“It’s Only Marijuana.”
About the Guest
Kathy PrideKathy Pride is a writer, speaker and parent educator. Kathy and her four children and husband live in Danville, Pennsylvania.
Melody CarlsonMelody Carlson has written more than 200 books (with sales around 6.5 million) for teens, women and children. That's a lot of books, but mostly she considers herself a "storyteller." Her novels range from serious issues like schizophrenia (Finding Alice) to lighter topics like house-flipping (A Mile in My Flip-Flops) but most of the inspiration behind her fiction comes right out of real life. Her young adult novels (Diary of a Teenage Girl, TrueColors etc.) appeal to teenage girls around the wor...more
On the broadcast today, authors Melody Carlson and Kathy Pride share the emotional stories of their son’s battle with drugs.
“It’s Only Marijuana.”
Bob: When Luke Carlson was a teenager, his parents were suspicious. They were suspicious about the people he was hanging around with, about changes in his behavior, and they thought, “Could it be that he's using drugs?” So Luke's dad began checking out his room from time to time. Here is Luke's mom, Melody Carlson.
Melody: One time he found a pipe and, of course, Luke told us it was this friend's who had stuck it in his backpack when they were—you know, this whole convoluted story. Well, that was with marijuana. When things got more serious later on, and meth was involved, the lies upon lies upon lies—it would blow your mind.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, November 10th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We're going to hear today what happens to a teenager and to his family when drugs become part of the picture.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We're going to talk about real life today; right?
Dennis: Very real. Any parent who has experienced drugs in their children's lives knows that it creates a chaos that is beyond description.
Bob: And we get letters from time to time from listeners who say, "You know, you guys just sound like you have these perfect lives and nothing ever goes wrong in your family." First of all, that's not true; but secondly, we want to get into the real issues that a lot of families are facing.
Dennis: Well, Bob, you know we have a daily feature on a number of radio broadcasts called Real FamilyLife®.
Dennis: This is real FamilyLife Today. And we have a couple of guests with us who have entered into this valley. Melody Carlson and Kathy Pride join us on FamilyLife Today. Ladies, welcome to the broadcast.
Kathy: Thank you.
Dennis: Melody is an award-winning author of more than 100 books, primarily for children. In fact, you've been on FamilyLife Today way back before the flood. I mean, it was a number of years ago when we had you on; right?
Melody: Way back then they were primarily for children; and then I quit writing for children and started writing for teens—mostly teen novels and novels for women.
Dennis: Wow; okay. She has two sons, and she and her husband live in Oregon. She is co-author of the book, Lost Boys and the Moms Who Love Them.
Bob: And that is not fiction; right?
Melody: That is not fiction. I try to avoid non-fiction, but sometimes you just have to write it.
Dennis: You wish this was fiction.
Melody: I wish it was. And then I wrote a similar story, which was fiction; but it was fictionalized real life. It's called Crystal Lies.
Dennis: Kathy Pride is a former nurse. It's always good to have a nurse on the broadcast—
Bob: —Just in case.
Dennis: Just in case.
Kathy: I'm an OB nurse. I don't know if that will work.
Dennis: Okay. She's a writer and speaker, a parent educator, founder of Tapestry Ministry, and has four children, and the author of Winning the Drug War at Home. Kathy, this book, Winning the Drug War at Home, really begins with your own story. Did you have any idea that your child was using?
Kathy: No, we were blindsided. I was very happy to live with my head in the sand for a while, too. “I'll just duck my head in the sand and, you know, try to pretend and make believe this isn't happening and it will go away;” but we didn't stay there too long.
Bob: Now that you know, how old was your son when he started using and what was he using?
Kathy: He was using marijuana, and he was on the cusp of his 16th birthday. What we heard a lot of was, "Oh, it's only marijuana." So I'm here to take a firm stand that people may have that perception, but it's a lie because “only marijuana” can ruin your life.
Bob: You heard that from him or you heard it from others?
Kathy: Everybody, everybody.
Dennis: But it's a gateway drug?
Dennis: I mean it opens the gate to some terrible, terrible drugs.
Bob: Well, and even if it's “just marijuana,” it can be disruptive. It can be destructive.
