty life full of vanity.

This was the time when my adventurousness switched away from partying, and more towards intellectual curiosity. This is the road that led me to Catholicism, as I detailed in my testimony that I wrote a few weeks ago.

I am very grateful to have found Christ, and I hope my story has helped remind you of how blessed we are to not live such unfulfilling (and perhaps evil) lives. God bless.

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