Katherine Eitel Belt - International Speaker, Author & Coach.
Austin's Story by his Mother's, Katherine Eitel Belt
One of LionSpeak’s most popular presentations right now is called Courageous Conversations which trains professionals on the leadership skill of having crucial conversations. But, sometimes the most crucial conversations you’ll ever need to have are with a family member or friend. Fortunately, the skill set is the same. For me, mastering this skill was hard won.
On July 20th, my youngest son, Austin, turned 29 years old… which means of course, that one year from now all my children will be over 30! (How the blazes that happened, I’ll never know.) Every parent’s journey with each of their children is different. Every child’s journey with each of their parents is different. Both experiences can’t help but form the person, teaching lessons good and bad, that become some of the most important in our lives. My relationship with Austin has been no exception.
Eight years ago, circumstances forced me to have one of the most important conversations of my life with Austin and because there was so much on the line for him and me… I reached out for coaching to prepare. It was one of my very best decisions.
This particular Monday Morning Stretch is about that conversation and is one I’ve wanted to write for some time. I prayed someday I would be able to write it. To publish it, I had to be patient and certain. The timing had to be just right for me and, more importantly, for Austin. After much conversation and double/triple-checking back and forth between us, I share this story… our story… with Austin’s full permission, encouragement, and unwavering support. To do so, required honesty, vulnerability, and transparency from both of us. We share it in the hopes that our journey will support and uplift some of you or someone you know.
In school, Austin was a great student and an elite athlete. A class leader and competitive motocross racer, he was considered an Amateur Pro (which allowed him to be paid) by the time he was seventeen. But motocross is a dangerous sport and, not unlike many athletes, there is always the possibility of an injury. Sometimes, they can be severe. His was.
After a very bad accident on the racetrack and long hospital stay, Austin was eventually released with a good prognosis, lots of stitches, casts on the all the broken bones, a bruised liver and spleen, and pages of homecare instructions to assist in the long road to recovery. He had a bag full of bandages, salves and creams, antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and …. prescription pain medications.
Released to recuperate under the steady care of his parents, we were loving, supportive, and unfortunately … massively ignorant about the enormous dangers lying dormant within the large bottle of opioids we found within the bag. We received no cautionary information other than the paper insert that accompanies every drug bottle with microscopic fine print which we tossed in the trash without bothering to read. I mean, we had the doctor’s instructions after all, right?
We gave him all of the medications according to those instructions. Little did we know that the innocuous-looking little white pills that we were giving him would radically change his life, and ours, forever. The medication that made him feel so much better at the time would be the catalyst for an addiction that would quickly transform this terrific young man with a very bright future into someone we wouldn’t even recognize and would be the beginning of seven long years of a living hell.
I didn’t know a lot about drugs, addiction, or the opioid epidemic in our society back then. But, I do now. More than I ever wanted to know. Turns out that pain pills not only take away physical pain but also emotional and physiological pain as well. And, what teenager doesn’t have a healthy dose of that? Austin found himself behind his competitors now in the race standings. School work was piling up. Girlfriend issues. Arguments with his parents or his brother. And a simple little pill made it all seem better.
When the pills ran out, he found old ones in my medicine cabinet. When those were gone he found them “on the street.” He had a bank account with race earnings and his own money. By the time his money was gone, his previously-blind parents had begun to open their eyes to the fact that something was seriously wrong. He had started to pilfer the money he needed to support his growing habit from family members, friends, and even strangers when he could. He learned quickly how to heat the drugs and inhale the fumes for a quicker, better high. And, eventually, when he could no longer find a way to afford the expensive pill form of the opioids, like so many thousands of users… he turned to the one thing that he swore would be his line in the sand… shooting cheap heroine intravenously. In the blink of an eye, a cruel, relentless, undiscriminating monster had firmly taken up residence within the body and mind of my beautiful, talented, amazing son and there was nothing anyone including his parents could do about it.
It would be seven long, hard years in and out of rehabs, interventions, hospitals, jail cells, relapses, car accidents, courtrooms, specialists, and sober living facilities before he would finally claw his own way out of the nightmare and get and stay clean for any measurable length of time. I’m relieved, grateful, and proud to say that he has been clean and healthy for almost two years.
As he heads towards his third year of sobriety and recovery, we know that in this precarious world of addiction, this is far from any kind of a guarantee. But, it is a current victory that seemed virtually impossible for hundreds of sleepless nights. And so, here we are. In this fragile state of reclaiming a life almost lost to overdoses, blood-borne diseases, and legal problems, we talk a lot these days about what made the difference for him? What was the turning point?
Austin would tell you that, for him, two things made the difference: 1) a crucial “tough love” conversation I had with him years ago and 2) the realization that he had something to live for, to fight for, to run toward versus something to run from. Over the next two Stretches, with Austin’s guidance and permission, we are going to explore both of these and discover how they can be useful in turning around the most hopeless circumstances or challenging positions in life.
For today though, my message is simple. In ours, as in any relationship, there were two parties with different outcomes at stake but with one shared hope for the future. Austin had to do the hard work of recovery, find his own reasons to fight this fight, and make a personal decision to claim his life. To come out of the dark, there had to be a hope in front of him.
The same was true for me. I had to do the hard work of parenting, find my own reasons to fight this fight, and make a personal decision to not lose my own life trying to save his. To come out of the darkness, there had to be a hope in front of me.
It’s time to come clean. Its healing to take the ghosts out of the closet and watch them lose their power over you. It’s cathartic to help others find their way by sharing what has worked and to watch hope spring up in their tired eyes. Austin inspires me with the strength of his will, honesty, and determination to make a difference with his life. He wonders if he has been spared for a purpose. I have no doubt about that at all.
Austin and I both feel that it’s time to come out of the shadows and into the light with a message of hope and optimism. On this Music Monday (always the first Monday of the month), I chose Hope in Front of Me by Danny Gokey. The lyrics capture the message we both wish to send to you today: No matter what you’ve done, where you’ve been, where you are, what you’ve seen, or what you’ve experienced… there’s hope in front you. As a young man and as a parent, we are living proof that miracles can happen, hard work will pay off, and there’s always a reason to hope and work hard for a better future.
The time feels right for us to spread not only this message, but also some actual skills sets for facing challenging times for yourself or someone you love. Austin and I are developing a program to offer perspectives and tools from both the addict’s and the parent’s viewpoint in the hope that we can inspire, empower, and give courage and hope to those who are struggling with this and other overwhelming challenges. We also hope to be an advocate for dental and medical professionals to recognize and assist patients with addiction issues and to improve their preventive educational conversations when prescribing these dangerous medications. If you are part of an organization that might be interested in our program, as an inspirational keynote, breakout, or interview, please contact us at info@LionSpeak.net and we’ll add you to our list to receive more detailed information when it’s available.
You can listen to a preview here in an interview I did last year about our experience: Click Here (the actual interview starts about one minute in… )
There is a passage from the book, The Water Giver, that reads, “Parenthood is about raising and celebrating the child you have, not the child you thought you’d have. It’s about understanding your child is exactly the person they are supposed to be. And, if you’re lucky, they might be the teacher who turns you in to the person you’re supposed to be.”
More profound words have never been written for me as a parent. Austin, and everything we’ve been through, has been a gift and over time is turning us both into the people we are supposed to be.