STRAIGHT TALK:  ADDICTION & RECOVERY

 If I have learned one essential lesson in more than four decades of my writing career, it’s this:  Follow the Story.  Whenever I get lost, I follow the light of a story and somehow find my way.

 In these columns, a reprisal of my columns published in my local newspaper almost two decades ago, I will focus on stories.  I have updated old stories, added new stories, and made every effort to keep current with facts and statistics.

 These are stories featuring people you know . . . people you work with . . . people whose lives are intertwined, directly or indirectly, with your life.

 I’ll tell stories about teenagers who are in deep trouble with alcohol and other drugs, letting them speak in their own words about how marijuana, alcohol, and other drugs have turned their lives inside out. 

Their stories highlight the fear, despair, guilt, and shame that always and inevitably accompany addiction . . . and the real-life, ever-evolving miracles of recovery.

I’ll tell stories about the drugs people are taking these days, and how these drugs are getting stronger and more deadly, leading to what experts call “an epidemic” of addiction, especially among young people. 

The brain has its own stories, and they are anything but dry or dull.   I’ll work hard to make terms like “synaptic plasticity,” “mental hardwiring” and “cellular excitement” understandable and, well, yes, exciting.

Research on adolescent brain development has exploded in the last few decades.  We know that the brain goes through a “second stage” of development in adolescence, a 10-15 year period during which teens  and young adults are extremely vulnerable to addiction.  This is a story that we all need to understand.

I’ll tell stories about family members who hesitate to reach out for help, fearing that their children will be judged and dismissed as “bad kids.”  And, of course, these parents fear (with good reason), that people will point at them and whisper, “Bad parent.”

Young children have their stories, too, about family members whose drug use has created great pain and trauma in their lives.  These children will find a voice in this column.

Sometimes I meet people who really aren’t all that interested in the stories I want to tell because they think addiction doesn’t affect them or they believe addiction is a choice, a failure of will, a character defect. 

Sometimes, too often, these are the people who should know, who must know the facts about this disease because they are doctors, counselors, lawyers, and other professionals whose advice and decisions can – and do -- alter the course of lives.

I’ll tell stories about people, young and old, who are not afraid to put their faces and voices – and even their obituaries -- to this disease.  Just a few years ago only a few brave souls were willing to speak out.  Today millions of people speak openly about their disease and its impact on their lives and the lives of the people they love.

If I stick to the stories – if I allow the stories to unfold and don’t interfere too much with words and analyses – I won’t go too far astray. 

And so, I’ll end this first column with a story that gives me chills every time I hear it.

 Not so very long ago my friend Joyce Sundin, a Seattle intervention specialist, met with a family desperate to help their 19-year-old methamphetamine-addicted son. 

 The boy was living in a trailer park.  On the day of the intervention, Joyce and several of the boy’s family members walked into the double-wide trailer to find him asleep on a tattered old couch.  He woke up, looked at his mother, father, sister, and the stranger, and pulled his hoodie over his head.

 “Is this an intervention?” he asked.

 “So you know about interventions?” Joyce asked, taking his silence for assent.  “Well, then, you know the drill.  Your family loves you very much.  They want to share their concerns with you.  Are you willing to hear them out?" 

 “Yeah,” he said softly, sitting up on the couch. 

 The boy’s mother, father, and brother read their letters, short and to the point.  We love you, we’re scared for you, we’re sick at heart, you need help, let us help you.

 “Are you willing to get help?” Joyce asked.

He pulled his hoodie sweatshirt over his head and disappeared.  A long silence ensued.

Finally, slowly, he pushed the hoodie back, took a deep breath and with a ragged sigh said, “What took you so long?”