The Caron Cares luncheon at the Omni Dallas was a sellout with a cross section of Dallas’ top names in attendance. The common denominator was the mother/son team of Lee Ann White and Michael Fowler, who were the featured speakers.
As one guest put it, “We’re so proud of their successes and want to be here for them.”
But before the doors of the ballroom even opened, many guests were delayed. Seems the State Fair parade through downtown Dallas had blocked streets. When Lee Ann realized that it would be a true feat for people to maneuver through the streets, she texted friends warning that they’d better get an early start.
Guests arrived and made their way with most explaining their tardiness due to the parade. Pity the poor woman who was at such a loss, she paid a hotel staffer $5 to show her where the ballroom was.
What these luncheon guests learned was they had missed an amazing morning conversation between mother/daughter authors/speakers Constance Curry and Kristina Wandzilak. Needless to say, the “Caron Cares: A Day of Discovery & Recovery,” co-chaired by Jan Osborn and her buddy Robin Bagwell, was off to an impressive start.
As Lee Ann and Michael prepared for their presentation, they were at first a bit apprehensive. After all, talking before a ballroom full of family, friends and strangers was a first for the twosome. But once inside the ballroom, it was like an old home week celebration with Aileen Pratt, Hill Feinberg, Caron President/CEO Doug Tieman, Jill Smith, James Huffines, Patsy Donosky, Amara Durham, Amy Vanderoeuf, Lisa Schnitzer, Troy Aikman, Anita Feherty, James Hatcher and Jennifer Clark.
Then it was time for Lee Ann and Michael to take their place on stage with Scott Murray. Michael started off. He told that from the outside, his life looked picture perfect. And yet, “I still felt different.” Excelling at tennis resulted in weekends participating in tournaments and lots of training. He felt he was missing out on the high school experience, and “I was willing to try anything.”
At this point Michael said that most addicts progress from alcohol to marijuana to cocaine and harder drugs. He did it in reverse.
When buying cocaine for the first time, he offered a check that his father had given him for a new tennis racket. Michael told the audience, “FYI: drug dealers take cash only.”
He described that first time as “I remember instantly I felt special and I didn’t feel self-conscious and I felt good. I hadn’t felt that way in a long time.”
His parents didn’t realize what was going on with their only child. His grades were dropping and he wasn’t being the responsible kid that he used to be. Then a call came from the principal for a meeting. At that time, they were told Michael was doing drugs.
Lee Ann later told the audience that her response was that perhaps he might drink but “there was no way he would be into drugs. It turned out they were right.”
From that point the family tried various programs only to get Michael out and have him fall back into the old routine. According to Lee Ann, he would do well in treatment, but once out “he couldn’t maintain.
“I guess I am an enabler,” said the brunette with diamond blue eyes. She always felt that if she could do everything for Michael, all the other pieces would fit into place.
During this time of struggle, including his living on the streets, Michael’s folks divorced and Lee Ann married Alan White, who, both mother and son agree, became the knight in shining armor. From the stage, Michael acknowledged the life-saving part Alan played with tough love.
“One of the greatest blessing of my life has been Alan White. He gave me the tools and I had to do the work,” Michael said.
The real test came when Katrina was hitting the Gulf Coast. Just days before, Michael was offered his last chance from Lee Ann and Alan. He either got his act together at a facility in Mississippi, or he was finished with the family. After 10 days in the center, Michael called his mother saying that Katrina was on its way and the people at the facility didn’t know what they were doing. Since no commercial planes were flying because of the hurricane, Michael’s solution: “Send the (private) jet.” Lee Ann, supported by Alan, said, “No.” That was a tough one. She hung up the phone and cried, “My baby is going to die!” Instead Michael not only lived, he found a new life realizing that he was sick and tired of being sick and tired. For the first time he started listening and following directions: “I became trustworthy.”
Now, having lived seven years of sobriety, Michael is working with addicts at Caron Texas in Princeton.
But Lee Ann reminded the audience that Michael’s disease is ongoing: “The treatment is repetitious, doing it over and over again. Every day is a new one. Every day Michael has a choice whether to stay sober that day or whether to drink.”
Looking around the room at familiar faces, she reminded them, “You cannot bear this burden by yourself. I had to have the help of my friends, my minister and the counselors.
“Thanks to Alan and his support and tough love and just being there for us. [If not for that,] this wouldn’t be happening today,” said Lee Ann.
Michael closed by saying that shame is often one of the problems facing addicts. “They feel like they’re a bad person. . . . Caron does excellent work and they stand behind helping others. As Doug [Tieman] said, we gave $2.5 million (in scholarships) to build the Texas center in trying to help others struggling with addiction.”
What had started out as a presentation turned into a celebration for a young man who turned his life around; for a mother who suffered through the painful ordeal for years; and for a man who practiced tough love with loving care.
* Photo credit: Holt Haynsworth