health as it happens

Local teen making a difference by sharing his story to help others impacted by drug addiction - WAAY

A local high school student is hoping to help others by sharing his mother's battle with addiction.

"Levi has found his healing," Paige Barringer said.

She's Levi Smith's mom, and she has been battling drug addiction her whole life.

"I lost my job, my marriage, my family — everything — within three months of each other," Barringer said.

That's when things were at their worst, and Smith didn't know what to do.

"Seeing Mom going through rehab and jail, it made me feel like I was alone," Smith said. "My anger kept building up, and I didn't know. I felt worthless. I felt like this was my new life. I didn't think there was any way to fix anything."

But, Barringer knew she wanted to get better.

"As a single mom, I wanted to prove to my boys that they deserved a life just like everyone else," Barringer said with tears in her eyes.

Smith stood by her side as she recovered.

"Levi came around and got to see there were other women and moms like me and that there were other children who loved their mom just like he did and that it was OK to still love me," Barringer said.

However, she knew Smith was still struggling.

"It wasn't so much about the drugs or alcohol. It was about that hurt under that," Barringer explained.

That's when Smith decided to start sharing his story.

"I could either take the road and put a mask over my face and not tell my story, or I could talk about it," he said.

He didn't realize how many people were going through the same thing. Soon, people were coming to him to say their parent also battled addiction.

He said their stories motivated him to help others. In 2019, he started Making A Difference from My Story to Yours. Basically, it allows people to share how they've been affected by addiction, in hopes to help another person recover.

It's for people like Alex Brooks, whose mom and dad were both struggling with addiction. Brooks said it wasn't until his father died that his mom decided to make a change.

"That, sadly, was the shock that she needed to get into this program and hit the grindstone on becoming a better person," Brooks said.

He said getting a phone call from Smith to talk about his parent's addiction was a blessing.

"It makes you feel like you're not alone, because when you are in that deep, dark of a place, you kind of feel alone," Brooks said. "You don't feel like anyone understands this. How can I talk about this? It's kind of like chunking things down into a void when you're wanting someone who understands."

Smith and his mother both know there are more people like Alex who need help. They hope to become a voice to those affected.

"I have to share, because I have to give back what was so freely given to me," Barringer said. "It takes a village."

Smith is working with community leaders to further share his story with drug addicts. He spoke with the Lawrence County Sheriff's Department about speaking to inmates, but the pandemic put that plan on hold.

Still, he's hoping his organization will grow to become a place to connect them to resources to help them recover.

"It really makes me feel like I've done something out of this and through the hurt and everything. Through the storm, there's always the sun. It gives me peace of mind of the hurt and the past, and it finally makes me feel good. There's a future to this. I can turn this into a good thing to help others to make them feel like their past didn't get to them," he said.

Smith said he wants to study to become a counselor when he grows up.