My grandson attended a very large high school in the Raleigh, NC area. Like all other high schools today, there was no shortage of drugs. The majority of students at this school come from nearby affluent neighborhoods. The weekend teenage ritual in this community is to attend parties where drugs and alcohol are readily available. Most of my grandson’s friends were doing drugs and encouraged him to do so. He resisted. He did try alcohol, but didn’t like it.

He was very small for his age. His mother had him tested and was told he would be slow to develop physically. In addition, he developed severe acne. At age 16, looking more like a 12-year-old combined with a severe case of acne, he became very self-conscious. Convinced that girls his age would have no interest in someone who looked like a 12-year-old covered in pimples, he became withdrawn.

My grandson played competitive soccer starting at a young age and became very accomplished at the game. Because of his small size, he failed to make the traveling soccer team his junior year. He was devastated. Soccer was his life. He then turned to marijuana. He did not just smoke it on weekends…he became a regular user…smoking it several times a day. His parents never suspected. My daughter was a stay-at-home mom by choice because it was important to her to keep tabs on her son and daughter, especially during their teenage years. She waited up for them every Friday and Saturday night to make sure they were home by midnight. Neither ever smelled of alcohol, slurred their speech, or seemed high.

Fortunately, a friend of the family told my daughter and son-in-law that my grandson was doing drugs. Their reaction was one of total disbelief. They immediately confronted him. “All the kids do marijuana…it’s no big deal…not as dangerous as alcohol…I can stop anytime I want, etc,” he told his parents.

His parents, both angry and overcome with guilt, laid down the law. “You want to continue to live in this house…no more marijuana.” Although he agreed to give it up, they no longer trusted him and had him drug tested once a week. After six-months of testing, no drugs showed up in his system, so they felt confident he had gotten the message. Soon thereafter, he moved on to pills.

On a Saturday night in April 2015, my 18-year-old grandson was picked up by the police for walking down the middle of a busy street. He was stoned. In his backpack the police found 17 brownies laced with marijuana. He spent the night in jail and was charged with a felony. His bail was set at $2,000. Banks are not open on Sunday. Few people keep $2,000 in cash in their home, but a friend kept a large amount of cash in a safe in his basement. He provided the cash for my grandson’s bail. His parents arranged for legal representation at the court hearing some two weeks later. The entire practice of the law firm representing my grandson is representing drug offenders. It’s a gold mine…this firm never runs out of clients. The lawyer’s fee was $2,500. Because it was a first offense, the judge told my grandson that if he would stay drug-free for six-months, the felony charge would be reduced to a misdemeanor. My grandson was fined and given 16 hours of community service.

Even before the court hearing…with a felony charge handing over him, he had resumed his drug use. His parents read him the “riot act,” begged and pleaded with him to stop. They insisted he go to rehab. He was 18 and refused.

After graduating from high school in May 2015, in an effort to get their son away from the drug environment in their community, his parents sent him to summer school at Appalachian State University, where he had been accepted for the fall semester. Two weeks into the summer session, he was arrested for marijuana possession. Once again his parents hired a lawyer to represent their son. He received a warning from the school – “three strikes and you’re out,” was fined and required to do 26 hours of community service.

Two months into the fall semester at Appalachian State, my grandson called his parents on a Sunday night, told them he was addicted to Xanax, and asked for help. His parents spent the night researching drug rehab facilities and left early the following morning to bring him home. Two days later, he was admitted to Medicine Wheel, a Wilderness Program in Red Cliff, Utah. Sending their son across the country for drug rehab, not knowing when they would see him again, was the hardest thing they have ever done.

He was not allowed to take any personal belongings…no cell phone…no laptop…not even a tooth brush. His only personal belongings were the clothes on his back. He spent eight weeks in the Utah wilderness with others in the program…hiking five – six hours a day with heavy backpacks. At night they set up camp, built a public latrine, cooked their dinner over a fire, and slept in tents. They returned to the base camp once a week for a shower, clean clothes, supplies, and counseling.

Parents receive a weekly one-hour call from the Medicine Wheel counselor with updates. No direct communication with patients is allowed throughout the program. After a very long eight weeks, all at Medicine Wheel agreed my grandson was ready to graduate from the program and be transferred out to a halfway house unaffiliated with the program. His parents selected a nearby facility in Utah. He was housed in a duplex with 12 other young adults and a live-in staff member.

His parents and uncle flew out to visit him over a long weekend. It was immediately apparent that their son was regressing. Four of the residents had overdosed the night before and had been found on the floor convulsing and foaming at the mouth. The previous day, a staff member had driven them to a GNC Store where they purchased some “white powder.” They offered it to my grandson…fortunately, he declined. For this kind of staff supervision my daughter and son-in-law were paying $6,000/mo.

They moved their son to the hotel where they were staying and decided it was time to bite the bullet and allow him to live independently in an apartment. Part of the success of the wilderness program is that those who graduate cannot return to their former drug environment. My grandson knew he could not return home and succeed at sobriety. He liked the beauty and climate of Utah and chose Salt Lake City. My daughter stayed behind to find an apartment and furnish it. She located a new therapist and purchased a puppy to keep him company.

My grandson is now more committed to his sobriety than ever. I am so proud of my daughter and son-in-law who did not give up on him, but instead have given him a second chance at life. My prayer is that he will remain strong to his commitment to sobriety and move on to enjoy a happy drug-free life.

The judge in Raleigh looked favorably upon my grandson’s completion of the Medicine Wheel wilderness program and dismissed his felony charge of April 2015.

Dottie Pacharis