A New Life House father talks about the silent warning signs he saw before and after his son started using drugs.
What seemed like a gradual move through the transition from adolescence to adulthood (the teenage years) was actually a slow, silent move toward a surrendering to the evils of drugs and alcohol. From the age of 14 -17, the signs were not clear that the direction Scott was heading was toward addiction. I had envisioned changes in my son during these teen years, but there was never a loud or significant event that that would elicit that “a-ha” moment that something had gone horribly wrong.
Scott was provided all the wonderful opportunities of childhood that a parent could give their child. Scott was introduced to multiple sports, music, outdoor activities, travel and academic challenges. He took to all of them with enthusiasm. Although small and young compared to his friends, he was a competitor in all. His mom was always home for him and I spent thousands of hours with him coaching his sports (baseball, basketball and soccer), as well as working through homework assignments and enjoying outdoor activities.
Although I had envisioned what I would have liked him to be (a younger me, perhaps?), I tried to be very cautious not to push him too hard in any one direction. We felt like we had given Scott a solid moral compass to point him toward making his own right decisions. He was given the freedom to choose for himself as to what he wanted to be. Our only “line in the sand” rule was to maintain a high level of academic achievement. He continued to achieve academic excellence, probably because he already understood that he could get away with some inappropriate behavior if the grades were maintained.
As I look back, the changes were beginning around the 8th grade. The first event in my memory was toward the end of our fairly successful baseball season. After the game Scott calmly told me that baseball was boring and that this would be his last season. At first I was shocked, as he had had a good season with a positive future. But as he explained, “Dad, I played shortstop and got 4-5 balls hit my way, was lead-off hitter with two hits, a walk, two stolen bases and scored a couple of runs but in total that only amounted to about 15 minutes of action over more than two hours.” This was hard for me to take but when I thought it through, his explanation made sense. Baseball is more boring than soccer or basketball. Was this a silent sign of surrender or just a sold rationalization from a thoughtful manipulating teen?
So to keep this post from being a novel, let just say the silent signs toward destruction slowly continued. I think it was the excuse that: scouting is not cool, our soccer team is really bad and I am not getting much playing time and I am too small for basketball to continue past my sophomore year. Football is pretty cool but I am small and would like trying La Crosse where my friends are. Oh yes, another silent sign was Scott’s gradual shift of friends from his sport’s buddies to others that we knew from “OK” families, but they were not as far along on the achievement scale. And now, “hanging out” was the new undefined activity that Scott and his friends pursued. There were a few bursts of anger at referees or over constant nagging but these were short and followed with apologies.
Slowly during this period Scott’s communication with us moved toward silence. A few grunts to simple questions as to what have you been up to or how’s it going. Fewer smiles and little enthusiasm for even the few activities he maintained. We would write this off to a teen coming of age and separating away from his parents. But in truth, he was beginning to separate himself from the real world by surrendering himself to the need for the next high. Nothing else was of interest to him.
We did confront Scott with this withdrawal from all that had been important to him and he did admit to a little drinking and alcohol use but said that that is what “everyone” was doing. We did not condone the activity but did not draw a hard line as we knew that most all teens will experiment and Scott was maintaining his grades. We saw the hate and rebellion from the boys in families that took a hard line with these activities and sealed their boys away from their friends. We continued to love Scott and did not want to lose him.
By the end of high school and the beginning of college Scott completely surrendered to the drug culture. The transition from that enthusiastic over achiever to a manipulative drug induced criminal was slow and silent and the signs that he gave us were greatly misinterpreted.