I made a commitment to a friend recently that I would give some early warning signs that a child may be heading in a direction conducive to drug use. Over the next few days I began to think back about what signs my parents could have picked up on had they been looking. When I say “had they been looking”, it is not without reason. At the time, my brother had a raging crack addiction that kept him in and out of prisons and rehabs. There was very little time for anyone to notice anything other than his all-consuming life. It was a life that eventually led to his becoming homeless, living in a homeless shelter, and then living on the streets. It finally occurred to me that I actually have two reservoirs with which to draw early warning signs- mine and my brother’s.
With me, the first signs were visible in my loss of life direction. I lost my full time job because I could no longer seem to get to work on time, and very soon after, quit going to school. School just didn’t matter anymore. Any discussion prompted by those that cared for me, was met with vague answers about what I was doing, and where my life was headed. I had always been a night person, but my night dwelling increased substantially. Alongside that were my new night dwelling friends. I was no longer interesting in hanging out with people whose lives had direction- I couldn’t relate. Instead, I began hanging around people that could get me what I needed- more drugs. I began viewing life as a constant party to the point that my father had to eventually kick me out. Another thing that is very hard for me to admit now is that I was selling drugs to support my habit. Thank goodness I was never caught and arrested, but lack of money/borrowing wasn’t an issue for me- in the beginning anyway.
My brother didn’t have the same entrepreneurial spirit as I, and his lack of cash and the lies he told to acquire money were much more obvious. I remember a time in his late teens when he had a checkbook that he took pride in keeping balanced. He had always been good with money, and always seemed to have it. Some years later, when drug finally rendered him homeless, my dad and I were dispatched to clean out an apartment he’d been evicted from. I remember finding his old checkbook (which I now wish I’d saved) and noting how it was a literal road map of his decent into addiction. The book began balanced and showed a fair amount of money in his account. As time (and addiction) pressed on, it was obvious the money was dwindling as well as his ability to keep the book in order. Even his handwriting became almost unreadable. Towards the end of the book, it was clear that checks were still being written to an account that could no longer cash them. Damn I could kick myself now for not saving that book, but I digress.
I will try to sum it up in a paragraph. First, there was a marked change in both our lives when drugs were taking over. As I said, it was much easier for me living under the veil of chaos created by my brother, but both our dispositions were off kilter. Gradually at first, and then more rapidly we pulled away from family. Second, money matters to a drug addict. We cannot do what we do without it. Third, our friends told the tale. It is cliché’, but it is true; we were who we were hanging with. Many times I hear parents say, “How did I miss it when it was so obvious?” or “I felt something was off, I just didn’t know what”. I think parents many times are so in denial that it takes something major, like an arrest, to finally wake them to the nightmare. And there is no doubt, if you are a loving parent and your child gets hooked on drugs, you will live a nightmare. Believe it, fear it and recognize it! I have thought many times whether or not my parents could have done anything had they known early on, and I honestly don’t know. I do know that I certainly would have liked for them to have had the chance to try.
Looking back now, at my life before drugs, I will draw a parallel maybe young ones can find easier to understand. Think of my life as a game- a football game to be more precise. The game had a coach (my drive), a team (me, family and good friends), and a game plan (life dreams). I started the game (my life) and I was winning. I was in the prime of my life, moving with speed, determination and zeal. Then on one play there was a game changer…I was hit hard (opiates). It was a jarring hit that shook my life to its core. In an instant I was standing on the sidelines, watching as the game began to fall apart (addiction). There were many times as I watched the game that I needed, had to even, get back in. Every time I tried though, I was disoriented, confused, and utterly uncoachable. I was pulled again and again, and finally sidelined. I was forced to sit and watch as my youth, my dreams, my very soul was stripped from me.
I could cry right now if I were to think hard enough about what I was, and the future I lost. What I could have been. If there is one message I wish young people would take from my words, it is this: Drugs are a game changer. Everything you think you know will be taken from you because drugs don’t care about dreams and aspirations. Moral boundaries and inhibition will no longer exist. You will find yourself doing things that you never thought possible. There are many young ones, that will disregard my words of warning. For one reason or another, many young people are convinced that it would never happen to them. Trust me young ones, some of you will wake one day, if you wake, and find that young adult life and everything in it gone. Don’t be that person- don’t be me.
Speaking of me, it is no longer me. We (me and my family) are now in overtime in the game that is my life. Somehow, late in the fourth quarter we were able to put together a new team- create a new game plan. We have the ball and we’re in the red zone. The red zone is the dangerous 20 yards in between us and the goal (recovery). It’s a place where many times the game is won or lost. The game may go either way and if you could call Vegas, they would probably say I’m not favored. What do I think? I’m betting my life on my team FTW (For The Win).
This one’s for you and yours good friend. May your children grow to live fruitful, productive lives and may they always be able to walk outside and smell the rain. Thanks for all your help and advice. You’s a good man!