Kathy: Mm-hm. It is addictive, and it is illegal!
Dennis: What were the signs that you overlooked? I mean, there were warning signs along the way.
Kathy: Well, there were; and at 15 going on 16, they were pretty easy to confuse with other traditional teen-warning signs. You know, what can I say? I remember his definition of his waist changed significantly—and where he wore his pants. They went from what I think is the waist around the midsection of the torso to more like hip, low hipsters.
His hair got a little bit longer, but he was still pretty communicative. He was keeping teen hours, you know, late to bed, late to rise; but that had not been a significant change.
Bob: Melody, you are nodding your head like, “This sounds real familiar.” How old was your son when he started using?
Melody: He was probably about 17, according to him.
Bob: Same thing—marijuana?
Melody: The same thing. His look had changed, though, before that; and we started a lot sooner than most people. My son, when he turned 14, just totally changed his appearance. He wasn't doing any drugs yet, and he assures us of that; but he was starting to hang with kids who were experimenting with odd things like aerosols.
First, we took him out of school and homeschooled him because we knew something was wrong and all the counselors at the school knew us. They said, "Something is wrong. Get him away from these kids." It's a long story to say how he got from being a star athlete, a star student, clean cut—to suddenly he's wearing his dad's jeans—his dad's six-foot-six.
Everyone said, "What happened to Luke?" You know, we were with family and all that—everyone was looking at him. There was this progression of changes. Then we moved to another town that was small and kind of a strong Christian community, and things sort of got in order for a while; but slowly, he started gravitating more towards the certain group of friends.
And we, being Christians, sort of tried to embrace his friends and get to know them; but you couldn't get to know their parents because their parents were either—I hate to say a lot of them were, you know, split families and weren't paying attention. So it was like your child is slipping between your fingers, although we lived in such a small town that people would report on him—and so if he was in a certain place or—you know.
So we sort of kept track and then, finally, about when he was 17—and I believe it was in the summertime—I don't know about you, but summertime is a real key time for this to happen because kids are off—at that age, they're off on their own more. Was that the case with your son?
Kathy: Summertime with us as well.
Melody: And I think it's harder for parents to observe it in the summertime because all of the habits and patterns have changed, and kids do stay out later. If it's an older kid, often they have a car—and that was the case with our son.
Bob: Okay, I'm just imagining a mom who is listening and going, "Well, my son, my daughter, has started changing friends and appearance. Should I freak out?"
Dennis: But sometimes all those little hints add up. I think, as parents, we tend to give our children the benefit of the doubt in some of these areas; and that's dangerous.
When you see the peers of your children change; and when you begin to check out those peers' families, and you find out those families are not connected—not engaged in their children's lives—it's a recipe for disaster.
Now, it doesn't mean that your child is off into drugs. One thing I wanted both of you to comment on was you mentioned that you were a Christian family, and you had a Christian group in your community surrounding your family. I think the tendency for the Christian community is to think, "Oh, if we're Christians, and we're really involved in church, and our kids have a faith, and they're being taught the Bible, this is going to happen to Kathy and Melody's families but certainly not ours.”
That's not the case, though, is it, Kathy?
Kathy: It's not the case. Although, I have to share with your listeners that at the time that we went through this, I was not a Christian; and it was this experience that brought me to Christ.
But, you know, we were considered the All-American family, upstanding, you know, married for a long time, college sweethearts, professionals, educated, involved in our kids' lives. My husband coached soccer; he coached baseball; star athlete; same thing. Our son was a peer mediator in middle school—so here he was—involved in conflict resolution.
And a great student; and his peer group, initially, didn't change. He was hanging with one particular friend, neighbors were right across the street, another well-educated physician couple—Mom, a doctor; Dad, a college professor—and so this was not a change. That was kind of difficult.
We overheard him talking about, "Oh, we got high. We smoked." We confronted him with that the next morning. We had come back from a family vacation; and that opened the discussion, which soon became a confrontation.
Dennis: Did he admit using?
Kathy: He did; he did. To him, it was no big deal. "Oh, it's only pot. Everybody's doing it," which, by the way, is also a lie. The statistics show that not everybody is doing it; but it is a non-denominational, non-discriminatory predator.
