by Liz Stoeckel
On October 3, 2004, seventy-five people gathered in Fresno, California to hold a prayer vigil for a missing 16-year old girl. I’d seen these vigils on the news—pictures of a smiling teenager, Mom begging for information, candles lighting up the night, and volunteers handing out flyers. I wasn’t watching this scene unfold on the 6:00 news, however. The face on the flyer belonged to my daughter.
Our youngest child, Giana, was missing. My husband, Tom, and I had watched our only daughter slip further and further from us and deeper into the abyss of addiction. Her drug of choice was Meth, and like thousands of other California teens, she was loosing her soul to this insidious drug.
We were all too familiar with Meth. One of our two sons had been using for over a year, and we watched helplessly as he spun quickly and profoundly out of control. He was over eighteen years of age, and we didn’t have the legal right to intervene. Now our baby girl was addicted and lost. We were beyond devastated.
Every new challenge was scarier and darker than the one before. Drug addiction doesn’t just wreak havoc on the user. It rains down on what often turns out to be irreparable damage on every person he or she loves. The last time anyone saw our daughter, she’d been in the company of a known drug user with a string of offenses – and they’d taken our family car.
The morning after the vigil we did what we’d done every day since Giana went missing—we called our cell phone provider to see if she’d made any calls. The answer had always been the same, “No activity.” But that morning we learned she’d called a number in Santa Cruz—a coastal town more than 150 miles away. We dialed the unfamiliar number. The woman who answered on the second ring claimed to not know Giana, but my heart felt she was lying. I got dressed, picked up a friend for support, and headed to the Central Coast.
Our family had spent many a summer vacation in Santa Cruz, so I drove to all our favorite spots hoping to find my little girl. My friend and I walked the Boardwalk, explored a familiar campground in Soquel, searched the beaches, and talked to police. I even checked the homeless shelters. There was no sign of my daughter.
I would not leave Santa Cruz until I searched every nook and cranny for our funny, beautiful, tap dancing princess. She was in serious trouble. I felt like I was playing a game of tug-o-war with Meth on one side, and me and my husband on the other. Our children were the prize.
We were determined to fight. Meth could NOT have our kids!
What happened next on that October morning in 2004 is nothing short of a miracle. My friend and I were on our way to another shelter, but something told me to turn left instead. It was then that I saw a sign directing me to Harvey West Park. I felt compelled to follow the directional signs. Then—in the far corner of the beautiful park, in the very last parking spot, I saw Giana sitting on the hood of our Camry.
Meth was a hurricane that blew through our lives with ferocious furry. Our son went to jail and we sent our daughter to the Aspen Ranch rehab in Loa, Utah.
We are not alone. Sadly, addictions among teenagers are robbing families of their joy and kids of their childhoods.
When Giana was in rehab we had the profound privilege of meeting other families whose children were in crisis. Not all of them were drug addicts, but all were acting out through dangerous and destructive behaviors.
“Kristy” was a cutter. Her arms and legs were covered with scars—small and large marks left behind after months of self-inflicted mutilation.
“Marissa” had no eyebrows. Her depression and angst caused her to look for ways to self-sooth. She was desperate to feel something other than the intense internal pain that dominated her every thought. Pulling her own hair out gave her comfort.
We met parents whose children were alcoholics, drug addicts, and angry raging adolescents. We all had one thing in common—we desperately loved our children and we would do anything to save their lives.
If, as you’ve been reading this, you’re thinking that it all sounds eerily familiar, I want to give you hope. Giana was in a rehab in Loa, Utah for seven months. She came home clean and sober, finished high school, and now lives in South Africa where she volunteers at an orphanage! Our oldest son beat his addiction, is working, happy and successful.
If you’re struggling with a troubled teenager or young adult, please don’t try to do it all on your own. There are wonderful people out there ready to answer your questions and help you help your child.
Perhaps you’re a teenager who recognizes yourself in our story. I promise you there are people who love you and whose arms and hearts are open to you.
Last week we learned that the specific rehab that cared for Giana recently closed. I feel like I lost dear members of my family. When hearing about the closure, Giana posted this on her Facebook page:
A quick shout out to everyone who has been apart of Aspen Ranch. In March they announced that their doors were closing. Take a minute to think back on your time there. All the memories-Country Cafe, the blizzards, Saturday deep cleans, our horses – Gus and Nia, TEAM 6 WOOH-WOOH! Because of you, Aspen, and everyone involved in it, I am where I am today. I’m alive, I’m sober, I’m happy, I’m living in South Africa involved in something AMAZING. I tip my hat to you, Aspen Ranch. There will always be love for Loa.
Resources for you and your troubled teen:
If you’re a parent and you discover that one of your children is a victim of teenage drug abuse, the best thing you can do is get your child much needed addiction treatment help.