What kind of family environment did you grow up in?
I grew up in a happy, stable home environment. The town I was raised in was small and quaint. While attending the Mennonite Brethren Church with my family, my brother and I also participated in VBS, Christian Summer Camp, Youth Group, etc.
What kind of relationship did you have with God?
I accepted Jesus into my heart at age seven. I believe I knew what it meant but didn’t understand the dynamics of it. Around age eleven or so, I had many questions about God such as, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
This really affected my relationship with my “church friends” as I was “rebelling” against Mennonite culture by asking so many questions. Although others mentored and cared for me, I was already fairly lost and angry with God. My relationship with God continued this way into my young adult years.
I believed in God and wanted to believe He was good, but I never felt He loved me. The enemy also reminded me of how much I was a failure and not good enough. I know of course today that I don’t need to earn God’s love because of His mercy and grace towards me.
What were some of the struggles you were dealing with growing up?
I was a redheaded late bloomer. I was bullied from kindergarten until the day I graduated high school. I don’t think anyone should ever underestimate the power of a bully. I should also mention, I started school young and went to college when I was only seventeen. I wasn’t ready.
During my tween years, I fell in love. It wasn’t a silly puppy love. I really, truly fell in love. Fish (his nickname because there was no other “fish in the sea” for me) wrote me my first love letter and took me on my first date (we went mini-golfing).
Halfway through the second semester of high school, he broke up with me for another girl. That experience sent me into my first major bought of depression and suicidal thoughts.
On my nineteenth birthday after many on and off relationships with “The Fish”, broke my heart for the last time. Again, I spiraled into another period of depression. It got so bad that I had to drop out of college and move back home.
So much of that first relationship formed and affected how I thought about myself; I never saw myself as worthy enough. Combine that with being bullied and feeling like God didn’t really love me, I looked for approval and inclusion wherever I could find it.
Why and when did you become a user of drugs?
I smoked pot for the first time when I was twelve. It started because of my peers wanting to impress other peers. I felt terrible though and didn’t plan to do it again. That only lasted until I went to high school. “The Fish” smoked pot pretty heavily and I wanted to show how “cool” I was.
Were there events or problems in which you felt drugs would help you?
Aside from trying to impress “The Fish”, my drug use actually started with smoking. There were always friends to be found in the school’s “smoke pit”. High school smokers are generally social outcasts, rebels or uncultivated gifted children and I could relate to them better than I could my church friends. I found a place to belong and be accepted and all I had to do was smoke a cigarette or take a hit off a joint.
I may not have been “pretty enough” to hang out with the preppy girls or “good enough” for the church kids but smoking was something I could do.
Did you at any time feel that your drug use was getting out of control?
There are a few key moments I clearly remember feeling my drug use was out of control. They also always preempted a bought of depression.
How were your parents informed of your drug use?
I know my parents suspected I was doing drugs (while I blasted Eminem from my bedroom). They found pot once and flushed it down the toilet (they also threw out my Eminem CD- twice). When I was nineteen, I can remember trying to sit down with my Mom in the kitchen, desperate to tell her what had happened to me over the years but she didn’t want to hear it. They didn’t really know what was going on.
How did your parents react when they found out?
My parents reacted… a lot, to everything. My Mom cried. My Dad was silently angry. My Mom basically went into a depressed spiral, which I took on as being my entire fault. I didn’t need to do much to get this reaction.
Were you encouraged or told that a drug program would be the plan to help you heal?
There was no “healing” talk in my household. At that time, doing drugs just meant I was either “bad” or “stupid”. “Quit acting like an idiot” was something I heard a lot.
After the first big heartbreak, when I was about fourteen, my parents sent me to a different high school. I think they thought it would be a new start but it was really difficult. The school was better but I had to make all new friends. By then, I already had learned I could easily find acceptance in the school’s smoke pit with the kids who did drugs.
Did you receive counseling or therapy?
I was sent to Christian counseling when I was fifteen or sixteen. It was a couple. We were supposed to be receiving therapy as a family and also alone. I never felt “heard” and I hated the counselors. After only a couple sessions, they decided it was best I stopped living with my parents and gave me an option: Move into a group home for troubled kids or move in with a friend.
I moved in with my friend and lived there for a few months until my Dad finally called and asked if I would come home.
Did you enter any rehab or drug program?
It was never suggested.
Did you feel that experience helped your root issues or make it worse?
The whole experience of moving out made everything worse. I would like to point out that at the time I was kicked out, I was smoking “secretly”, occasionally smoking pot (maybe a couple times a week at the absolute most) and hated drinking. It also reinforced the thought that I wasn’t “good or worthy enough” again.
What was the determining factor that encouraged you to leave the drug life behind?
I had a pattern of using drugs for acceptance. My use always peaked when I needed to fit in or be accepted, like in a new relationship or new school. When I found acceptance in Jesus, that’s where the change really happened. It wasn’t from a drug program or from another person, it was from within.
What would be your advice to other parents who have teens in a drug crisis?
Love them. It’s hard enough to be a teenager without feeling like you’re always disappointing the people who are “supposed” to love you no matter what you do.
Celebrate their successes and do what you can to help build their confidence. I don’t think removing them from school is a bad idea either. If they’re being bullied, stop sending them to school. Home school or private tutoring through volunteer teachers who are retired are good avenues. This will help your teen continue their education under less stressful situations. If they’re doing drugs or drinking daily, find a good treatment program and let them know of your support and love for them every day.
Though they think they are, a teenager is not an adult. They’re children and they need your help. God gave them to you to take care of and He will equip you to do so.
With a teenager, it’s better to listen and pray than it is to fix and push away.
If your parents could have done something different to support or help you, what would that have been?
My parents overreacted. They put a lot of pressure on me to supersede extremely high expectations and let me know, loud and clear, that I failed. Allowing me to make mistakes would have gone a long way. I may have come to my own conclusion that I didn’t want to make them a lot sooner.
I also wish they had seen me for what I was: A highly creative, inquisitive kid with extreme social anxiety and a desperate need for acceptance.
It wasn’t their fault I did drugs, I think they did all they knew how to do. And although I knew they loved me, I always felt I had to earn their love and approval.
I wish I had known what God thought of me and who I was to Him, back at age seven. I can’t imagine how my life might had been different had I been taught the value of my life.