Editor's Note:

It is always an honor when a student asks for help or when we are asked to help at the schools no matter what the event. We have been involved in the Live Oak High School Senior Projects the past few years either in interviews or in presentations but this year's involvement was a favorite. Student Matthew Davenport involved us the entire school year as he worked on a passionate subject looking for direction and suggestions. Needless to say Matthew didn't require any help when it came to his eloquent writing on his subject but we sure appreciated seeing his progress along the way. Each year the students amaze us and this year is no different. Following is Matthew's senior project, to be published in a newspaper.

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When people think of drug abuse, they tend to think, “oh, that won’t happen to me” or, “That doesn’t affect me.” But in reality, the majority of people have had an experience with a family member or friend who has suffered from drug addiction. When it comes to children, most people think that they are too young to understand what is happening, when, in fact, they can be fully aware.

I am currently a student at Live Oak High School and during our winter break, I spent a week in Sacramento working for a shelter and rehabilitation center called Saint John’s Program for Real Change. While there, I met mothers and their children who looked to Saint John’s for help with their own addictions as well as a second chance at life.

Saint John’s is a female institution that houses mothers and their children and assists them in getting back on their feet. They provide a structured environment in order to help women break free from their addictions. In addition to housing, the families served are treated to three hot meals a day prepared by a fantastic chef. For those who graduate from classes, they have the opportunity to gain work experience in the catering industry thanks to the help of a local business called Plates Cafe.

Working under the leadership of the chef, I was able to speak with several women who range from years of sobriety to only months. Although they all share similar experiences, they are very different from one another.

In the majority of cases, the mother’s addiction was affecting those around them as much as it was hurting themselves. As an addict becomes isolated, others begin to feel abandoned. Children start to feel abandoned when their parents aren't around as much. Sometimes parents aren’t sober long enough to care for their child. In some cases, the older children in denial will pick up a new role within the household.

One example is that the child may become the “mascot” of the family. These kids tend to look happy on the inside, but deep down they feel like giving up on life. Another example is when the child becomes the “scapegoat.” This is when the parents and other siblings target the child and blame them for the family’s problems. These children tend to follow in their parent’s footsteps and turn to addiction to cope with their emotions. One final example is when the child becomes the “hero” of the family. Children like this start to pick up new responsibilities and try to succeed in life.

Aside from children, neighbors, friends, and family members are also affected. When someone is addicted, they will do whatever it takes to protect their habit. This could include lying, stealing, and making promises they know they can’t keep. When people try to help, they may just get dragged down with the addict. If one’s partner is a victim of drug abuse, they could start to feel insecure of themselves. All victims of addiction have suffered through the same situations, but they are all different stories. (For the sake of anonymity, the names that will be used are pseudonyms).

One mother, Diana, has recently graduated from the Saint John’s program and now lives in her own apartment with her six children. She claimed a life of addiction is like, “throwing a family in a blender.” Although her parents were addicts themselves, Diana was a relatively good child, but she began to drink at only nine years old and smoking by the time she was 17. She also gave birth to her first child at 19 years old. Diana had a lot going for her. She had a job, a house, and now a newborn child. She thought her life was perfect and figured trying something like methamphetamine wouldn’t change her life. She began to use meth frequently. Though she had managed to hide it within her denial of having a problem. She started to leave home for longer periods of time just to attempt to make ends meet. Eventually, CPS stepped in and took her last child into custody and sent her to transitional housing. She soon learned of Saint John’s through her case worker and decided to give it a try.

Today, she has a job, her own apartment, and all of her children by her side. She had also stated that she finally had a “successful Christmas as a mother”.

Another mother I spoke with, Linda, was fairly new to the program. Contrary to most situations, her parents were sober, though her mother still neglected her. Linda’s parents were never around due to constant working or gambling. She began smoking at only 13 years old and was pregnant by 17, with her dealer as the child’s father. She soon began to experiment with ecstasy as well as a less-pure form of meth known as crank; however, for the next eight years, she managed to hold her life together. Eventually, she moved to stronger methamphetamine and became isolated from the ones she loves. Soon, she learned that her child’s father had left her for another man, which drove her into a deep depression. She then decided to move to Sacramento and attempt to start her life over. Her oldest daughter learned to become more mature, thus becoming the family “hero.” Though Linda tried to escape, trouble still seemed to follow her.

The children’s father started to come back around, and Linda lapsed back into her old ways. She started to feel paranoid and isolated herself even further from the world. Her daughter became anxious often and started to resent her parents. Living with the guilt of her daughter’s anxiety, Linda began to have suicidal thoughts. She soon became pregnant yet again, but decided to hide it from others thinking she wouldn't keep the child. By the time she gave birth, she realized that she had made a mistake with her life. When they tested the child, she was positive for multiple drugs and was taken by CPS. Linda decided to go to rehab to try and get her child back. It only lasted seven months before her ex came back once again, causing another relapse. She had managed to fake her drug tests for a whole year until she was finally caught. Linda was then sent back to rehab. The guilt of her children’s anger caused her to then begin drinking heavily, and she was soon sent to transitional housing where Saint John’s reached out to her.

Today, she lives on campus at Saint John’s and feels a sense of self-pride. Although she thinks her kids still resent her, Linda is working harder to become the mother her kids never had.

Another woman, Cindy, was yet another child seeking attention. Her parents neglected her, which drove her to run away and find affection somewhere else. Cindy also started getting caught in abusive relationships and eventually dropped out of high school. At 17 years old, she began to experiment with ecstasy as well as drinking heavily. Cindy soon lost her four kids to CPS and then lost her home. She began to feel self loathing and tried to find excuses. She soon found a pamphlet for Saint John’s and decided it was time for a change. She now has a fifth child who has become her moral support for her journey to a better life. Today, she has a positive outlook on life and works hard to achieve her goals.

The last woman I met with, Lana, has been sober for the past few years. She came from a good family, but she looked very mature for her age, which caught the attention of older men. This thought went to her head and she began to look for attention by smoking and drinking by the age of 14. While looking for love, she fell victim to domestic abuse, which has caused her to now suffer from PTSD. She began to experiment with meth and heroine to help her cope. She soon had two kids who she neglected. Her oldest refuses to live with her due to her nasty habits. Lana has been through 14 different institutions before finally reaching Saint John’s.

She now realizes that before her addiction, she had an undiagnosed mental health disorder that may have caused her to become addicted quickly. Her two kids are still drug free, and Lana couldn’t be any happier. In the end, no matter how different the story most victims of substance abuse face the same general experience. Through my research, I have learned that addiction doesn’t just hurt the individual; It hurts everyone that has been held close to that person as well. Helping someone in denial is never an easy task, but it takes a family to solve anything in life.

Saint John’s Program for Real Change is an experience I will never forget, from working side-by-side with an amazing chef or just meeting new people. From what I have seen, this program is one that truly works. They love and care for the women who come in as well their families. Saint John’s is always looking for more help. Feel free to visit their website at saintjohnsprogram.org or call (916)453-1482. Please help us fight addiction and create a better world for the next generation.