Straight Talk Advice

Nov 09, 2011

Father’s love and courage teaches many

DEAR STRAIGHT TALK: Twenty-one months ago, my 18-year-old son jumped to his death from the 720-foot-high Foresthill Bridge. He left for school that morning. At lunch, I got a call that he was at the bridge thinking about jumping. I raced there not believing it, but there he was. I drove up next to him. He looked at the car, climbed the railing and jumped off. I know he loved me dearly. How could he do it?

My son began smoking pot around age 14. I didn’t take pot very seriously — nothing horrible had happened to me. Plus, he was getting A’s, so he had it under control, right? Well, he started failing classes and became increasingly anxious and depressed. We thought it was teen-age rough times. Toward the end, ecstasy and other drugs entered the mix. He even stopped drawing, a loved activity. We tried counseling, group therapy and anti-depressants, but too late. I am sharing this story as a wake-up call. Even if you don’t think some drugs are serious, please remember my son, Forest. — Dad from Auburn, Calif.

Rachel 20, Los Angeles Ask me a question

For years I considered Forest a little brother. I watched him struggle in the transition to high school and with his family’s divorce. He started smoking for “fun,” but it became the “constant” he clung to as life got rocky. This was the time he needed help. He was an amazing artist. He needed to be pushed to be more than a “stoner.” I think he felt abandoned by life. I and many others lost contact and when I saw him he was so consumed by smoking I couldn’t connect. I hate that I never spoke up. I remember the look in his eyes; he looked lost. Why didn’t I ask the real questions and reach out to him?

Sawyer 20, Sacramento, Calif. Ask me a question

Your son was the funniest, most imaginative person I knew. In 8th grade he had written a whole series of comic books that were really, really good. I saw him only rarely after that and didn’t see the warning signs.

Katie 18, Auburn, Calif. Ask me a question

My Dear Forest, I saw your transformation and it terrified me. I only wish I had spoken up early on. As kids, we were decent friends. If we needed something, we knew the other was there. Then you started smoking weed. It wasn’t considered a big deal. I tried it, too, but it made me anxious and groggy the next day. You were drawn to it, pulled in, little by little. We drifted apart, rarely spoke. When we did, you were always looking for pot to feed the addiction. Yes, addiction. Before pot, you were happy. Not a care in the world. You smoked a lot now. You were moody and would snap at me. You always apologized and I knew you couldn’t hurt anyone; it was the drug talking. Then I lost the “real you.” You became a stranger. Years passed with no contact, then you re-emerged in the worst way possible, buying acid and ecstasy from someone I knew. I saw you at a party and you were on acid. Your art… it terrified me. Not a week later, you were gone. Never again will I not speak up.

Christina 19, Marysville, Calif. Ask me a question

I am very sorry. I am sure your son loved you. I’ve seen problems with kids who started smoking young. I hope people read this and change their view of pot.

DEAR DAD: Please accept my deepest sympathy for the loss of your beloved son. I bow to the love and courage it took to write this letter. You are a great man, father and teacher to us all. —Lauren

Readers: Next week’s column will share suicide warning signs and prevention strategies.

Editor’s Note: Suicide is nobody’s fault. Some can see the signs of trouble, others cannot. Some can see a “lost” or “foreign” look in the eye, others cannot. Many think marijuana use is “normal” for teenagers and not that serious, including some law enforcement officials and drug counselors. It is totally ubiquitous at high school campuses and is reported by many teens to be easier to obtain than alcohol. But many kids don’t do well on it and it significantly impacts their brain chemistry. As for all substances, the younger someone starts, the more chance of a negative impact. And as for all at-risk behavior, the sooner there is intervention, the more likelihood that person will regain balance.

Virtually ALL suicides are associated with drug or alcohol use. I encourage parents not only to learn the signs of suicide (which we will cover next week), but also to learn the signs of drug and alcohol use and not turn a blind eye to them. Almost all adolescents today support being drug-tested for cause. If your child is over 18, your hands are not tied! A strong play of the “I’m-your-parent-and-this-is-what’s-going-down” card usually works — and is appreciated. Please see last week’s column, (NOV 2) for where to buy accurate, inexpensive drug-test kits and how to use them properly. —Lauren

  1. By Anonymous, age , from Sacramento Metro Area on 11/14/2011

    My brother committed suicide about 13 years ago and I continue to do what I can to break the cycle of addiction in my family so my 13 year old daughter can live a life happy, joyous and free of addiction. I really appreciate the father saying that…” [he] didn’t take pot [use] very seriously—[because] nothing horrible had happened to [him].”  I believe this casual attitude about pot use is a big challenge because so many parents justify their own pot use thinking it is no big deal, just like having a drink, thinking it doesn’t hurt anyone. The column also mentioned that some law enforcement officials share this relaxed attitude. I encountered this attitude in the Placer Count Family Law court room last week when I asked the Courts to extend drug testing since the other parent had a 30-year drug history, is a daily pot user, skipped a recent court ordered drug test, and just acquired a medical marijuana license that his primary care physician knew nothing about. The Commissioner of the Court ruled to not extend testing to assure the other parent was drug-free during parenting saying, “Marijuana is a medicine like aspirin.”

