Drugs & Addiction

Aggies and Speedballs; Timmy and how this project started.

My brother, Sean, and his wife had a beautiful baby girl, Ruby Rose, on May 30th, 2013. A year had passed and we were celebrating her first birthday. Many of my brother’s friends now had children of their own so my family was surrounded by these new families and tons of sweet babies.

Sean has a really tight knit group of friends. The closest of them started their friendships in elementary school and junior high. There were actually two groups. They referred to themselves as the POC and the COC; Pozo Oakie Crew and Creston Oakie Crew, respectively, although the COC gave up its title when the two groups waged a playful turf war early in high school and POC was the successor. I literally watched these boys grow up. It almost seemed that they were all my little brothers.

After high school, the POC boys decided to display their talents at the local softball field. Most had played from T-Ball up until you actually had to try out to make a team, at which point, most bowed out. There were a few that went on to play high school sports, most notably, Tim Janowicz. Tim and his brothers were popular, gifted athletes and well known in the community. I went to school with his brother Nate and my sister went to school with his oldest brother Jasch. Tim suffered major injuries in a tragic hunting accident midway through high school. After months spent in the hospital recovering, it seemed his shot at sports scholarships were all but lost. But as any athlete knows, the itch to play the game never goes away. And when he played short stop for the POC at Barney Schwartz Park on Friday nights, folks stopped to watch.

Timmy would dive for balls hit seemingly out of reach. He’d come up with the ball and in a flurry of dust and with Jeter-esque leaps, he’d hurl the ball right on target to get an out. Rec softball hadn’t seen talent like his very often. He paid no attention to the on lookers. His POC teammates on the other hand, they were thrilled that Timmy was making them look good. And so the team carried on for several seasons over a few years, even a few championship T-Shirts were won for the POC.

There were times we’d see Timmy and he’d be clear and coherent and normal. Other times he’d be thin and vacant. It was evident that he wasn’t healthy and that drugs were controlling his life. Speculation was that he was taking pills. As the years went on, rumors of heroin circulated around Timmy. We’d lose track of him and mention of his name would often prompt comments of ‘Not good,’ or ‘I haven’t heard he’s any better.’

We heard he’d been arrested. Felony convictions of possession of a controlled substance, weapons charges and grand theft. Some of us breathed a sigh of relief because at least in jail, he’d be safe, right? Wrong. 5:40 am, Friday, May 30th, 2014, Timothy Richard Janowicz was found unresponsive in his cell bunk bed. Dead. Coroner’s report published on June 24th, 2014 said Timmy died of acute heroin toxicity.

Generally a gregarious and jovial group, we found ourselves standing on the patio at Ruby’s first birthday party, surrounded by most of the original members of the POC, grief stricken because yet another one taken way too early by drugs. Add Timmy’s name to the list buried too young: Trevor Alverez, Jacob Gearheart, Shawn Arthurs, Ricky Johansen are a few of them I recognize or kids that I knew.

Distraught, angry and completely frustrated, I took to Facebook later that night and posted the article from Cal Coast News that announced Timmy’s death. I commented “Here’s a campaign for #NotOneMore. A gun didn’t kill Timmy, years of addiction did .. ” This short rant caught the attention of Cindy Dallaire. She felt compelled to tell the story of her daughter and their fight to keep her alive. I felt compelled to write it for her .. And so this project began.

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Timmy was the tipping point for me. Although no one close to me had died yet, I’d lost multiple friends to drugs and addiction. They knew drugs were a non-negotiable for me and until they were desperate for help, months would pass and I’d hear nothing from them. Truthfully, until Timmy died and Cindy contacted me, I admit I was completely naive to how profound the drug problem is in our area.

When this project started, I’d never heard of The Lighthouse Project, Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, Kayla Peach Memorial Foundation were, and I had no idea what all the Assistant District Attorneys did all day. The ADAs are busy processing drug crimes. Those three organizations and countless others are fighting to save the lives of kids who thought popping pain killers isn’t the same as doing drugs and now they’re addicted to heroin.

My next installment will be Shawna’s story. This is a tough one for me and I know it’s going to be difficult for her. She’s so strong when we talk. I get to see her successes daily through posts on Facebook. A few nights ago, she sold at a charity auction. Shawna has come a long way, baby. I feel guilty dragging her back.

