After her daughter’s addiction fight, former executive finds another calling helping others

Tracy Smith of Galloway got quite an education when she unexpectedly found her family in the midst of heroin addiction.

Only one person in the family of four was using heroin, but the cost of that addiction was metered out to every family member and to Smith’s work place and beyond.

She said she was recently sitting in her kitchen with her daughter, who is now in her 20s, and several of her friends; other kids in recovery and thought, “how did I get here?”

It was Smith’s younger daughter Kayla who was using heroin and it was a seven-year journey; four years of active addiction and now three years clean and sober.

Smith describes their family as quite normal. They have a home on a small farm in Galloway. They went to church together. Both parents were involved with the kids and they spent time together as a family.

Her job with American Express allowed her to work from home so she was not an absent parent. What blindsided her was the call from the school that said, “your daughter is using heroin.”

Smith was in merchant services and acquisitions at American Express. She was one of the top 10 in sales nationwide with a six-figure income.

But said when addiction hits your family it’s devastating.

“Here I am a smart and capable person, but I had an extremely hard time getting the right information and there was no support system. I was, as are all families that find themselves in this battle, ill prepared. There is such a stigma of addiction and the judgment that goes along with it. It is not a conversation you can sit down and have with your boss,” said Smith.

While she was trying to help her daughter, find answers, get her back home, find treatment, and find a recovery high school, it was impacting her job at American Express. She went from being a top 10 performer to the bottom 10 percent.

“It was my daughter who was addicted, but I was involved as a parent trying to do what I could to save my child. Absenteeism in the work place, the lack of focus, a drop in productivity are all results of addiction.”

She took two FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) leaves from her job to try and take care of all of the things that parents are dealing with when there is addiction in the family, but Smith admits she was juggling so much even after the unpaid leave that she was still having difficulty working.

Smith equated having a child battling addiction with getting a life-threatening diagnosis for your child.

“If your child had a diagnosis of cancer, people would call to see what they could do for you. They would remember your child in church. They would bring over meals to help you out,” said Smith.

“Addiction is a disease, but no one is calling you to help you or dropping off a casserole. You have to fight to get information. You have to argue with the insurance company to get coverage for treatment.

“If I took my sick child to the emergency room, they would keep them overnight and send them home with instructions and schedule a follow-up with a doctor. If you take your kid into the ER because of an overdose they keep them a few hours and send them home.”

Smith’s daughter was missing for a period of time. She was involved with juvenile services, but she is quick to say how lucky they are because her daughter is now clean and sober, has a job, a boyfriend, speaks to groups about addiction and has her whole life ahead of her.

When it came time to go back to work for Smith, she said she realized that all of this journey had changed her and the corporate grind where she had been so successful before, was not anything she wanted to do.

She had another calling and that is to help families and employers deal with addiction.

Smith cited government figures about how many families are currently or will be battling some kind of addiction – one in three – and said the cost to employers in terms of lost time and recovery time is more than $80 billion nationally.

“Employers need to offer more services and EAP’s (employee assistance plans) need to address addiction. The greater savings is working with employees, not making it more difficult,” said Smith.

She added that she frequently speaks to schools and different groups and has had the opportunity to hear what the kids hear in school.

“I have heard so many speakers talk about addiction. Often times it will be an officer who will stand in front of the kids and tell them to just say no. That does not work. What if they have already said yes? I needed to show them there is a way, there is hope for families,” said Smith.

She founded “Speakers for Change” and is now booking speakers, experts on addiction locally and across the country to help break down the barriers and begin a meaningful discussion about addiction and drug use.

“It was not that long ago you did not talk about being gay or lesbian and you did not talk about AIDS, but the conversation began and now people can talk about it.

“It is time for the conversation to begin about addiction, about the disease and about how to help,” said Smith.

To contact Tracy Smith and Speakers for Change, see speakersforchange.org or call 609-445-5121.

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