As Deitra Pope’s heels rested on the edge of a 13-story building in Fort Worth, she knew she was facing a fear — a fear of heights so intense, she once had Six Flags officials come rescue her from the top of a ride at age 15.
A fear so strong, she could only imagine it felt similar to the fear her husband Jeff faced in 2010 when he was admitted to rehab for alcohol addiction.
“That day that I dropped Jeff off at treatment, I can’t imagine how much fear he must’ve had,” Pope said. “I know how scared I was, but I wasn’t the one being left. But he faced it, he overcame and he’s changed his life. He’s been sober since Aug. 6, 2010. You don’t ever forget that day. We celebrate it just like a birthday.”
On Saturday, Pope and her son Crawford Abigt rappelled off the roof of the Worthington Renaissance Hotel in Fort Worth to take the Shatterproof Challenge. Shatterproof is a national organization committed to protecting children from addiction to alcohol or other drugs and ending the stigma and suffering of those affected by it, according to the organization’s website. The challenge is to rappel from the side of a building to raise awareness about addiction.
Two years ago, Pope and her husband went to Hawaii on business. The pair was visiting a treatment facility for addiction, where they met a marine biologist who uses dolphins for therapy. The biologist would take people out to snorkel with the dolphins, and decided to take Jeff and Deitra out to try it.
“I said, ‘On no, I don’t put my face in the water.’ She goes, ‘Ever?’ Not in a pool, not in a pond, not in a lake, not in the ocean. No. I don’t even like to get my face wet in the bathtub,” Pope said. “I am terrified to go underwater. She says ‘You’ll be fine.’ No, I won’t be fine, but I had to go. So, I went the next day and they get me out on the boat, and I’m fine on the boat. Then she gets me out on the ladder.”
For two hours, a hyperventilating Pope didn’t let go of that ladder, despite the water being choppy and the ladder banging against the boat. All she said she could think about were sharks because of the cuts she sustained while holding on.
“My husband is a drug and alcohol interventionist, and he swims by and goes, ‘Just do it.’ He’s a fish, and he’s up and down,” she said. “He goes, ‘You’re missing it. There’s dolphins and you’re missing them. Just do it.’ So I did, and two hours later — we were in the water for four hours — they couldn’t get me out of the water. I thought, ‘What am I missing because of my fear?’ I had to tell you that story so you understood where I was when it came to this (rappelling).”
When the family learned about Shatterproof, they felt the organization lined up with exactly what they believed in. When Pope found out about the challenge, all she could think of was conquering her fear, she said.
Saturday started fairly early, Pope said. The two and their supporters arrived at the hotel at about 8 a.m., and by 8:30 a.m. Abigt and Pope were dangling from ropes in a stairwell, learning how to rappel, they said.
“First, they took us to a room and got all our harnesses and gear and helmets on and made sure we did safety check after safety check after safety check,” Pope said. “Then they took us into a stairwell where they had ropes anchored somehow, where they got us just comfortable dangling in the stairwell. They showed us how to use the equipment and each of us got to do that probably no longer than 10 minutes each.”
Then, the pair were brought to the roof, where they stood, waiting for others to rappel in the drizzly and windy weather before them. A man, who was in a wheelchair for three and a half years because of a spinal chord injury, went before them. As they waited, they decided whether to rappel together or to go separately. No way was Abigt going to let his mother go by herself, Pope said.
“The more I waited, the more anxiety I had. I kept asking, ‘Do you want to go with me? Do you want to go without? I don’t want you to feel like you have to wait on me,’” Pope said. “I’m terrified of heights, and he’s a daredevil. He’s Spiderman.”
Though Abigt had done rock wall climbing at church camp, bouncing about 150-feet downward from a building was something neither had ever done before. Pope had psyched herself up for three months to do this, she said, though Abigt found out the Friday before he was going along.
“It was intense. I was shaking and I was scared,” Pope said. “Honestly, what was really going through my head was, ‘I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me. I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.’ That was the only way I was going to get on that ledge, but the guys that did it are awesome. They take all the fear and they just make you so comfortable. They hook you up before you get on the ledge, so you know you’re not going to fall. And you feel real secure in your harness, because it’s hugging you. It’s tight.”
As the pair began to take their first steps, Pope described it as doing a squat over the edge of a building. She had to keep reminding herself to not look down, but as she counted each story level, she said she began realizing how much fun it was.