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Drugs & Addiction

Aggies and Speedballs; Cindy’s Story

A nightmare scared me awake, Tuesday night. I dreamt that I couldn’t read a single note that I took while visiting with Cindy and Shawna for our second meeting. It took me several minutes to calm down and realize, it was just a dream. This project is haunting my dreams.

I arrived at the house to find Cindy hurrying to finish her nightly duties. She asked me to jump in the truck. I reviewed with her the preparation questions I’d sent her previously that day and we excitedly discussed the positive response to our first installment – over 1,000 views and several people we didn’t know reaching out to tell their stories and ask for help. Cindy said Shawna was home and that she might be able to join us. This would be the first time I’d been given the opportunity to speak with her directly. As much as this is Shawna’s life and her story, this is Cindy’s nightmare too. We were preparing to talk about one of the worst nights of Cindy’s life – the night she found Shawna dead.

Cindy and I drove around a bit trying to get baby Jayde to sleep – to no avail. Too much excitement for an affectionate two year old. But that’s okay. I have a soft spot for sweet little dark haired girls and this gave Cindy and I a few moments to chat, casually. At one moment Cindy said of enabling Shawna, “The more I tried to help her, the more I was killing her.” We are our own worst critics and hindsight is always 20/20.

When we finally sat down to chronicle Cindy’s perspective of this nightmare, I reminded her of a story she told me about finding Shawna, dead, down at the barn. Dead. No pulse, not breathing. Dead. I asked her if that was the worst night they had while Shauna was addicted. She agreed but followed up with the thought that they were all terrible. Cindy remembers it as a night before they went to court. She had fallen asleep in a the chair in their living room. She recalls startling herself awake and nearly falling to the floor thinking she needed to get to bed. When Shawna was going through rough times, Cindy and Sean would pull the keys out of their vehicles at night to help prevent Shawna escaping the ranch – this was one of those nights. Cindy noticed her truck was gone and immediately went to search for Shawna, fearing the worst.

Down the hill and in front of the farrowing barn, Cindy’s truck was parked but running. She opened the door to find Shawna, passed out with a needle still stuck in her arm, the truck heater on full blast. Cindy said that Shawna always hated needles. Cindy started screaming her name and “Don’t leave me!” amongst other things. Shawna didn’t respond. She had no pulse, she wasn’t breathing. Shawna was dead.

Cindy stepped up on the running board of the truck to pull Shawna out. She tripped on her house shoe with one arm around Shawna. They fell to the ground together and that was enough to force a breath into Shawna. Cindy did every bit of CPR that she knew – probably for five minutes. Shawna started showing signs of life so Cindy wrestled her into the truck to take her to the house where Sean could help.  By the time they reached the house, Shawna was regaining consciousness, angry and yelling for Sean.

Cindy and Sean helped Shawna reorient herself. It was apparent that she was going to be okay and another trip to the hospital wasn’t necessary. Once Shawna was coherent enough to gather her thoughts, she asked her Mom, “Why did you wake me up? I wanted to die. I can’t get off this stuff. This is too hard. I want to die.” Cindy slept in the bed with her daughter that night.

I asked Cindy if Shawna remembers that night. She laughed when she said, “Oh yes. I remind her of it constantly.” I asked Shawna the same question. “I remember most of it. It was really hot that day and the strangest thing was that I had the heater on full blast in the truck. I was that high.” I asked Shawna what she injected. She said it was heroin. Really strong heroin. She recalls knowing that this particular dose was so potent that she knew it was dangerous and it would probably kill her. That didn’t matter, she shot up anyway.

Shawna remembers taking the truck, heading down to the barn, shooting up and the next thing she remembers is her mom screaming for her to wake up. She remembers being angry at Cindy because she wanted to die. And the truck. That heater running in the truck on that hot summer night.

Cindy told me of other nights where she wouldn’t sleep at all. She’d hear the dogs barking and would pray it was Shawna coming home. But after checking her bed and checking the house, no Shawna. This happened often.

