letting each other go


Posted by Leo G on June 26, 2008

cartoon of two chickens talking


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Good News? Bad News?

Posted by Leo G on June 24, 2008

So, as of yesterday, Bup still tests clean for drugs. He was fully cooperative with the test, telling his Probation Officer, “I am going to test clean. I don’t know why you all don’t believe me.” I talked to his friends and they also say he was not using.

It’s possible that he was–cocaine clears the system in 2 to 3 days. But it is equally likely that he was not using more than alcohol that night. Yet he was still so enraged that he was completely out of control.

It scares me more if he was not using. Because then the question is “What is wrong with him?” His counselor said that because of brain development, adolescent behavior can often seem psychotic. They simply do not have mature enough brains to control their impulses. So this could be the extreme end of normal.

Or he could have underlying mental health issues. They could have been caused by the prior drug use or they could be organic. What is clear is that he is still completely unwilling and unable to hold himself accountable for his behavior. He told the P.O. that it was the system’s fault because even though he had quit using, they would not quit punishing him. Sigh.

He did ask the P.O. to relay a message to me. That he was sorry for hitting me and he knew he should not have done it. That is very little comfort.

The other news is that all the lock-down and residential programs in our city have waiting lists of about six weeks. They can only hold Bup in detention for thirty days. So I have no idea what will happen at the end of the thirty days. He can’t come home. They are asking me to look for private residential treatment that our insurance will cover. They usually have even longer waiting lists.

It’s a mess. At this point, I just have to breathe and take it one step at a time. The future will unfold over the next three weeks or so. All I can do is keep trying to do my best for us all.

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Made it through the arraignment

Posted by Leo G on June 23, 2008

Bup was there only by video. Handcuffed. He didn’t sound sorry. He asked a couple of questions–one contesting the facts, one about what happens with summer school. In a sad way, it shows how naive he is. No, son, they are not going to let you out to finish your classes…

The judge had already decided to keep him in custody until the hearing on Thursday when she asked me, “Do you have anything to say about that?” I simply said, “It seems appropriate.” They set the court date for Thursday and assigned him a public defender.

The probation officer seems like a good one. He agrees that Bup needs serious treatment. Lock down. He suspects he was using either crack or meth. If not, then there is the possibility of mental health issues, probably caused by earlier use. He affirmed that “Healthy people do not attack their dad for turning off the cell phone.”

The good news is that he won’t be coming home for a while. Of course, that’s also the bad news. Five new charges for this. Some of them will be felonies. I lost the battle to do this in a more humane way. He has chosen the hard way. What he may not understand is that he just made it impossible for the court to let him come home. Because if he were to hurt me again, they would face liability issues.

The next question for me to face is do I visit him? I know I’m not ready yet. Maybe after the hearing on Thursday. Right now, I’m too angry, too tender, too hurt and confused. I don’t even know what to say to him. And I sure don’t want to hear anything from him except a sincere apology. And from the tone of this morning, I won’t be getting that soon.

In the meantime, this is an extremely busy week at work. That may be a good thing. After today, it will serve to keep my mind occupied.

Posted in Consequences, Coping, Downs, legal issues | 5 Comments »

Thoughts from “way down…”

Posted by Leo G on June 22, 2008

So, I’m now alone in my big house. My partner and daughter moved out yesterday. That’s been a long time coming and was only tangentially related to Bup and his issues. My partner and I have been trying to heal our relationship for three years. I finally had to say “enough.” I know that the tensions between us were unhealthy for us and for both kids. So, here I am–waiting for the house to sell in a market where that could be a long, long wait.

I am feeling pretty good physically. A bit sore here and there, but nothing too serious. I’m amazed at the human body and its ability to heal. So quickly. I wish hearts, spirits, and emotions had the same healing properties.

Tomorrow I’ll see Bup in the courtroom. I am not looking forward to it. I imagine the judge will ask me to say something–she has every other time. So many things have crossed my mind to say. Some are healthy and helpful. Others, not so much. Here is a sample:

“I’ve clearly failed at the most important job ever entrusted to me.”
“I will not live with someone who beats me or threatens to beat me.”
“Under it all, there is a very good person in him. I just don’t know why there is also this monster. Maybe he sold his soul to the devil.”
“He needs help. Reasonable consequences for his actions are a part of that. But he needs help more than punishment.”
“He needs to be controlled.”
“I’m done. I’ve given all I can, tried everything I know and have learned.”
“If you put him back in my home, you run the risk that he will kill me. God knows, he’s threatened it enough.”
“I can forgive him, but I cannot forget. I would like to request that he be temporarily placed in the state’s custody.”