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  2. By Mark, age , from Fremont, California on 11/14/2011

    Please know that your willingness to educate others about suicide is a very good thing you are doing. 3 years ago my son jumped off the top floor of his dorm room and took his life. There were no drugs or alcohol involved nor any history of depression. His girlfriend since High School had broken up with him over Thanksgiving and he learned she had another boyfriend. As I now know, people who are seriously considering suicide are often unable to reach out themselves for help and he did not openly share his pain he was feeling. Suicide is the number two and recent statistics have moved it to the number one cause of death in college but many colleges do not deal with this fact due to the stigma associated with suicide. The most successful programs that have shown a proven reduction in suicides are ones that help educate classmates about suicide and where everyone becomes responsible for helping each other and watching out for the signs of depression and suicide. Every single day my wife, my son’s younger brother and I still suffer the pain of my oldest sons death so if any person can prevent even one death from suicide, there is no greater gift you can give. For my son, it is too late but not for others.

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  3. By Father Steve, age , from Napa on 11/16/2011

    The story of how young Forest’s time here on earth ended was tragic.  I am so sorry for everyone involved.  All we can do is try to understand, try to do better in the future.

    It is in the interest of trying to promote understanding that I write. Understanding leads to healing, and to growth.

    Every letter published in the November 13 Santa Rosa Press Democrat, including the father, places the blame for everything squarely on cannabis.

    The boy started smoking pot for a reason.  In my experience of ministry, it is almost always poor parenting that drives the child or adolescent to try to “get away”. 

    Rachel from Los Angeles noted that Forest’s parents divorced around the time of the onset of Forest’s issues.  It would be wilful ignorance to avoid looking at this as a root cause of Forest’s misery.  Need to wake up, people. 

    I don’t want to cast aspersions upon the bereaved.  I want people to realize that poor parenting leads to this kind of thing all the time.  Kids with understanding support from a functional family very rarely go through what Forest went through.  People need to be better parents to their children. 

    Bless all.

    Father Steve  

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  4. By Lauren Forcella, age California, USA, from California, USA on 11/16/2011

    Dear Father Steve,

    Thank you for writing and continuing this conversation. I think you’re totally right-on and I completely agree that trauma was underneath the drug use that we heard testimony of. The follow-up column speaks to this (which just posted on our website today, see NOV 16). I also can’t agree more about divorce. In my view, it’s the worst things a child goes through other than losing a parent (or having a “missing” parent). It’s sad that divorce is so common that the tremendous traumatic effects on the children are mostly glossed over. Kids don’t necessary show them except through negative behaviors that get waved off as “typical teenage stuff.”

    I chose to let the column sit as it was for a few reasons. One, the father displayed such humility and gave us all such a learning opportunity, that frankly, it didn’t seem the place to perhaps add more guilt. Two, divorce is complicated. Many don’t want one, but if their spouse is headstrong to leave, there’s little the other can do. Plus, if you fix an addiction — really fix it — you also have to uncover and heal the underlying trauma. And in the case of pot and other drugs, they wield their own trauma to the brain.

    Today’s pot is about as misunderstood as divorce. Everybody thinks it’s no big deal. But a young teen getting stoned all the time (to cover a trauma… there’s no other reason), has a real risk of negatively affecting his or her brain chemistry due to how strong it is today. (Not to mention that since it isn’t really fixing his problem, he may then seek out an even worse “remedy.”) Even alone, though, pot, used regularly — especially by a developing brain — is being associated with neurological disorders. I’ve seen it in action. The Netherlands, notoriously lenient on pot, recently re-classified it as a harder drug due to all the health problems they are seeing from it.

    All that said, I really appreciate you writing. What you said is exactly the truth. I’m always hoping that young parents are reading this column, too, because they really CAN avoid all the pitfalls we talk about here. Best column for learning how is JAN 26, 2011 in our archives.

    Love,
    Lauren

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  5. By Jackie, age , from Auburn, Calif. on 11/16/2011

    I cannot begin to imagine what this Father must be feeling. I have mailed you a card to mail to him if you have his address.

    I have a 22 year old grandson who just completed his detox in So. California. I had no idea he was into drugs at all. He worked for us part time and it was the furthest thing from my mind that he was into anything. Thank God he has graduated to sober living with a bunch of his peers and has a job checking at a supermarket and now has 9 months sobriety.

    I am so very thankful to God that the family is doing all they can to keep him in the program where he is, because I have never heard his voice sound so good when he periodically calls us. He is like a completely different person. It is terribly expensive, but the managers down there say he is doing great. All we can do is continue praying for him. He will be enrolling in college there and will continue to work as much as possible.

    Thank you for your continual work with our teens.

    Fondly,
    Jackie

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  6. By Norman, age , from Meadow Vista, CA on 11/17/2011

    Dear Dad from Auburn,

    I just happened across your post on the Straight Talk web site and wanted to extend my appreciation and admiration for taking such humble, yet bold, action. As a father too, I cannot even begin to imagine what you have experienced and how you have dealt with this tragedy for the past 21 months. You obviously have been able to reach deeply inward for some sort of strength, intuitive guidance and/or spiritual anchor.

    Recently, a 13-year-old boy and friend of our family had expressed disgust and disdain for himself which also included a comment about “everyone” turning against him. I immediately communicated with him, contacted his parents and spoke with a youth counselor about the situation (for advice on what I should look for and do). As it turned out, it was simply that; a passing comment during a time of teenage angst. However, had it been foretelling of something more serious, I would never have been able to reconcile it with myself.

    But what bears mentioning the most is that, during this recent episode, the foremost thought on my mind was Forest. Having seen and felt the impact of his suicide upon the whole community gave me the impetus and motivation to do something; ANYTHING! As I see it, Forest’s actions were not in vain as I will forever be watchful and vigilant for signs of suicide in those I know and love. To me, that was Forest’s gift.


    Sincerely,
    Norman

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