Jaiden Gallery is only in seventh grade, but she already knows how drug use can destroy lives.
Four years ago, she and her younger brother, Takoda, had to leave their drug-addicted parents in Klamath Falls and move in with their grandparents in Medford. It was a big change for Jaiden, who had been taking care of her brother and herself.
"My parents were always on drugs and alcohol, and it ruined my life and it ruined a lot of other people's lives," she said. "So when I went and moved to my grandparents', everything was better. It was a new experience without drugs and alcohol, and that's how I want everybody to be. I actually got to be a kid for once, and it was so much better."
These days, Jaiden, 13, is earning good grades at Hedrick Middle School and playing soccer, volleyball and basketball.
When her health teacher gave an assignment to the class to write an anti-drug essay with the theme "My Natural High," Jaiden wrote about how soccer is her natural high. She also revealed how hard her life had been.
Her teacher was so impressed with the essay she had Jaiden read it to the class. The teacher also visited other classes at the school to share Jaiden's message.
Jaiden entered her essay in the Natural High organization's national essay contest — and she is now one of four finalists competing for a $1,000 prize and a trip to San Diego for the Natural High Gala.
People can see the four finalist entries and vote for Jaiden's essay at https://naturalhigh.wishpond.com/2017vecfinals/
Voting ends Friday.
She is competing against track athlete Joel Royster, dancer Brynli Swallow and aspiring actress Mary Anderson. Both Royster and Swallow submitted video essays, while Anderson, like Jaiden, entered a written essay.
"It's usually a high-schooler with a video who wins, not a middle-schooler," Jaiden said, but she's hopeful supporters will vote for her essay.
In the essay, Jaiden described how she needs to stay strong and healthy in order to play soccer, but drug use destroys people.
"I grew up surrounded by drugs and alcohol," she wrote. "I know what it does to a person. Drugs and alcohol make you forget what’s important. Like family, jobs, bills, and even your physical health. My parents were always doing drugs with me and my siblings around. It has not only affected their lives, but my siblings and mine as well. I live with one of my brothers and my grandparents because my parents weren’t capable of taking care of my siblings and me.
"It was definitely harder growing up because of drugs and alcohol. There’s a constant fear of being taken away from your parents and being put into foster care. Some people don’t realize how lucky they are that they grew up in a nice home with parents who actually looked after them. I may have grown up hard, but I had grandparents who were willing to take me in and get me out of that situation. I’ve been with my grandparents for four years now and I am excelling in school and at home."
Jaiden's grandparents, Natalie and Casey Jones, said it didn't require a big transition to take in Jaiden and her little brother, because they were already visiting regularly on weekends. The kids' parents don't have much contact.
"They call once every four or five months," Casey Jones said, but he noted more frequent contact would probably just be confusing and hurtful to the kids.
Natalie Jones' adult son is the father of the two kids.
"My son is dying of pulmonary arterial hypertension now because of drugs," Natalie Jones said, referring to high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs. "I'm waiting for the phone call saying, 'He's gone.' It will be really hard on me and the kids. It won't be easy to tell them when the time comes."
Drugs like methamphetamine, a powerful stimulant, speed up the heart while constricting blood vessels. The pressure on the heart and vessels can lead to heart attacks, strokes and tears and disintegration of blood vessels in the lungs and other parts of the body.
Jaiden addressed those hard realities in her essay, writing, "My dad now has a disease called pulmonary hypertension from doing drugs. This disease affects your lungs and heart, and it could be fatal. My mom is an addict. She chose drugs and alcohol over her family. Drugs and alcohol don’t only affect you, it affects everyone around you."
Although Jaiden's mom did drugs while pregnant, the Joneses said they are grateful the kids are smart and physically healthy.
Jaiden described in her essay how drinking while pregnant can cause fetal alcohol syndrome, resulting in birth defects and developmental issues. Babies born to drug-using women can suffer from neonatal abstinence syndrome and have withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, fatigue, sweating, vomiting, depression, seizures and hallucinations.
"Think about being a newborn and going through this," she wrote. "Thankfully, I didn't."
Jaiden wrote how soccer is a team sport, so players need to stay strong and healthy to support the team.
"My parents 'quit' the team," she wrote. "But now, my grandparents are the ones who get to help my team do better."
Jaiden said she doesn't mind sharing her story with other people. She knows of other kids at school who live with their grandparents, but she doesn't know for sure why.
"I'm not really embarrassed. It happened. It's not something to be ashamed of," she said. "A lot of people have come up to me and said, 'I'm sorry that happened to you.' "
Jaiden said she's learned from her parents' mistakes and will never do drugs or alcohol. She hopes other kids will decide not to experiment or use.
"It's not worth it," she said. "It could ruin your life. It really could."
My Natural High by Mail Tribune on Scribd
— Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.