“He is safe, he is alive, he is getting better.” These are the words I started my day off with for 9 months. These words were my lifeline. My child wasn’t with me, I hadn’t protected him. I didn’t know better.
I will tell you my story, my story as a parent. I will not tell you my child’s story, that is for him to tell. It started slow, the spiral down out of control. For about a year there were incidents here and there. Misbehavior, school problems, and social disruptions. I told myself “He will figure it out, being a teen is hard, all kids go through stuff. I did stupid stuff too when I was a kid.”
My husband and I work from home. We are there all the time. We are there before and after school. We are at every game. Tracking him to make sure he is where he is supposed to be. We are on it, we are aware, or so we thought.
He said he was depressed and anxious. He couldn’t really articulate why. I tried to get him into counseling. We talked and talked about the difference between right and wrong, the correct way to behave, the good path, the path to success and happiness. Nothing worked, until something did.
He googled depression. He found Xanax, the drug that would help free him up from the anxiety and depression. It was easy enough to find at school. Lots of kids sell their parents and siblings prescriptions at school. Xanax worked – helped him escape – but it worked better the more he took. He took more and more at a time. He took enough to nearly kill himself.
When the school supply dried up, where did he find it? Snapchat. Secret groups that are untraceable. They often send out new codes to new groups to go undetected. Police drug task forces work to infiltrate the groups, but there are too many. There is no controlling it.
I got into his phone. What I found there brought me to my knees. Everything you can think of is there. Everything. Pornography, automatic weapons, every kind of drug, mountains of them. Some real drugs, most cut and laced with things that can kill. The dealers advertise them on their story, the buyer then sends a message with their order and gives their location. Within an hour or less they are in your kids’ hands. Those hands that you love more than anything, the ones you vowed to always protect.
The last batch he got led to police calls and, ultimately, a stay at a residential treatment program.
After two weeks of no contact I got to speak to him over the phone. I asked him what he liked most about being there. He quickly replied, “not having my phone.” I asked why, he said “the pressure”.
If someone had told me that the phone he used as a pre-teen would re-wire his brain, make him anxious and depressed, make him seek drugs to satisfy that dopamine hit, the same one the phone triggered over and over until nothing satisfied it… If someone had told me giving him a phone was a direct line to social anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, and depression… If someone had told me it was a direct access line to sex, drugs, and guns. If someone had told me…
But my generation of parents didn’t know better. Our kids were the first to grow up with this. We had no idea what this would become. We didn’t have the data, the facts, or the proof. We didn’t have the evidence of how disastrous this could be for their young minds.
Today my child is safe, he is alive, he is doing well. I’m telling my story because I know that this is not unique. This isn’t just my story, it’s many parents’ story. The shame surrounded by failure and our imperfect lives silences us. The lies we tell ourselves and others keeps us from being honest. But as Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, do better.” We must stop pretending, and share our stories to help other parents, support them, and educate them. Together, we can protect them from this until their brain is more equipped to handle it.