THE OTHER SIDE
Recently a normie friend reached out eager and excited with the idea that I’d be a perfect fit to speak to their child’s middle-school class. Someone, given my new venture here, that could put an experienced voice and face to a cautionary tale of addiction and recovery. I had to decline.
While I undeniably have a tale of addiction, an evolving message of recovery, and I believe I can have a relatable, credible dialogue with adults with SUDs [Substance Use Disorders] who are in or seeking sobriety and recovery, what I don’t have is a prevention message. I’m working on it. I have a 4-year-old daughter--a fact which almost demands I have one within the next decade or less. But I’m certainly not qualified now to be a voice of prevention. For children.
It may go without saying that the notion of substance use prevention was a message I never heeded. What could come as a surprise—though I imagine not—is that it was a message I rarely, if ever, heard as a child. I’d suggest that I was, in fact, exposed to the opposite message: substance use normalization. Often indulgence. Occasionally over-Indulgence. Sometimes abuse.
Of the approximately four parental figures (two bio, two step, & more!) I had during my formative years—let’s call that birth through seventeen--two of them smoked cigarettes; they all, at times, smoked a not-insignificant amount of marijuana; they all partook, some more eagerly than others, of cocaine; acid, mushrooms, what-have-you made appearances; and they all--without qualification--imbibed copious amounts of alcohol with great regularity. And that’s just the low-hanging fermented fruit on the family tree.
However! Let me make something (im)perfectly clear: I’m not judging them and I’m not blaming them for the inception, course or duration of my active addictions. Were they irresponsible? Maybe. An adult’s view of their own childhood is often from a grassy knoll.
What I am doing is painting a picture of the behavior-modeling available to me as a child. My childhood included, in no particular order or relevance: a Folger’s coffee can packed full of pot on a refrigerator door shelf; very memorably being taken to see Poltergeist by a parent tripping ‘shrooms; being allowed to eat pot seeds like they were sunflower seeds; between the ages of 5 and 15 having my first drink of wine with one parent, first beer with another and first toke of weed with yet a third; and being present for the planning and preparations to move one illicit substance and the transportation of another--both across international borders and each with a different parent.
So, yeah, I grew up with a fairly non-traditional model of substance use. One could say that with a genetic predisposition to a substance use disorder, in addition to my depression and anxiety, the fix, if you'll pardon the expression, was in. Yet for all the aforementioned freewheeling mind altering going on around me as a child, I remained remarkably abstinent until I left home. It would seem I had some coping mechanisms in place. Some vague notion of what was…sensible…vis-à-vis drugs. I had some measure of self-control.
So, what happened? Nurture didn’t seem to have an immediate impact. I was certainly more abstinent than almost all of my peers throughout my childhood. I would argue I was almost impervious to peer pressure. Was it simply my nature to develop a SUD? There certainly seems to be antecedent and subsequent players in the family tree to suggest it’s in the gene pool.
Would a more temperate attitude towards substance use from my parents have prevented my ultimate fall? Would an overt prevention message have helped? I don’t know. But I really don’t think it would have. It certainly couldn’t have delayed things any more than I delayed them almost unconsciously on my own.
What does all this mean for my message for my daughter? Well, first, I’m going to hope like hell she’s a normie. However, at the moment, all I’m thinking I can do is play the role of grizzled sherpa for her as she undertakes what may be an inevitable exploration and hope the descent isn’t too steep or too long. Then walk her back up.