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When did I start hugging strangers?

When the special agents first asked if I would interview for the documentary, I reluctantly agreed. I figured I owed some penance or responsibility to my children to make it right, as if that was possible. Yet I reeled at the thought of confessing sins and pretending to find purpose or be an example, while I often lingered in the dark places in my soul. 

I believe that until recently, I have felt unworthy of stepping forward and into the light … I understand now I bring with me my children, the brightest stars in all of my days on this Earth. I also share wisdom earned brutally.

Filming ended nearly 4 years ago, and only last year did I realize that sharing our story wasn’t a self imposed punishment, but in fact a PRIVILEGE. I realized that by focusing on others and empathizing with their pain, I was healing my own. Perhaps selfish in a sense, but if my self preservation helps you and you help me, what difference does it make? My motives are to make a difference and force change. That’s all that matters now.

Last night, we held a townhall screening of, “Chasing the Dragon”, after which a panel of experts from FBI, DEA, Virginia Department on Opiates, Virginia Department on Behavioral Medicine, other agencies and a disheveled me, answered questions from the community.  Wow…what a curveball life has thrown me. I never thought I’d be this woman. Here I was sitting in the middle of a row of officials I used to never think about, then not too long ago, tried to get far away from . Now I was one of them and they were me. WE were a collective spirit united in our desire to stop the unnecessary death of so many gifted people.

I’ve never been a hugger. I was raised by proud people who kept their secrets secret and their heads high. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but in combination with my naturally aloof nature and a life that’s conditioned a tough interior, sometimes people have misjudged me as arrogant. I never lost sleep over what “they” thought and still don’t, as I’ve been been dealing with it all of my life. While I won’t deny that I can be dismissive and uncaring about people and things that are of a negative nature, I’ve always had a soft spot for fighting injustice. This trait has also manifested in both of my children.

Yes, I can be explosive. Yes, I say what I feel and think. Yes, I can be viciously mean if you hurt me first. I’m flawed and ditzy, distracted and angry and all of that at times but, I’m free now . Free to finally be ME without concern for disapproval or disappointment. Recently I heard a clip that opened one of the many locked doors in my mind… The roots of advocacy are based in anger. It’s not only human, it’s a sign of significant growth to need to make sense of your pain and loss by saving others from the same. Well, if that’s the case , then this was what Katrina (and Kirstyn), were born to do …

To allow myself to finally see the potential goodness of mankind and how awesome humanity CAN be, was once unthinkable. Ha, imagine that coming out of my cynical mind. But, it’s oddly true. I think of all the souls I’ve met in person and online over the past few years and how they’ve shared their heartbreak, thoughts and encouragement with me.

Where would I be without you? Thank you for inspiring me and giving me the strength to inspire…♡

Reflecting on last night, I think of the sweet custodian lady, working overtime at the busy rural high school as she limped down the hall. When she realized I was in the documentary, she was so adorably enthused. She was so grateful we took the time to care, clearly clueless to how her smile and attitude impacted me.

I think on the teen faces I studied.  I could see pained confusion in their eyes as big stats are rolled off the tongues and rhetoric on gateway drugs is delivered. Of course, in true teen spirit, they pretended they weren’t really fazed, just oddly annoyed and distracted by… who knows.

I think on the loving and honest strangers who opened up about their children struggling, hugging me with real compassion and no judgment. They thanked me for self depricating honesty, as I realized for a second , how really bad it had been and certainly looked to others. Being told you’re amazing just for getting truth off your chest is hard to fathom, especially when you don’t see that in yourself.  I always imagined the harsh judgment and criticism from the public but was ready to face it and meet it head on. I knew no one could guilt me more than myself. But, I also knew the mother I was and how my children were my life , whether they were grown up or not …

I’ve been merely surviving until recently, too numb to feel the fire that stirs us to rise higher than ever required to defeat fears and grief that almost took you down for the knock out. Oh yes, I’ve had sparks of desire for change and allowed my anger to take me through the motions . However , now, I’m doing more than surviving. I’m trying to LIVE and believe in a life of promise, against all odds, and I think that doesn’t make me amazing, it makes me human.

One man possessing a similar swag to Sam Shepherd, asked me if he could get my thoughts on something. Admittedly, I have far too much experience on harmful vices for one person but hoped he didn’t expect any “ocean parting” wisdom from me. I recognize I’m still lost and finding my own way. 

He explained he had 4 sons and that one of them, an adult at age 27, finally confessed to him not long ago that he was an “addict”. You could see the desperation in his face as he described all he has tried to do to get his son help. He said the rehabs told him they could “fix” his son … at the tune of thousands of dollars and oh yea… “it might not work, no guarantees.” For any recovery center to make that assertion is disgusting and unethical, but panicked loved ones accept this everyday as their worst nightmare is further exploited.

Then he told me how he reached out for public assistance. Surprisingly, they gave him the right answer, but it was no doubt awful to hear . “Is your son ready to change?” Dad says “no, I’m afraid not .” They reply , “well then, we can’t help ’til he’s ready. We can’t force or detain him.” He said he knew that was fact but it was so hard to accept. He has educated himself on the disease by research, asking questions and public awareness events. However, his 3 other sons “tough love” their brother with condemnation , like… “JUST STOP!!” But, Dad realizes it’s not that easy . Just stop doesn’t cut it anymore, he’s too far in . We agreed together that he will change when he’s tired. He will seek help when he can’t go on. His name is Ryan. I’ll pray for him tonight.

I’ll pray that be races to a proverbial rock bottom of the heart before the potentially devastating consequences of a REAL rock bottom . I ended up meeting this Dad’s gregarious wife and their pastor. Apparently, their church is full of souls brought together by a desire to share their testimonies and has a very large membership of people just like us…they even offered their home to us for the night. Yes, they were wonderful to meet.

I think on the well together lady with the sharp haircut, someone I’d never think I could connect with in my previous life. She was someone I’d imagine giving me a nasty stare or a short answer but instead , she warmly hugs me and with tears in her eyes and passion in her soul, declared she will not give up on her son. No doubt feeling the wear and tear of it all from drained bank accounts to rehabs, stolen property, sleepless nights . A mother finally thinking she should draw boundaries for her son before she collapses from defeat and is no longer able to help her child. She described how recently when she attempted to be stern, her once precious child, now a young man, glared back at her with a blank expression and made a single statement, no doubt contrived to cause her pain, stirring more guilt… “If you put me out and I die , it’s your fault, it’s all on you “…  Wow. No mom, it’s NOT going to be your fault but I pray you never have to entertain the thought. I pray he remains protected from himself long enough to come to his senses.

I realized something about myself not too long ago. I really DO care and God’s been leading me to this place all of my life. When you go through the motions of love , even if you can’t completely believe in it’s power, you open yourself up to agony and evil. But, for once , I also understand you open yourself up to receive so much more REAL love than you’ve ever given, and thats when you realize as I did this morning…I REALLY DO CARE . I like people , LOVE some of you actually … imagine that!!!

Damn. Don’t worry . I’m still me . Ha !

And therein lies the HARDEST thing about this disease.  You often have to fall, losing those you love, before you LEARN to love or understand HOW to receive it in return.

 So today, if you can’t imagine yourself being THAT person, a person who hugs or opens up to others, I’d suggest starting by hugging a stranger… or let them lean in and squeeze on you !! If all else fails, just listen and let someone suffering, feel a sense of acceptance and relief by way of your non judgmental ear.