The Edmond Sun

May 22, 2009

Recovering addict shares story, hope

Mark Schlachtenhaufen

EDMOND — EDITOR’S NOTE: The interview for the following story about an Edmond recovering alcoholic and drug user was arranged through Edmond Family Counseling. A fictitious first name is being used to protect his identity, as part of a 12-step recovery process requirement of anonymity.

“John,” 19, grew up in Edmond. He began drinking alcohol at about age 14.

He said more than anything else, he started because of peer pressure. A part of him wanted to drink too.

The first time he drank was at a friend’s house with a group of friends from school. A friend who was about 21, the legal drinking age in Oklahoma, gave John some Everclear, a drink with high alcohol content that is illegal in many states.

“I got really, really drunk,” he recalled.

At age 15, John had friends who could drive, and he would get alcohol from gas stations and convenience stores in Edmond and Oklahoma City. They would drink at friends’ homes, “one party after another.”

“Wherever the liquor was, that’s where I went,” he said.

Before long, he was drinking on a regular basis, on most weekends.

Drug use detailed

At age 14, John first tried marijuana. The older sibling of a friend obtained it for him.

The first time, he didn’t get “stoned.” A week or two later, he smoked marijuana again and did get stoned.

“I loved it. It was great,” he said of his fondness for the drug at the time.

John said for him, getting “hooked” on marijuana was a gradual process. By age 15, he was smoking it nearly every day, 90 percent of the time with friends. It was “pretty easy” to get marijuana, with just a couple of phone calls, he said.

He worked full time, and he said he would spend an average of $100-$150 a week on marijuana. Most of the money came from his earnings; he occasionally would take money from home to pay for his drug habit.

After smoking marijuana, John began using prescription drugs like Lortab. He would get them from friends and taking them usually was a social event.

Sometimes he would take them at “pharm parties,” where prescription drugs are readily available in a potentially deadly mixture. John said pharm parties, attended mostly by high school youth, were held in Crescent and in Edmond. He estimated Edmond sees an average of maybe one a month.

Telling signs

At age 16, John’s grades suffered at school. He would skip classes. He would miss athletic practices.

Furthermore, his mood would swing wildly. He would be happy one moment, “flip out” the next. He suffered from anxiety and felt depressed.

At age 17, he signed up for counseling at Edmond Family Counseling. However, he had not yet hit “rock bottom.” He became suicidal. He still was drinking heavily every night. He would steal from liquor stores and from friends.

When he told a counselor he was suicidal, the counselor suggested he check into a local hospital. There, during a 10-day stay, he was diagnosed with severe anxiety, depression and alcohol addiction.

“It was the first time I realized alcohol and drugs were (harming) me,” he said.

However, when he left the hospital, he still felt he could take care of things himself. About a week later, he drank, “got trashed” and wrecked his mother’s car. The next day, he checked into an area crisis center for a week.

That, John said, was when he realized he needed more help. He joined an Alcoholics Anonymous group and now goes every day, sometimes twice daily. He never stopped going to counseling.

“They’re great up there,” he said of Edmond Family Counseling. “They’ve helped me through a bunch of problems I was dealing with. They helped me learn about myself, to watch out for things. I’m more aware of my thinking and the way I think.”

John said AA has completely changed his life, which included giving up his old ways and old friends.

“I know about my disease now, the alcohol and drug addiction,” he said. “I now have a program I can fall back on.”

Currently, he is working through the AA step known as “making amends,” which includes asking forgiveness from those whom he has harmed, including his parents. He said today he has a stronger relationship with them, one he didn’t have before.

“We can just sit down and talk,” he said.

In the past, he wasn’t a very spiritual person. Today, he acknowledges he needs God’s help.

“It’d be impossible if it was just me trying to run the show,” he said. “God is a must for me.”

John also has a message for others who find themselves in similar situations.

“If there’s anybody out there that wants help, there’s hope out there, there’s help,” he said.

Jackie Shaw, executive director of Edmond Family Counseling, said staff members have the same concerns as others in regard to children.

Shaw said counselors often see youth who have not had the chance to learn from their mistakes. They have been rescued by parents for a variety of reasons and do not experience needed accountability, she said.

“This is a real concern to us and a challenge to our agency and the community,” Shaw said.

Another challenge has to do with the attitudes of many adolescents, Shaw said. Therapists hear repeatedly from teens that “marijuana is natural” and, therefore, neither addictive nor harmful in any way, she said.

“Our teens also often see medications, both prescription and over the counter, as benign,” Shaw said. “Since they are ‘legal,’ then how could they be harmful?”

Challenging these prevalent beliefs and replacing them with current factual information is a small part of the task of therapists at the agency, Shaw said.

Edmond Family Counseling is the only agency in Edmond certified by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. More information about the agency, celebrating its 35th anniversary, is available at | 341-2121, ext. 108