My earliest memory of substance prevention was in the beginning of my third grade year. An officer came into the classroom and brought with him a showcase displaying the different types of drugs. I still remember it today, the D.A.R.E program and all I was interested in was what kind of weapon did he carry, has he shot anyone and what was the fastest he has been in his car. Neither this program or the curriculum could have prepared me enough to understand the depths of addiction and the direct and indirect impact it would have on me and my community.

Drinking alcohol appeared to me as an acceptable drink that the adults in my life consumed whenever they were together, so this along with my dad owning a bar quickly became an interest of mine. I remember daring my brother to take a drink of some whiskey that was in the cupboard, and he said no way, you do it — just the words I was looking for! I took my first drink at a young age, and this eventually became a weekly practice into my teens leading up to my fathers death, the real lesson on the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

The cause of my father’s death was a lesson that alcohol, drugs and tobacco do actually kill and for him it caused him to have a massive heart attack and taking his life at the young age of 39. This lesson moved me to make a pact with my friends to never use “drugs” — at least my understanding of drugs like methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana, etc. But I had alcohol in its own category by itself and not linked to drugs. My perception of alcohol as different from drugs was a very costly mistake.

By the time my dad’s death was settling in, so was the path that alcohol was leading me on. While out ice fishing one evening and drinking with my friends, a kid that I knew stopped by the fish house and asked if anyone wanted to buy some pot. When my friends and I said yes to this, it opened the door for a life beyond my worst nightmares. I was introduced to one new drug after another, leading me into a life of addiction.

After I was introduced in the late ‘90s to meth, it was like a high-speed rollercoaster ride that made me feel like I was on top of the world until it didn’t. My first trip to jail, I was introduced to Crow Wing County Sheriff Investigator Andy Galles. I was extremely scared, but not enough to be “scared straight.” I was only able to stop for a few hours after being released from jail only to be arrested multiple more times before getting the opportunity to go to treatment and get help, and then relapsing again after about five years.

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From 2009 until March of 2014, I discovered that everyone’s rock-bottom has a trap door and for my wife and I that trap door led to the last façade I had of being “OK” and that was having our children removed from our home.

Although this was the most painful experience in my life, it was enough for me to desire change — complete change that would require a supernatural transformation of mind, body and spirit. After a couple of years of growing, learning and developing who I was and who my family was, we were reunited with our children. Over the next few years I would also be reunited with Andy Galles with Crow Wing County Sheriff's Department, where together with Social Services and many other agencies began the work of BLADE.

The power of having people in your life that see your potential and remind you is priceless. I experienced this power to the point of becoming a Certified Peer Specialist, which opened the door for me to come off disability and go back to work, first at Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge and later I accepted the executive director position for Lakes Area Restorative Justice Project. This was the big part of my life, when I could look back at the words of friends, mentors, pastor, family and see what they were really saying.

Over the past five years I have had the privilege of seeing the pieces of my life that caused me the greatest amount of pain and use them to help others discover that the end results that all drugs lead to a very dark and lonely place. I have had the privilege of sharing my message to Brainerd seventh graders for about five years and they write thank you letters that I get and save for later. Here is one I would like to end with that shares the power of community investment into others:

“You came to our class as a guest speaker, I usually don’t pay much attention and zone off when they come. But you definitely were not a normal guest speaker. I’ll give you that. Your not doing this because you have a job or money, you come to our class on your own good will. You don’t want our life to turn out like yours. You turned your life around and became successful again. Everyone should look up to you and thank you, you want to give us an opportunity that no one else can give us with a story that kept me entertained the whole time. Your as much a hero as a doctor, firefighter or police officer for what you do for the kids of Forestview. There may be nothing that can bring order to our school, but I am sure that you stopped some kids from going rouge. You restore peace to Brainerd, you would give almost anything you have to save our lives. Thank you for your time, I will never do drugs and end up like you used to be. It’s not cool, but I’m too strong for that thanks to you. I want to help you in your mission some day and I know others will want to join too. Thank you so much Mr. Andrews, you are serving the peace in the world, so thank you with care from anonymous 7th grader Mrs. Hopperstad 7th grade Health Class Forestview Middle School Baxter MN…..”

It is important to talk to your kids about the dangers of alcohol and other drugs. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) outlines why this is important and has additional resources on their website: https://bit.ly/3DZ8PSj.

Brian Andrews is executive director of Lakes Area Restorative Justice Project.