It was an unexpected surprise for Mom and changed their lives.
I was blessed with two wonderful sons that are five years apart. Our oldest, Paul, an imaginative child, was happy playing with his toys wherever you put him down. A delightful toddler, he made towers with blocks, knocked them down and did it all over again. He loved it when I played with him but he was fine all alone, making up his own world. It was a treat having this sweet bright child that seldom threw a tantrum. At the time, I was busy working; going to college plus keeping up a home.
Our second son came after difficult years of trying to conceive. It was a complicated birth but what a beautiful baby. Chris was allergic to my breast milk with a high bilirubin. I remember crying as I stood outside the nursery watching his Dad feed him soy bean formula. I had a fever and since the lab work wasn't back they couldn't determine the cause, I was isolated from my little guy.
Once we took our little redhead home, he was a delightful baby but more active than number one. The world was one big adventure and he was out to discover and conquer all. Between getting lost in the mall by wandering off to falling down a plywood set of basement steps, he managed to survive with bumps and bruises. He swallowed a metal ball from a game and just laughed. After all, those were the days of Pac-Man and he bragged, “Mommy, I needed a power pellet.” That was one of many Emergency Room visits.
When I washed his clothes, I was afraid to check his pockets. He collected all kinds of live and dead “things” . My husband and I always referred to him secretly as “Pig-Pen”, the character from the Charlie Brown cartoons. He was constantly getting in the creek or dirt piles just to “look for treasures”. His Grandpa called him “Tear-all”. With muddy hands, Chris would reach up to us wanting hugs and kisses.
One thing our boys had in common was their love for each other. They held hands whenever we went on a vacation. I had told Paul to watch over Chris so many times, it came naturally. As they grew older, Chris would “accidentally” fall into Paul’s Lego sets he had spent hours building. Occasionally, Paul would push Chris down or just yell in frustration. Brothers!
I was working as an RN full time and their Dad was out of town quite often with work. We tried to arrange our hours to always have one of us at home. I worked the night shift to be there when the boys got home from school and I loved that. Of course, it was hard on our marriage though.
During the eighties and nineties, it seemed both parents worked in our subdivision. We all wanted the new lovely house, the vacation to Disney, brand name clothing and our children to be able to go to college. Plus we wanted them to join in all the extra curricular activities that were available. Everyone in the house was always going in a separate direction as the years flew by.
I was still doing all the family laundry. The boys were teenagers by that time. Paul had decided on a college and was about to graduate from high school. He wasn’t even home very often with a part time job and played in an award winning orchestra and symphony. They traveled around the country for competitions and parades, even to be in a movie called "Leader of the Band".
I remember the day I put Chris’ laundry away that changed our lives. I told both boys their rooms were their sanctuary and I wouldn’t go through their private things unless I had a good reason. As parents, we had the sex and drugs talk. Their Dad was a heavy cigarette smoker and Paul had asthma. They both had promised not to smoke but I knew Chris had probably tried that and maybe marijuana. I knew Paul had tried mj. I expected some dips into rebellious pursuits.
I laid the fresh laundry down on Chris’ cluttered desk and threw away a couple of empty soda cans. In the trash was a plain brown paper bag. I could smell an acetone odor. I opened the bag and found an empty spray paint can. I felt a heaviness in my heart because I just knew it had been used for huffing. Chris was at his friend’s house who had spent the night. I had worked the night before and had looked in on them before I went to bed that morning. There had been a strange smell in the room then but I was exhausted and ignored it. My husband was leaving when I came in. I am sure he had probably been downstairs watching TV and possibly didn't check on the kids.
I called Chris to come home and he admitted to huffing right away. He also told me that it wasn’t the first time and that his chest was bothering him. I decided scaring him might be the best thing so I took him to the Emergency Room at the hospital where I worked. After a wait and chest x-ray, we told the physician what had happened. Going to drug rehabilitation was the next stop for Chris. It seemed to take for a while as we went to meetings and therapy.
Sadly, it wasn’t Chris’ last time to go to Rehab.
I know many parents that have gone through this now and it never gets any easier. You worry all the time. As a family, we have gone to some of his friend’s funerals. As an RN, I have comforted family members of a patient that has died but there is nothing to say to parents of a twenty year old whose life has barely even begun.
The US Army was one vital step that straightened out Chris’ life. 2001 was a terrible year for all of us. My Mom almost died after extensive surgery and ended up in an Alzheimer's Unit. Then my ex-husband and the boy's father died of COPD at age 57. His mother died one week before her son from a stroke. Then of course, there was 9/11. Chris wanted to serve and also believed it would give him the discipline and skills he needed for a better life.
Of course, being in the Army almost took his life in Iraq when his Humvee was hit. We were fortunate to have him come home to us.
Now he is a grown married man with a fifteen year old son of his own. I know he has spoken to him about his own addiction and how important it is to stay away from anything mood altering. I know how they worry about the challenges my grandson faces.
I would have liked to write fiction, fantasy, fairy tales or science fiction that so many enjoy. The real truth of our lives rips a hole in the soul that no balm can ease. Addiction often goes from generation to generation, without stopping to breathe. Like a hurricane it can destroy all in its path: lives, property, love, friendships, family relationships, money, jobs and your very sanity.
Having children is a joy but also a huge responsibility. You can’t be with them every moment and they have to grow up. What you can do is try to model behavior that is responsible because they don’t always listen, but they do watch how we live our lives.
By Kathie Stehr
Note: People who use inhalants breathe in the fumes through their nose or mouth, usually by sniffing, snorting, bagging, or huffing. It’s called different names depending on the substance and equipment they use. It gives the user a psycho active high. Typically these products have a skull and crossbones on it-kids don’t always notice that kind of thing.