A guest post by Reagan Murphy.
Reagan Murphy is a Junior studying communications at Southern New Hampshire University. She first got involved with The New Hampshire Teen Institute in 2011 as a participant in the Leaders in Prevention Middle School program and returned the following year as a participant in the Summer Leadership Program and volunteer staff member every year since. In November of 2016 she accepted a position as the Program Coordinator where she was able to help the Teen Institute plan their many leadership and prevention programs year round. Reagan also enjoys performing in a number of different ways, whether it be theater, ukulele, singing, or improv.
Every person who has experienced the heartache of losing a loved one to addiction understands the feeling of "if only I had … "
Understanding that you cannot control the outcomes of someone with a substance use disorder's behavior, we still blame ourselves in times of setbacks or loss. Guilt is a natural part of any grieving process, but those of us who are involved with prevention programs like the New Hampshire Teen Institute may experience this guilt in a more complex way.
New Hampshire Teen Institute (TI) offers day programs, workshops, and weekend retreats for youth across the state, but our biggest program of the year is the Summer Leadership Program, a week-long summit for high school students across New England. At the Summer Leadership Program, participants spend the week attending workshops and building skills that allow them to emerge as leaders in their communities, such as personal growth and development, acceptance of diverse people and cultures, and prevention strategies against engaging in risky behaviors.
Parallel to highly effective curriculum and programming, TI builds a community of love, acceptance, and joy that many of our participants have never experienced before (commonly referred to by our volunteers as the "TI Magic"). We create a week-long micro-culture that allows high schoolers to explore their own struggles with compassion and openness instead of anger and fear. Many of these struggles include dealing with addiction themselves or being from a family with loved ones living with a substance use disorder. Participants also hear about the struggles of their peers, and are able to recognize differences and commonalities between themselves and others. We then connect participants to a network of peer and adult supporters.
Those of us who have been through the Summer Leadership Program know that it works.We see the results of our engagement with TI in our daily lives, whether we only went once ten years ago, or we return year after year as staff members to help facilitate the experience for new groups of young people. The experience and its results stay with you forever and the memory of unconditional acceptance is always fresh in your mind. So, when an alumnus of our program experiences a loss of a loved one, the guilty feeling and phrase usually ends like this:
"If only I had gotten them to go to TI."
Of course, we can't promise that TI will "save" everyone from a substance use, but we know how powerful a program like ours can be. What remains so hard to accept is that help cannot be forced upon someone who isn't ready. Many of us at TI face the constant battle of wanting our loved ones to attend the Summer Leadership Program because they need that "TI magic" so badly, but they cannot attend for various reasons.
However, that does not mean we have to accept defeat. "TI Magic" is not just a fountain of healing you can send broken people to. "TI Magic" lives in every person who has experienced the program. TI is not a place, TI is the people. When someone really needs the positivity, acceptance, growth, and love that lives at the Summer Leadership Program, we are better prepared to give it to them. It doesn't need to be a hot week in July at a random camp in New Hampshire for that person to heal. You are TI.
Remember that representatives of TI or any other prevention program are not held solely responsible for the rehabilitation of our loved ones. All you have the ability to do is be there for them if they need it, if they want it, and if they are willing. If they are ready, they will accept it. If they are not, then understand it isn't your fault. You have the magic, it's up to them to let it in.
For more information, visit nhteeninstitute.org