There are other, less coherent thoughts too. Like when the dog starts barking and I’m sure that he’s escaped from detention and come back. Or when I make mental plans to send him to his uncle in Istanbul. Or when my mind sticks in a loop about how I’ve failed and was wrong about tough love and clearly wasn’t a good enough parent, or strong enough…

The one thing that helps me is to write this and realize these are the effects of addiction. Addiction is not really about blame. It’s an illness. It’s a compulsion that makes rational thought very difficult and traps the addict in pure ego and drug-centrism. So it’s not entirely my fault. And it’s not entirely Bup’s fault. Blame isn’t helpful. So I come back to the question that is guiding my life right now:

“What can I do that improves the odds of health for us all?”

Posted in Coping, Downs | 3 Comments »

Up, Down, Way Down

Posted by Leo G on June 21, 2008

So, things were getting better. Bup was complying with treatment, in summer school and staying pretty connected. But only on the weekdays.

Weekends became hell. All he wanted was to be “free.” His major argument was “I stopped using. I succeeded at treatment. Why do the consequences have to keep going?” He’s on probation, which comes with a curfew. (A very fair 11 pm curfew, if you ask me.)

Here’s the rub. The only way the curfew gets enforced is if I enforce it. So every weekend was a battle. He can’t understand why it matters to me if he’s “not doing anything.” I can’t get him to understand that to regain trust and show maturity he needs to comply with probation. “But nothing bad will happen unless you call and tell them I stayed out.” And whenever I said I was going to call, the threats and insults started. He threatened to kill me, to kill my dog. He told me I deserved terrible (and very specific) violations. He got in my face and tried to intimidate me. He told me I was stupid, I didn’t love him, etc.

Writing it out, it seems so clear. This is abuse. Verbal and emotional abuse. Escalating. And last night, he assaulted me. When he didn’t come home and wouldn’t answer my phone calls, I disabled his cell phone. Before that, I tracked the last few people he’d called. It was a familiar pattern of many very short calls. When this was happening before, it was because he was setting up drug deals. So disabling his phone made sense.

At 3 a.m., when he finally told me where he was and let me come pick him up, he was verbally abusive and threatening. He was enraged that I had turned off the phone and that I was clear with him that I was going to call his probation officer and report his behavior. (I’d actually already left a message on the probation officer’s voice mail.) He cooled off some and when we got home he went down to his room. Then, a few minutes later, he was suddenly in my room, demanding I turn the phone on. He got more and more enraged the more I refused. He pushed me and jabbed me in the chest. I told him to back off and not to touch me. He jabbed me again. I yelled to wake up my partner and asked him to call the police.

That was it. He threw me down on the bed and began punching my head. He must have landed six or eight punches before he realized that my partner was in the process of calling the cops. He left me and went after him, grabbing his wrist and the phone. My partner went on to the next phone in the house, and then the cell phone. My son overpowered him and got all the phones. My partner took off to a neighbor’s house. My son followed, taking the phones out on the front step and smashing them on the sidewalk.

I grabbed the chance, slammed the front door and locked it. Unfortunately, we had an oval faux stained glass panel on the door. My son punched it in and unlocked the door. He was crazy–like in a slasher flick–He yelled, “Yeah! *Bup’s* in the house!” He gleefully dripped the blood running from his hand all over the house. I went out the back door and ran down the street. Miraculously, the police arrived just then. (The neighbor who called was still on the phone when they arrived. It was less than five minutes.)

Seeing the police calmed Bup considerably. Or maybe that was the taser they had leveled at his belly. He did not resist arrest. He had to be taken to the hospital to have the glass removed from his hand and get stitched up. Today, he is in detention. I am swollen and bruised and sore, but after being thoroughly checked out, I’m okay. They even proved I do have a brain in there. They saw it on the CT scan. The ironic thing is that because I’m his parent, they called me to come and get his prescription for antibiotics filled. I had to drive all the way to detention, pick up the prescription, get it filled, and return it to them, so his hand wouldn’t get infected. The hand he beat me with.

When the detention center called, I declined to speak with my son. I did not visit him today. He has a hearing on Monday morning. I am sad beyond words that he is now essentially in jail. Seeing the “cages” where the youth get their one hour a day outside was gut-wrenching. But I’m also scared to death they will release him back into my custody. Because if he was mad before…

So that’s real life with an addict. He was probably using. But even if he wasn’t, the addictions have stunted and warped his thinking. He is the center of his universe and all that matters is him. He is willing to do anything–including assault his father–to get his way. He is addiction.

