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"A Parent's Diary"

These excerpts from parents are a collection of firsthand accounts written by parents of drug-addicted teens. Compiled with explicit permission from Sameem Associates' clients, they give unique insight into the challenges of a parent's role in overcoming drug addiction.

As the parent of teenagers everything always seems more complicated. Is it my children or is it me? I seem to have developed this new kind of psychological disorder called - 'obsessive/compulsive projective adolescent discontent', but known as 'parental worry'."
A long holiday weekend is coming up. Wouldn't it be nice to go away with the family, and spend time - just having fun? It use to be that way. The location is chosen, the time is set, everyone always use to like these plans . . . . and then - 'I'd rather be home with my friends', 'I won't get to see them all summer!' 'It may be the last chance', 'Mom, you just don't understand!'
So, plans change, arrangements are made. I want to be a responsible parent. Is that all there is to it?

Then the children ask . . . 'No, friends can't come to the house while your father and I are away'.

I keep thinking; will they have wild parties while we're gone? Should I inform the police to patrol the street more frequently? What kind of parent am I that I don't trust my own children? But I don't trust them. Am I missing something?"

We hear questions and concerns like these from parents on a daily basis. How concerned do parents need to be before taking action? We see kids and parents who are drug and alcohol involved, suicidal, and acting out. Many parents are clearly in crisis mode where their teen is concerned.

Therapist's log:

K comes into group. Clearly, a sad expression on her face. She's 17, extremely pretty but sad. Her mom had called earlier in the day. She wanted us to know that K had not come home over the holiday weekend. The police were called, but she returned home on her own on Sunday afternoon. K likes to hang out in the city with the "bad kids", according to mom. Mom and dad were both worried. Mom asked, "when do you think it's time for something more intensive than just group therapy once per week?" Our thoughts are clearly the same when we hear questions like that. Most parents want the problem solved immediately. They want their family back to what they perceive as "normal". So they leave their kids on our doorstep hoping for the cure. When the 'cure' doesn't come after 2 sessions, they begin to look for more.
DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education)
I just got back from attending my daughter's DARE graduation. I've been lucky enough to attend this event as each of my 3 children went through the program in their 5th grade year. Of course, my pride, as a parent, was probably evident in my facial expression, my attention focused on the ceremony, and my immediate need to snap pictures as my daughter wins the 'poster contest' prize for her class. But as the various children read their 'anti drug' essays, I couldn't help think, "what message is this teaching our children and their parents"?

My thoughts wandered as I was sitting and listening to my 26-year-old son who also graduated from this program. His problem, upon entering treatment was simply, concern from us, his parents, that something was wrong. Mild depression perhaps, or transition difficulties from college to the working world? What we didn't know was that our son had a daily cocaine habit that we learned about 4 months later, when he was hospitalized for delusional and psychotic behavior.

To understand my question, as I listened to these DARE essays, one would need to know the desperation we felt after hearing about our son's behavior. The admission into the hospital was not just the result of out of control cocaine use. It was as result of that use, our son had carved several pieces of his face and chest while looking in the mirror. He saw what he believed were pimples or marks on his body. His attempt was to take them off with a knife. The next thing he discovered however, was that his face and chest were covered in blood. His denial system at first allowed him to pass off the incident as a Strep infection, but several days into the hospitalization he admitted his problem.

This same young man, was the winner of the essay contest at his 5th grade DARE graduation. He went on to he a high school 'peer leader', teaching middle school students about the perils of drug abuse. Although his problem with cocaine and addiction didn't escalate until college - I wonder, as his parent, what programs like DARE are teaching us. I wonder, whether or not, as parents, our expectations need to be adjusted'.
The word 'expectations' seems to be one I'm hearing quite a bit in my treatment sessions and one I think about constantly. It seems like I'm always using that word, or that difficulties or distress evokes as a result of my unrealistic expectations.

