Let’s face it, most Marinites have learned to put on a pretty good face and talk a pretty good game. But, that posture is tiring and many of us long to find community where there is true authenticity. Outside of 12 step programs and some communities of worship, few are the places where it doesn’t take a decades long investment to develop relationships that have the freedom to be authentic about the very real challenges we face.
My participation in the RVHCC has been amazing in many ways. It has been a real eye opener listening to the fears and challenges this community faces as it seeks to address the serious problems we have related to alcohol and drug use. My chatty, smart aleck brother used to say (tongue in cheek), “You learn more when you listen.” He was right!
As I’ve studied the data from the California Healthy Kids Survey (among others), and listened to experts talk on the subject of binge drinking and the changes in cannabis and its impact on the teen brain, it has been sobering (pun intended). BUT more, as I have listened to our local parents and teens, I’ve learned, truth be told, that underneath our “have it all together” outward selves, we are a rather fearful community. That’s certainly not all we are… but fear is a WAY bigger part of our day-to-day than our polite Marin mojo allows us to profess.
Over my 12 years in the community, I have found that my Ross Valley neighbors are delightful. They are friendly, bright, well-educated and go-getting problem solvers to be sure. But, the truth is that we are also more fragile than we want to admit and nothing exposes that more than the threat of the kinds of debilitating, disabling problems that come with a community where seeking refuge with drugs and alcohol is a viable and common option.
The RVHCC wants to expose the shortcomings of unwise decisions and their long term impacts in a community where underage using and abusing of drugs and alcohol is all too common. Simultaneously, the group seeks to promote healthy choices that will enable the flourishing of this community.
Representatives from all walks of life are part of the RVHCC and as a local pastor, I am glad that there is room for me! Essentially, pastors are in the heart business and as such, my area of concentration as a part of the RVHCC is asking “Why?” I am constantly asking questions like: Why are our kids making unhealthy choices? What are they seeking (mostly implicitly) as they make unhealthy choices? What is being modeled for them? Are the community leaders helping them to make wise choices? and more…
There are no pat answers, of course. But, several common answers to the “Why Question” come up over and over again.
First. Parents. One of the harder “truths” of the data and anecdotal feedback I have heard over the past two years is that parents in the Ross Valley model a way of life that says, ‘if it is a party or a celebration or a time to relax, alcohol is a big part.’ It doesn’t mean that we are all abusing alcohol or that there is no place for it. But, many kids are learning alcohol abuse from their parents. When the most lively topic of conversation related to the mother/son dance is “Who’s mom was the most hammered?,” that might just be a red flag! It is for me!
The second “Why” answer I most commonly hear relates to relieving pressure. It’s no surprise that our kids are under enormous pressure in the Ross Valley. While they have a great place to grow up, most of them feel the pressure of a community that says (again, implicitly) your identity is based upon your grades, test scores, which University you can get into, your athletic/artistic performance, your interesting passions, etc… Honestly, these are all good things, but “being someone” based upon our performance is an inherently fragile position that, from time to time, requires a release from the pressure. Consequently, binge drinking, a little weed or even a sexual hookup (according to a recent article in the Drake school paper) seems to be a common way to “take the edge off.”
Thirdly, I hear, “It’s fun” or “It works” as an answer to the WHY questions. In one sense, that’s understandable, but ultimately it’s a lie because it will only “work” until it “doesn’t”… and when it doesn’t, there can be life-changing problems.
Ultimately, however, I am very encouraged by the work of the RVHCC. They are offering strong educational opportunities, asking great questions and making a great contribution to the health of our community. It is a good start. Further, I am personally encouraged because healthy churches offer people of all ages a great community to humbly and authentically wrestle with these challenging issues and have deep resources to address the underlying fears and a fragile sense of identity with which we all wrestle.
Rod Miles, Dad, Husband, Drake Fan and Pastor of Grace Church of Marin
Each month, a member from each of the twelve sectors of our community shares their personal experience around youth alcohol and substance use and abuse.