On September 20th, three Rose Hill residents had the opportunity to visit the Saranac Lake High School. Last spring, three other residents spoke to several senior English classes and the event was so well received, that the school’s administration coordinated this opportunity for the residents to share their “experience, strength, and hope.” Since, I cannot name the residents due to confidentiality, it is difficult to convey their powerful message.
The format for this visit was different, with the residents speaking in four, one-hour, presentations which encompassed the entire student body broken into random groups based upon their last names. This made for a diverse age group of the audience, and there were a few students who were moved enough to sit through the session multiple times.
The residents were just as diverse. One was close to completing his treatment experience, one closer to the middle of his stay, and the other had been at Rose Hill only a couple of weeks. Two of the residents were male. One of the residents was completing his second time at Rose Hill and two of the residents had been in treatment before. All of them were able to share that this time they were taking their recoveries seriously and that there had been serious losses in their lives – from family trust to their freedom.
As the residents shared their stories, it was as noticeable that, as so often happens in stories of addiction, the details were remarkably unique, but the common threads of a downward, out of control spiral in active addiction, followed by the glitter of hope that there is a new way of life on the other side of the darkness always shines through. One resident shared how her feelings of abandonment and the pressing need to be “accepted” and part of a “group,” led her to make poor choices regarding substance use. Another talked about the pain and insecurity of family disintegration, parental addiction, and the “chicken and egg” conundrum of co-occurring disorders such as anxiety and depression.
All of them shared that they had wished that they had been able to sit in the audience of such a presentation themselves, and to make different choices than what had brought them to Rose Hill. They also shared their gratitude for the chance to share their pain and to urge others to learn from their experiences, rather than having to go through their own. They acknowledged that every adolescent struggles with their own issues but encouraged them to reach out – to each other, to family and concerned staff members.
As I stood off to the side, occasionally prompting with questions, I watched the connection that the young people were able to make. The residents shared with an openness and vulnerability that most adults couldn’t muster. Their authenticity and sincerity seemed to disarm the cynicism with which many adolescents shield themselves and allow for a serious exchange about the pain of addiction and growing up.
Aron McLaughlin, Rose Hill Primary Counselor