Dennis: Melody, did your son deny using at the point you confronted him?
Melody: We caught him. He was doing it on our property.
Dennis: Well, the reason I ask that is usually lies and deceit—the most incredible scheming—is usually attached to drug use.
Melody: Absolutely. If we hadn't caught him, of course, he would have denied it. I think we had accused him or asked him, and we'd found various things. Once—my husband is a really good sleuth because we knew something was up. He would see something suspicious; and he would just do a whole complete room check, which seems a little intrusive. So, occasionally, he would find something suspicious.
Like, one time he found a pipe and, of course, Luke told us it was this friend's, who had stuck it in his backpack when they were—you know, this whole convoluted story. Well, that was with marijuana. When things got more serious later on, and meth was involved, the lies upon lies upon lies—it would blow your mind.
Bob: I just want to make sure that when you said it seems a little intrusive, I want to make sure our listeners understand—intrusive is really good as you raise teenagers.
Kathy & Melody: It is good. It is good.
Bob: Those parents who think, "Well, I want to give my children some space and some privacy,"—we do want to be respectful of them and give them some space; but when we are concerned about what's going on in their lives, forget it.
Kathy: And drugs are intrusive.
Melody: Yes, so I think we have the right to be.
Dennis: They really are. One of the things that goes through a parent's heart and mind is blame.
Melody: Yes, definitely.
Dennis: I've talked to parents; and they feel like colossal failures, and especially Christian parents who have really stuck to the Book. They've maybe homeschooled, they've raised their children to memorize Scripture, and the blame is just—it's a weight. It's a heavy weight; isn't it?
Melody: It absolutely is, and we had our children a little earlier than a lot of our friends. So we were—in the community that I lived in—and I worked for a Christian publishing company, we had the oldest children. Other people who had younger children were sort of looking at us like, "Oh, man, what are you guys doing wrong?"
You couldn't hide this in this community. I didn't really want to hide it because I kind of wanted the community's help, but the community wasn't really ready for this.
And so the fact is, my husband and I were Young Life counselors. We both were Christians before we got married. We did everything just as right as anybody can possibly do it; and we both came from slightly dysfunctional families, where it wasn't done like that. So we thought when we had children, “We're insulated.”
Dennis: I mean, you've written all kinds of children's books. You had to have taught your children all kinds of morals, spiritual stories—
Melody: They memorized Scripture. They went to a Christian school for a while. They both did home school for a while. I was the president of PTA. I was always the room mother. I knew all their teachers. Most of their teachers, even when they were in public school, were Christians.
Bob: Okay, this is a hard question to ask; but it sounds like you're saying, as parents, “There is really nothing you can do. If this is going to happen, it's going to happen.”
Melody: I sort of think that's true because now, living through this and ten years later, I have seen so many other parents go through exactly the same thing. They were parents who said, "This is not going to happen to me." I would just have to bite my tongue. But, no, I don't know that there is anything you can do. Your kids have a will of their own. It's just like, “We will do what we will do.”
Bob: That's really scary; isn't it?
Melody: It's very scary; but, in a way, once—you know, it's taken me—I've been through this for many years. You get to that point where you just have to give it all to God because there is nothing—it's out of your control.
Dennis: I think some parents experience pride. I hate to use your last name there, Kathy; but we think, “We're going to do it better.”
Kathy: Sure we do, and then we come to hoping that we do, and then we come to realizing that that free will does enter in. You know, in terms of the lies, he didn't deny, initially, that he was using; but the lies came in very quickly after that. As soon as we had confronted him,—then the excuses, then the manipulation, then the lies. He would park his car in the church parking lot where his NA meetings were—that he was supposed to attend and have the cell phone that was presumably for being in touch with us—and he'd make plans to get together with his buddies.
It's so hard. You know, in retrospect, we look back and say, "What could we have done differently, and did we manage this correctly?" The blame does come in, and we felt a lot of blame and condemnation from other people in our community.
I was very open about this because I knew that drugs were a problem in our community, and I wanted to extend a hand of support to other people. We went to counseling. The counselor said, "I can rattle off ten names right now, families just like yours. I'm going to talk to those parents and see if maybe you can start a support group and be in unison in parenting."
