Sometime early this morning, something went wrong with our Discussions area. All of the posts and user registrations for the last week have disappeared. I have contacted Sitecrossing, which hosts this site, but it is Sunday morning, 5:30 AM in California and I do not expect an immediate resolution. Please don't let this technical glitch drive you away; I'll get things fixed as soon as possible. I'm sure Sitecrossing has a backup of the last week's posts, and that everything wil lbe restored.
Instantaneously last night, my monologue became a dialogue. And now people are talking to other people, and this site is becoming a conversation.
Few who comes to this site will be without experience of addiction once way or another. I hope that we demonstrate collectively that we can disagree yet learn from each other and respect each other's opinions. I've seen too many online communities die because people start talking at one another rather than with one another.
As much as Deirdre, Carrick and I are trying to keep up with every post and email, we're still a bit behind. And as much as we want to respond to everyone personally, we'll never be able to do so. But we're very happy to blend in, and become part of the greater wisdom of the group.
As for our own reaction to Dateline, Carrick spoke for all of us when she wrote:
I think that Dateline did a wonderful job; I didn't leave the room mortified once! They were compassionate and as true to the story as an hour-long television show can be. Reading some of the reactions, I think that this is an important point to make. We sent them something like 70 hours of tape and they whittled it down to 60 minutes. I wish there could have been more focus put on my recovery, my life now. However, as I said before, this is a sixty-minute show, over two years in the making. Taping could not go on forever — nothing was planned, no one planned on a Happy Ending, this was our life day to day....
You can read the rest of Carrick's comments, and those of many others, in the "Reaction to "Saving Carrick" discussion.
Ann Curry's Promo
We're having a new boiler installed and I was bleeding the radiators upstairs for our plumber, Tom Paretti, when Carrick and Duncan yelled, "It's on, dad, it's on." I shut the valve and ran down but just missed it. I had the VCR going, however — a test run for tonight — and successfully captured the segment. (It can be done!)
I almost lost it when Ann said that at one point she had asked us if it wasn't time to give up?
Carrick was thrilled to see a shot of her walking Sadie, whom she refers to as "the Prozac dog." It's certainly a lot easier to take than those shots of her shooting up, with the abscess on her arm popping out like a bad memory.
"So many families are going through that exact same thing," Al Roker says to wrap up the segment.
"And you don't think it's going to happen to you," says a woman whose name I confess I do not know.
"It can happen to anyone, and that's what the story shows," Curry replies.
"Wasn't that perfect?" Carrick said, referring to the ending, and we squeezed each other very, very tight. My only regret is that Deirdre was at work, and Duncan was running out the door to his rehearsal for MacBeth, so we could not have a "family hug" like we used to so often when the kids were younger.
I mentioned why I'd abanboned my bleeding task midstream to Tom the plumber, and showed him the article in the Daily News. He immediately noticed that the time was wrong in the callout box for the show. It said 10 PM. "Saving Carrick" is on at 8 PM ET. As I wrote to David Hinckley (with a wink), they don't make copy editors the way they used to.
David Hinckley's Review
David Hinckley's reviewed "Saving Carrick" in this morning's New York Daily News. While he was generally positive, he raised couple of issues that are worth talking about. And what better place than here?
"What ["Saving Carrick"] doesn't address directly, " David writes, "is how a situation like this impacts a home that doesn't have two parents who can afford to spend thousands of dollars on rehab programs. When hope can be a thin, fraying thread even for the Forbes family in Hastings-on-Hudson, imagine how it looks in the South Bronx?"
Tackling the South Bronx is, of course, more than Dateline could possibly pack into an hour. The book Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx, as I've written elsewhere, addresses those issues with compelling clarity. It took author Adrian Nicole LeBlanc fourteen years to trace the impact of a pattern of drug abuse and violence on one extended family.
Even so, we certainly hope that "Saving Carrick" conveys one of our major points better than David would indicate. It's extremely difficult for middle class parents to pay for all of these services. Insurance coverage is a travesty for substance abuse and mental health. We have, several times, taken premature distributions on our retirement IRAs to pay medical expenses. Many other people are mortgaged to the hilt, or have lost everything, to pay for a loved-one's care.
David also writes that the show "will resonate with every family that has been in their situation." That's a lot of families but, as Deirdre pointed out when she called on her way to work, we did the show "not for people who can identify with us but for people who need to identify with us."
