Elannah Rose Sheklow’s mom Hannah speaks from a broken heart of her daughters struggle with drug addiction and her untimely death. Det. Matt Zakarian, CV-Alliance president (right) also spoke to the audience of about 100 at La Crescenta Library on Monday.
By Mary O’KEEFE
“When my daughter died, I started counting life by days and eventually by months. I am not yet to the part where I think in terms of years,” said Hannah Spring Sheklow on Monday at the La Crescenta Library.
Sheklow was speaking about “My Little Lost Girl,” the title of an important outreach that was brought to the public by the Crescenta Valley Town Youth Council.
Members of the CVTYC are elected by their peers in the Crescenta Valley area and are the youth representatives of the Crescenta Valley Town Council. Mentors CVTC member Harry Leon and Mariam Gabra guide the youth council but it is the kids who make the decisions of the events they will sponsor. The youth council brought this powerful and emotional event to the public not only to help educate kids but also adults of the consequences of drug use.
“[Drugs] are an important issue,” said Joy McCreary, president of CVTYC. “This is [something] that can happen to you, your neighbor … anyone.”
Sheklow’s daughter Elannah Rose was a CV High School graduate, sister, loving daughter and a high functioning addict.
Sheklow and her husband did not see signs of Elannah Rose’s addiction at first. Because she was highly functioning, her grades remained high; she excelled in high school dance class and was successful at her job. Then at 16 years old she confessed her addiction to her parents, telling them she had been using drugs for the past three years.
“We were still sitting down for dinner every evening. Her dad was checking her homework every night,” Sheklow said.
She said to hear this from their daughter was a shock; after all, Elannah Rose had displayed such disdain when it was discovered that one of her friends was caught smoking marijuana.
Elannah Rose told her parents that she tried speed for the first time at age 13 in the girl’s bathroom at school. She got drugs from another student then but could easily get drugs throughout the area when she wanted them, Sheklow said.
“She could always find someone to give her drugs,” she said. “I kept wracking my brain. How could we have missed it? We missed a lot; in hindsight I almost guarantee you if I was more alert to the risk [of drugs] I would have seen signs.”
And that is part of her life now, a mother blaming herself for what she didn’t know and what she didn’t see.
“I don’t know if I will ever live another day and not feel like I failed her,” she said.
Elannah Rose had asked her parents to keep her addiction secret, even from other family members. They did. They would scare her with stories of drug arrests and tragic heroin addiction stories.
“Keeping a secret like that takes a toll,” she said.
At times Elannah Rose seemed to have it together and her family believed she was sober.
“We were so naïve; she was only acting normal because she was using again,” Sheklow said.
Each time Elannah Rose’s parents would threaten to send her to rehabilitation and each time she would begged them not to. The stress began taking a toll on their marriage and divorce was threatened. The couple couldn’t agree on how to handle their daughter’s addiction.
Living with Elannah Rose was like living with two different people.
“My daughter who [was] so together I couldn’t believe she was doing anything wrong and this other person who picked at their own skin, couldn’t keep her hands from shaking and hid heroin pipes in her own room,” Sheklow said.
Shortly after her daughter’s 18th birthday she was arrested for possession. She was sent to a rehabilitation center but after finding that she could get drugs there, too, the family moved her to another facility.
“She did very well for a time,” Sheklow said.
Eventually though she slipped back into addiction and began cutting herself. By this time her brain chemistry had been so altered she needed medication to achieve some form of normalcy. She was placed into a strict rehabilitation program and began the long road to recovery.
“She started to seem happy, like her old self,” Sheklow recalled. “She was my baby girl again.”
Elannah Rose wanted a chance to be a good sister to her younger siblings, which her mother said she was. In fact, she had the names of her brother and sister tattooed on her wrist.
“So if she ever got the urge to open them again, her love for her brother and sister would remind her what she had to live for,” Sheklow said of the reasoning behind the body art.
