Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Parents – A Word of Advice: Be Curious (Before It's Too Late)

Each year, one of the local high schools hosts a forum for parents entitled “Trends in Teen Drug and Alcohol Use: Helping our Teens Make Positive Choices”. The presentation is led by various law and drug enforcement personnel as well as a substance abuse counselor.
The first year I attended, I was pretty naïve. Not as naïve as maybe most of the other parents in the auditorium perhaps, who were thinking to themselves, “I’m just here as a precaution. Certainly not MY kid.” I, on the other hand, was more steeling myself, gathering as much information as I could in order to be prepared for what I hoped would not be as bad as the gnawing feeling in my stomach. However, I felt somewhat comforted by the fact that this high school had gone to such measures to educate parents. That must mean they are really on it, I thought.

By the time they are seniors, almost 70 percent of high school students will have tried alcohol, half will have taken an illegal drug, nearly 40 percent will have smoked a cigarette, and more than 20 percent will have used a prescription drug for a nonmedical purpose.1

Two years later, I attended the forum again. As I sat and listened to the officer, the drug enforcement director and the substance abuse counselor, I felt tears coming to my eyes. Not uncommon for me back then, but frustrating nonetheless. I had so many questions. I wanted so many clarifications. And I desperately needed help. When the principal was finished talking about the measures the school takes to combat drugs among the students, I thought, “It’s not enough. It’s not nearly enough.”
It’s been two and a half years since I attended my last drug forum. Last week, I caught the tail end of it - just in time for the Q & A. I was impressed with the multitude of parent questions and their interest and desire to educate themselves. This handful of parents would be way ahead of some of the others who didn't show up because they were sure that drugs would never be a problem with their kid.

The likelihood of developing a substance use disorder is greatest for those who begin use in their early teens. For example, 15.2 percent of people who start drinking by age 14 eventually develop alcohol abuse or dependence (as compared to just 2.1 percent of those who wait until they are 21 or older),8 and 25 percent of those who begin abusing prescription drugs at age 13 or younger develop a substance use disorder at some time in their lives.9

To the parents who attended the drug forum, good for you. To those didn't attend only because they think, "Not MY child", I have this to say to you:
LISTEN UP. Your blond haired, blue-eyed captain of the football team? It can happen to him. Your vivacious, perky cheerleader? It can happen to her. Your quiet, reserved, rule-following momma’s boy? It can happen to him. Your straight-A student? It can happen to her. NO ONE is immune to this.
Some parents think, “I know where my son is and what he’s doing and where he’s going and he tells me everything.” or “I don’t really know what my son does but CERTAINLY he’s not involved in THAT stuff.” Because “that stuff” only happens to dumb, no-good, scruffy kids from the wrong side of the tracks who have bad parents. Right?
No it’s not. You know who it happens to? Smart kids, like your straight-A student. Good kids, like your momma’s boy. Athletic kids, like your football player and your cheerleader. As well as all the other kids – the loner, the nice guy, the nerd, the bullied, the unaccepted, the promiscuous, the prude, the outgoing, the shy and the just average.
See, it doesn’t matter how smart or athletic or popular your kid is. What matters is if he has the tools to say no. If he has the confidence to walk away. If he has the maturity to understand that even a one-time bad decision could lead to a very, very rough life.

The immature brain, already struggling with balancing impulse and self-control, is more likely to take drugs again without adequately considering the consequences.4

The prefrontal cortex is responsible for assessing situations, making sound decisions, and controlling our emotions and impulses; typically this circuitry is not mature until a person is in his or her mid-20s. So our teens' brains just haven't fully developed, plus everything they are doing in high school is a "first". That’s where the parents come in.

For GOD’S sake, parents, be present. If you both work, try to be home in the evenings and engage with your teen. Know who he or she is hanging out with. Best case scenario, know your teen’s friends' parents. Knowing the parents gives you another pair of eyes and ears, and that’s invaluable during the high school years.

Understand that whatever you know about your teen, there is more you DON’T know. With some, maybe that’s not such a big deal. With others, it is. So if you suspect something’s going on with your child, don’t brush it away like an isolated incident. Investigate it. Ask questions.
Know some of the signs that your teen could be in trouble. Sure, some of it may be basic, teenage angst. But some of it may not be. Here are some of the signs your teen may be using drugs and/or alcohol:
-Decline in academic performance
-Getting into trouble at school
-Personality changes
-Withdrawal and decreased interaction with good friends
-New friends and people whom the teen is unwilling to introduce to you
-Excessive sleeping
-Weight loss or decline in eating
-Money missing from your purse of wallet
-Use of incense, room deodorizer or excessive perfumes and cologne
-Excessive use of mints, mouth washes and gum
-Eye drops to reduce redness
-Missing medications (over the counter as well as prescription)
-Over the counter materials such as computer duster, nail polish or nail polish remover, white out, hairsprays or other inhalants found with their belongings
-Drug paraphernalia such as pipes, bags of seeds, rolling papers, empty bottles, baggies, etc.
-Adamant about parents staying out of his or her bedroom
-Involved in legal trouble

