Alex Schlee | Staff Writer | 10-24-2011
Straight Talk is a panel sponsored by Lifestyle Educators as part of National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week and has been held for four years in a row. The panel is meant to help reach out to students and tell real-life stories about how alcohol affects the lives of young people. It was headed by Health Education Coordinator Jacob Passa and Connie Aagard, a psychologist at BSU’s health counseling center.
“The Straight Talk Panel idea blossomed from an alcohol awareness week planning session with the Lifestyle Educators (student peer educators) four years ago,” Passa explained. “I’ve organized the panel from the beginning with help from the Lifestyle Educators and one of our first panel members who had lots of experience participating in a similar program, while serving time in a penitentiary.”
As mentioned before, five people spoke at Straight Talk: Kaylyyn, Keri, Scott, Cole, and Ryan. All of them are, or were, students at BSU. Their last names were not provided, due to some tender stories shared during their speeches.
“Unfortunately we don’t have to look too hard to find students that have been in treatment or are in recovery from additions,” lamented Passa.
All the speakers were volunteers brought to the panel to share their stories. Scott, a BSU graduate from the class of ’99, was connected to the panel through his personal counselor. Kaylynn and Cole, who are both freshmen, heard of Straight Talk through their FYE class where Jacob Passa came to speak to them about alcohol awareness and mentioned it. They both wanted to share their stories, so they decided to participate. Keri, a current sophomore, was hooked up with Straight Talk through her Alcoholics Anonymous group. Ryan first heard of Straight Talk through a friend of his that spoke there and thought it sounded like something he would want to do.
“I wanted to do it last year, but I came too late,” Ryan said as he explained how he was contacted this year due to his previous interest.
To date, 24 people have spoken at Straight Talk through the years; most of them have been students. Some speakers in the past have come from prison or rehab to speak at the panel.
The five volunteer speakers participating this year each took turns sharing cautionary tales of their experiences with the audience about what addiction can do to a young person’s life. Their stories dealt with problems ranging from the financial crises addiction can impose, to how growing up in an environment where drugs are the norm influenced their views on substance abuse.
Scott went first, explaining about the grievous financial effects of alcohol addiction. A DUI costs $22,000, and Scott had paid off four of them before realizing he needed counseling.
“Financially […] it does a lot,” Scott warned.
Keri also warned against the financial difficulties imposed by drug addiction. She was addicted to methamphetamine, and had to start selling drugs in order to support her dependency.
“Drugs are not a cheap habit,” Keri explained. Despite this, Keri couldn’t quit her addiction, and ended up going to prison, where she received treatment.
“I said when it wasn’t fun anymore, I would quit, but I couldn’t,” said Keri. “Going to prison was the best, and worst, day of my life.”
The next speaker was Cole, who is a freshman this year. She told about how the addictions of others can affect the lives of those around them, sharing her story about her father’s alcoholism and how it impacted her.
“I was done with my dad. His addiction was bringing me down. . .You can’t blame yourself for someone else’s addiction,” Cole said.
The other two speakers, Ryan and Kaylynn, both dealt with addiction from a very early age. Ryan grew up in an apartment complex where drugs and alcohol were the norm, and Kaylynn was introduced to drugs through her father. Both of them had substance-abuse issues by their mid-teens.
Fortunately for the two of them, they took control of their lives as they got older. Kaylynn sought counseling and got clean when she found out she was pregnant, and Ryan went sober because he was sick of the direction his life was going.
“You’re going to have to help yourself. No one is going to do it for you,” Ryan advised the audience. “It’s not a game. . .Alcohol will destroy your life.”
Each speaker’s presentation lasted about 20 minutes or so. This year’s Straight Talk panel had some very heartfelt speeches that delivered the message of abstinence from drugs and alcohol to its audience with stark honesty.
“The Straight Talk panel is not about alcohol-related school policy, state laws or tough love, it’s about cruel reality,” Jacob Passa said. “We want to give our students the straight facts so that you can make informed decisions and help them to avoid negative consequences. . .We’ve been
fortunate to have some very special people on our Straight Talk panel over the years with the courage to share their personal stories of triumph over adversities. We ask them to speak from the heart and the message usually comes across with honesty and passion.”