Even though I am a professional trained to provide counsel to others, I observe myself going through all the thinking processes of a victim. I blame myself. I excuse his behavior. I get angry. I get scared. Today, when a young man who looked like my son came into the clinic, I flinched. That’s what we’ve come to. I’m afraid of my own son, the boy who toddled around saying, “Bup. bup. bup.” The boy whose diapers I changed, whose wounds I dressed, whose hurt feelings I soothed. The boy who has brought me such joy. And such sorrow.

Posted in Downs | 3 Comments »

It’s been a long couple of months

Posted by Leo G on May 10, 2008

There is no question anymore. My son is an addict. No gentle abuser of marijuana and alcohol–no, addicted to crack cocaine. Lying, stealing, violent, criminal behavior have all happened. There is no denial available to any of us any more.

To his credit, he came and asked for help. The years of loving, respectful relationship paid off in that way. Down deep, he still knew he could come home. Even after he stole our stuff. Even after he gave me a black eye. Even after he ripped up the house, breaking things and stabbing our bed and the couch. Even after he got caught shoplifting three times in eight days. Thank God he still knew he could come home.

It’s been hard. How else could it be? And yet, there is still hope.

He’s seventeen now. One year before all of this becomes felonies and prisons. One year before the consequences are even more life-altering…life-destroying. One year to clean up messes, rebuild relationships, and find him help so that he can continue to grow up.

It all hit the fan in March. At its worst, I knew there was no longer anything I could do. He was beyond my expertise. The problem is, all the treatment centers were full. All but one. The one with the worst reputation and a propensity for talking about “tough love.” I hated to do it, but I signed him in.

It was a “scared straight” experience for him and for me too. As soon as the papers were signed, everything changed. The “four to six week” course of treatment became six months. The “three days” until you get your clothes back became “six weeks.” The “educational opportunities” became “We don’t have classes that advanced so you’ll have to settle for what we have.” I kid you not. They gave him three hours of testing and educational evaluation. He missed *one* question. They looked at him and said, “We don’t have the classes you need.”

Because I have the advantage of being college-educated and in a career that gives me insight into the mental health profession, I began to investigate. Of the five people on his treatment team, one was unlicensed. One had the minimum license possible in our state, requiring only a bachelor’s degree in social work. One was properly licensed but would never see him face to face because her job was simply to supervise his therapist. And two–the nursing director and the clinical director–had only recently had their licenses reinstated after serving suspensions for misconduct.

I took him out of there four days later, “against medical advice.” Our insurance may well not pay for those days, and I’ll be damned if I will. They totally misrepresented their program. They were not at all about recovery, they were a prison/warehouse for unwanted kids.

To his credit, while he was in the facility, he tried to help. He told the kids to cool down, to go with the flow, to try to endure so they could get out of there. They told him it was impossible. Most of them had been there for months, some for years. Many were from other states where there was no lockdown facility available, and had never had a visit or family therapy. They knew they wouldn’t get out until they were eighteen and it was illegal to keep them against their will.

If he knows anything now, he knows that I love him and will never give up on him. Even if that’s true of no one else, including my partner. My marriage was already broken, but this has shown us both how deep that brokenness goes. We’re separating, and my son will stay with me. My daughter will go with my partner, where we hope she will be less affected if her brother relapses.

Today I stumbled upon something that helped a lot. It’s an article from the January 2007 issue of The Sun magazine. Odd that I had never read it, since I usually devour The Sun as soon as it arrives. But somehow this copy had gotten misplaced and had only now appeared on my shelf. And what was the lead article? “The Myth of Tough Love” an interview with Maia Szalavitz on the epidemic abuses in the teen-help industry.”

The whole thing isn’t available online, but parts of it were so amazingly important for me to read today:

Polonsky: What is a “tough-love” treatment program?

Szalavitz: It’s any program that operates on the premise that teens in trouble need to be broken down and rebuilt. The idea is that suffering is good for the soul; therefore, we will inflict suffering on them to “help” them. Sometimes people ask me, “Well, there are teen boot camps, emotional-growth centers, wilderness schools, behavior-modification programs — aren’t they each a little different?” On the surface they are, but what they all boil down to is “Let’s be mean to teens in the woods,” or “Let’s be mean to them military style,” or “Let’s be mean hippie style.”