Frequent trips to the hospital became normal too. Once a week for months on end. Dehydration, stomach flu, food poisoning. Many trips were the result of trying to detox on her own. The trip when Shawna had food poisoning, the hospital gave her Morphine. Shawna said that she was excited at the thought of getting good drugs without having to find them. She now had a new avenue to pacify the cravings and to get high. Some trips were fake, but most were for legitimate reasons. Shawna remembers on one particular occasion being so weak and dehydrated that she fainted as she walked through the hospital door.

We talked about when Cindy knew that she was going to have trouble with Shawna. It was in high school, when Shawna started drinking. She’d sneak out down their long dirt road to get picked up at the gate so she could attend the parties all the cool people were going to. At the time of our meeting, Shawna still seemed frustrated that she had to sneak out and that she was so sheltered that she wasn’t allowed to go to these parties. Cindy would catch Shawna time and time again. Discipline included taking things away, even not allowing her to show her pigs – something Shawna loved very much. Nothing worked. In fact, the discipline drove Shawna to misbehave more. Ditching school, later nights, more parties, drinking whenever she wanted to. Nothing was going to stop her. Shawna acknowledged that until years later when she began losing the things she worked hard for on her own – the race quad, the nice truck, the good job – that the consequences of her actions began to hit home.

Talk of discipline and consequences started an interesting conversation. Cindy pointed out, “We teach our children to fear us by our reaction to what they tell us.” Shawna said she clearly remembers the time she told her mom that she’d had sex for the first time. Even though Shawna was 18 and legal to make her own decisions, Cindy lost it. She was incredibly upset thinking of all the things she had been through and not wishing the same for Shawna. But Shawna took it as her mom was mad at her. That she’d, once again, gotten herself in trouble. Looking back, Cindy says she wishes she would have been able to talk to Shawna about the consequences of sex and let Shawna come to her own conclusions about the gravity of her decisions. Cindy also recalled how upset she was when Shawna started smoking cigarettes. We all joked about how she’d probably trade everything for Shawna’s worst decisions to be sex and cigarettes.

Part of Cindy’s mission in telling this story is to help other parents to recognize early signs of drug use and to show them where to get help. I asked Cindy and Shawna what parents can look for. They both commented that paraphernalia is an easy one but drug users are often paranoid and crafty so they won’t leave it out where they’ll get caught. Nonetheless, look for folded up foil in trash cans and around their living space. And count your spoons in your silverware drawer.

I asked how fast the weight loss happened. Shawna became bashful and said that her weight is a big trigger for wanting to use drugs. She was as thin as 92 pounds at one point. But she used for over 8 years. She was skinny for a long time. Weight loss is an indicator but not always a good one.

Cindy and Shawna agreed on a few reliable tells. Look for alliances with strange people. Shawna said she didn’t even like the people she was hanging out with and getting drugs from but she’d defend the friendships to Cindy so that she could keep getting high. They said to pay attention to excessive time in the bathroom, locked doors, covered windows, any type of isolation from family and usual or close friends. Shawna said she’d lock herself in her room because she was high and she didn’t want to share her drugs with anyone.

Cindy recalls those days as odd; Shawna would be crashing around in the bedroom cleaning, rearranging, organizing. Shawna barely remembers how she’d pass the hours but it was seldom something productive. Shawna’s youngest sister, Stephanie, used to comment when the house was extra clean, “Oh look, Shawna must be high.” What mother wouldn’t want to come home to a clean house? Under these circumstances, Cindy would have traded anything for a messy house and to not go through what was about to happen. Cindy knew that this meant another week or longer of sleepless nights, praying that Shawna would survive her addiction.

Cindy mentioned that in her battles trying to save Shawna, she learned a lot, and some profound things about herself, in particular. She didn’t realize how judgmental she was. She used to see kids on drugs and think, “What kind of parent lets their kid get addicted to drugs? My kids are never going to do drugs.” She finished by saying, “Boy did God open my eyes!” She learned to never judge again. She learned that no matter how hard you try and how many things you do right, sometimes bad things happen to good people. She hopes that parents with children in the darkest of times, look at Shawna and know that recovery is possible and that sometimes we win this battle. And then, sometimes, we don’t.

Shawna and a friend celebrating a Round Robin win.

Shawna and a friend celebrating a Round Robin win.

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Drugs & Addiction, Uncategorized

Aggies and Speedballs; A Normal Family’s Struggle with Drugs and Addiction

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.

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