This week kicks off National Red Ribbon Week, a week designated to teaching children about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. Last Wednesday, I picked up a red flier in my teacher box detailing all of the activities for Red Ribbon Week. I placed it on my desk with 40 other papers, and it quickly got lost in the shuffle. I didn't think about it again that day as I packed my bags to head out for Fall Break. Truth be told, I probably wouldn't have thought about it again the entire break. But then something happened to bring it back to the forefront of my mind.
My younger brother is a drug addict. A week ago, I wouldn't have said that. I probably would have told you that he had spent the last 8 years in rebellion. That he had gotten into some trouble right after high school, started hanging out with the wrong crowd, and that he had admittedly tried drugs occasionally. If pressed, I would have told you that, yes, he had spent 7 months in an inpatient drug rehab facility, but I truly believed he was there more so to keep himself from going to jail, and less about an actual drug dependence.
I was wrong.
As a family member of an addict, it is sometimes harder to have a clear picture of what is truly going on. You get tired of the daily drama. Tired of the lies. Tired of things being stolen. Tired of worrying. Tired of the anger and aggression and mood swings. But because you love them so very much, you hang on to a shred of hope for dear life. Just to be heartbroken all over again.
Until this past weekend, I would have told you my brother was just on a bad path. That he could help himself and do things differently if he wanted to, but he just didn't want to. Again, I was wrong. I didn't truly understand the battle he was fighting until after a weekend of totaling his truck and numerous confrontations with family members, he tried to commit suicide.
After he was safely transported to a crisis center, I did a little research. Turns out, suicide is the 10th cause of death in the United States each year. 33,000 people end their life each year, and someone is 6 times more likely to take their own life while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Even more enlightening: The suicide rate for people with untreated substance abuse disorders is as high as 45%.
I almost lost my brother more than once this weekend.
After the sobering weekend I had, Red Ribbon Week seemed a lot more important than before. As SLPs, teachers, and other educators, we care deeply about each child on our caseload. We pour hours of energy and sweat and sometimes actual tears into teaching them academics, speech sounds, sports, and more. We love them like they are our own, and we want nothing more than to see them grow up to be successful adults. Going forward, I'm going to challenge myself to have hard conversations with my students. Conversations about the importance of staying drug-free...the importance of never even trying it just one time...the importance of their life. And I'm going to participate in every single activity during Red Ribbon Week.
Academics and speech sounds are important. But nothing is more important than life. Each and every life.
Join me in talking with your students about Red Ribbon Week. If our efforts keep just one family from going through what my family is going through, it will be worth it.
Please click the picture below to find out more about Red Ribbon Week and join the campaign.
**Statistics in this post were found on psychologytoday.com.