For months Elannah Rose was healthy and happy.
“One night she didn’t come home on time. I was so angry. She had skipped her [Alcoholics Anonymous] meeting to go out with a friend. She was supposed to be doing her homework. She was not. She was shooting up heroin for the first and last time,” Sheklow said.
Sheklow remembers the knock on the door that night. Her husband had decided to wait up for his daughter; he was answered the door.
“I heard the door open and something fell. It was my husband,” she said.
He had crumbled at the news. Sheklow remembers a woman standing at her door repeating – over and over – that her daughter was at the coroner’s office.
“I started screaming and couldn’t stop,” she said.
The pain of that night, and the long journey of addiction that led up to that knock on the door lives with Sheklow every day.
She said she still blames herself, still wonders how she could have missed the drug use and what she could have done differently.
But she knows the addiction was Elannah Rose’s addiction. She chose to take the drugs, she chose to take that first drug. Sheklow had done what she could to support her and to get her help. That was something her daughter had reiterated during a discussion at a rehabilitation center when she came to her mother’s defense. In a group session, other parents had been judgmental but Elannah Rose took responsibility for her own actions and told the group that her mother had sacrificed for her and loved her. This is a memory Sheklow keeps with her – Elannah Rose having her mother’s back.
Sheklow’s sister-in-law also spoke at the Monday’s event. She wanted to share her story of personal addiction.
“I am a mom, I am a wife, I am a daughter and I am a sister and I am a recovering alcoholic and addict,” said Jen Sheklow.
Jen had shared her story many times with others in the AA program. She had shared it with people who understood addiction.
“People who understand the phenomena of addiction and what it is to have that need mentally, physically, emotionally, to have it drive you to do things a normal person would not do,” Jen said. “It is my goal tonight to help you understand a little bit of what that is like.”
She shared with the audience of how she began drinking in ninth grade. She and her friend would steal it from her friend’s mother and keep it in her locker. Then she discovered methamphetamine and it took her over.
She said some of her friends did drugs, decided it was not for them and walked away. For her, this was impossible.
“I knew when I took it, everything was okay,” she said.
Her addiction included everything from methamphetamine to alcohol to prescription pills. Like her niece, she was a high functioning addict and alcoholic. Her parents didn’t know of her addiction.
Jen told the audience that it was not her parent’s fault and that no one could have made her stop.
“Many times I hit rock bottom,” she said.
But still she continued to use until one day when the realization of what her life had become was made clear.
“One morning – or it could have been an afternoon, it was whenever I rolled out of bed – I took a handful of pills and I had a drink in my hand and I realized I was going to die, “ she said. At the time she was taking 40 pills a day. For four years she has been clean and sober, though she did slip. It hasn’t been easy but she continues to work on it.
She encouraged parents to talk honestly with their children about drugs.
Glendale police detective Matt Zakarian was also on the panel Monday night. He is the president of CV Alliance. Zakarian had been the community officer during the influx of heroin into the area four years ago. He began to speak with parents about kids who were addicted and found there was a definite need for outreach and education. He founded the CV Drug and Alcohol Prevention Coalition (now CV Alliance).
“When I got into the police [department], I had no idea I would get into this [issue] so deeply,” he said.
Through CV Alliance, parent sessions have been held every Tuesday at the Crescenta Cañada YMCA. Family counselors speak with parents about a variety of issues including drugs.
Sheklow said she wanted to speak out to break the code of silence that kept her daughter’s friends from telling the family there was a problem and the same code of silence that allowed her to keep her daughter’s addiction a secret.
“As much as I do prefer to stay in the background, I will stand up in front of any crowd to raise awareness and wake up my community,” she said. “But it is not our kids that need to be awakened; they see what their peers are doing whether they speak up or not, and they must learn to speak up. It is parents who need to band together for the good of our children, to wake up to the dangers that face them and to do everything in our power to be the village that watches out for them together.”