Drug use at an early age is an important predictor of development of a substance use disorder later. The majority of those who have a substance use disorder started using before age 18 and developed their disorder by age 20.7

Now, here’s the other side of the coin. You may be of the opinion that dabbling in drugs and/or alcohol is a teenage rite of passage – and for many it is. If you’re lucky. Maybe. And maybe you’re of the opinion that if your teen keeps his grades up, his room clean and his hair combed then you’re cool with it. That’s your prerogative. There are plenty of people in this world who recreationally use drugs and drink alcohol and swear it has absolutely no negative impact on their lives. I can’t speak for those people. All I can say is when it comes to teens, it’s a slippery slope. And it is a problem.

Tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana are the first addictive substances most people try. Data collected in 2012 found that nearly 13 percent of those with a substance use disorder began using marijuana by the time they were 14.10
And the other thing you need to keep in mind, parents, is that magical age. Once they hit 18, you lose a lot of those parental powers. If their drug and/or alcohol use has gotten out of control and they turn 18, you can’t sign them in to rehab. You can’t make them go to counseling. In fact, there’s very little you can do except maybe call the cops on them. How many parents are really going to do that?
One of my favorite pieces of advice is, ironically, from a counselor at a wilderness facility. I was about to go see my son for the first time in a very long time, and I had so, so many questions for him, but I was hesitant to even ask him anything for fear of starting one of the many fights we had before he went away. Her response to me was, “Be curious.”

I have always remembered that. I try very hard to be mindful before I “interrogate” my child to make sure I phrase my questions in a way that’s not so intrusive. It’s easier and a bit less off-putting to start a question with, “I’m curious…” than “Where were you…” or “Why did you…”
No parent can guarantee that their child will not fall victim to drug or alcohol abuse. Drug use in particular is an enormous problem in our high schools today. Drug and alcohol addiction are diseases - yes, diseases - that can happen to anyone, though some individuals are more susceptible to addictive behaviors, whether it’s drugs, alcohol, pornography, gambling or shopping.

Compared with the general population, people addicted to drugs are roughly twice as likely to suffer from mood and anxiety disorders, with the reverse also true.1

If you notice those addictive tendencies in your child, or any mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and yes, ADHD, I urge you to be extra vigilant. Intervene and reach out to the available resources to help your child with his or her illness as well as gain the necessary tools to combat the temptations if and when they come along. (Contact me if you don't know where to begin.)

In conclusion, let me say this. Yes, sometimes there is a fine line between "helicopter parenting" and allowing a child to experience his or her own consequences from poor decisions. I probably lean more toward the former than the latter, and have learned many lessons. But I'll say this as well: there are far too many parents out there today who continue to turn a blind eye toward an increasingly dangerous and deadly trend that is taking over our schools right under our noses. It's not only hurting our children, it's ruining their lives - and it's killing them.

Parents. Wake up. It can happen to your child. YOUR CHILD. Educate yourself. Talk to your teen. Be curious.


Secret life of teens: The dangerous drug parents aren't talking about with kids

DrugFacts: Comorbidity: Addiction and Other Mental Disorders



Friday, March 25, 2016

Watch out - this girl's finally taking SHAPE.

I have always wished to be different.

I mean, I KNOW I'm different. Everyone is, of course. I mean different than who I am. Different looks. Different personality. Different intelligence. Different interests.

I've always wanted to be someone else - not anyone in particular. Just bits and pieces from random individuals. "I wish I had a body like hers." "I wish I could be in such a good mood all the time like he is." "I wish I was more social and had more friends like they do." "I wish I was one of those people who liked to (dance, ski, entertain, public speak, etc.)."

I spend more time wishing I was different than honing the stuff about me that's actually not bad. I realized this a few weeks ago when I went to church. Usually Pastor's sermons are pretty good - I like that at the non-denominational church I attend the sermons pertain to real life as opposed to just making us try to understand passages from the Bible. But I've never been affected quite as much as I was during and after his sermon that basically centered around the questions, "Who are you and what are you doing here?"

While I'm still trying to answer this fully, I've spent more time focusing on who I'm not than who I am. Who I wish to be than how I can be the best me I can be.

I don't want this to come off as holy roller, because I'm anything but. However, there is obviously a spiritual quality to what I'm going to explain here, so as with everything, take what you want and leave the rest.

