There was a time when all we had to worry about was the next biology test, Friday night’s date, and getting your Dad’s car back home unscathed. We never thought about drugs; cocaine and marijuana may have been around in some dark quarters, used by loser kids, but the designer drugs hadn’t been invented as yet, so our parents couldn’t warn us against them.

So we drank a little, and smoked a little and made out in the back seats of our cars, and the boys left to win the War.

Things began to change in the 1960’s, and my daughter informed me that groups of high school kids were smoking marijuana in the local park. Later we had a conversation regarding what we thought was the most threatening thing coming to our country. She said overpopulation and I said drug use. It turns out we were both right.

By the 70’s and 80’s drug use was not only evident but available to anyone. The argument of whether marijuana use led to hard drugs was tossed back and forth in intellectual groups as if people knew what they were talking about.

By the 90’s we began to be concerned with late night “raves” and more frequent partying in fraternities and sororities. The so-called “gourmet” drugs were far more frightening than marijuana.

In 2011 or thereabout, we visited a teenage drug rehab residence to visit our fourteen year old great-granddaughter.

If you have not experienced a beloved child being hooked on a chemical substance, it’s difficult to imagine the impact it has on an entire family. Through many visits to many rehab establishments, the same childish faces appear, growing a little more streetwise with each visit. As the years go by, you realize that the things which made the teenage years so pleasant for you would never apply to this child.

She had been using drugs since the age of eleven and she told me “I tried it and I liked it.”

Who gives eleven year old kids drugs? There is no bearded fanatic hiding in the bushes, it’s schoolyard friends who trade back and forth. The chain of connection is so indirect it can’t be traced. Prescription drugs and cold medicine, found in most homes along with alcohol and even bath salts are readily available.

Obviously not everyone is a potential victim. Chronic stress and trauma in childhood play the determining factor in predicting who will lose control once they start using drugs. Early life experience programs the brain and body for the environment it encounters. A calm nurturing upbringing predisposes a child to thrive, while scarcity, anxiety and chaos threaten. We all need a little stress to condition us to handle the big stuff, but when someone encounters an emotional roadblock too large to hurdle, it can send us over the edge.

A broken home, a lack of self-esteem, shyness or rebelliousness, the sudden introduction of another child into the family, trauma which comes in doses that are too large or too unpredictable over which the person has little or no control are all contributing factors to future drug use. All of these triggers were there for us to see.

Our granddaughter, a sweet and beautiful young woman, will be twenty years old this year and at present seems to be doing fine. We tend to focus on the ones who slip through the cracks, but many of these kids go on to lead successful, productive though delayed lives.


stairway “Heavenly Stairway” Original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen


Ask the way to the river.
Don’t go where others lead you.

Reach for the rope.
It will lead you home.

You can’t go back
to come to this place

where inkstained
marks on a kitchen door

show where the top
of your head once reached.

Life was warm and safe
on top of the hill, but

childhood trust in strangers
took your childhood.

Don’t go back to sleep
Girl with golden hair.

Sometimes all someone needs
is a second chance.

Reach for the rope.
It will lead you home.