I completely shocked myself this morning. While I have become increasingly vocal in sobriety, my voice still lives mostly in my writing. Unless, of course, I’m barking orders at my family. Or presenting strategy to clients. In groups of other parents, I tend to sponge up what everyone is saying, bite my tongue if I disagree, and only offer a comment if it is different from what anyone else has said. “Don’t talk just to hear yourself talk,” my Dad used to tell me when I was a kid. It stuck.
In a completely unexpected turn of events at a PTO Board meeting this morning, the conversation turned to drug abuse and legalizing marijuana and the best way to impress upon our kids how dangerous it can all be. There were nine of us around the table. Only three knew about my alcoholism. The introvert inside my body started to fidget. “Are they sympathetic to addiction,” I wondered. “Do they understand?”
My heart started beating out of my chest. I don’t know how no one noticed. My shirt was literally rippling. It felt like it anyway. “It’s more than just scaring them out of doing drugs,” I said to myself.
I knew I had to say something. But, I felt if I opened my mouth either nothing would come out or I’d start crying.
But then, without warning, my hand shot up in the air. “I need to jump in here,” my extroverted side blurted out, interrupting the principal. He asked to finish what he was saying and I clasped my hand over my mouth, a little bit scared and thoroughly embarrassed by my rudeness.
I can’t remember exactly what I said when it was my turn. But, it was along the lines of, “Some of you know, others don’t. I’m an alcoholic. I’ve been sober for 20 months.” I don’t remember looking at faces, and I have no idea how loudly or quickly I spoke. “I think if we’re going to have this conversation we need to talk about helping our kids develop the right set of tools to feel worthy and valuable and to understand the role of healthy self care in dealing with the barrage of stressful situations they will grow to think they can only endure by numbing out and going in search of the ultimate high or blackout. No one taught me that.”
Whether or not I effectively communicated it, my point was that we need find a way to connect with the kids whose families aren’t setting the right example when it comes to using, and abusing, substances. I’m not calling anyone in my town an addict. I honestly don’t know who is and who isn’t. But I am certain I’m not the only mom whose kids used to think wine and beer were dietary staples that could cure any ailment and intensify the happiness of any celebration. I’m also sure I’m not the only mom who could make a 30-day supply of pain pills disappear just as fast as House, M.D. Our middle school kids may be pulling away from us, pursuing their independence, and paying less and less attention to what we say. But, they’re watching what we do. All the time. And they’re more impressionable than ever.
I hope our Board pursues the opportunity to host a forum for our community. To start by having these important conversations among our parent community. And, I hope I will get to share my story. I’m already drafting my presentation.