So it's called SHAPE, and when I looked it up, it's basically an assessment of your "spiritual gifts" and how you should be using those to serve God. But even if you're not into God, you can look at it as "gifts you have and how you can use them to help others." Same thing, less holy roller. Are we good? OK. Here we go.

1 Peter 4:10 says, "Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms." What this means, Christians and non-Christians, is that you have a God-given (or innate) ability - a "spiritual" gift, if you will. Eighty percent of people don't know what their primary spiritual gift is, so they don't know what the hell they're supposed to be doing here on this earth.

That's the S in SHAPE. Spiritual gift. And as soon as Pastor asked us to think of what our spiritual gifts were, I figured, "Well that's easy." Writing. I truly feel as if God gave me the ability and the talent to write - and to write easily. I'm assuming His Plan for my life was to steer me in and out of different experiences that would lead me to realize this spiritual gift more and more every day.

So say that I try to make my spiritual gift the ability to be incredibly social? I'd last about a day - if that. It's not one of my gifts, and it's certainly not my passion. It's not my personality and my experience with trying to be incredibly social has not been all that positive - it's just not sustainable for me. Turns out, my gift is MY GIFT. It's what I do. And your gift is what you do. And what I need to do, instead of coveting another person's gift, is to figure out what to do with my own. As Pastor said, "To do your part you gotta know what your part is."

The second thing is heart. That's the H in SHAPE. That's the passion you have for your spiritual gift. What is it that brings you alive and makes you say, "This is what I was designed to do"? Again, my thought turned to writing, because I am passionate about telling stories. Why? Because I truly believe that the blunt regurgitation of things that happen in my life HELPS people. Maybe not a lot of people - but if it helps even one person feel less alone, or think about something a different way, or find a resource through me they didn't know existed, that's a win in my book - or, the one I haven't written yet.

I'm passionate about relaying my thoughts and experiences through writing in the hopes that someone else who may have just embarked on something similar will have an easier time, or reach out to me for help. I want to help people with my writing. It's my superpower, if you will.

The third thing is ability. That's the A in SHAPE. OK, so far, I'm still with writing. But I can hone that in a little more. I think I have the ability to write as if you're sitting next to me, like we're having a conversation (actually, better than if we have a conversation). I write bluntly, and I'm not afraid to put it all out there. Why? Again, because I know there has to be someone out there who is going to read me and think, "Wow. Me too. I thought I was the only one." Or, "I had no idea she was going through that. I know someone who should talk to her and get some advice/resources/ideas."

My openness may unnerve some. It might make them uncomfortable. I'm certainly judged for it. But for some, it might be a welcome relief to read someone open up. An "aha moment" that they're not alone, that they're not crazy in how they feel, and that there's someone out there that they might be able to connect with to commiserate, find solace or comfort.

The fourth is personality. That's the P in SHAPE. I was made "me" for a purpose. This I struggle with, because I'm not all that wild about my personality and how I'm wired. I'm kind of a hot mess. And I look at others who are doing outgoing, wonderful things and have a gazillion friends and are always trying new things and volunteer and are on this board and that committee and it just exhausts me. I feel as if I should do all that stuff too. I wish I could be them. But why? I'm NOT them.

As outgoing as I may seem on the surface, I crave my alone time. I'm happiest behind the scenes. I don't like being the center of attention even though I may seem at ease with it. I'm not comfortable with myself enough to expose myself to too many people. I can do it for a short period of time, but then I'm looking for the door. I'd much rather email or write a letter than explain something face to face because I screw it all up when it's verbal. I'd rather slit my throat than public speak. But write a speech? I can do that with my eyes closed. So this is the part I have to make peace with. I was made "me" for a purpose. I need to stop wishing I was someone else. I'm me for a reason.

The last is experiences. That's the E in SHAPE. Do you have experiences that have uniquely equipped you for what you do? Well it seems I do. I don't know how many people have told me, "Amy, you should write a book." And they don't say that because they think I'm a prolific writer. They say it because for some reason, weird stuff happens to me. Now, I'm sure weird stuff happens to everyone, but apparently because I WRITE about it, it's somehow more interesting or unique.

Like my work fails. Those are little tidbits I started posting on Facebook when I started my job a year ago and had to start dressing professionally. At least once a week, I'd have some sort of wardrobe malfunction - be it two different earrings, a price tag sticking out the back of my dress or pants on inside out (yes, I said pants on inside out). There's plenty of dating escapades that I don't know how many times I've prefaced the story with, "I CANNOT MAKE THIS STUFF UP." I could devote an entire book to blind dates gone bad, relationships that went on way too long, and that time I did/didn't get married for about a month.

On the less humorous side, there's the illness and the end of life of my mother, an experience many go through, but I chronicled it, not knowing how much it was going to alter my life. And finally, there are the incredibly gut wrenching, nearly-too-painful-to-write-about struggles with my oldest son, which have been more of a life-changing experience than I ever expected, realized or wished for.

