I got up a little bit earlier this morning than what I have been over this nearly week and a half off because I do have to work this coming week – and that means the alarm goes off at 5 am. As I was picking up a little in the living room, I noticed the light of a police car up the road at a house that I would not normally be able to see if the foliage was out, but as it was winter, I could. Along with the blue lights of the county police cars were also the red lights of emergency vehicles; another drove up while I was watching, siren off. I thought it was weird, but as I could not glean any other information at the time from my living room, I went on with my day. Elizabeth noticed the lights when she got up a little bit later, but we quickly forgot about them when we sat down to eat breakfast.
This evening, I was to find out that one young man of the family at the house down the road had overdosed on heroin in the early morning. It was sad news when I heard it, but when I realized that I had seen the emergency vehicles on site for the incident, it hit home or something, and, ugh, a terrible sadness entered me.
The thing is that I live in a very small town, we have one stoplight – do you want to re-count that: 1 stoplight. We have about as many cows as we do people here. A notable majority of our population is horse-and-buggy Mennonite. Yet, we have had 3 heroin overdoses in the past 2 months, only one of which the paramedics could save the victim in time.
Victim. Yes, I do believe that drug users are victims. The entire community is victim to drug dealers if we have one user, and the drug users are the ones that lose most of all. That’s not to say that we don’t each have a choice in the things we do, because I also believe we do, yet I feel that each death to drugs, each youth lost, is a problem for the whole community, not just because drugs have infiltrated the county lines, but because something is off if drugs are the path that our youth are choosing.
When I heard about the incident, I was also out purchasing supplies for homemade mini pizzas at Elizabeth’s request. I don’t give in to each whim she has, yet I try to honor her requests when she wants to help and be creative, and since I had no other plans for what to make for dinner, I thought it was a good idea. So, I got the ingredients and she and I made little pizzas. While we were making them, Elizabeth got out the cookie cutters and made little gingerbread men-shaped pizzas with the dough. Cool.
Earlier this week, Paul requested pancakes (aka: cookies – yeah, I taught my kid that pancakes are cookies – and you can too!), so I made pancakes. A few days later, he wanted more, and Elizabeth wanted colored pancakes, so she devised a plan on how to make each pancake a different color! So, we did.
What I taught them in this was more than how to make mini pizzas or colored pancakes, but that I think their ideas are valuable enough to act on. I validated them. I didn’t validate their ideas, I validated who they are. Personally, I truly believe, that validation can help curb drug use, and may be the most powerful way. Don’t we all want to know that we are important? Don’t we all want to know that we are a valuable addition to society, even if we aren’t perfect; even if we look different; even if we speak different; even if we don’t have the best job, or the biggest house, or enough money for brand-new clothes?
In their book, The Power of Validation: Arming Your Child Against Bullying, Peer Pressure, Addiction, Self-Harm & Out-of-Control Emotions, Karyn D. Hall, PhD, and Melissa H. Cook, LPC, define validation as “the recognition and acceptance that your child has feelings and thoughts that are true to him regardless of logic or whether it makes sense to anyone else. To validate is to offer acceptance and feedback about the other person’s reality in a nonjudgmental way. To validate is to acknowledge and accept a person’s individual identity.” Don’t we all want to feel accepted? Don’t we all want to feel that what we have to say or what we feel is ok?
Do you remember that scene in Disney’s Inside Out where Sadness sits down with the imaginary elephant friend (can’t think of his name) and consoles him because his wagon rocket had just gotten thrown down into the lost memory pit? Sadness validates him in that moment. It’s also the moment in which Joy stops invalidating Sadness, because up until that point, she had treated Sadness as though her part was unimportant – as though she was unimportant because she thought that sadness had no place in the young girl, Riley’s, life. At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about the movie because I had only watched it in bits and pieces, but I sat down with the kids today and watched the second half of it in it’s entirety, and I really liked the end. I liked how the memories became rainbow colored, which to me showed a depth of feeling and complexity that became available to the girl as she grew. I really liked that message: that it’s ok to be happy, sad, angry, afraid, and disgusted all at the same time – the same time.
What if the young man who died today had been allowed to feel all of that at the same time? Would he have chosen to try alcohol, marijuana, heroin at all? Maybe. But maybe not.
His death is no one’s fault, and I do not at all want to point the finger at anyone. Yet his death is all of our faults.
What can we learn from his death? Grief, sadness, anger. Yes. Can we become angry enough to disallow drug dealers in our communities? For goodness sake I hope so. I was told that there is a meeting this month on drug use in the youth of our community, and though my daughter is just 5, I would like to go. But I don’t want to go only for her, I want to go for my whole community. Let us be angry enough to eradicate it.
But that’s just half of the battle. Because it wasn’t all the drug dealer’s fault. There would be no drug dealers if there was no one to buy the drugs. And this leads us back to validation. If a youth feels that they are enough before the pressures of drugs, alcohol and other risky behaviors, will they be tempted to try it? Or will they “Just say no to drugs”? Education about different drugs and their effects and the threat of jail-time or even death don’t seem to be making an impact. What if these kids feel that they are good enough before they get asked to use, that they are ok just as they are, and that their futures are ok, whatever it will be? What if it were ok to be athletic but not book smart? What if it were ok to come from a low income family? What if it were ok to have chicken legs? What if it were ok to be overweight? What if it were ok to be artistic but not mathematical? Mathematical and not artistic? What if it were ok to get mediocre grades? What if it were ok to have only one parent? What if it were ok to be a different color, or to not celebrate Christmas, or to speak a different language at home? What if you felt like you were ok just as you were? What if it were ok for you to be just who you are?
Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
Do you know what? It is. It is ok for you to be who you are, and you are important. It’s ok that you are different from me, and that I am different from you.
Let us impart this message on our youth, because it’s obvious that they so need it.