David sat next to me when he joined the Daily News from a paper in New Jersey in the early 1980s. I admired him from the get-go. We didn't have a lot in common, although we were doing similar jobs at the time — copyediting features and making sure that the pages got pasted up correctly in the composing room.
The difference between us could be observed around 1 p.m., when I'd be dousing two or three or four double bourbons in a joint like Louie's East, Ferdi's or Costello's while David was industriously working on a story for the paper on his own time. Over the years he has become one of the city's most incisive, prolific and eclectic writers — testimony, if not to the sober life, then to a man who knows what he wants and does it well.
Carrick on WDFH-FM
Carrick can be heard in an encore presentation of Recovery Talk on WDFH-FM's webcast at 1:30 PM today (Friday, July 29) and at 8:30 AM Sunday, July 31. Here's the blurb for the program:
Robin Leary is the host of Recovery Talk.
Meanwhile, I'm heartened to see that people are visiting, and posting their stories, as heart-wrenching as they are. After being up 'til 3 a.m. yesterday ironing out the technical kinks with Scott, I go to sleep now with a good feeling that we'll actually get a good conversation going. Thanks Paula and Jennifer and TFD for getting the ball rolling.
Story on MSNBC.com
Welcome to all the readers entering Elephant from these avenues. I hope you'll poke around, read, think, and get the Discussions jump started before the show airs tomorrow.
I can't believe how many people have plans for their midsummer Friday evening tomorrow ;-), so we've been inundated with requests for tapes from friends and familiy. As a public service, here's how to program your VCR.
You can do it, one step at a time!
My good French-Canadian friend, Jacques, who lives in Rome, was in town today for one of his typical whirlwind tours of New York City. He's been coming here for as long as I've known him — more than 25 years now — just to suck up some energy. This time, he'd driven down from visiting in-laws in Montreal with his 9-year-old daughter, Simone, who speaks French, Italian and English.
Simone had two requests for her thirty-two hours in the city: 1. she wanted to see the American Girl Place and 2. she wanted to go to a baseball game.
I volunteered for the second watch, and Deirdre, Carrick and Pete came along. Where? Where else? Randy Johnson was on the mound and the Great Ball Orchard in the Bronx, as Art Rust, Jr. used to say, was filled and buzzing.
The last time Jacques had seen Johnson pitch was earlier this year when he was in the Congo. He'd downloaded a copy of the perfect game Johnson threw last year for the Arizona Diamondbacks and listened to it over and over on his laptop as he worked on a report, glancing at the video to catch key outs.
Jacques is the head of global issues for Caritas Internationalis, an umbrella group of Catholic relief organizations that are active throughout the world, particularly in developing nations. He is a journalist by trade, and helps to frame the issues that Caritas addresses, from unfair trade to hunger.
Last weekend, Jacques was in Bogota, where our son Duncan was born. I asked him how it had gone. One of these days, we'd like to travel back to Colombia, a beautiful country filled with generous people, but not until it's at least as safe to travel as when we were last down there in 1990. It was the height of "'The Extraditables" bombing and murder campaign against the Colombian government, but we're told things have gotten much worse since then.
"It was fine, as long as I stayed in one section of the city that's well protected," he said.
But Jacques is not one to hole up in his hotel room. He pulled out his digital camera from a bag under his seat in the upper tier of the stadium, loaded a flash memory card, and scrolled to a picture of a woman who appeared to be in her late thirties. Let's call her Lucia. Grief seemed to have been poured into her eyes. Jacques had met her in a suburb of Bogota where, he says, more than three million people are who have been displaced by the ongoing civil war are packed in squalor. It is a lawless, no-man's land, controlled in different pockets by right-wing paramilitary and in others by left-wing guerillas.
Lucia and her husband have four children between the ages of 11 and 17. A few weeks ago, they had received a note. It contained an ultimatum: Either give us money, or two of your children. Shortly after, they received a visit from a man who made the same demands, followed by another note telling them to attend a meeting at local school with some other families. jacques does not know the outcome of that meeting, but he does know this:
"They have no money. They will have to give up their two oldest children, one a boy and the other a girl. If they don't, they'll be killed."