There are some wilderness programs that claim to take a loving approach, but with so little regulation, it’s impossible for parents to know what they’re going to get. The people selling the program tell consumers what they want to hear. The parents of Aaron Bacon, a teen who died in one of these programs, had been told that North Star Expeditions used kind, gentle methods. Then their son came home in a coffin after being starved and denied medical care.


I would say the vast majority of parents who send their children to these programs are devoted mothers and fathers who would honestly prefer to have their child at home. Most would likely have chosen family therapy were it more widely available and had they known that research supported it over these programs. A large percentage of these parents are in the middle of a divorce. Their children are acting out, unhappy, and vulnerable. That’s why family therapy makes the most sense. But the parents don’t want to think the divorce is what’s causing their son or daughter to rebel or take drugs.

Many parents are simply fooled. Unless you’ve been told otherwise, you’d think these programs are run by experts who have some knowledge you don’t. Aaron Bacon’s parents are smart, well-intentioned, and kind. They were in no way negligent; they asked all the right questions, consulted all the right authorities. But they were lied to. It could happen to anybody.

and most importantly:

Polansky: How did you manage to overcome your own addictions?

Szalavitz: It wasn’t easy. I avoided treatment for a long time because I’d heard about all these places where they try to break you down. I thought, “I’m using drugs because I’m already broken. I don’t need to be broken anymore. I need to be fixed.”

Frankly, I think tough love makes the world more dangerous for everyone. You cannot teach teens to be citizens in a free society through authoritarian programs. in a climate of absolute obedience, where any creative thought is punished, children learn to be selfish and callous and to wield power arbitrarily. “Tough love” is an oxymoron. I believe love is love.

There are times when you have to say no to a child and enforce rules, which can be difficult and emotionally draining, but there is never any time when you should deliberately inflict pain in the name of helping somebody. It’s hard enough to be a human being without someone adding extra pain.

I don’t know how I’ll do it. But I will love this child–really love him–while we look together for ways for him to heal. For us to heal.

He matters too much to do any less. So does every single “troubled teen” out there. Next time you see one, remember that he might be my son.

Posted in Coping, Downs | 6 Comments »

It Was Getting Better Until…

Posted by Leo G on February 1, 2008

About a week ago when we got a “notice to appear” in the mail. It’s a strange thing. It’s serious–an assault charge–but they are not taking it very seriously. Thank heaven, they didn’t show up at the door to take him into custody. Just a notice to appear.

Today we met with a lawyer. After only a little parental pressure, Buppie confessed. I don’t know what to do or think. He hasn’t been using lately. His grades have been going up. He actually turned over a new leaf. He’s been going to school and has extra credit points in several classes. This incident happened in early November (before his personal reformation.)

Once he told the truth, it was clear this is a “defense of friend” case. He and a friend asked some guys to leave a party. The guys and four or five of their friends jumped them. Bup was able to get free, but looked back to see his friend on his back on the ground being kicked and punched by five guys. Bup ran over and protected his friend by stabbing one of the guys in the forearm with a tiny pocket knife. Then they ran. They jumped in a friend’s car. That friend is the one who gave the police Buppie’s name.

I’m so sad and mad and worried. A trial is likely to cost us around $6000. He may lose. He may still end up in detention, which is the one thing he says he’d run from. He is feeling stupid for admitting he did it. He is scared and mad and worried too.

I never thought my kid would be the one who actually stabbed someone. Granted, there were mitigating circumstances and the pocket knife was tiny. Clearly, he didn’t intend to fight with a tiny little weapon. The four other guys involved were all adults. He says one of them already admitted to attacking a juvenile and went to jail for a couple of months. We’ll see…

If you have spare prayers, send them our way.

Posted in Downs, legal issues | 5 Comments »

The Good, The Bad, The Difficult Way to Learn

Posted by Leo G on November 27, 2007

Let’s see. Well, I lived through (okay, I admit it…I actually enjoyed…) our five days in a cabin in Zion National Park with no TV, electricity only by generator, no phone or cell reception, and no internet. Instead of staring at screens we talked and played games and ate a nice Thanksgiving dinner and the kids drew and made houses of cards and we all slept a lot. We tended the fire (our only source of heat.) We played with the puppy. We absorbed the beauty around us and some of us hiked. We saw sunrises and sunsets and admired the full moon. We hung out together. It was good and powerful family time. It refreshed me personally and I feel especially grateful to be reconnected with the kids.