"Your deepest wounds carry the seeds of your greatest ministry to others."

Regardless of how painful some of the experiences I've had have been, and regardless for the criticism I've received for writing about 'something so personal', and regardless of my fear of judgment of my performance as a mother, a daughter, a significant other or a friend, I need to write about it all. Because it's who I am, it's my passion, my ability, and as much as I need to write it, there's someone out there who needs to read it.

All this time - ALL THIS TIME - I have been wanting to be like someone else. I've craved someone else's spiritual gifts. I've wished for the passions of someone else. The ability of someone else. The personality and the experiences of someone else. And I've felt that because I am unable to unearth these gifts in myself, that I'm not as good as someone else.

1 Corinthians 12:18 says, "But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be."
So aside from the fact that He made my butt too big and my chest too small and my personality too off-putting and somehow forgot to give me math or geography skills, He made me the way He wanted me to be. He made me to write. That's my SHAPE.
It brings me a sense of peace to realize that I can stop wishing I was different. It gives me a sense of empowerment to know what my SHAPE is. It gives me a sense of purpose to finally know what I need to do with my spiritual gift. I need to write - not just more of the same stuff I've been writing about, but the stuff I've been afraid to write about.
So stay tuned ... and see how this writer finally starts to takes SHAPE.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Two Years

Two years. 104 weeks. 730 days.

Two years. March 1st. 11:08 pm.

Two years since you left this earth. And nothing has ever been the same.
I thought once I got past the “firsts” – you know, the first Christmas, first Mother’s Day, first anniversary of your death …. that things would get easier. But I guess that depends on your definition of “easier”.
True, the empty feeling isn’t as constant. Once we got one of each major holiday under our belt and realized we could get through them, the next ones weren’t quite as bad. 
I guess what I didn’t expect is that when that empty feeling comes, it hits me just the same. It’s sudden, sometimes – surprising, almost. For whatever reason, you pop into my head. But not, “Oh, Mom would have loved this” or “Oh, I wish Mom were here” or “Oh, man, Mom would have a field day with this!” It’s more like my brain – in that moment – can’t grasp the fact that you’re really, truly gone, and my first thought instead is, “Mom is gonna love this!” or “Mom’s gonna have a field day with this!” and the most frequent, “I need to tell Mom about this.”
It still happens – frequently. You’re the first person who comes to mind whether I just bought a cute sweater on sale that “called to me”, as you used to say, or if I’m beside myself with indecision and need a rational voice of reason.
It’s like when you wake up in the morning and think to yourself, “Something happened … what was it?” Then you realize what it was and it hits you all over again. That’s what my brain goes through every time I think of you like you’re still here then realize you aren’t.
You have left a void that is so vast I know it will never be filled, and I wish I would have known how important you were to me when you were still here. I completely took you for granted – as I’m sure most children do with their parents. I wish I would have been a better daughter to you. I wish I would have appreciated you more before I knew you were leaving me. I wish I could have told you better – and sooner – that you were an incredible mom and
I was so lucky God let me be your daughter.
We were nothing if human, that’s for sure. We had our arguments and our pissing matches. We were both sensitive and so much alike that we butted heads. But you know what? I knew that no matter what, no matter how big the problem or need, I could always count on you. Always.
Your love for me and the other kids was unconditional. Yes, we’d have words. Yes, we’d need breaks from each other. Yes we’d frustrate each other. But above and beyond that, it was family that mattered to you. And you would never shun one of us if we needed you, whether your response was to help or to tell us to get our heads out of our asses. You were good like that, Mom.
We’re not the same. You kept this family together. We did it because you said so, and once we did, we got along just fine. But it’s all disjointed now. It sucks. I never understood why you fought so hard to bring us all together, but now I get it. You were hoping that we’d see that we needed each other, especially after you were gone. We didn’t get the message, though.
I think of how I miss you, and it gives me a pit in my stomach thinking how much Dad must miss you. It’s evident on the surface, but you know Dad – the strong, silent type. I can only imagine how he feels inside – that ache you never expected, never wanted and were never ready for.
I’ve said it hundreds of times – the only thing worse than missing you is watching Dad miss you. It’s hard to drop him off after dinner and see him fumble with the key to the front door, then walk in alone. It makes me want to yell, “It’s so unfair! He needs you back! You two are a team!” But there’s nothing I can do, other than let him know that I miss you too, and that we still have each other. You’d be so proud of him, Mom. He’s carrying on your legacy quite famously and I love doing things with him. I’m a lucky girl to have a dad like him and to have had a mom like you.
Had a mom like you.
I don’t have a mom.
I want my mom.
I miss you, Mom.