Many examples of what I mean can be mentioned. I remember my children when they were small. As they grew from infancy into toddlers, I became accustomed to responding to them as infants; catering to their needs, changing diapers, feeding them with a bottle. But changes in routine seemed to disrupt my life - impact my expectations. For example: the last time my baby cried, I gave him a bottle and the crying stopped; this time, he's crying again, but he refuses to take the bottle, and he's still crying - I'm getting upset because my expectations weren't met. I'm used to telling my toddler to do things like, go to bed, clean up toys, and he did it - now he's saying no. Again, my expectations are not being met.

As my children grew, entering their teenage years, my expectations once again were unrealistic, and I panicked because I didn't know how to handle it. When I first suspected my kids were using drugs I thought it might just be a passing fad, an experimentation, a right of passage - after all I used when I was a teen, too. My concern grew however, and when the 'fad' didn't seem to stop, I wanted instant relief, instant services and instant cure. I know now there is no 'instant' at all.

I was sitting at an open AA meeting one evening as I do frequently, because I am a recovering alcoholic. Each time I attend this one meeting I see a group of young men sitting at the back of the hall. I know from others at the meeting, that these individuals are court ordered to be there. Their behavior is never disruptive but they segregate themselves and are always the first to leave when the meeting adjourns. I know they don't want to be there. I expect they are all still drinking.

On this one occasion, as I walked into the meeting, expecting to see these young sitting in the back, making frequent trips to the bathroom or coffee maker during the meeting, I discovered that they were now located in the front row. Directly in front of the speaker. This time, they remained seated and appeared to be focused on the speaker.

Traditionally at this meeting, before it ends a presentation of small medallions (chips) are given to people who have achieved varying lengths of sobriety. Beginning with 9 months, people are called to the podium to receive their rewards as the audience displays thundering applause and appreciation for their hard work. Six months, 90 days, 60 days, 30 days, 1 to 29 days are the milestones. On this occasion, as the 1 to 29 day 'chip' was called, 4 young men seated in the front row, stood, and each in turn, received their reward. My shock and surprise must have been witnessed by many around me. I wonder what my expectation will be the next time?

On the Road to Recovery

Our family has been in treatment for the past 8 or 9 months. As a physician it was very difficult for me to admit we needed help even when my daughters drug use was causing her to lose consciousness and fail in school. My daughter, my wife and I went down a rocky road this past school year. My daughter was using amphetamines; snorting Ritalin, alcohol, and marijuana, and had several overdose episodes and hospitalizations in the ER. She also showed some signs of depression and incidents of cutting but continued to deny that she was suicidal. She's only 15. She resisted each time we wanted to talk with her, and outwardly she was angry, frustrated and often enraged.

Finally, following another hospitalization and a consultation from a substance abuse specialist we sent her to a 30 day treatment center in the Midwest. We talked and investigated possibilities for her treatment and often came up empty. It's not easy finding substance abuse treatment for teens. There aren't many programs available. This program in the Midwest helped her get away for 30 days and helped us, working in family sessions, to understand the disease of addiction.

Now for the first time in over 2 years our daughter is clean and sober. She's attending AA meetings and is networking with sober people. Of course at the age of 15, she doesn't allow parents to be involved in this area of her life - part of the adolescent rebellion I guess?

We realized at the residential treatment center how important the family's involvement is in treatment. Our daughter continues to be in an out-patient treatment program. We called the counselors to request a family meeting recently. Our goal was to show our daughter that we don't have to necessarily meet with a counselor as a family when we're in crisis. Even in the good times, counselors can help us enhance communication and keep things on track. It seemed to be a good idea at the time.

I couldn't help but think that this strategy would help our daughter communicate with us in a more relaxed and fluid way. But as the meeting went on, our daughter appeared more enraged. It seemed like we were building a wall between us rather than breaking the barrier down.

The counselor suggested to us that just as sobriety is built 'one day at a time' so is communication, trust, and relationships. Our hopes and dreams for an immediate cure to all our problems were dashed. I (as a physician) couldn't fix the problem. Our goal was unrealistic for that time. Our daughter told us that her 'sober' friend's parents think that once their children get sober then immediate communication, trust and relationships are restored with parents. It just doesn't happen that way.


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