Father having a moment with daughter

Family Health

Why I’m Honest With My Daughter About My Past Drug Use

Jan 6, 2021

The first time I dropped acid was the night before my Grade 10 geography exam. I took half a white blotter of LSD and waited. Thirty minutes later, feeling no effect, I took the second half. Within minutes, the first half kicked in, and I entered a dreamily beautiful and terrifying realm.

I had willingly untethered the subconscious filters that had anchored reality for 15 years. It took all the control I could muster to remind myself it was only a drug. But I knew the second half of the dose would soon make its presence felt, a gathering tsunami of altered reality. The thought of it made my heart pound.

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I think of this memory as my 14-year-old tells me about a student who showed up at her school on acid. I wasn’t surprised — a neighbour, whose child had attended the same school, brought this issue to my attention while discussing school options a few years back. There’s a lot of drugs at that school she had said. Other parents, in subsequent conversations, concurred. I didn’t give it much thought at the time. I had survived the drug phase. Why wouldn’t she?

"If my child is in a negative situation because of drugs or alcohol, I want her to trust that she can reach out for help unconditionally and without fear of punishment."

I had to be better. It’s not one of those things you can ignore, hoping it will pass. It won’t. Drugs have never been so prevalent. In my neighbourhood, no fewer than five cannabis shops have sprung up in the past year. According to a recent survey by MADD Canada, 15 to 25-year-olds have the highest rate of cannabis use in Canada, and Canadian youth have the highest rate in the developed world. Teenage alcohol consumption and binge drinking remain steady. There’s also W-18 — thought to be a new synthetic opioid — 100 times more potent than fentanyl. Oh, and throw in a global pandemic, which has many Canadians self-medicating like there’s no tomorrow.

But what can you do to protect your child at this fragile and impressionable age?

I’m sure most parents agree that there are no simple answers. That said, there are basic principles that are important to keep in mind. I learned several of these a few years back on a writing assignment scripting a series of scenarios to help parents talk to their children about drugs and alcohol. My biggest takeaway? Talk early and talk often.

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How early is early? Begin talking about drugs as soon as your child can understand the basic concepts of “good” and “bad” medicine. Good medicine helps make you better when you become sick. Bad medicine makes you sick. It’s an important distinction to draw at an early age.

As my daughter got older, we always discussed drugs and alcohol in a factual and non-judgmental way. We believe it helps create a bond of trust. If my child is in a negative situation because of drugs or alcohol, I want her to trust that she can reach out for help unconditionally and without fear of punishment.

While it’s one thing to nurture open and honest discussion, it’s another entirely to share your own experiences with drug experimentation. What if it’s seen as a sign of weakness? Or an endorsement of drug use? Or an attempt to scare her into doing the right thing?

"I long ago decided to share this and other drug and alcohol experiences with my daughter."

My LSD experience that night was scary enough and needed no embellishment. As I wandered the streets trying to keep my panic under control, I was haunted by a story I’d heard about a kid who never came down from his first acid trip and was institutionalized for life. What if that kid was me?

At one point, I saw the lights of a car approaching from behind. I heard the tires slow and stop. Afraid to look back, I kept walking. A gruff voice called out to "hold it right there!" It was the police. I turned to accept my impending arrest and saw nothing but a dark and empty street. 

And so it went, hallucination after hallucination until dawn came and the effects of the drug diminished. My fear gradually subsided and was replaced by a state of absolute clarity and focus. I returned home and caught a few hours of sleep before my 9:00 a.m. exam.

I long ago decided to share this and other drug and alcohol experiences with my daughter. Not because I’m proud of it or because I recommend any artificially altered state. Nowadays, if I advocate for anything, it’s abstinence from everything. I share it because she could soon be in a similar position, wondering if she should do that second half of the blotter, take that next drink, smoke that joint — or get into a vehicle with someone who has.

And maybe, just maybe, remembering my story will help her make a smart decision. A decision that will help keep her safe. A decision made possible because we talked early and talked often.

Article Author Craig Stephens
Craig Stephens

Read more from Craig here.

Craig Stephens is an award-winning writer and documentary film producer who is passionate about developing projects that explore social issues and innovation. He is currently shooting and producing Long Ride Home, a project that explores innovative healing paths for post-traumatic stress. Craig lives in Toronto with his wife, a writer, theatre producer, and podcaster, and their tween daughter – his most challenging and rewarding project to date!  You can catch his latest work at mediadiner.com.

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