Not a single other family wanted to engage in that conversation; and yet, they were finger-pointing when we took a firm, hard line and we sent Matt to rehab twice for "only marijuana use." Three hundred thousand individuals enter rehab each year for treatment of marijuana abuse.
Kathy: It is amazing.
Dennis: This slices across all economic groups. I mean, Bob, you'll remember we had a pastor, a seminary president, who told about his daughter taking black tar heroin. I'll never forget her statement. In fact, there are certain statements that have been made here on FamilyLife Today that are just incredibly profound.
She was in the interview with her dad. She was clean, and she made a statement about the deceit. She said, "My ability to deceive was greater than my parents' ability to know the truth." You think about when you were a child—we played that game—maybe not with drugs—but we deceived our parents because, “We were smarter than they were.”
Bob: And because they trusted us, and we had that in our favor.
Dennis: That's exactly right. So parents are set up at this point to be taken advantage of by their children. Now, you both mentioned that your sons went to rehab. That's an expensive form of treatment.
Bob: And it's also real public. Was that a hard decision for either of you to make?
Melody: Not at all for us because, by then, we were just praying, and pushing, and hoping he would go to rehab. The first time he went to rehab—he agreed to—I think we sort of pushed him into it; but he agreed to it, and didn't last more than a few days.
Dennis: The behavior that typifies what's taking place before you put him in rehab is usually so off the wall, so chaotic—
Bob: No other choice. Is that what you're saying?
Dennis: Oh, man.
Melody: You're desperate.
Bob: Kathy, what about you with your rehab experience?
Kathy: The first time he went, he came back and there were minimal to moderate changes in his behavior; but they went down the tubes pretty quickly as he reverted to friends who weren't the dregs—you know, he hadn't gotten into the bad crowd.
But we did an intervention with the second time because of the lying and the deceit, and the anger and the belligerence, and the hostility, and just the explosiveness of not knowing what to expect; and there were two younger children in the family. They got shafted a lot.
There was just a push-off to the side, dropping them off at child care as I would have to go to probation meeting, guidance counselor, a problem at the school, trying to get him out of bed in the morning so that that day of attendance would count. I, by the way, was a perfect enabler for a long period of time.
Dennis: Well, the parent is set up to be an enabler.
Dennis: I mean, they've got to believe. They've got to love their child. They have to expect the best.
Kathy: Absolutely. But, you know, unfortunately, prior to becoming a Christian, that grace was absent from my approach. I was pretty condemning. I was sarcastic. I was not supportive. I just was, "Come on, you've got to get out of bed." I was a yeller. I was a screamer. I was pretty angry, and that came through.
Bob: Let me ask both of you, “How long was the period at your house from first use to clean with your son?”
Kathy: Well, you know, I'd love to say that he's totally clean now, but I can't absolutely say that—
Bob: But you wonder, mm-h?
Kathy: —because he's a college senior, and the things that have improved are communication. The grace is in that conversation. You know, I knew all about, “Love is patient, love is kind,” but it did not enter into my conversation.
Bob: But you had a six-year—still have a six-year period where this is, “the elephant in the home.”
Kathy: Well, but we know the elephant's there because now we have, "Love is patient, love is kind," was the point of that. I can have that conversation; and I can say to him, "You know, how come you got a D+ in that class, and you're not getting credit for it? How come you didn't follow through on the paperwork for your placement? I suspect you are making some really bad choices."
Bob: Melody, how about for you? Was it years of this being the dominating feature in your family?
Melody: Right, and he wasn't in the home the whole time off and on; and he's been off and on clean. After that first time of him walking out of rehab, then he did a rehab where he got clean—wanted to stay clean—and was doing pretty well.
Somebody mentioned the NA meetings—I think it was you, Kathy—and that was part of the recovery program.
Bob: That's Narcotics Anonymous; right?
Melody: Narcotics Anonymous, and he actually—they sometimes get hooked back into drugs at the NA meetings because everyone is talking about it and talking about, you know, "When I was high, and when I did this." For a drug addict to just hear that kind of language, it just triggers that thing inside of him that wants to use again.
