Jim Marshall is no stranger to pain. He carries it in all sorts of ways, but hopes by talking about the stories behind it, he can spare other people from what he's gone through.
Marshall is a former Jefferson City High School coach and teacher. He walked with a limp Thursday as he left Lewis and Clark Middle School, but whether or not he was feeling any physical pain, he matter-of-factly told the school's sixth- and seventh-graders, emotional anguish would come once he left the building and got into his car.
"I do not like what I'm doing right now. I hate it," he told students. "Six years later, it still hurts as bad as it did the day he was gone," he said of grief after his 20-year-old son, Cody, died of a heroin overdose in September 2011.
After finishing a talk he's given hundreds of times now, he said, "I'll go out to my car, and I'll drive to William Woods to coach my practice this afternoon. And I will cry on the way home. How do I know that will happen? Because I've done 200 presentations in six years, and I cry every time."
He shared his son's story Thursday at Lewis and Clark as part of Red Ribbon Week. The event was organized by the Anne Marie Project, which helps young people cope with stress and make healthy life decisions.
Cody was an organ donor; his knees, eyes and heart have been used to help other people live healthy lives.
His father hopes through his public speaking and legislative advocacy, Cody and his stories can achieve a similar effect.
"This is Cody's gift to you. Cody would no longer want any of you to suffer the way he suffered, or the way things turned out. Cody did not intend for that to happen."
His father goes on the best he can, hoping to create dialogue about the issue and raise awareness about substance abuse, coping skills and mental health.
"I'm a strong believer we do not have enough education in these areas, and we're losing a lot of young people to substance abuse because they make poor choices," Marshall said.
Cody didn't start out as a heroin addict or a "bad kid." That's a stereotype of who does or doesn't abuse drugs Jim wants to burst.
He said his son was the type of person who gave away Christmas presents to homeless children, fed a homeless man with his lunch money and wasn't regularly sent to the school office for discipline issues. Cody always had a difficult time with his grades at school, though.
"My boy was sad and depressed because he didn't make good enough grades to go off to college," Marshall said. Cody was left working jobs he didn't like while his friends moved on.
"You're all going to experience sadness if you haven't already. You're all going to experience anxiety. You're all going to have stress in your life," Marshall warned of the prevalence of triggers and symptoms of mental illness. That doesn't have to mean trying to medicate those problems away by abusing Xanax like his son did, for example, he added.
That's a behavior Cody might have found acceptable at first, he said, because of the norm the medical community over-prescribes powerful medications for pain of all kinds or because Cody was prescribed Aderrall and Ritalin, suggesting pills could solve any problem.
In his own life, Marshall has been offered Oxycontin by a family physician — for strep throat and a sinus infection. Just last week, for a kidney stone, he was offered morphine and Oxycontin but opted for Tylenol instead.
The United States' 5 percent of the global population uses 90 percent of the painkillers manufactured in the world, he cited.
At $30 a pill and with multiple pills a day, Cody's Xanax addiction was expensive — also in terms of the emotional costs of being caught stealing electronics and jewelry from his own family to support his chemical dependency.
Heroin offered a $5-a-day alternative, and it's what eventually killed Cody.
His father wants to help people overcome the stigma of seeking help for themselves or others, and wants people to be treated rather than just punished. He said jail only encourages becoming addicted again after getting out.
He also wants young people to learn how to cope healthily with the consequences of stressful lives. He wants them to recognize the signs of addiction and feel empowered to get help for themselves or others even when it might seem to be a difficult decision.
"We've got to take care of each other," he said.
He said his speaking is how he copes, painful as it can be. "This is how I move on every day."