Walk the walk, talk the talk

Bob McKee

Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska who was John McCain’s running mate on the Republican presidential ticket in 2008, was fond of comparing herself to a “momma grizzly” when it came to protecting her children.

Palin is a cuddly panda bear compared to this momma from Sullivan. Christa Harmon is an Owensville native and a 1991 graduate of Owensville High School. She also is one of our daughters. Harmon never hesitated to turn into a momma grizzly where her kids were concerned. That attitude only intensified and became more resolute three years ago when she discovered her adult daughter was a heroin addict.

Through all the ups and downs of that three-year roller coaster ride, her daughter’s stints in rehabilitation and attempts at recovery, the family’s high hopes that she finally had kicked the habit crashing to the ground with a loud thud when she suffered relapses. None of that altered Harmon’s grizzly bear protective mode or the love she has for her daughter.

“The roller coaster ride over the last several years has been the most difficult time of my life,” Harmon said. “I’ve felt alone, angry, useless, like a failure, and on and on.”

Part of the coping process was creation of a local organization to educate the public about addiction. Mid-Missouri Addiction Awareness Group was formed by two sets of parents with children fighting the heroin epidemic and a caring aunt who wanted the best for her niece, Harmon said.

“I’ve never explained to anyone except a few people why it is so important to me. Well, here goes. MAAG is my therapy,” she said. “It helps me deal with my daughter’s continued struggle with addiction. It’s been hard but nothing worth fighting for is easy and I’m never going to quit fighting. I’ve learned patience and I’ve been humbled by people who I now call friends. Our stories are different but we all are bound by one common factor — addiction.

“MAAG was formed three years ago as a way to shed light on addiction,” she continued. “Yes, the word addiction caries much stigma and now the proper term is ‘substance use disorder’ but that doesn’t change the meaning. It is still addiction. Since the beginning I knew there would be many struggles, many doors that had to be knocked down and there was a chance we wouldn’t make a difference.

“I personally have put my heart and soul into MAAG trying to think of ways to not only open eyes but to do what I can to help other parents. I never set out to be an advocate. I’ve met many people like struggling parents, other organizations, countless number of those struggling with the disease and many more people who are winning the battle over addiction and I appreciate each and every one of them.

“Recently I feel I’ve hit a road block. The direction of MAAG has shifted several times. Things have worked and things have failed. I’m not scared to try anything and I’m not intimated by politics. I don’t follow the leader. I set a goal and I do everything possible to reach that goal. I’m not the easiest person to work with and I’m pretty set in my ways. For those who have stuck with me, thank you.”

Far from hitting a road block, Harmon’s success with MAAG has drawn attention from the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department’s Drug Enforcement Unit that welcomed her as an advisor and speaker. She has spoken to groups of students in area schools and held “addiction awareness walks” in Sullivan, Union and St. Clair that were well attended.

Now she has planned a walk in Owensville and hopes her hometown and Gasconade County will show as much support for MAAG as her adopted one and Franklin County has.

The Owensville “addiction awareness walk” starts at 10:30 a.m., Saturday, on the Grand Plaza (formerly IGA) parking lot on East Washington Avenue next to Medley Pharmacy. After a brief introduction, walkers will proceed west on Highway 28 to First Street, north on First Street to 211 N. First where displays and informational materials will be available to view. Water also will be available. From there the route takes walkers to Casey’s on West Highway 28 then back to the starting point.

“If you’re not able to make the whole walk, that’s okay,” Harmon said. “Just showing up will mean a lot and let people know we recognize drug addiction as a serious problem even in our small towns and rural communities, not just the big cities.

“We have to stop heroin from stealing our kids.”