An Ounce of Prevention
Elizabeth Willis Barrett..........March 19, 2012
Well, Jeffrey is back to his Oleander--figuratively and in reality. Drug Addiction doesn’t go away without a screaming, bludgeoning fight which is usually too much for the sad and weakened characters who have engaged it.
If I could, I would start over with this child. I would gladly go through labor pains and the difficulties of babyhood and even the struggles of adolescence just to give him another chance at a wonderful life. I don’t know if it would make any difference. It certainly wouldn’t if we retreated 27 years without the blessing of experience. But if I could begin again with this remarkable child, and take with me what I know now, I gladly would. (It’s a good thing we don’t have the luxury of “overs” in every aspect of our lives, because some of us would require so many that we would never get on with things.)
If I could begin again, here are some things that I would do differently:
First, I would tune into Jeffrey’s anxiety. He has always been anxious. As a little boy he was afraid of storms, of death, of the unknown. He has also been impulsive and easily frustrated. If a model car wouldn’t go together on the first try, he would crumple the whole thing. If he was mad at you for not taking him to the store on the spot, he would rip up his dollar. If he wanted new shoes because he thought his regular ones were a little small, he had to get new shoes NOW. These challenges were easily overshadowed by his charm and delightful humor and outstanding abilities in sports and art and music. I didn’t think his problems needed to be addressed anymore than the problems of my other children. After all, who comes to this earth clothed in perfection? However, in retrospect, these emotions did need to be realized and confronted.
I have learned something lately that has given me more insight into his anxiety. When Jeffrey was in the womb of his beautiful birth mother, she was physically threatened many times which resulted in great personal anxiety. According to some experts, her anxiety would make Jeffrey’s fetal life and birth quite traumatic. Some psychologists have said that when you are born under these distressing circumstances, you can have high anxiety that never leaves you. I have heard the feeling described in this way: Suppose you are standing around minding your own business and someone comes up behind and thoroughly scares you. Try to imagine that high adrenaline feeling that is overwhelming for a moment. What would it be like if that feeling never went away? Children born under anxious conditions have that feeling and it never goes away and they don’t know how to cope with it. If I had known about that phenomenon, maybe I could have helped Jeffrey through times of excess anxiety.
If I could live again yesterday with today’s information, I would know that overly anxious children are susceptible to drug use. Drugs can take their anxiety away and finally give them peace. So I would be on the lookout for drugs. I would be expecting them. As it was, I had no idea that drugs would invade our “near perfect” family until they sneaked in an unlocked door and it was too late.
Second, if I could start over, I would be armed with the knowledge that drug addicts lie. They lie and lie and lie. They lie so much that they don’t even know that they are lying. So when I first caught Jeffrey right after he had been smoking weed on the canal bank and he said that that was the first time he had ever smoked marijuana and that he really didn’t even like it and that he would definitely never do it again, I would have known that he was lying and I wouldn’t have been lulled into mind and spirit dulling complacency.
Third, I would become informed. When the school invited me along with all the other parents to a meeting to discuss drug use, I would go and encourage others to go. I didn’t attend those meetings in the past because I didn’t want to waste my time learning about someone else’s problem. I have finally learned that drugs are everyone’s problem and very few will get through life without being touched in some way by drug abuse. Had I gone to those meetings, I would have learned, for one thing, that pain meds need to be locked up. Even without a drug addict in my family, friends come over and if any of them have addiction problems, they might shamelessly rummage through my cupboards looking for an easy fix. I wouldn’t have thought that anyone would be nervy enough to do that, but they are and they will.
Another thing I would have learned is that some kids participate in pharming parties. To enter they have to bring their share of pills, preferably prescription drugs. All these pills are put into a large bowl and each person takes a handful ad swallows them to see what will happen. Because pills take a while to work, often the person thinks he didn’t take enough so he takes a few more. He is lucky if he wakes up to relate his experience. I’m not sure if my knowing that specific information would have saved my son, but I do know that it pays to be informed.
The fourth thing I would do if I could start again, is to network. I tried to do some of that, but when well-meaning friends told me of Jeffrey’s drug use, I didn’t always act on it right away. And when I told others about their sons’ drug use, they would say something like: “I talked to Jason, and he admitted to smoking pot but he promised he’d never do it again. So we’re okay.” They weren’t.
Drug addicts are good at networking. That’s how they know where to get their stuff and how to use it and how long it will stay in their systems. They are embryonic networking pharmacists. Drug addicts’ parents need to network, too. We need to humble ourselves, listen to each other and respond quickly to warnings. I would be better at networking if I could have a second chance.
Finally and most importantly, I would make sure that ours was a drug testing family. I believe that had we been, Jeffrey would have a good life without drugs right now. I didn’t know about home drug testing until Jeffrey was deep into his problem. I have since learned that drug testing is like a report card that shows how well a child is doing. If our family had started testing at an early age when there were no issues, it would have become the norm. A failed drug test would have allowed us to intervene much sooner to save him and our family from the drug addiction spiral.
The best part about being a drug testing family is that it could have given Jeffrey an “out” when he was first approached about using drugs. “You want me to smoke weed with you? Are you crazy? My Mom drug tests me and if I ever come up positive, she’ll take away all my privileges and she’ll tell your mom, too.” That’s what I imagine he’d have said, anyway. I know now that drug testing is a great deterrent and Brad and I are strongly urging our children to make their little families drug testing families. We’re going to do all we can to prevent drug abuse in our grandchildren. Drug testing is a crucial part of prevention.
So--armed with superior awareness, knowledge, networking and pee tests, Jeffrey’s past and our family’s past would have a very different outcome. I’m sure of it. There might have been other problems since life seems to be full of them, but armed so well, we could have evaded the drug scene.
I can’t go back, I know. I can’t start over. But I can learn from the past and try to teach others what I have learned, which is this: there is great power contained in a little ounce of prevention. We all ought to use it.