A few weeks ago I was speaking with the principal of a local high school about rising alcohol and drug issues that his school is experiencing. Upon my second visit with this young man, he took a moment to share with me that his half-brother, at only thirty years old, died of a drug overdose a few days prior. While the family was aware of some issues with their loved one, they didn’t think it could get this bad. They certainly never imagined losing a son or a brother!
The principal, whom I’ll call Ryan, was visibly perplexed. He shared about how his father knew about the struggle that his now-deceased son had been going through, but didn’t want to say much about it to anyone because of what might be perceived.
- What if my friends or colleagues know that I have a family member suffering from drug addiction or alcoholism?
- How will I be viewed as a parent?
- Will that affect how people see me and feel about me in other aspects of my life?”
These are thoughts—either conscious or subconscious—that can form the way we choose to approach situations involving troubles with addiction or a variety of mental health issues.
After Ryan shared his personal struggle with me, expressing his own helplessness and care for the situation, we turned the discussion to the problems his school is facing. I was shocked to hear that they were doing nothing to prevent or curb drug and alcohol use in their school. Zero. No money budgeted for it. No programs in place. No data available for how big the problem. They just know that there is a big problem.
What really caught my ear was hearing Ryan share about the barriers to taking action. He shared about how there is a general concern by some who feared acknowledging the problem because of how the school might look upon putting a drug prevention program in place. He mentioned, “There’s a fear that if we start educating parents and students about the implications of drug use while doing things like giving tools on handling social situations where drugs are offered, we might be viewed as the school with the drug problem.”
I immediately thought about the situation with Ryan’s younger brother. It saddened me. It brought to mind all of those individuals and families who battle the struggle between getting help and risking their public perception. It’s a struggle that I acknowledge is not an easy one to handle. This doesn’t just happen on an individual level, it happens in our communities: our schools, our churches, and our country.
Seeking help for ourselves and others is really hard. It means we have to get our hands dirty and acknowledge things that we’d rather turn our heads from. It doesn’t mean that we’re any more loveable, respectable, or worthy of grace. In fact, the opposite is true! The more people we invite into all of our lives, the more we are supported, loved, and capable of finding solutions. When we invite God into our homes, our schools, and our communities, He takes root and seeks to change things for the better. Not necessarily all at once, but often incrementally.
It’s time to shake the fear of shame and bind ourselves together in a helping way. Having the humility to reach out for help, like Ryan has shown in caring for his students, is the first step in this process. As individuals and as institutions, our attachment to the perception of others can have dangerous—sometimes deadly—consequences.
After all, taking action and overturning the rock means coming face-to-face with the problem. It requires taking an honest assessment of where we’re at, where we want to be, and what steps need to be taken in order to get there. Ryan and his school are taking that difficult plunge in order to put the wellness of their students ahead of the public perception of their prestigious school. Let’s pledge to acknowledge the need for help in our own lives, and be willing to offer it when others do the same.
Note: Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that we’re responsible for the mistakes made by our loved ones who choose their addiction over the solution. It’s important to establish healthy barriers when a loved one is deep in their addiction. However, when the situation is not acknowledged due to fear of our own shame or risk of our public perception, we’re doing more harm than good. For more information on caring for a family member suffering from addiction, visit this Hazelden Betty Ford resources page.