Sunday, April 1, 2012


The folks who run the rehab facility where Tim is currently a resident warned us that visiting might be difficult. In fact, they suggested quite directly that we leave him in peace as much as possible. But today he was short of cash and clean laundry, so off we went. And we learned that the challenge of holding the boundary when your teen-age son expresses his heartfelt desire to come home is every bit as hard as we were warned it would be.

He wants his high school experience back. (Never mind that it contributed directly to his overdose on morphine painkillers a few short months ago.) He misses his bed. (An understandable objection from a kid who is used to having his own room.) He is bored. (The tutoring hasn't started yet, and he is distracted from reading by all the noise in the house.) He isn't learning from the program, which he feels is repetitive with the program at his last residential facility. (It's only been a week; the guys he's with are newbies, too, and whatever the practical lessons they will teach each other about how to stay sober in the drug-addled society beyond the walls of the house haven't really begun.)

Right now, Tim wants out, and he knows we could make that happen, so he is trying every argument he can think of. And, I think he believes them. In his place, I would probably feel as he does. As his parents, we want to see him happy. I fend him off, trying to use rational arguments--a great failing in my parenting repertoire, it turns out. But he does need to give this time. Intending to stay sober just isn't enough. He needs to have peers who will support him, despite himself. He has to learn how to identify and enlist friends who will help him achieve what he needs to achieve, however he feels in the moment.

And, right now, he needs his parents to do the same thing, no matter how crummy it feels to us.

The Tribe

Tim is now sequestered at a halfway house down the road in New Haven. The program appears to be well designed for late-adolescent males: teaching them to apply their developing self-awareness to the practical challenges of sobriety, keeping their free time filled with activities that are fun, good for their self-esteem and suggestive of the types of disciplined adventure that can make life worth staying sober for, building camaraderie--and ultimately friendships--among those who will help them live lives that are fully aware.

Of course, intrinsic to beginning this new approach to living is leaving the old behind. Tim's brief re-entry home and into high school after a first stint of inpatient rehab was little short of disastrous. Too many of the old "triggers," as he now calls them. Too many daily anxieties demanding the relief of numbness, too many people willing to help him find that relief. Friends who want Tim's happiness support him fiercely when he tells them he wants to stay straight; when he wants to use, they would never deny him. Outsmarting your own impulses is a challenge for most adults; it is extraordinarily difficult for an 18-year-old. Nevermind knowing how to dodge and weave to protect the abstract intention of sobriety amid a tribe of the similarly unformed. You can't defend your integrity when you don't know where it lies. You can't be a good friend to an addict if you don't know to support his sobriety despite what he may be telling you in the moment.

So, for now, we are keeping Tim safe from all of us who don't fully know how to help. He is learning to find a tribe of the mindful, who will understand the support he needs because they need it themselves. When I talk to him, I am amazed by his new-found self-awareness, as well as by the sense that he is maturing so quickly. I also feel almost desperate in hoping that he is learning the skills he will need to navigate the unsober world upon his release.

As for me, I am working to keep up with him, to learn my own part, so that someday I may belong to the new tribe Tim seeks.