Last weekend I attended the highly anticipated documentary, "Not Me" released by a local drug education, support, and resource group known as Winning The Fight! (WTF).
Kathy O'Keefe, the founder of this group, has been a friend of mine for the past few years, we met because we have a mutual desire to help others who have been affected by the growing problem of drug addiction. Kathy's son Brett, who died of a mixed use drug overdose in 2010, was just eighteen when he passed away. This experience is what prompted Kathy to begin the enormous task of helping others get help. She is passionate about assisting area adolescents and their families in any way she can to gain awareness, education, emotional support and helpful resources regarding the disease of addiction.
The 45-minute documentary, shown at Flower Mound High School, was a very honest, very realistic and complete look at the havoc drug addiction will wreak upon the user as well as on the rest of the family. The panel discussion following the film was comprised of the eight people showcased in the film, and was equally raw and emotionally moving. There were four parents (two of whom have lost children to overdose, two of whom are actively praying this does not happen to their currently using children) and four young people who have some sobriety behind them.
As I sat among the crowd, about 500 or so parents, grandparents, and middle/high school aged young people, I began to think about a number of things, not the least of which was how incredibly freaked out I would be as a mother if this documentary was the first time I was really allowing the information to sink in that we (as a community, as a society) have a drug problem.
Of course I cannot fully know how I would have reacted to Sunday's documentary showing as "that" mom because I am the mother of a child in recovery. My eldest son Nick, now twenty-seven and four years sober, began drinking at the age of fifteen. But it wasn't until he was twenty that I began to fully understand the depth of his addiction to alcohol.
Some of you have read my book and know the story, so I won't launch into the details here...I will instead share my thoughts on how I feel about kids/drugs/addiction, and how to help keep your family safe having been through it.
1. Today's moms and dad's do not have the luxury of thinking this cannot or will not happen to their child or in their home. Addiction knows no social, religious, economic, gender or-anything-else-I-may-have-forgotten boundaries. Period. There are new kinds of drugs circulating everyday. That pot you tried or even used for a while in your teens and 20s...it's TEN times more powerful now. Kids are trying substances at a younger age than ever, and other than "just pot" at alarming rates (for example, those pain pills you got from the doctor after you stressed your back a while ago that are just sitting in your medicine cabinet gotta be locked up or disposed of properly (our local police station has a way for you to do so any day of the week). Tell grandma and grandpa they gotta do the same thing.
2. That being said, panicking will not help you better handle this potential situation with your child. One of the keys to parenting kids with regards to drugs these days is to be "in the know". Get educated about the many different drugs that are popular, their signs and symptoms of use, the signs of overdose, how to test for drugs (WTF can help with this), and what to do if your child shows up high. Just like every other area of life, education is power.
3. Even if you think your child would never, ever lie to your face...they could. There were at least a handful of occasions while my son was in high school that I point blank asked him if he was taking liquor from the cabinet and (while looking me in the eyes) he swore he wasn't. This was a child I felt very close to, he and I had great communication with one another....he would come to me with problems, we had a good relationship. In hindsight I realize my desire to believe my child overrode my gut instinct. God gave you a gut instinct for a reason, whether your child is two and has an extremely high fever and you know something is very, very wrong...or, your sixteen year old is spending more time than usual out of the house or sleeping at friend's homes, or sleeping much more (or much less...) than usual. Be brave enough to do a gut check.
4. Be involved in their lives. There is a big difference between involvement and hovering. For our family involvement means no sleepovers, random phone checks, curfews, getting to know our kids friends and their parents and where those parents stand on drugs/alcohol use. Even more important though, spending time with our kids so we really get to know who they are, and making sure they understand we love them for exactly who they are. Our home should feel like a place where everyone is comfortable being themselves. We aren't afraid to have honest, serious talks with our kids and we aren't afraid to get silly with them either, so they see there is a fun side to mom and dad as well. REGULAR TIME TOGETHER is the key. Family dinner, monitoring electronic time and use.
5. Raise your children to understand there is a purpose greater than themselves. Spending time developing that belief and demonstrating it through volunteer work as individuals and as a family. There are dozens of ways, make time to find a good fit for your interests!
It sounds trite but be the adult you want your kid to become.
And, I have to be brutally honest and tell you that even if you do "everything right" and follow all of the things I suggested, as well as additional measures you might feel fit your family (ie: Kathy suggests random drug testing your children from middle school on) this can still happen.
If it does....reach out to organizations such as WTF....they understand and are committed to helping you with the situation you never thought you would be in! We are incredibly lucky to have this organization available in our community! Call day or night if you need advice or help 972-467-7704