Emmy Hall, an Oregon teen, was 12 when her parents divorced. She and her mom moved to a new neighborhood. Looking back now, Emmy realizes how hurt, lonely and depressed she felt about the situation. She still remembers clearly the day a new friend she had made asked her if she had ever tried drinking alcohol. She said yes, because she wanted to seem cool. That was when she had her first drink. That was when it all started.
Even though she didn’t enjoy drinking at first, she kept it up to be part of the crowd and because it seemed to make her feel a little better about her situation. “I never thought that I could become an addict. I was 12. I had no idea what I was doing.”
Like most kids and adults who drink, Emmy made excuses that seemed to make it okay. Today, she’s concerned that many parents let their children drink at home, with the idea that at least they know where their kids are. “What they don’t realize, says Emmy emphatically, is that kids who start drinking when they’re underage like that are fifty percent more likely to become addicts. Their brains aren’t finished developing. It just messes them all up.”
In Emmy’s case, drinking soon led to other things. “Every time I tried a new drug, it was because I was intoxicated,” she says. When asked how many drugs she tried, she replied “It would be easier to name one I didn’t.” She started by experimenting with painkillers and Skittles and later on switched to drugs like heroin, cocaine and meth.
The effects of Emmy’s abuse of drugs and alcohol soon showed up at school. She was kicked out of her public middle school several times and went to a private one for a while, but finally ended up in an alternative learning center for kids with problems. Before finishing 8th grade there, she hitchhiked to Portland, Oregon, with a friend. When the friend ditched her, she hitchhiked to Los Angeles by herself. She was officially a runaway and a drug and alcohol addict.
“At one point, I weighed 86 pounds,” she says incredulously. “One day when I had no place to stay, no money and no food, I sent up a little prayer for those three things. I’m not sure what made me do it, but I went and turned myself in to the Los Angeles police as a runaway. I got what I had asked for an 8 by 8 cell for shelter, food, and transportation back home to a detention center in Oregon. I stayed there for two weeks, thinking I’d get out and go back to my old ways. That was when my probation officer told me I was going to rehab.” The facility was way out in the middle of nowhere, and at first I just sulked. There was no escape, so I just told them what I knew they wanted to hear. I had a negative attitude, though. My heart wasn’t in it, and the only thing I could find to abuse was a pen. I managed to mutilate my arm with it.”
Emmy says she was at the rehab center for three months before she really began to work on her problem. “One day somebody said something funny, and I smiled. They were like, What’s with her? She’s smiling.” Her negative attitude had changed to a positive one. “After that, I began to join group activities and talk and work on my problem. Two months later, I graduated from the program and went to live with my dad. I stayed with him for a year and a half. Then I went to live with my mom.”
Today, at 18, Emmy is on schedule to graduate from high school on time. She’s been accepted at an art institute, but may go to community college for a year while she does a bit more thinking about which path to take in the future. She already works as a photographer and layout artist for a weekly newspaper section called Under 21, and also works with mentally disabled adults, a job that gives her a lot of satisfaction.
She feels badly about what she put her family through. “I totally took advantage of my mom,” she says, “but she is amazing. That’s all I can say. She knows how to make me see that I’m acting outrageous without making me feel bad about it. She’s a genius.” She worries about her little brother, now 13, and hopes he won’t get into the same kind of trouble she did.
Does Emmy consider herself cured? ”No! I’m scared!” she groans. “I have to be really careful to stay away from stuff. I am an addict. It’s in my genes.” She is involved in an aftercare program called On Track, and that helps.
It also helps that she has friends who would like to kick their bad habits, and that Emmy can be an inspiration to them to do it. She says most kids don’t realize that after the high, they will get dropped into the lowest low they can imagine.
“Peer pressure works both ways,” she says. “I work with a CADCA coalition, and we have a thing we call “Take it Back”, It’s like reverse peer pressure.”
Emmy said part of what helped her recover from drug addiction was joining a CADCA community coalition and getting involved in CADCA’s National Youth Leadership Initiative. Thanks to the program, she’s now a role model for other kids and is learning how to prevent drug use in her community.
“You know, kids like to think that they’re rebelling against society. But if they drink and drug, they’re going along with the crowd. I say if you want to be a rebel, rebel against drugs and alcohol. I’m clean and sober, and I’m proud of it. And I am so happy now. That means so much. I can be happy without the drugs, without the alcohol. They didn’t make me happy. They just made things worse.”
Article is from the NIE tab, “Stay Smart, Don’t Start” produced by the Washington Times and distributed by the NIE Institute.