The couple does not even know who is making the demand. It could be the right-wing paramilitary. It could be any number of left-wing guerilla groups. There are police in the area they live, but they are tied to the right wing. If Lucia and her husband were to report the incidents, they stand a 50-50 chance of getting killed.
Colombian politics is very complicated. There's no doubt, however, that drug money has played a large part in the turmoil since the 1960s. At least six percent of the economy is based on it.
No matter where people stand on the so-called War on Drugs — it's an issue I hope we can talk to each other about beyond kneejerk pronouncements — Lucia and her family are among its unsung victims.
"Is this common?" I asked.
"Yes," Jacques replied.
"Has it been written about?"
"Yes, in the Colombian press."
"So what will happen to the kids? They'll be trained to fight?"
"Yes, the boy will. He'll be sent to a different part of the country. The girl, she probably will be a sex slave."
"Why haven't I heard about this?"
He didn't answer. There is so much going on around the world that that we don't know about here. We are experts on Britney Spears and Tom Cruise and American Idols instead. Oh, and Randy Johnson.
Jacques, a huge fan of the game of baseball, was so out of touch with the sturm und drang of Major League Baseball that he thought that Johnson had just joined the Yankees last week, not last winter. I, meanwhile, prattled on about Giambi's renaissance, Cano's emergence, Sheffield's bat speed, Matsui's clutch hitting, and other chotchkas that take up space in my brain.
There was a neighborhood block party last night for Cathy, who has sold her house and is moving to South Carolina. Her husband, Peter, died of liver cancer a few years ago. I used to run into Peter when I'd walk the dog. He was in recovery, and told great stories, none of which come to mind. I think he was the sort of storyteller who "owns" his stories. As he'd reach the climax, his face would be red, he'd be gesticulating, and his words would tumble out like quarters from a slot. Even if I could remember one of his tales, it probably would fall flat if I were to try to write it up.
At the party, I ran into Anne, whose daughter Annemarie (Amber) died of liver disease a year and a half ago at 50. I have long planned to finish a chapter I'd started on Amber, but I wanted to talk to Teo, her husband, first. Anne told me that Teo would be eager to talk. Amber had been, too, but she had to cancel the interview we'd scheduled for the day after Thanksgiving in 2003 because she was too weary. She died a couple of weeks later, waiting for a liver transplant.
A few months earlier, Anne, Amber and I had an informal conversation and I got a taste of her quick wit.
"In this family, I know there's a weakness in the liver," Anne said.
"Well, there's also a weakness in the elbow," Amber shot back.
Anne told me that Teo died last week. He was 56. He had cleared up his Hep C a few years ago with chemo, but learned he had terminal liver cancer last February. Nothing could be done. He'd been given four to six months, and stretched it to the max.
Both Amber's and Teo's were drug-related deaths, although they had been clean and sober for many years.
There are many chapters to polish off and post, but I will make this one a priority. I know that Amber and Teo touched a lot of people in their recoveries and perhaps some of those friends and family will contribute to the story down the road.
The week started out perfectly with a diving catch in left center field. One of the umpires told me later that he had not seen a better catch in ten years. There was a lot of Sunday-morning hyperbole in that pat on the back, of course. Heck, I've seen, and made, better catches myself. I'm not sure this one was even in my top five. For one thing, we were playing a lousy team and there wasn't much at stake. I was reminded, though, of a similar catch I wrote about in my journal when Carrick was in the height of her addiction and we, the ironically named Hitmen, were playing our arch-rivals in town, the Sons of the Palisades, on our shared home field in Zinsser Park. It was June 29, 2003, and it had been a harrowing week.
We were winning the second game 8-3. They were down to their last at-bat. They quickly loaded the bases. By the time there were two outs, the tying run was at first base and their best hitter, the crafty and powerful Mike Flaherty, was at the plate. Flaherty is one of those guys who people say once played semipro ball, whatever that is, and you believe them. He's big now, but quick and graceful. Easy going, but intense. A natural-born athlete. As the left fielder, I'd been able to track down most of his shots so far that day. One was a line drive hit straight over my head. It was still rising as I backpedaled, but I was able to grab it. Another was a pop-up in the no-man's land between shortstop and deep left field, where I usually position myself against Flaherty. I was able to catch it by sliding on my left hip and shoving the glove under the ball like a spatula under a fried egg. I remember a relatively lazy but long fly ball to left center, too.
