Well, that happened. That moment all parents hope to avoid. The moment we tried to avoid when we were in high school, hoping our parents wouldn’t find out. The moment you hoped to avoid by having conversations, pointing out bad examples, and limiting their exposure to the likes of Snoop Doggy Dogg. We found out our oldest was on the drugs. Specifically, the POT. Not the pot you say. Yep, the pot, also known as weed, ganja, grass.
It happened Friday evening. We’d gotten off work and decided to stop by a local brewery for a quick pint. After enjoying a cold beverage, we decided to stop by the store, pick up some steaks, and go home to grill while enjoying a warm spring evening. Our oldest was home but we hadn’t shared with him our plans for the evening yet. He was downstairs when we walked in the house. A few minutes later my wife went upstairs to change out of her work clothes and there was the familiar smell of freshly blazed dank. Now I wasn’t up there but I’m guessing her first instincts were to blame me. However, I was fortunate enough to be in her company just minutes prior so I was off the hook. The rest of our kids were not home that evening so that left one culprit. The eighteen-year old; the high school senior with the long hair, who listens to rap and reggae.
Now my wife is an amazing mother and our son is an amazing kid. She has almost single handedly raised him into a great person. He gets good grades (mostly), has a part time job, plays competitive baseball, does a great job of helping with his younger brother, and old ladies love him. He’s already been accepted into his college of choice and has a bright future ahead of him. So, my wife being the amazing mother she is, she calls him upstairs and asks him why she smells weed. At first, like any teenager, he tries to play dumb. Not outright lying, but trying to play it off, like we aren’t standing in bedroom filled with as much weed smoke as a Method Man and Redman concert. But that lasts as long as it takes for my wife to bust out one of her signature looks and a few choice words before he fesses up.
All the emotions are now in play. Disbelief (we are good parents, damn it), disappointment (how could you do this?), anger (WTF, you trying to screw up your WHOLE life?!?), and guilt (it’s all our fault, we should have only let him listen to Christian rap). He’s only got one emotion at this point: FEAR. This is where the conversation starts. There is yelling, then more yelling. Then a break. Then some more yelling, all by us. Then another break. Then the questions. This is where it gets real cause we finally get through to him. He starts crying. And then he starts sharing. He tells us he’s been struggling with feelings of depression and anxiety. He had recently started smoking to sleep better at night. This made sense to us. In the past year my wife’s grandfather and grandmother both passed, we lost two of our family dogs, and he is months away from uprooting his entire existence to start a new chapter. It’s not surprising that at eighteen he is struggling to process all that he has going on. It’s been a lot for all of us to deal with.
Of course, we ask him why he hasn’t shared this with us before. Why is he ‘self-medicating’ instead of talking about his feelings with us or someone else. His response is, “I just keep things to myself. I never share my feelings. It’s who I am.” This is where I got scared. Real scared. Cause, in my opinion, this is where the danger is. Not in relation to the weed smoking but in relation to every aspect of his life.
There still exists some stigma for men about sharing our feelings. That we are supposed to be strong and independent; that we can’t show signs of being vulnerable. We’ve made progress but the persona still exists. And it’s not a healthy way to live. There are numerous studies that show the negative mental and physical effects of internalizing your emotions. In addition to the health concerns associated with this, not communicating your feelings will impact your relationships. Personally, I spent several years in a marriage where I was unhappy but unable or unwilling to share my feelings so those feelings never got addressed. Consequently, that marriage failed. Internalizing emotions perceived as negative is often where it starts but it soon spreads to where you no longer express the joy or happiness you’re experiencing either. Substance abuse can stem from an attempt to mask the emotions you don’t share or don’t address. Our son’s weed smoking was a direct result of him trying to deal with his feelings without sharing them. Fortunately for us, we caught this early.
“It’s who I am.” At just eighteen our son has already mentally defined himself. Isn’t that scary? Are you the same person today that you were at eighteen? Can you imagine if you were? Fortunately for me, I still have very few of the perceptions of myself that I had at eighteen. Thankfully I’m not still the unconfident, nerdy, skinny guy who can’t talk to girls that I believed myself to be back then. At least for the most part anyway. (I still can’t talk to girls. Just ask my wife.) However, I know I still have self-limiting thoughts just like our son. We all do. We all have thought or said the same thing as my son did. We’ve all put ourselves into a box with our thoughts and words, even if that wasn’t our intention. It’s not only related to negative perceptions either. We have a self-image that has both positive and negative perspectives. Our challenge is when we limit ourselves in who we are. That takes away our ability to become something else, something more.
We’ve all changed since were eighteen. Why would we think we won’t change still? “I’m too old to change” is what we tell ourselves as we get more complacent in our worlds. However, there are examples from thousands of people, who make the decision to change themselves and their lives every single day. If you’ve changed before you can again. If you’ve learned something new before you can again. If you’ve grown before you can again. We all have and we all are capable. The first step is acknowledgement. Acknowledgement that who you’ve been doesn’t have to be who you are or who you can be. Acknowledgement that you can step outside your comfort zone and learn to be a better version of who you are today.
Our son has shown acknowledgement. We talked about the damage of self-limiting beliefs. We discussed ways he can learn to share his feelings. We explored ideas that will help him get more comfortable as he learns a new way of processing emotions. He’s seen his own progression from a shy, short, chubby kid to the popular, tall, handsome young man he is today. This is just another change. One that we will help him work through. One that will have tremendous impact on his life, relationships, emotional and physical health. When we get him there, when we help him learn he can grow and change and become whoever he wants to be, then maybe we’ll spark up a j to celebrate. Then again, my wife might hurt me for that, and I like who I am.