Jen lived next door to me; we were best-friends growing up. I've known her since pre-school. We played together, had sleep-overs and walked to the bus stop to go to school every morning. As we got older, Jen started hanging out with the wrong crowd and getting into trouble. By the time we got into High School, she tried committing suicide, overdosed and ended up spending the first month of her sophomore year of HS in a rehab/psychiatric hospital. When she came out of the hospital, she started going to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous.) She stayed sober for about a year and then ended up relapsing. From 17 to 21, I watched alcohol and drugs take over her life. She started using heavy drugs and didn't care if she lived or died. After we graduated HS, we went our separate ways; working and going to college, not really talking much because we were living such different lives. She had been to AA, rehab, therapy and I knew that nothing could make her stop unless she really wanted to get sober again. I knew all I could do was to tell her that I cared. Every year, I put a birthday and Christmas card in her mailbox, letting her know that if she ever needed me, that I was there for her. When I was a junior in college, I came home one afternoon and my mom met me outside. I got out of the car and she told me that Jen had died the night before. I just stood there in shock, didn't say a word, I could hardly move. I turned around and started walking' down my driveway and then walked up to Jen's house. I rang the bell; took one look at her mother and fell apart. Jen died alone in her car that night after using Special K. She had just turned 21. She was in school to become a Vet Tech and had so much to live for. It's been more than 6 years since she passed away and it's still hard to believe that she's really gone. Every year on her birthday and the anniversary of her death, I go to her grave and think back to when we were kids. I dedicate so much of my success and work to Jen's memory. I received my masters in social work in 2004 and have been working in a High School ever since. Everyday, I try to reach out and help kids not to follow in her footsteps. So many kids that drink and use drugs say "that'll never happen to me." And, I think to myself, if not you, then who? A friend, a family member, a neighbor. Coming from a small (wealthy, suburban) HS of only 400 kids, I've known about 10 kids who have died from either suicide or overdoses. I never thought that attending funerals for kids my age and visiting the cemetery would be part of my life, but it is. Alcoholism, addiction and mental illness do not discriminate. It doesn't matter how old you are, where you live, what color your skin is or how much money you have. All I can say is that if you or someone you know thinks they have a problem, they probably do and you should get some help before it's too late. Talk to a school counselor, an adult or look up your local AA or hotline #s. It's not about ratting on someone or getting in trouble, it's about saving' someone's life.
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