By Kayleigh Rahn
It was raw and real and my mind is still reeling.
Last Tuesday former NBA star Chris Herren visited TCHS to talk about addiction.
And not in the traditional homeless, toothless, hollowed-eyed addiction, but in the functioning, All-American, star-athlete teen kind of addiction.
The first addict by all means is a shocking thought; however, the second example rocks me to my core.
How in 2018 do we have teens who believe their only solace can be found in a pill bottle for $20? How does a student from TCHS trade in his or her cap and gown for a needle within two years?
I know this to be true, because I’ve witnessed it. I’ve stood by as friends and classmates–those kids I grew up with, who were dates to my junior high dances, the kids with whom I played whiffle ball until dusk–become addicts. I played Biddy Basketball with them, and attended their 10th birthday parties at the Tuscola pool. They are my friends, and they are hurting.
I’ve seen their bright minds turn to shadows in front of my eyes.
I’ve attended funerals and watched as ambulances left my childhood neighborhood. Without a doubt addiction is alive and thriving in Douglas County.
Today I still picture them walking through the halls of TCHS with their spray-painted jeans during Homecoming Week. Big hugs and booming laughter. Bright-eyed and alive with passion for life. I picture them running out of the locker room as warm up begins for a Wednesday night ballgame. They were Rotary students of the month, honors choir soloists, FFA Green Hands, and members of student council. I see them in their first cars the year we turned 16, racing out of the north parking lot in a hurry for no other reason than to go, go, go.
Some for good. Others nearly there.
A shadow of who they once were. A person on their way to something bigger, better. Now only a memory.
Pills and needles and addiction fill the holes where talent and love and passion once lived.
Addiction does not care who these people were, where they came from, or where they were supposed to go. Addiction is not judgmental, only destructive.
Herren spoke of these first days, not just the worst days.
The first day–when addiction and this lifestyle is formed–it’s that day on Homecoming Week just after the big Friday night win. Or the day they speed away and head for the unsupervised garages and the thoughts “just this once” first enter their minds.
That’s the first day. That’s when we’ve lost them.
That was the beginning of rock bottom, and we didn’t even realize it.
This is when we, as a community, need to do better.
These statistics are no longer just numbers. They are people. They are residents. They are friends. They need support.
We can no longer be afraid to offend someone.
Talk. Really talk about it. I know it’s hard and uncomfortable.
But so is a burial.
These first days will happen, but the worst do not need to.
Encourage our teens to be the sober friend.
These brilliant young minds are enough without alcohol, pills, and white powder.
Make sure they know it. Surround them with a community that shows them love.
Engage with your children. Demand they unplug and discuss their days, and not just their schooldays, their Saturdays and Sundays, too.
Become informed and find help.
You are not alone in this discussion; use your community resources.
Douglas County Mental Health
114 W. Houghton St.
Tuscola, IL 61953
Elliott Counseling Group, Tuscola Office
(Located in the Jarman Center)
704 N. Main St.
Tuscola, IL 61953
Douglas County Health Department
1250 E US 36 Highway
Tuscola, Illinois 61953
809 W. Church Street
The Herren Project
Here is the bright spot.
Sobriety isn’t always pretty, but it’s possible and brilliant.
I recently attended the wedding of a dear, old friend. A TCHS grad, once addicted, now in recovery.
Happy and healthy, working every day for his family providing love, a home, and sobriety.
As I left the ceremony that day my heart was filled with joy. His eyes were clear, and his love and laughter and passion for life rekindled.
It was real and raw and my mind is still reeling. In all the best ways.