Then, of course, he's sitting in a room with people who have all kinds of connections, brand-new friends, and that was how he got back into drugs again was through NA. I'm not trying to dis- on NA because I'm sure that it works for some people, but I have heard that it's not the healthiest form of recovery.
Dennis: Programs are like parents and families. They are not going to turn your child into a robot and fix them. They all provide a prescribed process to go through where they confront the child with—the behavior, with the choices, with the foolishness—and it's up to the child to begin to make the right choices. We can't change the behavior of our children. It takes God to work in that child's heart to change their behavior.
So, as parents, there are three things I want you to get out of today's program—number one, “This can happen to you.” I don't care what you do—how perfect you've been in raising your children. Your children are targets, and there is an Enemy of your children's souls. He may go after them.
Secondly, “Stay connected to your child.” Ask questions. Observe, observe, observe; and if something begins to occur, it pays off to be suspicious. Do some inspection. Do some snooping around. Ask some questions. Find out what's taking place in your child's life; and, if need be, confront. Ask the hard questions; and then if there's been deceit and lies, don't trust that you're getting the right answer because, more than likely, you aren't.
I know this is hard stuff; but the reality is, in this culture, this is one of the real traps that is snaring Christian youth. As Kathy said, she was raising children from a non-Christian home at the time. I'm telling you, they're all in the sights of the Enemy.
Bob: Well, and there are a lot of reasons that, as parents, we ought to be praying regularly for our children—but this is one of those things—because there's a lot we can't do—but that's one of the things we can be doing.
Dennis: Yes, and I think, Bob, I'm glad you mentioned that because, as parents, we need to remain spiritually receptive to what God may be saying and helping us because He will give you some clues as to what's taking place.
Bob: Yes. I think it helps for us to have the counsel that you ladies have shared today because you’ve experienced this. You can help us as parents be alert to the kinds of things we need to be alert to.
Kathy, you’ve written a book called Winning the Drug War at Home; and we’ve got copies of that book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. I want to encourage our listeners to go online at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about how to get a copy of Kathy’s book, Winning the Drug War at Home.
Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com. You can order a copy of the book from us online, or you can call us at 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329. That’s
1-800 “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” When you get in touch with us, we’ll get a copy of Kathy’s book sent out to you.
Let me mention, while we’re on the subject of parenting our teenagers and some of the dangers that are facing them, Dennis, you wrote a book a number of years ago for fathers of teenage daughters called Interviewing Your Daughter’s Date; and it was well-received. But we also got feedback from folks saying, “How about those of us who have teenage sons? How do we help protect our sons from girls who have become increasingly aggressive, especially in the area of sexuality?”
Dennis is working right now on a new book on that subject. We’d love to hear from you. If you’re the parent of a junior high- or senior high-age son and you’ve had an experience where your son has been pressured or where you’ve had to step in and intervene because girls are coming after your boys, we’d love to have you go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click on the link there where it says, “Aggressive Girls,” and share your story with us so we can share it with others as a part of this book. Again the website, FamilyLifeToday.com; and just click on the link where it says, “Aggressive Girls.” We do hope to hear from you.
Finally, a quick word of thanks to those of you who help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. In this season, when we’re preparing for Thanksgiving, we want to say that we really are grateful for your partnership with us here in the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
This week, we’d love to send you as a thank-you gift a copy of Barbara Rainey’s devotional guide for families called Growing Together in Gratitude. This is the first devotional from her Growing Together series—seven short stories that you could read to the family during family devotions or at the dinner hour—all of them designed to promote the idea of being grateful in our hearts and in our children’s hearts as well.
Along with the book, we’ll send you a Thanksgiving prayer card. Again, these resources are our way of saying, “Thank you,” for your support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today. If you make your donation online at FamilyLifeToday.com, there’s a button that says, “I Care.” Just click that button, fill out the information, and we’ll send you a copy of Barbara’s devotional book and the prayer card.
If you call 1-800-FLTODAY to make a donation, make sure that you mention that you’d like to receive Barbara’s book; and we’ll be happy to send it to you as well.
And we want to encourage you to be back with us again tomorrow when we’re going to talk more with Kathy Pride and with Melody Carlson about the issue of drugs and teenagers and what we can do as parents. We’ll have that conversation tomorrow. I hope you can join us.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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