It has been a couple of years since I graduated from Roosevelt High School, and I have recently been told by a current Roosevelt student that the subject of drug abuse within the school has been alarmingly neglected and swept under the rug. I found this to be incredibly disturbing because whether students and faculty choose to overlook this matter or not, the fact is that there is a drug problem at Roosevelt, and there has been for a long time.
Since I was a freshman, I was never around drugs very much, I secluded myself and was often alone, so I barely knew anything about drug abuse, or the popular scene at Roosevelt as a whole. I only really knew about drugs from stories told by a few peers here and there, and maybe shows like “Intervention” or MTV’s “True Life”, but other than that, I was basically oblivious, living in my own little world, completely unaware of how bad drug abuse really was in the world around me. When I took the mandatory healthy class in freshman year we had a brief unit on drug abuse where we studied different types of popular drugs and their negative effects on people. Being shown those terrifying and overly dramatic before and after photos of people who became addicted to the basic, well-known hard drugs such as heroin, meth, and cocaine, I remember thinking and ignorantly assuming, “Holy shit, how do these people end up like this? They must be really stupid or have really fucked up lives.” I also remember assuming that not many people used these harmful drugs, and most of these addicts were either homeless or living in trailer parks or trap houses. Clearly this is an incredibly ignorant and false assumption that many of us make, when the reality of the situation is that drug abuse and addiction of any sort can happen to any of us despite our appearance, status, wealth, or living situation.
Anyways, flash forward to my senior year of high school, I had just gotten out of a controlling relationship and went from knowing no one and knowing nothing about the party scene at Roosevelt, to diving head first into parties, alcohol, drugs, and constantly meeting new and different types of people. I entered the scene pretty late so I had just begun doing all the crazy shit in my senior year that most of you had already been doing for years by then. I was ecstatic to finally be a part of all the kegs, spodies, and popular gossip that I had basically known nothing about during my whole prior high school experience. I had begun attending a lot of house and UW parties, sneaking in with my friend trying to casually act like a college student, I became a regular at Twamp, started skipping all my classes, and began making new friends left and right. I was introduced to a variety different types of drugs every weekend, watching people (myself included) get fucked up out of their mind on whatever high they could get their hands on, varying from weed (of course), to cocaine, acid, molly, Xanax (and a variety of other pills), heroin, lean, you name it. By the time my senior year was quickly coming to an end, I had built a consistent schedule of going to school Monday through Friday just to skip and go hang out with friends, party Friday night and sleep through Saturday, party Saturday night and sleep through Sunday, then wake up at the ass crack of dawn on Monday morning to do it all again (yes, back in my day we actually had to wake up early for school). Although my lifestyle became incredibly unhealthy due to the fact that everything I did revolved around drugs, alcohol, and partying I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that I was having the time of my life. Everything was great, I had a whole new group of amazing, loving, and lively friends, I was having a ton of new and exciting experiences, I was carefree living in the moment with not one real worry other than maybe the panic of possibly not having a prom date.
Eventually prom and graduation came and went, and that is when reality and the real world began to set in, for some of us quicker than others. I initially planned to write about drug abuse at Roosevelt, but what I really want to emphasize is drug abuse after Roosevelt, because that’s when a divide begins to appear, of people choosing different paths in life, this divides those who struggle with drug abuse, addiction, and everything else that can come along with it like prison, violence, homelessness, depression, etc., then there is those who make it out of the drug abuse cycle, who eventually find their sobriety and learn to maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle, and then there are those who teeter on the fence, torn between completely falling into drug addiction, and finding sobriety and a healthy balance.
Watching this divide happen to my beloved friends and myself was and is the most heartbreaking, but also the most inspirational experience I have ever endured. After graduating, what I learned is that high school helped us maintain a set structure in our lives, no matter what crazy shit we did or what happened that weekend, we all still ended up back at Roosevelt in class, come Monday morning. But after graduation, that structure disappears. We are given full freedom to finally do what we want to, no more mandatory attendance and dreaded phone calls home if marked absent, no more forced schedule or adults breathing down our necks telling us what to do or how to live. For some of us, this freedom was used to attend a University/ Community College, work, travel, or simply just follow our dreams, whatever they may be, but for others it meant more free time to turn up, party and do drugs, and then for some it meant trying to juggle both.
Because of this, within the months eventually turning into years, I saw some friends and acquaintances who struggled with addiction attempt to get sober, other than a couple of relapses here and there, a few succeeded and have been sober off of their drug of choice or all drugs for a year, and some are well into their second year of sobriety. Other friends and acquaintances of mine, myself included, have been sober on and off since graduation whether they are addicts or just recreational users, and are still in the process of fighting their addictions or trying to maintain a healthy balance between partying and work, but are still sort of in the process of struggling to figure out where to draw the line. Then, I have loved ones in my life who have found it incredibly hard to get sober for one reason or another, some have tried to fight their addiction, but in the end of the day the struggle to stay sober can be to be too painful and difficult to endure, and there are other people who have become incredibly disconnected and lost within their addictions, and trust me, it is unbelievably easy to do this.
One day, we were just oblivious, lively young kids in high school partying, trying new things, new drugs, new lifestyles, meeting new people; then flash forward a couple of months, then years, and our whole lives have been flipped, a couple of people going in and out of jail for drug related charges, a couple forced into homelessness in order to feed their addiction, and some winding up dead from and overdosing right before our eyes, leaving us all to wonder, how did they get here… how did I get here? How did experimenting with drugs go from “just this once”, to “okay, maybe just a few times”, then to that drug sneaking up on you and becoming a part of who you are, and not even knowing how or when it go this bad, drowning within your addiction, and not even knowing where you are or which way is up. And one of the hardest parts is that people around you seem to not even know how to help you, and eventually most of them just stop trying, and they fade away. I am guilty of giving up on an addict, I gave up on one of my friends after the pain of watching them struggle with their addiction became unbearable, but what I neglected to understand was that even though it hurt to see my beautiful friend suffer, it always hurt them more. If there is one thing out there that is more painful than loving and trying to help an addict, it is being an addict yourself. And by the time I realized this reality, it was too late and that person I had once loved so much was lying in a casket in front of me, and I don’t I think I can ever begin to attempt to put into words the feelings I felt in that moment. It is something that I will never be able to forget or let go of, what my friend needed was love, support, meaningful connections, and solid reasons and motives to stay sober, not for people to cut them off or give them the cold shoulder, in the hopes that secluding them would motivate them to become sober.
I wish someone had told me this back when I was in high school, I wish someone had told me that drug addiction can happen to anyone and with any drug, not just those overly dramatic examples shown in health class, and I wish that I had really understood the reality of what me and everyone around me was doing, and the seriousness and extent to which the “just this once” or “fuck it” mentality could be taken to. I never thought that years later the people I love would still be struggling with addiction, and I never thought anyone would die. I wish someone had told me that me and my friends are not special, that we are no less at risk for drug addiction than anyone else out there, I wish someone had told us that addiction should always be taken seriously, whether you think the addiction is “severe” or not, because the reality is that every addiction is severe. I wish someone had told me that addicts do not need to be isolated and ignored in order for them to take those brave and difficult steps to reaching out for help and getting sober, but instead need to be loved, accepted, and supported through their path to recovery. I wish someone had told me these things back when I was in high school, and that’s why I am telling you.
The Teen Health Center at Roosevelt is a loving, comfortable, and easily accessible environment for any students to confide in and find services to help with a variety of related circumstances whether you are abusing drugs or at risk of addiction, suffering from addiction, or supporting a loved one with their addiction.
graphic by: Savannah Wellenstein