Words struggled to exit her throat: “They let us see him. I sat there, behind the curtains and sobbed and hugged my son’s leg. I pleaded, Oh God, Oh God! How can I live without him?” Ten years ago, this month, this East Valley mother buried her only son.
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Bruce Gilbert, age 23, died from an eight year drug addiction. Nothing’s changed in a decade; the reprehensible epidemic of kids ensnared by our culture of alcohol rolls on.
We claim we want to protect the children. We use strict codes to manufacture car seats, reconfigure play grounds, create safety latches and kid proof bottle caps. We lobby against guns. But the booze, well it’s sitting in the family bar, right next to the TV, which runs endless promotions on the stuff via every sort of media.
Our favorite sports and Hollywood figures revel in it along with the business world. College culture bathes in it. But most of all, it’s role modeled by too many family members.
We figure by railing against drinking and driving we’re off the hook, yet cling to our laissez-fair responses against underage drinking.
In the first of an East Valley Tribune series, we re-visit the implications. Hold your nose. This isn’t pleasant.
Arizona ranks at the top nationally in regards to youth drinking. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (June 8, 2012), Arizona is “No. 1 for alcohol use and binge drinking in high schools and No. 2 for cocaine use and drinking alcohol on school property.”
Evidence in science warns what the stuff does to young, still developing brains (npr.org) and to females who are the newest binge abusers. And, “teens who drink before age 15 are four times more likely to become alcoholics than those who begin at 21,” according to orchidrecoverycenter.com.
At age 15, Bruce (affectionately nicknamed Boo) consumed his first drink. The clock began ticking. He quickly disappeared into alcohol addiction, moving into marijuana, prescription pills then hard drugs.
Friends and family describe Boo as “bigger than life with a heart of gold, an artist, a musician, an athlete, a loyal friend with an easy smile.” I belabor his attributes as a reminder – divinely, wonderful people are destroyed by this ugly, social problem.
His drug use took him into over-dose episodes, detox programs, jail, suicide attempts, counseling with clergy and loving parents and grand-parents. Nothing stuck except the next fix.
His mother Diana, who remains raw, tells me what she saw: “When an addict needs to use, his pain is indescribable.”
In her desire to spread this message she shares excerpts from Boo’s journals, written during his detox efforts: “I’d get violent and would scare my friends. I realize that in a blackout state I could have killed someone.”
Boo adored his family. However: “I stayed away for years. I thought my friends were more important. ... If I would have opened up sooner, they could have helped me sooner.”
As we know, not all addicts die. Some kill others: DUI, murder and sexual assault. Alcohol destroys marriage and relationships. Well you know. You read the headlines.
Here’s the truth: There are no guarantees. Kids eventually choose their own way, but their best hope begins with us. Give them information. Teach them early, before kindergarten and in their pre-teens. Fit it into home and school curriculum about only putting good things into their bodies and explain why alcohol can be deeply harmful, right along with “stranger danger.” Be their best role models.
The last entry in Bruce’s journal was: “I have always loved God. I just have not always loved myself.” Teach children to love themselves and their friends enough to never take that first drink. Again, teach them by example.
How about making the East Valley a model in this battle? Truthfully, few efforts in life are more worthy. These children are our world. I know. Boo was my nephew.
• East Valley resident Linda Turley-Hansen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a syndicated columnist and former Phoenix veteran TV anchor.