Rock Sober program offers haven for teens

Teens made the request: Give us a support group to address alcohol and drug use and provide assistance if we're dealing with family members - parents - who are using.

Teens made the request: Give us a support group to address alcohol and drug use and provide assistance if we're dealing with family members - parents - who are using.

Rock Sober was about to become part of the Park Rapids vernacular.

Tina Eischens, founder of the Human Achievement and Performance Academy (HAPA), addressing life skills and character building, had posed the question to high school students two years ago: "What types of resources are needed to be successful inside and outside of the school?"

The kids themselves sent up the red flag, 64 percent of the students surveyed asked for a support group for teens recovering from drug use, 63 percent asked for help in alcohol use recovery and 58 percent sought a support group for teens whose family members abuse alcohol.

Rock Sober, offered for the first time in mid-November, is geared for teens 14 to 18. The program's goal is to change the way young people view chemical use/abuse.


Rock Sober addresses the void - "the large hole" - created by sobriety, advocating "alternative high" activities.

By a modest estimate, three-quarters of the teens arriving report parental substance abuse, Eischens said.

"Addiction is handed down generation to generation," said Mike Boterman.

Boterman, a recovering alcoholic, is one of the three leaders of the group, joining Eischens and Brian Stoehr for the meetings. Eischens recruited Stoehr, also in recovery, after meeting him at Pine Manor, where she teaches a life skills course.

Initially, Rock Sober had no response from teens. But scheduled meetings continued. Six weeks into the program, two teens arrived. Now a core group of about 10 meets twice a week, most 14 to 15 years old. About a third of them attend through court order.

And word is spreading.

A note was waiting for Boterman when he arrived for work at the Music Place this week. A single mom was asking for help with her 15-year-old son.

'Only death remained'


Rock Sober focuses on solution-based sobriety.

"We're engaged in the healing process," Eischens explained. "Ten percent of the time is spent on the problem; 90 percent on the solution.

"We don't wallow," she said. "We focus on 'what are you going to do about it?'"

"It takes strength and courage to become sober," Stoehr tells the group. "And not caring what people think."

Stoehr speaks from experience. Living on the east side of St. Paul, growing up with drugs and alcohol in the family and neighborhood, he started abusing at age 10.

At 23, he's faced incarceration, homelessness and the loss of "three best friends," drunk driving and a gunshot to the head ending the lives of two. Two friends sit in prison.

He became a father, confident he'd mend his ways and change his life. "I didn't. My son had to witness the drinking and drugging I didn't want him to see."

Unable to find a job in Park Rapids, he began selling drugs a few years ago. "But I started doing the drugs I was supposed to sell."


Sara (girlfriend at the time, now his fiancée) asked him to leave.

"The only way to handle my feelings was to numb them," he said.

Homeless in late 2004, living in Bemidji, he slept on friends' couches, or walked downtown, hoping to find shelter.

He remembers arriving at a party Dec. 6, 2004. "I was feeding my addiction," he said. But the chemical substances did nothing to alter his mood. "I was no longer happy."

He looked around to see adults as well as 10- and 12-year-olds drinking.

"That was me," he said, recognizing the evolution of addiction. "I saw myself. I saw the cycle repeating itself.

"I'd had incarceration and insanity," he said. "Only death remained." He determined a chemical dependency assessment was in order.

Stoehr had rehearsed statements he'd make at the assessment. He'd been through it before, under court order. But words failed him this time; tears came instead. "I was so relieved, to finally face it.


"I'd always had trouble believing in God," he said. But when the counselor picked up the phone, found a bed available and a driver ready to transport him to Pine Manor, "I realized when you turn you life over to a higher power, things work out."

Sobriety in stages

The Rock Sober program, created by a Brainerd resident, is a multi-level process, addressing the chemical use issue from many angles - individual, family, peers, school and community.

Meeting twice weekly, Monday is "check-in" time. How was the weekend? The teens share their accomplishments - and "barriers" on the road to sobriety.

After check-in, the teenagers determine a topic - from siblings to homecoming to school.

"Comments come tumbling out," Eischens said of issues affecting sobriety. Peers offer advice. Leaders ask pointedly, "What are you going to do about it?"

"They walk away feeling they have been heard," Eischens said.

Friday's gathering offers "alternative high" activities, from movies to canoe trips to community service initiatives - cleaning smoker's alley, for example.


The 12-step program can be overwhelming for youth, Boterman said of Alcoholics Anonymous, which has been mandated by the courts in some instances. "It feels like it will take forever. It's intimidating."

Rock Sober takes an eclectic approach to addressing the issues of chemical use/abuse in young people. An otter, wolf, bear and eagle represent the teens' level of achievement in the sobriety quest.

"We make them conscious there is a problem," Boterman explained.

"Addiction is self-imprisonment," Stoehr tells them. Alcohol, drugs "took away my childhood."

But through the process, Stoehr has gained "street smarts," which he shares. "If kids could see the long-term effects," he said of his mother, who at 49 has been diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, her skin yellow, her abdomen engorged.

He counsels kids to find an avenue of expression, a replacement for drugs or alcohol, which for him is music.

"Pursue your dreams," he advises. "You don't have to change the way you dress, your music, your appearance or the way you talk. I'm still who I am - but without drugs or alcohol.

"Just because your parents made negative choices doesn't mean you have to," he advises.


'It's not going away'

A Rock Sober poster, announcing meeting times, greets entrants to the city's law enforcement center. Police chief Terry Eilers lauds the program, but notes the harsh reality of its necessity.

"There is absolutely no way to put an end to kids having access to drugs," he said. "People make money selling drugs. With the resources we have, it's difficult to put an end to it. But we are putting a dent in it."

Marijuana is currently the predominant drug, with methamphetamine also sold locally. But "if buyers are willing to shell out the cash," the traffickers will find the drug of choice, Eilers said.

"Drugs are on Main. Drugs are on the side streets," he said. "But the department must have probable cause before an arrest can be made," he explained. "We have to justify our actions in court.

"It's not an epidemic, but it's here and it's not going away," he added.

The department now has a drug-certified dog to assist, instrumental in a drug bust recently on Main. Forty grams of marijuana were found in the car, the occupant a 19-year-old male who's been charged with intent to sell.

The usage by area youth is not increasing, Eilers said. He estimates 20 to 40 teens "are causing the problem."

He encourages families to talk about the issue. " Parents have to take the lead. Talk to kids. Police aren't parents. Kids need a support system," he said "Once kids have the self-confidence they can say no to drugs and alcohol."

The reality in law enforcement is "very few of the people we deal with aren't under the influence of something," he said.

And experience has shown people have to hit rock bottom before they quit, he said.

One of the officers on the force receives a "thank you" call every 4th of July. Six years ago, the officer charged a driver with DUI (driving under the influence). Now the recovering alcoholic calls to report his sobriety each year, expressing gratitude.

Eilers is a proponent of DARE (drug abuse resistance education) that begins in fifth grade and other support systems offered in school.

"It starts with family," he stressed. Kids are faced with innumerable temptations, distractions.

"We can't sit on Main and be Dad."

Volunteers needed

Rock Sober meets from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Mondays in St. Peter's parish center. Alternative high activities begin at 5 p.m. Fridays, meeting at the Century Middle School.

Volunteers who understand youth and substance abuse are welcome, Eischens said. She may be reached at 252-4114.

What To Read Next
Get Local