Sunday, April 1, 2012

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.

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