Friday, June 8, 2012


Why do the crises always come when we are away?

There is an unspoken rhythm and balance to this cycle. It's a little like the way the kids have taken polite turns before expressing their traumas. Tim waited for Molly to stop self-injuring before taking his near-fatal overdose. A couple of the kids--Emma, Buffy--deny their troubles altogether in order to allow their perceptively needier siblings space to suffer and heal. All of the grown children carefully control their contact, so as to contain the doses of adolescent and parental toxicity they must absorb when at home.

Recently, we visited California for Mary Kim's graduation. Whether or not she can admit it on any given day, Mary Kim has blossomed both personally and artistically during her masters study at Cal Arts. Like her sisters Kathryn and Emma, she already far surpasses her late-career dad in her ability to keep her eye on the horizon while navigating the triviality and frustration of the day to day. She deserved a celebration, and so Mary Ann, Emma, Buffy, Molly and I bought tickets we couldn't actually afford and flew out for a four-day festival of commencement, meeting her friends, and basking in the real and reflected sunshine of the moment in Southern California.

What happened while we were gone? Tim--for reasons a person can understand but which it could be fatal to tolerate--signed himself out of rehab. When we told him he could not subsequently go home--our first venture at tough love--he found a friend to let him crash. He promised to go to AA meetings, and we began the process of trying to talk him into returning to rehab and the rehabbers into taking him back (a prospect they could consider, but not until after the Memorial Day weekend). I called the airline to see about emergency tickets home. They kindly offered available return seats at double the rate we had paid to fly to Los Angeles to begin with. Because all of my money and available credit is invested in rehab futures, I couldn't go back. And, as it turned out, I couldn't have done anything more to help Tim if I had.

The friend who took Tim in did drive him to AA meetings. She also dropped him to see a friend, not knowing this particular friend was a user. Tim arrived back at her home bearing gifts of Ecstasy and Klonopin, which he knocked back with cooking wine and Nyquil to calm the shakes. He then entered a psychotic state, in which he believed the television was speaking to him, the mother of the house was coming on to him, and the father was trying to rape him. It was the father whom he hit.

Tim ended the day on a gurney at Yale New Haven Hospital with a police babysitter, under arrest for assault, resisting arrest, and--because why not throw the book at him?--domestic violence. (After all, he had been living in this house for the weekend.) From California, we placed calls to police and the medical staff at the hospital, all of whom informed us we had no right to know what was happening--Tim being a legal "adult" and entitled to privacy from anyone who might actually advocate on his behalf. Despite this awful truth, I persuaded the consulting psychiatrist to admit Tim, based on his counselors' conviction that he has been medicating against post-traumatic stress--and that, despite his insistence that marijuana is his "drug of choice," his patterns of consumption suggest that marijuana is only what Tim uses to disinhibit himself when he wants to put a chemical (morphine, Ecstasy, Klonopin) gun to his head.

My medical feint worked, but only in keeping Tim away from an immediate arraignment. In fact, nobody at Yale bothered to explore his para-suicidal behavior. They waited for him to detox, then turned him over to the cops, who got him arraigned ASAP, lest he receive treatment before they could prove him evil. It seemed that, this being a holiday week, the regular professionals were on vacation. It was nobody's fault.

Fortunately, the delay bought us time to call a lawyer and to mend fences with the rehabbers. Tim is now back where he needs to be, released from criminal court on a promise to appear after he completes residential rehab.

I attended a presentation the other day on the neurological effects of drug addiction. I learned how addictive drugs fool the dopamine receptors in the mid-brain to believe that what feels like Big Pleasure is actually Essential to Sustain Life. Adolescents' developing forebrains--the source of their limited reasoning skills--are short-circuited--rendered even more useless than they otherwise would be in an 18-year-old male. These medical truths are the basis of Tough Love theory: A kid must experience the real, woeful consequences of his own addiction if he is to realize that--whatever his brain is "telling" him--a state that seems like Nirvana is actually the lowest rung of Hell. He can't learn it any other way. So, tough love it shall be.

It doesn't help at all that the middle-aged "adults" who are cops, nurses, and doctors show no more reason or accountability than Tim does. To a person, each I spoke with over the course of a week patiently, then impatiently, explained to me that the problem I sought help for was not theirs to solve.

When I called the guy Tim hit to apologize for his behavior, he seemed gratified and even concerned about Tim's welfare. He did not at first acknowledge my offer to pay his unreimbursed expenses for medical treatment to his broken nose or to repair the furniture in his basement. But somehow, a week later, he found the courage to contact me, seeking $15,000 in "emotional damages." It seems his daughter is having nightmares, and, rather than take her to a therapist, he believes the family needs a new home security system to guard against Tim's return. Tim broke a dining room chair, and so they need a dining room set.

Tim is an addict and a teen-ager. What is wrong with everybody else?

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