Parents tell audience about son's drug addiction
If your child has a drug addiction, you can never be suspicious enough.
"Whenever you're not suspicious, I think you're deceiving yourself," Bruce Wlazelek told a group of parents recently. "You have to stay vigilant so that you can know when they need help in case they don't ask."
Wlazelek and his wife, Ann, of Upper Macungie Township, spoke at Queenship of Mary Church Nov. 13 as part of a parent support night sponsored by Valley Youth House, Project SUCCESS and Lehigh Valley Drug and Alcohol Intake Unit. Among those in attendance was Robert Steckel, assistant principal at Northampton Area High School, and Timothy Munsch, executive director of Lehigh Valley Drug and Alcohol Intake Unit.
Munsch invited the Wlazeleks to be guest speakers.
Ann Wlazelek called Munsch "a smart man," saying his choice "speaks to his experience … someone who knows that there are times when all the experts on earth cannot communicate as well as one other person who has walked in our shoes."
This was the first time the couple had spoken publicly about the their son, Brad, who died a year and a half ago from a heroin overdose.
"One of the things you have to do is get the B.S. out of your life," Wlazelek said. In this case, "B.S." refers to the "blame and shame" felt by parents of a drug or alcohol abuser.
Bruce Wlazelek questioned why anyone would want to hear them speak because they lost their son.
Munsch's answer was that they may offer the piece of information that helps another parent understand how serious drug addiction can be and to let other parents know they are not alone.
Ann Wlazelek, a health reporter for more than 25 years, said she believes society will always hold the parents accountable for addiction.
"Yet no one can blame me more than I blame myself for not being able to keep my son safe from drugs," she said. "I was quite naive and did not take seriously enough some of the early warning signs."
Brad was 13 when he first tried drugs. He told his parents that his first joint came after a Boy Scout meeting.
They learned of Brad's problem when he was dumped on their front porch at 1 a.m. They stayed up all night, afraid Brad would stop breathing. Experts told them later that they should have taken Brad to the ER because he could have died from alcohol poisoning.
It was "horror beyond belief" when she searched his room, Ann Wlazelek said. Learning that Brad was beyond experimentation and had become a serious addict was "perhaps the worst day of my life," she said.
At that point, the whole family began intensive outpatient treatment.
The Wlazeleks hoped and prayed that their son would be the exception to what counselors had taught them about addiction – that most addicts relapse. Brad learned how to cheat drug tests and even use legal medicines to get high.
Brad had been in rehab twice and had faced criminal charges. However, he also found employment, regained his self confidence and had a joy-filled relationship with his parents.
"He was a good son with a very bad problem," said his mother, who described their only son as a "terrific kid... and also super sensitive." Brad was a dean's list student and a talented guitarist.
"I hope none of you ever find your child passed out with a needle in his arm or a needle by the bed," she said. "I know he never meant to overdose or leave us this way." He was 29.
"I implore you to learn all you can to treat your child and yourselves with kindness and to never give up hope."
Bruce Wlazelek added that one of the most important things for parents to do is to overcome the denial. "I don't think you can be suspicious enough," he said.
One parent admitted that, even though she worked in the drug and alcohol and human services field, she didn't see it in her own son.
"I wasn't coming home expecting to see it after seeing it all day," she said. "I missed it."
"You have nothing to be ashamed of," Bruce Wlazelek said. "Unless you bought the drugs, you have nothing to be blamed for."
To show that there is no blame, the Wlazeleks had even mentioned their son's addiction in his obituary.
The Wlazeleks have never been really secretive about his drug problems, they told the group.
"I didn't see much point to that, especially if there might be an answer out there," said Ann Wlazelek. They have also found neighbors to be there for them after his arrest.
Bruce Wlazelek said that letting other people know isn't a bad thing because "you certainly have extra eyes on the street."
Munsch said he believes anonymity has hurt because "people hide their head in the sand." He said the initial reaction is "to hide in fearful hope."
He discovered, though, that the most common factor that makes a difference for everyone who graduates treatment is "engagement in the struggle." He encourages parents to "Engage in the struggle; get involved in the struggle for sobriety... Find out what the answer is for you."
A question-and-answer period followed the presentation, with community resource people available for assistance.
Munsch commented that the biggest problem in the U.S. and in our area is alcohol. It's the number one abused drug and it is legal, he said.
Another person in attendance commented that it is easier for a kid to buy drugs than it is to buy alcohol.
Discussion continued with brainstorming of awareness efforts. One idea was of a possible video produced by teens that would be a collaborative project, featuring both generations: kids speaking to their peers and parents speaking to their peers.
Teri Kistler, clinical director of Lehigh Valley Drug and Alcohol Intake Unit, said that the video would be a good senior project.
She would also like to see the national Red Ribbon campaign for the prevention of drug and alcohol abuse become as prominent as the pink breast cancer ribbon or the Autism awareness puzzle pieces.
For additional information on drug and alcohol prevention or intervention, contact Valley Youth House Project SUCCESS Counselor, Cheryl Gilbert at 610-262-7813 ext. 11124.
For emergency services in Northampton County, call 610-252-9060.