Friday, May 27, 2016

PART 2: If I Could Turn Back Time

Yesterday I wrote a blog post sharing some of the things I would do differently if I had the chance to raise my sweet son Henry all over again. Unfortunately, I don't get that chance but perhaps some of you reading what I have to say will find some nugget of wisdom that you will find helpful as you attempt to raise your children to avoid the deadly path of addiction that my beloved boy traveled before his drug-related death on May 31, 2010.


So here is Part 2 of my list of things I would do differently. I want to be clear that I am not claiming to have all the answers to why Henry became so ill with addiction, nor am I suggesting that if you adhere to my hard-earned perspective that your own child will never experiment with drugs or become addicted. There is still so much that we don't understand about why some children and teenagers become drug addicts while others - many from the same family and raised pretty much exactly the same way - do not. But I do believe that the perspective I've gained in the last six years since losing my dearest oldest child has some merit, and I hope you find it helpful in some way.

1. Make it clear that you have an absolute ZERO tolerance policy when it comes to drugs or alcohol and your kids.  You are not your child's friend. You are his or her parent. And even though we all knew some kids in high school who drank or smoked even a lot of weed and "turned out fine," this is not a chance you can afford to take with your own child. We know a lot more about the developing teenage brain than we did even 20 years ago and we know now that for kids who are born with the genetic predisposition for addiction, using drugs or alcohol during those critical developmental years may "flip the switch" for them, igniting a latent addiction that they may never again be able to turn off. This is what happened to my son. He started out smoking pot and for him, it truly was the gateway drug to the opiates that eventually killed him. I am aware that there are many adults who drink alcohol and use marijuana recreationally with no negative consequences to speak of. But teenagers do NOT need to drink or even use what we think of as a mostly benign drug - marijuana. There is just no good reason and there are lots of very bad reasons for adolescents to use or abuse these intoxicants.

Let me be clear that when I learned that Henry was smoking pot at age 14 I did not take it lightly. His father and I immediately got him into counseling (which in Henry's case was a waste of time because he would literally sit for an entire hour without uttering one word, so much did he not want to be there.) But if I am brutally honest with myself, I have to admit that I did not take Henry's pot use as seriously as I should have. Why? Because once again, we all knew kids in high school who smoked pot, even on a regular basis and who turned out to be healthy, well-adjusted adults. I so very much wanted to believe that Henry, a polite, friendly and generally well-behaved kid, would "grow out of" what I also wanted to believe was "occasional" marijuana use. This was a terrible mistake on my part. When Henry came to me at age 14 and admitted to me that he had experimented with pot I should have raised holy hell with my response. Instead I tried to be the understanding mom - the mom he could talk to about anything, I also wanted to believe him when he promised me that he would never experiment with marijuana again. These beliefs prevented me from taking the extremely hardline approach that I should have taken when I learned of Henry's earliest drug use.

2. If your kids' friends are changing radically, believe the worst. Before 9th grade, Henry had a solid group of great friends with whom he had attended school since 1st grade. I'm not saying these kids were perfect, but they were polite, accomplished kids who were involved in extracurricular activities like sports and church youth group. I also knew most of their parents and together, we all kept an eye on our boys. Starting in 9th grade, however, this all began to change quite radically for Henry. Leaving middle school for high school marked a distinct change in the peer group Henry with whom Henry began to spend time. Instead of the sort of preppy way Henry's previous friends had dressed, these new friends wore baggy pants, tie dyes and dreadlocks. Henry rarely invited these new friends to our house, preferring to hang out with them elsewhere - places that were hard for me to keep watch over (parks, the lake, etc). These kids reeked of cigarettes and often looked (and smelled) as if they hadn't bathed in days. Now let me be perfectly clear. LOTS of GREAT kids dress in tye dyes and wear dreads. But many if not most of these new friends were NOT great kids - at least they weren't great kids for my child to be hanging around. In 9th grade Henry still had to wear a school uniform but as soon as he got home each afternoon he would quickly change into his own version of what I have come to identify as his druggy clothes. Once when Henry was in 9th or 10th grade and we were visiting my family in Bell Buckle my dear friend Kimi (who raised 4 very well adjusted boys) tried to have a talk with me about the way Henry was dressing. "Katie," she told me somberly, "Henry is dressing like a kid who does drugs, and this 'uniform' is how other kids who do drugs find and identify with one another at school and elsewhere. We wouldn't let our kids dress that way and I wish you would seriously reconsider the way you're letting Henry dress and wear his hair long." But I didn't hear what she was saying. Instead I responded by telling her that I felt it was important for Henry to be able to express himself in the way he looked - hemp necklaces, long shaggy hair, tye dye pants and t-shirts advertising bands known for their drug-fueled concerts. Yes, I let him dress this way at an age when I still had enough control over him that I could have insisted on less drug-related attire. But I didn't. I really did feel like it was important for him to find and hang out with kids who seemed creative to me, and to express his own creativity in the way he presented himself. But Kimi was right; the kids Henry increasingly gravitated to were, in fact, major drug users. And today, a decade later, many of them are dead, some are battling active heroin and pill addiction, and a few lucky ones are in active recovery from their addictions. These kids weren't being creative in the way they dressed; they were putting out feelers to find the other kids in the school with whom they likely had drug use in common. Henry's sudden turn from the friend group he'd hung out with his whole life to this new, sketchy friend group should have been a big, flashing warning sign to me, but I wanted to believe the best about my son - that he was just branching out and meeting new and different kinds of people.

