I challenge anyone not to be moved by this story that ran in last week's Indystar on Carson Meyer, an 18-year-old actress who starred over the weekend in an Indianapolis production of Go Ask Alice (a book I remember reading and being terrified by as a kid, about a young girl becoming addicted to drugs).
Carson's backstory is far from standard for a young woman pursuing an acting career. When she was 8 years old, you see, Carson's baby brother Max, then 2, drowned in the family swimming pool. As she and her older brother Jake grew up in the wake of this, they went in opposite directions: Carson was quiet and studious. Jake became addicted to heroin; he died of an overdose just over a year ago.
By then, Carson had gotten involved with a local theater company that occasionally put on plays that focus on teen issues. Four years ago, that play was Go Ask Alice, and Carson played the lead. Jake, who had given the book to Carson when she was in sixth grade and told her she had to read it, actually worked backstage on the show -- until a relapse caused him to be kicked out of the theater company.
"Jake and I both knew about addiction," Carson told me. "My family was very open about mental health." That awareness, of course, didn't keep Jake away from drugs. "I feel like heroin sucks people in that wouldn't have even been addicts in the first place," Carson opines. "Jake was an addict, so it really sucked him in."
But Carson doesn't seem to waste any time feeling sorry for herself. "She's not a victim," says her father Dave, who's been sober himself since 2009. "She's hard not to be proud of."
Tragically, Jake isn't the only one in their circle who's overdosed on heroin. When Jake was brain dead in the hospital following his overdose, Dave's sponsor (also named Dave) brought his son Aaron in to visit the boy. Because bills for Jake's hospitalization were mounting, Aaron's dad put on a fundraiser to help pay for them. Then, last November, Aaron himself overdosed on heroin and died.
"It breaks my heart to know another little girl is missing her brother," says Carson, who's been reaching out to both of Aaron's siblings.
"No one told her to do that -- just one day she mentioned it to me," her father points out.
Now Carson and Aaron's brother Brian are able to support each other. "It's really nice for me to have someone who understands what I'm going through, where I don't have to explain why I'm sad," she says.
But Carson seems determined to not let her sadness envelop her and to continue to raise awareness about addiction. This fall, she'll be attending the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) in L.A. Now I'm the most cynical, least earnest person ever so please understand how much I mean it when I say that this young woman is astoundingly impressive; talking to her is far more like speaking to an adult than many of my conversations with adults. She may be the first actress I've ever encountered who doesn't seem to be pursuing acting in order to become famous. When she told me, "I believe that the best education comes from art," I believed her. (She was the one, a few months after Jake died, who brought up the idea of putting on "Go Ask Alice" again.) And she's already made a tremendous difference in her own family, which has experienced far more than its share of sadness.
"It's the anniversary of Jake's death so it's a hard time of year," Dave says. "What Carson's doing is a good distraction for us and gives us something to feel positive about."
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.