With the game on the line, I again played him deep, and cautioned the left center fielder to move back also. If he puts it over our heads, the winning run (Flaherty) is in scoring position, I said. Flaherty worked the count. It occurred to me that he might be looking for a pitch he could take to right, as he had another time that day, to advance the runner on first to third. Then he swung and lofted another fly between me and shortstop Jimmy Pezzuto, a guy I've been playing ball with since we were freshmen at Manhattan Prep. He ran back. Jason Roif, a bear of a man playing left center, charged it. I took off with my eyes glued to the ball as if it were a mouse and I were a raptor.
I sensed that Pezzuto, Roif and I were converging, but that I was the only one of us who had a chance of fielding the ball cleanly. Diving for the ball, in fact, is my favorite play, something I've become known for doing. I pushed off the turf like a swimmer on the blocks with my mitt in front of me. The ball plopped in. I held it aloft for the umpires to see, jumped up, and turned around to see Jimmy behind me, where his momentum had carried him, in left field. His arms were extended like an Italian grandfather's. We embraced.
"There was no fucking way I was going to let those bastards take another game from us in their last at bat," I said.
Softball is one of the ways I get high nowadays. Racquetball is another; so is my Wednesday night poker game, or Saturday mornings on the Rowley's Bridge Trail. As bad as the reality of the past week might have been, I'm usually able to shut it out for a while and focus on nothing but what I'm doing. Bluffing a good hand. Serving an ace. Pretending I'm Hideki Matsui or the kid I no longer am in left field.
Nothing else matters at these moments. I'm at one with what I'm doing, with who I am. That was always the illusion that drink and drugs held out, but there was always a hangover — physical and emotional.
We shook hands with the Sons, as is the custom. When we were done, one of the Sons asked if I had a minute to talk.
"Sure," I said. I assumed it would be about the Hastings Parents Network (the online discussion group we moderated). He had been a member for a long time, sometimes posting something that addressed an issue in a novel way.
"Does the name Jason Tyler mean anything to you?" he asked.
I shut my eyes, shuddered, and took a deep breath.
"It means a lot to me, why?"
My friend said that he'd been hanging around with his daughter and her friends, all of whom were a lot younger than Jason.
"Yeah, that's Jason," I said. "Jason was the guy who taught Carrick how to shoot up" I said.
I'll write more about this conversation and its aftermath in Our Odyssey in the future.
The diving catch has always appealed to me because it can break an opponent's rally. It can inspire your teammates. It's a pure adrenaline rush. It's just you and the ball and an infinite split-second when you've pushed yourself as far as you can go.
Of course you run the risk of making an utter fool of yourself, a crumpled heap on the grass as the ball scoots by and a lumbering weekend warrior turns a single into a home run. So a dive for the ball can teach humility, too.
Tomorrow morning this site goes into beta. I'll email a few dozen family, friends, and colleagues and ask them to take a look at it.
I'm in mid dive.
Deirdre brought home some chicken lo mein and bean curd soup for dinner. There was a single fortune cookie for the four of us:
"Seek first to understand and then to be understood."
Deirdre and I took Carrick to a matinee performance of Monty Python's Spamalot at the Samuel Shubert Theater this afternoon. We used to alternate taking her to a Broadway show around her birthday — only one of us at a time because we wanted good tickets but really couldn't afford to buy more than two. I particularly remember Carrick enjoying Guys and Dolls and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, both with Nathan Lane, with me. And I enjoying her enjoying them.
Today, she opened a white three-ring binder on her lap while we waited for the show to begin and worked on her math homework. If you'd told me two years ago that this would be the scene for today — the three of us in row J of a Broadway theater waiting for a Monty Pyton-inspired show to begin — I would not have said "you're crazy," but I would allow that it was not in the realm of improbable. On second thought, doing math homework? You're crazy.
I just looked in my journal to see what was going at that time and the closest direct entry about Carrick was dated July 27, 2003:
Carrick came up to see Duncan in As You Like It. Took train to Yonkers, then came back to house. She pecked me on the cheek when she sat down (we were in the front row).
“Are you staying clean?” I asked.
She nodded her head vigorously, looking straight ahead.
I didn't have much to do with her back at the house, where we had a BBQ with some friends. While I was grilling, she came down and tried to start a conversation in that voice and with that familiarity that usually means that she's looking for something. ("So, howyadoin, Tomas?"). Sure enough, she wanted $5.