“There were people waving in the windows. There was this little boy screaming, ‘It’s my birthday,’ and he was giving high-fives through the window,” Pope said. “It only took us about three minutes to get down, which was probably really long compared to some of the others that went. I could hear the people below going, ‘Don’t let your mom beat you.’ I think he was going slow because he didn’t want to leave me.”
Abigt was nearby to not only encourage his mother to go down the building, but he said he was there to send a message to those who he knew were struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, or any other problem.
“I’ve been around people with drugs and problems, and all of that, pretty much my entire life,” Abigt, a Waxahachie Global High freshman, said. “I learned it’s a disease. One dose can activate that disease that can pretty much ruin your entire life, and there are a lot of teens here at Waxahachie who take those drugs. The reason why I did it is to show there are a lot more fun things than taking that, like rappelling off a 13-story building.”
He wanted his peers to understand that everyone has something they struggle with, and how a person copes with that can make a world of difference, he said.
“Everyone makes bad decisions, I’ve made bad decisions, and I learned that’s not a way to go,” Abigt said. “People choose that way, but it’s like a fork in the road. You can choose the right way or the left. I chose the road where I like to come out and meet my problems head on, face-to-face, instead of holding back and just pushing it down.”
As they rappelled down the building, Abigt’s stepfather as well as his biological father are all he and Pope could think of, they said. Both of which faced alcohol addictions, they said.
“Jeff’s story, when he got clean, he didn’t go with what he wanted to do,” Abigt said. “He went with God’s way, and he became the interventionist. He’s done some amazing things over the years.”
“Crawford’s seen what it’s like, with his biological father fighting this disease, and not getting help and not living in recovery,” Pope added. “He has seen the effects of that, and he has seen how someone — when they do get help and they do have recovery in their life and they live that way every day — how that person’s life has changed. He’s seen it both ways. Him knowing that and him seeing that, that’s what he wants people to know. You have that choice before you take a drink or before you take drugs. You have that choice, and then once that (addiction) is turned on, that choice is taken away from you and it’s hard to get it back. Then, every day after that, even when you are in recovery, it’s hard. You have to learn to manage it daily. Now, he’s (Jeff) saving lives every day. He’s in the trenches and he’s in the ditches with some very high-risk clients.”
The stigma that comes with addiction is exactly what Pope, her husband and Abigt are trying to fight against by sharing their story. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse and Addiction website, people often mistakenly assume that drug abusers lack moral principles or willpower, and that they could stop using drugs simply by choosing to change their behavior.
“In reality, drug addiction is a complex disease, and quitting takes more than good intentions or a strong will,” the website states. “In fact, because drugs change the brain in ways that foster compulsive drug abuse, quitting is difficult, even for those who are ready to do so.”
As long as addiction is treated as anything other than a disease, people are going to be criminalized, Pope said.
“When Jeff went to treatment, I didn’t go on Facebook and say ‘Hey guys, I need prayer. I need support. I need my family and friends,’” Pope said. “I didn’t say anything and I didn’t tell anybody that he was in treatment. But if he had gone into treatment for dialysis, cancer, chemo or anything, what’s the first thing we do? Ask for help.”
If Abigt could tell his peers anything about asking for help, he would say find a respected adult, counselor or parent.
“I know it’s going to be a hard thing to do. I haven’t taken any drugs or alcohol, but it was also hard for me to ask for help for several of my problems,” Abigt said. “I’ve had suicidal thoughts before and I had to go to my mom because I was afraid for myself. That was a really hard thing for me to do because I didn’t know what she was going to say or do — like was she going to send me off somewhere, or something like that. It was a really strong fear, and you have to overcome those fears like my mom putting her face in the water or rappelling off a building. You just got to overcome it. It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be difficult, but anyone can overcome any fears.”
“We all have our struggles and our mission in life and it took me 38 years to figure out what mine might be,” Pope added. “And as a teen, Crawford knows to share his story, that it’s OK to share his story and it’s OK to put yourself out there and not hide behind shame or guilt or remorse, but to ask for help.”
As Abigt and Pope neared the end of their journey down the wall of the hotel, their ropes and harnesses didn’t quite let their toes touch the ground.
“What’s funny is when you get down there, you’re actually not on the ground yet. You’re barely kind of tippy-toeing, and you’re just kind of dangling there as they’re getting all your stuff off of you,” Pope said. “So you’re still kind of dangling, but you’re so close. You’re like, ‘Where’s it at? Oh, OK, there’s the ground, you know?’ Once your feet actually do hit the ground, you’re like, ‘Oh, I did it.’ My first thought was like, ‘I’ve got to do that again. I’ve been missing out.’”