When did you first realize you were dealing with a drug addiction problem?
We probably first realized when he was arrested as a junior in high school when he took ecstasy and ended up going to jail for eight days. I think that was really the first time we realized that we had a problem bigger than what we originally suspected. The marijuana use, especially at age 12, it was just so unbelievable that a twelve-year-old could even get his hands on something like that. But I think he was probably 18 when we first realized something was wrong. He was in the Spanish immersion program. By the time he was a senior in high school, there were maybe 30 kids left in the program. And Jack wasn’t doing his work. These kids had all gone to school together from kindergarten to their senior year together and they all took classes and did extracurricular activities together. We got called into the high school and they said they’re not allowing Jack to graduate with the other immersion students. He could graduate from high school but they were not going to let him participate in any of immersion activities. That was the first major blow. At that point, Jack knew that other people knew. He had always kind of been a rebel, and he always had a reputation as kind of a thug, I guess. But this sealed the deal and they weren’t going to let him continue on. So he didn’t get to walk with all the other immersion students at their own private graduation.
For my son, it was when he came and told me nine years ago. For my daughter, it was when she was caught driving under the influence — and her son was 6 at that time. But it was some years later when we found out about the other drug use.
One thing that happens with parents when we are faced with a situation like this is we kind of lose track of time and space because it’s such a horrible thing to have to endure. And when my son was sick and relapsing, I thought at least I have one child that is healthy — and then I found out later that both of my children are sick. And it’s like … how could anybody ever deal with more than one kid being sick? Welcome to my world.
We realized there was an issue during football season of Brady’s senior year in high school. We didn’t know how big of an issue it was until we started to dig a little deeper and, realistically, it reared its ugly head for us. Looking back now, we saw sleeping patterns change, we saw eating habits change, we saw academics drop and we saw different friends. And as parents, you don’t want to call a spade a spade especially when it’s your son or your daughter.
During football season he would bulk up because he wanted to get strong and he would eat a lot. During wrestling he would want to drop weight, so he would stop eating. And that’s how we justified his changing eating habits. And because Brady was so active in life, it wasn’t uncommon for Brady to be bouncing around in his bedroom at all times of the night. We dealt with that since he was a little baby. We could easily justify his changing sleeping patterns. But looking back now, we saw all the signs but we refused to accept the fact of what those signs were. And that’s one of the things that we tell parents: be prepared to get the call and be prepared to accept the call. I wasn’t.
It probably was when she got caught ripping off drugs from my father. My mother called me up and said that my father didn’t have as many pain pills as he used to have in the medicine cabinet.
It was gradual. A lot of denial delayed it for a long time. And also back then, there were not the resources that there are now to educate one’s self. Actual signs were, I would find aluminum foil and dirty tissues and used cotton. The girls would be locked in the bathroom for hours. My spoons were mostly gone and my jewelry, other than what I wear, that was all gone. And then with Bailey – when I was doing her hair that one time, I just looked at her. She was just a mess.
So for Bailey, my eye-opener was when we went to Fairbanks that first time. I never missed a parents meeting. I did nothing but research. Got involved in groups. Met other parents. Learned as much as I could. I would go to open meetings with her to hear other addicts. Bailey and I spoke at the State House to help pass the Narcan law.
Travis: When Tyler told me he was using heroin in October, 2010. He flat-out told me. That’s when it became real life for me. Shelly probably knew there was a problem before that. Tyler was always doing a lot of things right and in my eyes Tyler was going through a phase
You’re going to see your son or daughter take the things in life they love the most and pull back. In Tyler’s case it was golf. This kid would play golf from eight in the morning until six or seven in the evening. We’d drop him off at the golf course when he was 12 years old with a packed lunch and he’d play all day with the old guys, young guys, he’d play with everybody. But once you start getting into active addiction, you start withdrawing. Because now you’re being driven by addiction. And nothing is important to you. The things you love, the things you treasure, your family, your friends, you start pulling back.
The other thing that makes no sense in this is when Tyler was using, he was doing all the right things. Meaning he couldn’t function unless he was using. So when he was using, he could come around us. When he was using, he could go to class. He could go do his normal activities. When he was in withdrawal was when you actually thought he was using, because he’s laying in the basement sick and he’s laying there for three days and you think he’s using drugs. But no, he’s actually in withdrawal. It’s the total opposite and I didn’t understand that until after the fact.
Wayne – Despite any conversations you would have with him, he would get his scholarship check and just go out and buy drugs. And not pay rent. That’s when we went “whoa”.
Christy – We didn’t know he was buying drugs. We just knew his money was disappearing.
Wayne – The financial trail is probably the easiest one to track. That’s your come to Jesus time.
Christy – And you’ll notice things missing in your house that you knew were in a certain place and they’re now gone. Like personal items, jewelry, video games, tools, and you would never ever suspect that your child would do that. Our son would not do that. That’s just never how he was. But you start to notice things … our younger sons noticed that some of their video games were missing …
Wayne – … and their piggy banks were empty. Just weird stuff. And they all do it. They hurt the ones they love the most first because they’ll pay them back tomorrow. They mean to. But they can’t. Because tomorrow the addiction says they need to use again.
Christy – You know what Tyler told us? We went up to see him on a parent weekend up in Glenbeigh and we were sitting on a picnic table outside. It was a beautiful day. And he said “Let me explain addiction. When you guys wake up in the morning, you start here at zero. And you get your coffee and you get going and your day progresses to a 5 or 7. But when I wake up in the morning, I’m down here. I start at negative 5. So I have to use to get to where you’re at, just to get my day started.” Because your body is physically in pain and so you need to use to just function.
Wayne – And it’s not about getting high at that point. It is about feeling normal like everyone else. So then you realize you didn’t know it was that bad.
Christy – What’s heartbreaking is you know that they want to get better. They tell you they want to get better and do all of the right things. But the disease is so strong that it drives them off of that path.
Wayne – Yeah. So many stories come from that family day at Glenbeigh. I started looking around at these people and I’m realizing they were professors. There was this guy there, 6’4”, looked athletic. His wife was like the trophy wife, blond hair, three little kids. They looked like the Ken and Barbie family. I asked Ty “What’s his deal?” And Ty said he’s a surgeon. And that guy is a doctor. He’s a dentist. He’s an attorney. I was dumbfounded.
Christy – That was a learning experience for us. We were sitting in a room with a small group of people in a circle. We had to be face to face with our loved one. And in that room I remember there was a dentist. A young guy in his 30’s. And his wife was there with him. In our heads, we always thought Tyler was not like these other drug users or these people on the streets using drugs with the dirty fingernails and laying in the gutters. When we were at Glenbeigh and saw all of these professionals and business owners there too, we thought “Wow”.
Wayne – At Glenbeigh I saw this girl with red hair, black fingernails, tattoos and I said “There’s your addict.” And Ty said “Dad, we’re all addicts here.”
Wayne – When they get sober, they get very um… honest. It’s like truth serum. And then they’re saying stuff you really don’t want to hear.