“Why should I give you $5?
"For my birthday. Mom gave me groceries; why shouldn't you give me cigarettes?"
I walked away. She remained.
"How about it?"
I told Dede that I wasn't going to give her any money but that she could do what she wanted.
“Good,” Dede replied.
I did not say goodbye when she took the 7:20. I really do have nothing to say to her. She is a liar and a thief, basically.
As I looked around the theater this afternoon, and listened to the thunderous standing ovation at the end of the performance, I did what I always do at the end of a Broadway musical. I try to imagine my grandparents on stage a hundred years ago, Broadway chorus boy and chorine, basking in the reflected glory and energy of all those applause for the stars. I can't imagine a greater high, transitory as it may be.
I also wondered what their reactions would be to this clever send-up of Broadway musicals, which really haven't changed much in a hundred years. They'd recognize the structure, and even tap their toes to some of the tunes, but the irony would totally baffle them. It is the product of later generations. To paraphrase King Arthur, "Why do they call us the Middle Ages when nothing comes after us yet." The turn-of-the-19th century was a more "innocent time," no doubt, but I'm not one to suggest that it was better.
More on Love
It would have been Pop's ninety-second birthday today. I sent Maureen and Jim, my "big sister" and "little brother," a backdoor link to some chapters I've been working on about my father. They both sent me very moving, supportive comments. I told Maureen that the last email I'd sent Pop, after years of corresponding back and forth on CompuServe and then AOL, was a note that simply said, "Thanks, Pop, that means a lot." I felt the same way today.
My father had written just before he went into the hospital in December 2002 after a story about Deirdre and me appeared in the New York Times. We had mentioned, among other things, our genetic propensities for alcoholism. Pop wrote back:
"My heartiest good wishes to each of you for such candor in the Times story. It takes character and love for others for you two to unwind as you did and I am sure there will be benefits for you and others as well. I am a very proud Pop because of you. Any other reactions? Keep up the good work ..."
And so we've tried to keep up the good work.
Maureen also told me that she had notified a number of friends about "Saving Carrick."
"One couple who lived next door in CC til this winter lost their granddaughter 18 mos ago. She drowned in the bathtub and as Lars wrote "I also forwarded your email to our daughter Tracy. As you know her daughter Danine didn't survive that damn stuff." We were very honored when they asked to use our boat for her burial at sea. Needless to say, it was a very moving day.
I wrote back:
"It's people like your neighbors who my heart goes out to. I'd like to use this little anecdote you told me — I can take out the names if they'd like — as part of a blog today."
She checked, and this was the immediate response:
"Hi! Tell your brother that he is welcome to use whatever. No need to change the names or disguise it. If it helps just one person to avoid the "curse" of addiction it will be worth the effort. Lars Larsen"
We're making progress.
Dateline NBC release
Someone just sent me a copy of the press release Dateline is sending out about the show. I got to a line that made me start heaving uncontrollably. Tears are still running into my mouth. It wasn't anything surprising. It simply says:
"Ultimately, this is a story about the power of family love to overcome the power of addiction."
I think, more than anything, I am crying for all of those people for whom love was not enough. It often isn't, and it might not have been.
"SAVING CARRICK" TO BE BROADCAST ON
"DATELINE NBC" — FRIDAY, JULY 29
(New York, N.Y.) — July 18, 2005 — NBC's Ann Curry reports in the hour-long documentary, "Saving Carrick" — a story that tackles the problem of addiction and offers a rare, inside look into one family struggling to save a young daughter from one of the most extreme addictions of all: an addiction to heroin. Included in the report is intimate videotape, in some cases shot by the family members themselves in their most vulnerable moments, capturing their struggle as it is happens. Also on videotape is a raw look at the life of a heroin junkie, the shooting up and the desperation. To be broadcast on "Dateline NBC," Friday, July 29 (8 PM/ET).
The parents, Thom and Deirdre Forbes, both 52, are recovering alcoholics and live in the affluent suburb of Hastings-On-Hudson in Westchester County, New York. Teenagers here, like those across the country, often experiment with drugs and alcohol when they are underage. The Forbes are determined to keep their teenage son away from drugs and alcohol, even if it means being over-protective and intruding in his life more than other parents would. They have good reason for doing this - their daughter, Carrick, is an addict, and for the last 8 years, the family's life has revolved around trying to keep her clean.
