By Ashley Wislock
The Daily Item
DANVILLE — Lynn Marie Smith’s problems began when she wasn’t being honest with herself.
She’s learned the hard way how dangerous that habit can be, and has grown out of it in her career as a national speaker, activist and author, sharing her story with young people to steer them away from destructive choices.
A graduate of Danville High School, Smith spoke at the Drug-Free Life assembly on Thursday at the school. The event was hosted by the school’s Students Against Destructive Decisions group.
Smith had been a good student at Danville and was involved in several extracurricular activities. She also was the child of an alcoholic father.
“I was never comfortable in my own skin,” she told the students.
From a young age, she learned to put on an appearance that everything was normal, everything was all right. She dreamed of moving away from Danville and her alcoholic home life, but when she enrolled in a New York acting school at 19, she didn’t find the life she was looking for.
Surrounded by new people and new experiences, Smith came to the realization that years of living in denial had not prepared her for the world she lived in.
“I had no life skills whatsoever,” she said, and her only defense mechanism was to repress her feelings. Which is why, when friends gave her ecstasy and other drugs to use, she didn’t know how to refuse. “I didn’t even know what drugs looked like,” she recalled. “My life was forever changed by that choice.”
She was soon living for just another high, and after a night of hallucinations, her mother drove her back to Danville, where she was admitted to Geisinger Medical Center and, afterward, a psychiatric ward.
Smith spent 14 days in the ward and while there was shown a scan of her brain. Doctors said due to Smith’s drug use, it resembled that of a 60- or 70-year-old who had suffered from multiple strokes.
After her stay in the ward, Smith “began crawling my way back out again.” She stayed in Danville for nine months, and her mother asked her father to leave. Smith said this was due to her finally being able to come clean with herself and her parents about her self-esteem problems and history of lying to herself. “The truth won, and we were able to heal our lives again,” she said after her presentation.
During this time, Smith heard of a program on MTV that was looking for real-life drug stories and she volunteered. A TV producer called her and a camera crew followed her around while she was fresh out of the hospital and returning to New York to collect her things from her old life. “It was a long road to recovery,” she said.
This was followed by appearances on other television programs, including “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” and the publication of a book, “Rolling Away — My Agony with Ecstasy,” in 2005. A second book, “The Joy of YES!,” is being written and will recount Smith’s work over the past decade sharing her story with students across the country. “I love what I do, I love doing this, reaching out to young people,” she said.
Smith, who lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son, last spoke at Danville High School about 10 years ago and was excited to return. “I was grateful to be able to come back today and speak to the students,” she said.
After her presentation, several students went up to her and shared some of their own stories about difficulties they had gone through. “It’s about being relatable and honest. … It helps a lot of other people do the same thing,” Smith said.
Her message is ultimately one of self-acceptance.
“The root of my issue was not drugs, it was self-hate,” she said. A person can’t be constantly looking outside themselves for happiness, she said. They need to find it within.