Quote of the Week

"If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way" ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Wishing you all a Happy New Year and two-steps forward! (Summary of 1-6-07 meeting.)
Posted by:Lloyd Woodward--Wednesday, January 10, 2007

We had eight parents attend. Lots of time for updates. While most parents were experiencing positive things, on any given day that might not be the case. I guess that is life. The Steelers had one of the best years in the franchise last season. This year they can't make the playoffs.

The better our teenagers do on probation, in recovery, and in their lives- the more we expect. However, the ebb and tide of the recovery process usually, if we are lucky, gives you two steps forward and one step back. If we aren't lucky, then one step forward and two steps back. In fact, one of the recurring themes in this meeting was that we learn from failure.

Also, sometimes we have to make the same mistakes over and over until we get it. In recovery people talk about "getting sick and tired of being sick and tired."

The positive thing for most of the teenagers of our parents that come to PSST is that when our teenagers make mistakes, they usually don't get away with it. We apply consequences for bad decisions. We allow the natural consequences for bad decisions to take place, refusing to rescue our teens from the predicaments in which their bad judgment or drug abuse has put them. That helps the learning from failure thing to work.

One question that comes up a lot is this: Why, if they knew they would probably get caught, do they do it anyway? And searching for that answer sometimes leads one to surmise this: there must be something bothering them, that if we could just figure out what that is, and sort of fix it, address it, treat it, whatever it, and then they would not relapse.

Let's look a bit closer at this logic. They relapse. Therefore something is broken and needs fixed. "None of the rehab people were able to get my teen to talk about what was really bothering him. If he could talk about what was really bothering him, if someone could just get him to talk about it- he could stay clean." What makes this logic a tough nut to crack, and it is, because I see it time and time again with parents, is that there is some truth to it.

Yes, indeed there are issues galore. No, the teenager had not talked about all the issues. Would it help his recovery if someone could help him talk about all these issues? Certainly. However, in recovery from highly addictive drugs, we must factor in one other huge thing to this logic: EUPHORIA.

The extreme high that the addict feels is such a powerful reinforcer that it can outweigh the certain consequences that will follow. At the time the teen wants to get high, he doesn't care about the consequences because he knows that for a short time he will experience the bliss of drug use. The drive to get high can also be more important than whether or not certain issues have been resolved. So, what are we left with? Are we powerless over our teen's recovery from addiction? Yes, of course. Only our teenager can decide that they want to change their life.

But are we powerless over our own parenting activities? Hopefully not. We can send powerful messages to our teen addict by the actions that we take or fail to take. And sometimes that can help. For example, since we know that recovery from highly addictive drugs happens more often when the addict is working a strong 12-step recovery program, we can devise parent-strategies geared to enhance the recovery process. Can we work our teenager's recovery program for him? Of course not. But if we know that our teenager is not serious about his recovery, we can see the relapse coming down the road. If a parent chooses not to address this- then all one can do is wait for the relapse. Of course we all know how risky that can be. Each relapse is not only devastating in so many ways but each relapse runs the risk of death.

When all else fails, if we are lucky we can insist that our addict at least remain somewhere where they can't hurt themselves- like in an inpatient drug rehab or in a Court placement. The gift of Clean Time- even though it is bought dearly with great cost of emotional pain and financial pain, is sometimes all we can do. Will one more Court placement do it? We do not know. Only time will tell if the "miracle" has happened. With highly addictive drugs, we are really are waiting for a miracle. The good news is that with the gift of Clean Time - we sometimes get it.

Back to the two steps forward and one step back- or heaven help us- the one step forward and two steps back. With success we expect more, but let us not forget to compare our teenager's success, especially during the step-back process, with where our teen would be if we had never provided intervention. Are they more or less healthy? Have they had any success in education? Are they more or less drug free? Do they go though periods when they are really doing quite well in recovery? Have they at least been exposed to the 12-step program so that they know where to turn later in life? Now compare that to the rapid loss of weight, the stolen items sold for drugs, the lies, the sleepless nights not knowing where your teenager is or what he is doing to provide himself with drugs. When we do that comparison, maybe things do not look so bad.

I think the one of the reasons that I'm writing this today- is that our last meeting, the first one of the New Year, was one in which everyone present found some positive focus. One youth, who lived in a halfway house relapsed to Heroin and ran away on New Year's Eve. However, he took a new attitude with him back to inpatient treatment. He seems to feel genuine remorse for what has happened. His mother has never seen that before. Also, we found him by the next day so he could not hurt continue to hurt himself with Heroin. And out of that tragedy his mother found a really strong statement to make to her teenager. She said, “Everyone is working harder on your recovery than you are. Until you are working as hard as everyone else- I am backing off.” What she meant by that was not that she was giving up, but that she was done running out to visit him all the time and trying to make sure that he was comfortable. We could write a separate post (or book) just about what that statement means, because it is so powerful- and yet complicated.

Another teen is coming home after three weeks at Shuman, and he is bringing a new attitude home with him, one that we have not seen yet. It is one of humility and willingness to do what he needs to do to be successful on probation this time. Also, we are trying some supervision approaches that we have not tried with him before, including Electronic Home Monitoring and visual aides to chart his success.

One teen lied about an overnight outing that was approved by parents. However, the girl was found not to be where she was supposed to be. Also, she admitted to drinking alcohol. The parent busted her immediately because of good, strong parental supervision. And for the first time, this teenager complied with all parental sanctions, including no more overnights, without a making a fuss. Historically, this is very rare with this teenager.

One teen quit her job and lied to her parents about it. She might be entering into a difficult phase of her mental health issues as she is beginning to show some signs of emotional difficulties. Ok, but the parent is on to it, applying limits to her behaviors where appropriate and insuring that she receives the proper psychiatric attention. Also, this girl is clean still and working a 12-step program after release from treatment months ago.

Another 20 year-old appears to be putting a strong recovery together after a relapse four months ago. His parents don't think all of his relapses are yet behind him, but for today he is clean, working a program, and attending college from a men's halfway house.

Another youth is now almost three years clean, holding a job and living independently. He is paying his own bills. While his mother is concerned that he is starting to back off on attending 12-step meetings, he still did an outstanding presentation for Probation on 1-8-07 at the Westview Crime watch meeting. He has done public speaking for us before, but this is the strongest message I have ever heard him give. His comments for the teenagers and his message to the parents in the audience were very powerful.

Another teen that lives in a halfway house got fired from his job, has no money to pay his rent, but seems to be still be working a strong recovery program. He has four months clean. And his mother also delivered a strong message at the same Westview Crime watch meeting. Her first-time experience with public speaking was emotional. She said (through tears) that she told herself that she would not cry. It certainly touched parents in the audience. Her message was one of: "pay attention, supervise, drug test, and don't be too sure your child is not involved with drugs. If you find out that they are involved with drugs- ask for help- you are not alone. And if they are involved with drugs, you're going to need all the help you can get." It was very moving- and if she is reading this- thank you so much for being willing to get the word out.

Thank you from both Val and I to all the parents who turned out for this meeting. Often, when I tell people that I am a Probation Officer who works with teenagers with drug problems, I am asked "How can you do that? Isn't that hard? Don't they relapse?" Yes- it can be frustrating. However, having parents like you guys who are willing to fight so valiantly to try to save your teenager's lives- you guys make it all worth while! Val and I have often said that the best part of our jobs is coming to group to meet with your guys! What you do is very inspirational not only for other parents, but for us!

Happy New Year to everyone from Val and I and we wish you all two steps forward in the coming year!

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