Curry met the Forbes in the summer of 2003 when Carrick, 19 at the time, was living in a downtown apartment with her drug dealer boyfriend. Her days and nights were centered on scoring and shooting heroin. She had already contracted hepatitis C, most likely from sharing needles with other junkies, and her parents were deeply worried that she might die of an over-dose or get killed before her 20th birthday.
For the next year and a half "Dateline" cameras recorded her parents' efforts to try to make her stop using heroin and the emotional roller coaster that families of addicts ride as their hopes for recovery get dashed over and over again. Ultimately, this is a story about the power of family love to overcome the power of addiction. It also suggests there are things parents may never have guessed that can make children vulnerable to addiction.
David Corvo is the executive producer of "Saving Carrick." Marc Rosenwasser is the executive editor, Paul Greenberg is the senior producer, Soraya Gage is the producer, Joyce Cordero and Rayner Ramirez are the field producers, and Alvero Trenchi is the editor.
Press Contact: Jenny Tartikoff, 212/664-2271 or email@example.com
FAVOR "House Party"
Deirdre conducted a productive Friends and Voices of Recovery meeting yesterday. One of the upshots of it is that Bill Gillen and Kittie Malloy will host a FAVOR house party in the Orr Room at the Hastings-on-Hudson Library, 7 Maple Ave., beginning at 7:30 p.m. on July 29.
Duncan, the forgotten one
I worked with Scott on the site in Brooklyn last night. We signed up with Sitecrossing to host, primarily because of its robust, and relatively cheap, interactive suite and huge storage capacity. Once we did, I saw the site in all its HTML gloriy for the first time. There are rough edges to be worked out, but I'm psyched.
I just asked Duncan to come and see the site. As klugey as it is, I thought it would be good for him to have the first peek. He's often the forgotten man in the addiction dynamic around here. In fact, I started by asking him if he even knew that the Dateline show was going to air on July 29. Predictabily, he didn't. We neglected to tell him, and he wasn't listening.
The first thing I showed him was the contact information on the site, and his e-mail address. I wanted to make sure that he was okay with getting mail which, I pointed out, could be positive or negative. His only question was why I was routing it to elephantonmain.com instead of his usual address.
I then explained how the site worked.
"Are you going to write about catching me drinking?" he asked.
"Ummm, no, I mean, well, I haven't written about it ... yet, no, I don't think I will, well I guess maybe down the ..."
"You should," he said. "It's the last thing that happened to the family."
He's right, of course. I was equivocating because I'm already so worried about the impact of all of this exposure on Duncan, the innocent bystander, that I guess I wanted to spare him any further "embarrassment."
Resolved: Down the line I will write about catching Duncan drinking and how we handled it. When I think about it, it's a much more normal situation, in that Duncan is not a heavy drinker or drug user and it's the type of scenario that most parents find themselves facing. Bottom line on that score: The best leverage I think we have with kids who may drink "socially" or "to see what it's like" is driving priviledges, and his learning permit lay fallow for a while.
Title is "Saving Carrick"
We learned on Friday that the title of the Dateline special report will be Saving Carrick. My immediate reaction was "that's wrong."
"Saving" implies that outside forces had the controlling hand in Carrick's recovery. In the end, despite the efforts of literally dozens of people over the years, nobody saved Carrick except herself. (This opens up a whole discussion of "higher powers," I suppose, but I'll deal with that elsewhere.)
I'm all too close to the story, of course, to give it the best title. And as I thought about it from the perspective of having written a few headlines in my life, Saving Carrick pithily conveys the tenor of the piece. Everybody certainly was trying to save Carrick. In fact, some of our lives revolved around it.
Deirdre had the same reaction. I left it to her to tell Carrick. She was upset, but not enough that she couldn't joke about sarcastically it at dinner. Last night Carrick told me that she'd called her boyfriend, Pete, on Friday. He laughed for a long time and then put it all in perspective: "Nobody is going to remember the title. It just draws people in." What's most disturbing to Carrick, perhaps, is having that distinctive name shouting out from the marquee. She might have been just as upset if the title was Carrick's Philosophy of Life. There aren't too many Carricks around.
