Few things are more daunting in life than a blank page with a blinking cursor on a computer screen, staring back at me. One of those things the notion that someone has asked me to tell the story of her battle against drugs and addiction. She wasn’t addicted. She had never taken a drug in her life. Her daughter, on the other hand, had engaged in 10 years of drug and alcohol use and abuse. The second trip to rehab finally worked. Shawna Dallaire is finally clean, sober and living a life to be proud of. A life her mother fought so hard to save. Sobriety is a choice Shawna makes every day. She wakes up every morning and reminds herself that, today, she chooses not to do drugs.
On a quick road trip to the valley last Saturday, my phone lit up with a Facebook message from Cindy Dallaire. It simply stated: Would you ever be willing to come out to our ranch and sit down with me and write an article about our drug epidemic? My answer was simply: YESSSSSSS.
My experience with drugs starts and stops with being a spectator. I’m proud to say that I’ve never done an illegal drug in my life. In my mind 20‘s, sinus surgery and wisdom teeth removal, each landed me a prescription for 90 Vicodin plus a refill, of which I took a total of six in the days after each surgery. The rest of the pills were stolen out of my medicine cabinet. I could speculate on who stole them but that’s unnecessary and irrelevant, except for the fact that this tells you that drug use and abuse is everywhere. Other than these doctor supervised, prescribed medications, I’ve abstained from recreational drug use. Alcohol is another story. I may or may not have a problem with alcohol. This is a subject I quietly struggle with.
On the other hand, I’ve watched countless friends as they battle addiction. High school in Shandon may have given me insight that I didn’t need but it was insight nonetheless. Shandon High may have been where I first understood that people took prescription pills, amongst other things, to get high. An idea in my perfectionist’s mind that seemed ridiculous and just strange. Prescription drugs are to be used when your doctor tells you to, not just because you want to. They have a purpose and that purpose is not to get high. This idyllic thought may stem from the fact that my brother, Aran, has a seizure disorder that requires him to take heavy doses of sedatives. I’ve seen, since I was 3 1/2 years old, what prescription drugs can do to a person and this is not something I’d willfully do to myself.
Alcohol was a different story completely; plenty of fun and definitely illegal at my high school age. Weed scared me because I’m allergic to most everything that grows in the great outdoors, so the thought of smoking anything, much less doing drugs, seemed insane. I could nearly see myself in the hospital, hooked up to some breathing machine, my parents standing over me with the look of judgment and disappointment as I knew they’d never smoked a thing or taken a drug in their lives. If they lived through the late 60‘s, for God’s sake I could make it through Shandon High School without doing drugs.
I’ve listened, most every night since I was 16, to Loveline. Laugh if you’d like – I know it doesn’t make me any kind of an expert on the topic of drugs and addiction. However, I’ve heard countless times Dr. Drew giving advice to desperate parents and friends, even to the addicted themselves, to go get help. He talks about what the drugs do to the human body. He tells stories of how profound addiction is and how difficult it is to break the habit. I admit that I’m very curious. I don’t want to try drugs – but addiction is one of the most interesting things in the world to me. New Co-Host, Mike Catherwood, has said time and time again, he loves drugs and alcohol more than he loves his wife, his family and more than life itself. Although I cannot wrap my mind around this, I believe him. This two hour glimpse into addictive behavior, 5 nights a week, quenches a bit of my curiosity but I often find myself wanting to understand what makes addicts tick.
Enter, Cindy and Shawna Dallaire.
I know Cindy and Shawna because quite literally, I grew up knowing them. Cindy took my Senior Pictures. I babysat the girls for Cindy and Sean on more than a few occasions. Sean Dallaire was a premier show hog breeder in our area and recognized even on the national level. Sean was a big deal. Our livestock judging team would practice on his hogs. He was an industry leader. His three daughters, Shawna, Sarah and Stephanie, were his constant companions and heirs to his knowledge and legacy. They were a busy family, highly engaged in a wonderful rural lifestyle where children are educated, engaged and carefully mentored as future leaders. As an industry, Agriculture talks about how engaging children in 4-H and FFA programs keeps them safe and out of trouble. We elude to the idea that drugs and trouble do not exist in this lifestyle. I’m afraid we are only lying to ourselves.
I arrived at Cindy’s house late Sunday night. She was caring for her grandmother and granddaughter in addition to her usual ranch, wife and mom duties. Covered in poison oak, a bashed hand and an exhausted but appreciative look on her face, she enthusiastically welcomed me into her home. There aren’t words to describe what I felt in that moment. I was nervous, excited, scared, humble. All those feelings went away when Cindy’s granddaughter, Jayde, crawled onto the couch next to me, then into my lap, silently gave me a hug, then snuggled under my arm until Cindy sat in her chair opposite of me. Cindy shared her shock at Jayde’s openness and affection toward me. I smiled and took it as a sign that I’m welcome here and that it’s okay to tell this family’s story.
And so it began ..
Cindy was visibly nervous and overwhelmed. She kept repeating, “I have so much to tell you. There’s so much to say.” We agreed that I could record our conversations so that I didn’t get anything she said, wrong. My first question was, how did she know when Shawna was in trouble? When did this start? Cindy was frank with me. She was honest and assumed blame any opportunity she could. She told me about when Shawna was in high school and started drinking. Looking back and after Shawna had addressed the crowd at the Lighthouse, it was apparent to all that that alcohol made Shawna feel accepted amongst her peers. Her peers thought that the Shawna that partied was fearless and fun, she was the ultimate party chick and that Shawna was cool.
Alcohol was how it started but it certainly didn’t end there. This writing is the beginning and an introduction to the Dallaire family’s struggle with addiction. This is the first blog in a series of writings I’ll be posting about the Dallaires. They are good and normal people. A wonderful family stricken by drugs and addiction. I’ve asked Cindy what she wants to get out of this exercise. Cindy wants other parents to know the signs of drug use, how to help their children if they become addicted, and to empower the community to take an active role to stop the inflow and sale of drugs. As a writer, I will attempt to expose the human element within addiction, the gaps between drugs, recovery, rehab and sobriety, and I will try to change the face of a junkie from the scary, dirty homeless person, to the drug addict I knew; beautiful blonde, athletic, smart and loved.