Then we came home to the “real world.” (Wasn’t that peaceful, connected world real too?) My son went to school yesterday to find out that one of his friends died over the weekend. He’d been drinking pretty heavily and fell down a flight of stairs, hit his head, and died of exposure. They’ve arrested a man in his 30’s for child endangerment for giving the kids a LOT of vodka. According to the other boys who were there, the boy who died fell down the stairs while they were there. They took him into the man’s house, where he seemed responsive and okay so they left him on the couch to sleep it off and went home to check in. About six o’clock the next morning, the police found his body at the bottom of the stairs. No one knows exactly what happened in between.

My son sat for several hours with his friend’s father, who was hysterical with grief. He talked to me a little about how hard it was to watch him cry and repeat over and over, “My boy, my boy. Why did they have to take my boy?” I reminded him as gently as I could that it could have been him, with me crying like that. “As much as you want to believe nothing bad will ever happen, it does.” “Yeah,” he said, “he was such a big, tough, kid. It didn’t seem like he could die.”

Parenting is hard. I want to protect him. I want to shake him and wake him up to the danger he’s been flirting with. I want to run away to that cabin and keep him there until he is old enough and wise enough to take care of himself. But mostly, I want to be able to trust him, but he’s just not there yet. He’s getting closer, but he still gives in to his impulses too often and believes the magical messages that he will never get caught, never get hurt, never die.

This is a hard way to learn these lessons.

This weekend he talked about his new practice of talking to God about stuff. He talked about a time he asked God if he should stay with his friends or come home and God told him to come home. Those friends went on to have a car accident that night. Luckily the worst injury was a broken collar bone. Then he admitted that sometimes he thinks that I must be God. Who else could know him so well? Who else would love him enough to want him to always do the right thing?

It made me chuckle and it made me happy that he thinks of me that way. It gave me some hope that he is developing, in his own way, his conscience and his judgment. And then I asked him to imagine that God was someone who knew him even better and loved him even more than I did. I so hope he can.

Posted in Coping, Downs, gratitude, parenting, teenagers | 3 Comments »

Another Month Come and Gone

Posted by Leo G on September 4, 2007

world in a cupIt’s probably a good thing when you’re not hearing from me. And actually, things are very good. Bup seems to have discovered his internal motivation along the way this summer. I think the trips to Sweden and Turkey helped in two ways: first, they let him know that his parents love him and want him to have good things and are willing (when possible) to give them to him. And second, he got some serious one-on-one time with non-parental adults who love him and see his potential. He had long talks with adults who care and treat him like the smart, talented, and special young man he is. This does not happen on a regular basis, unfortunately. I don’t know of a single teacher or administrator at his school that’s taken the time to get to know him. His world was being completely defined by his peers.

Speaking of peers, when Bup was talking about another friend of his, he mentioned that they are having similar struggles to “completely cut off the bad influences” in their lives. That’s the very first time he has said anything that didn’t protect and defend the two friends that we think have been a big part of the problem. Of course, he may not have been talking about them, but he at least admitted that he has had some bad influences and is trying to fight or avoid them. I’m encouraged because this is coming from him, not from parental pressure.

He’s a good kid and I’ve known that all along. My fear was that he was skirting the edges and maybe even heading toward the middle of addiction. That doesn’t seem to be true. He has tested “clean” a few times now and so has been enjoying the benefits of that. (getting to drive, increased trust, etc.) He has, I think, had his eyes opened to how big the world is and how full of possibilities. I think, hope, and pray that we’ve stopped the inertia that had begun and given him some reasons to not only go to school, but succeed there.

I’m feeling hopeful, which is a long way from where I was when I began this blog. Deep breath. Thank you.

Posted in Ups | 8 Comments »

No Worries

Posted by Leo G on July 30, 2007

I haven’t been posting for a couple of reasons. First, the kids are gone again. Daughter is at camp and Bup is in Istanbul visiting good friends. So, nothing to report.

Second, things at home are still complicated, and that has made lots of things–like writing here–complicated. Some of what I’ve written here in the past has been misunderstood and made things even more difficult. So that has made me hesitate to post too much.

Mostly, I think things are getting better. Bup is talking to me pretty openly and passed his first drug test, so is excitedly learning to drive. I did notice that his screen is off the window again, so he’s either sneaked out or sneaked someone in. But he’s been pleasant to live with and seems more motivated. We’ll see.

Posted in Coping | 3 Comments »