This is all I feel like I can write right now. I'm feeling very, very sad today, missing Henry and dreading the annual anniversary of his death which comes next week. But I have much more to say on this subject - things that in hindsight I wish I'd done differently. So please look for PART 3 in this series in the days to come. And thank you for reading. If I can maybe help even one family redirect their child out of the path to addiction, that will make me very happy.

And remember, you can find PART 1 in the series RIGHT HERE.

22 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Constantly popping back up and validating yourself using the internet is extremely negative. Jane and Elliot have both told you that you need to stop blogging for your mental health’s sake and you never hear them. You’re talking about what you could have should have would have done for your son, including open communication and listening, and you can’t even practice that for your living children. Your focus should be on healing through writing privately.

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    1. Thank you for your opinion. I find it very healing to try to help others who may be struggling with the same issues our family has dealt with. As for my relationships with my "living children," they're fine. Thanks for your concern though.

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    2. Hey X, maybe we should discuss whether you have any living brain cells.

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    3. FYI, Ms X ... the objections lodged by the children were in regard to the nasty gossips trashing the family on that stupid web site - people like YOU. If you and your little friends would mind your own damn business, maybe attend to the needs of YOUR families, which given the amount of time you spend combing through people's blogs and gossiping over, surely is lacking. In other words, get a flippin' LIFE already, and retract your busybody noses from that of other people.

      What Katie does, how she tends to her family, leads her life, and whether or not she blogs about it is NONE of your business. At all. Ever.

      Geez, you people are disgusting. Just go away.

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    4. Dear Troll, your lying words are meaningless because everyone sees right through them. The only person they make look bad, is you. Bless yer heart, you're pitiful.

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    5. Kate - I (and your children) are so proud that your blogging and honesty about our sweet Henry have absolutely without question saved other young lives. This is a topic about which silence is NOT golden.

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  4. Thanks for sharing your story, Katie. I've got a 15 year old daughter who has struggled with social anxiety her entire life...and in 9th grade she started smoking pot. Luckily (?!) her anxiety got so bad that she was unable to go to school; that forced me to get answers. She now on anti-anxiety meds and I can't believe the difference! That's not to say that she can't still slip down that rabbit hole, though, so I appreciate what you've shared so that I can keep my eyes open to the signs. It's so hard to find just the right balance between giving them the space to figure out who they are (which includes making mistakes) while also keeping them on the right batch.

    I hope that you and your beautiful family continue to heal and find the peace that you so deserve.

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  5. Oops meant "on the right PATH".

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  6. I have been reading your blog since just before Henry died and I am glad you are telling the truth about what you could (should?) have done when Henry was younger. I have a 16 year old son and 19 year old daughter and I know how hard it is to navigate that fine line of communication and discipline. You want them to feel like they can talk to you and you also don't want to over-react. I am glad you are back to blogging. Haters are always going to hate but if you can help one family it is all worth it!

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  7. Thanks for your kind words everyone. I appreciate your input more than I can express. xo - Katie

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  8. My fondest wish for you is that someday you can forgive yourself for all of this. It wasn't your fault, Katie. Do you hear me? It wasn't your fault that Henry died.

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  9. Everything you say resonates with me. My recovering addict has a beautiful 10 month old baby. I worry..both parents are recovering addicts. I always ask my daughter what she plans to do or say to her child to help push her in the opposite direction of this disease. The 'Just say no" campaign didn't seem to work. It is only natural as parents, to wonder what we did. I do the same thing and I also can point out things in my own child rearing that maybe could have changed things, but I don't know. It's a complex disease that starts out as a choice to experiment and then awakens the demon inside that can't be shut off. Take care of you during the upcoming anniversary and thanks for sharing. You are helping others. Those who were searching for someone or anyone out there who is going through the same thing...will cling to every word you write.

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  10. I wish you would write a book about Henry with a lot of this information in it. It is a story very much worth telling.

    As to what YOU or anyone could have done to prevent Henry from getting involved in drugs, or for that matter preventing anyone from going that way, is very much up in the air. As a long time mother of a number of children, exposed to many teens and young adults over 20 years, I don't know what works and what does not. I've known parents who stuck to the rules you wish you had, who ended up with children who went the same route that Henry did.

    But we still do try. I feel that minors should not have a lot of freedom to just hang around, and that parents should well know, and vet all of their children's friends while they are still minors. AT 18 and older, one can try to continue this vigilence but as you and many others have learned, you have no legal rights over your now adult child.

    In your case, you had quite the storm for a young man,with divorces, remarriages, the two new families, and the lack of supervision due to two working parents. Difficult to monitor friends, activities in that scenario and to enforce rules even had more stringent ones been put into place. What constant hovering, helicopter parenting can do at times, is to delay some of these issues, which can be important. Studies have shown that the later the onset of drug use and abuse, addiction, the better the chances of remission and possible permanent cure. It's the same situation with any number of disorders that can occur; early onset usually means a tougher case to treat.

    Counseling in such cases is not just for the child but for the parent as well. Finding the right counselor is also not easy. Even if the child is uncooperative, the time in the office is time not with druggie friends. I have a friend who forced her two kids to undergo counseling for years during the turmoil years of marriage and divorce. Her son refused to say a thing to the counselor for two years, but she insisted he go, and incentives to speak and consequences for not, finally got him to open up a bit. Lies at first, some truths, and finally some use of the counseling sessions. It took a tremendous amount of time and faith, which they did not have, but they forged through. The mom also went to counseling to get guidance through those difficult times.

    Also do check out http://addictsmom.com/. A lot of us there are broken people due to drug addiction, and the loss of a much loved, wonderful child, physically and otherwise. You would have much to give, share and learn there.

    Henry's story is definitely book material, and you could put it in that form. I hope you do.

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  11. Thank you for sharing Katie. As a mother with young children, I do believe that your candor will help me navigate their adolescence.

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  12. I have been reading your writing for many years, since before you lost Henry, and I so appreciate your honesty and perspective. I now have my own 18 year old and he has struggled his whole life with anxiety as well. Sharing your story has helped me make choices in how I parent him, and how hard I have fought with him, schools and health professionals to get adequate treatment for his anxiety. We still have a long road ahead and it has not been easy, but sharing your family's story does and has made a very real difference to us. Thank you.

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  13. Your message helps so many people who are afraid and struggling right now. I love
    Henry so much. You are honoring him in the best way possible. And you, like every parent, does the best they can until they learn something new. It is all we can do.

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  14. Very nice post !
    http://www.lovee.com/ is the fun, friendly spot for style and fashion for stroller that’s and unique as you are!
    You can buy bugaboo bee canopy in affordable price for your baby !

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  15. Hi Katie, My dear son born in 1991 was going through drug addiction when Henry was. He went to sober living for the 2nd time and got clean. However he came home March of 2013 so happy and doing wonderful when the worst thing happened...he was coming home from work and was in a accident with a semi truck and was killed instantly. So, I want you to know that you did everything you knew at the time and gave Henry your best. But, circumstances are not always up to our choice. My precious baby boy did get clean for a year but then was killed! The grief is horrific but seriously now that it has been 3 1/2 years I can say that the grief is tolerable. I have seen him and heard from him many times in many ways. I have always been open to his presence and he has pulled through so many time. Henry's death was not an accident. If he wasn't suppose to go he would have stayed no matter what you or he did. He signed on for a short time on earth to be a teacher and then to be your constant guardian angel. He had the choice to go or stay. He did choose to go for a very specific reason. It was his time. You did not cause it nor could you have prevented it. This is just my sharing. I was in the situation as you and still lost my son. Henry is there and you can be aware of his assistance as you wake up and stop blaming anything or anyone on his death. I was his appointed hour.
    Sending comfort from a mom who knows. He was my baby, my only son, with 4 adoring sisters, my sensitive, caring and gentle boy. I would never have expected to loose a child much less in such a fast and unexpected way. I miss him terribly but I know he chose to go to the other side and is with us helping our family in so many incredible ways!

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    1. It was Henry's time to go to the other side.

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