The working title for the show for several years had been Addiction in America. We knew that was not going to hold up. Our small stories cannot carry such a huge burden. But it's indicative of the wide net we cast when we started out in June 2003 after Jennifer Sherwood, a Dateline assistant producer, contacted Deirdre. Her phone call was prompted by the bust of some local teens on the Jersey Shore for possession of alcohol and marijuana following the Hastings High School senior prom. The story first ran as a front page story in the local daily, The Journal News, then made the New York Post, New York Times, and Daily News.
Deirdre was interviewed by a Journal News reporter and and he used one quote from her: "I think a lot of people are in denial about how much alcohol and marijuana is being used here." The next day, Deirdre told a reporter for the local cable news channel that she thought that some of the parents in the village were more concerned about the kids being caught or written about in the press than about their use of drugs and alcohol.
The bust, the ensuing media coverage, and Deirdre's comments — even the fact that she would comment at all — touched off a firestorm of messages to the online discussion group we'd set up the year before for parents of teens in Hastings who wanted "to share ideas, information, and support about social issues such as substance abuse, curfews, cliques, and peer pressure."
In the midst of the back and forth, I drafted a message that I thought about sending to the group but didn't. The debate was already devolving into ad hominem attacks and questions about process (basically, who has the right to say what), and I felt that the following would only further divert attention from the real issues, so I held it back:
A respected national news show is contemplating a story about underage drinking and drug use. They want to tape a keg party, ostensibly to show that the activities that go on at these events go beyond a beer or two, a toke or two, and innocent socializing. They would, of course, obscure all faces. They wanted our assistance in finding a group willing to be taped, or a teen willing to do the taping.
We flat-out said "no" for all the obvious reasons. Also, it's not the story, as far as we are concerned. Anybody with any sense of reality knows that these parties can get raucous, that some kids will get wasted, that fights and sexual predation occur, that occasionally a tragedy takes place, and that about one in five kids will develop a dependency on their drug of choice.
The story, as far as we're concerned, is the real rift between parents who condone, or even encourage, teen drinking and drug use and those who believe it is a health and safety issue that should discussed and discouraged.
It's not just Hastings, of course. A friend just told me about some parents whose son was part of a group of teens in California who had accomplished something extraordinary. The parents threw a party for the group and let the kids drink as much alcohol as they wanted. Ages range from 15 - 18. The parents, who evidently do this regularly, pride themselves on two things:
- they confiscate car keys and don't hand them back until they deem that the kids are sober enough to drive;
- they've dug a pit in their backyard where kids can vomit.
We all know that "kids will be kids." They think they'll live forever. They will not get hooked. They will not get into a car wreck. They will not pass out and be left alone. They will not get into a potentially tragic fight. They will not be raped. They will ignore the evidence that says that drinking and drugging has adverse affects on the adolescent brain.
The question is whether "parents will be parents." I think that parents who condone, facilitate, encourage, or turn a blind eye toward underage drinking and drug use are putting their kids — and mine — in harm's way. Do you?
Sherwood was undetered by our refusal to put her in touch with teens, and asked if she and producer Soraya Gage could meet with us in Hastings for background. She also sent us a videotape of a powerful special report that Gage recently had produced for Tom Brokaw, Sudden Impact: Ripple Effects of Drunk Driving, that convinced us that their intent was not sensationalistic.
Gage, Sherwood, Deirdre and I had a far-ranging conversation on our back porch on July 12. We made the point that teen drinking was a national story, not one confined to Hastings or Westchester, even if friends and neighbors seemed to be at each others throats — or ours — over the issue.
There was a lot going on at the time. Carrick had walked out of a long-term re-hab on Father's Day a few weeks before. Deirdre was about to go back to school to become a substance abuse counselor. We told Gage and Sherwood about our own recovery from alcoholism in the '80s, and Deirdre's near-fatal depression and psychosis in the late '90s. But mostly, we pushed our point that any story about teen drug use should focus more on parents than kids. My notes from the discussion:
Kids are going to make bad decisions. Life is all about learning from mistakes. But if you don't know the difference between a good decision or a bad one in the first place, or if you believe that something is "good" because "everybody does it"; or if you're led to believe that drinking and drugging are harmless activities that won't affect you, then how will you learn to learn from mistakes (since there are none in this world)?
Some say they are teaching their teens to drink or drug "responsibly." What do they mean by that? That breaking the law is okay if your friends do it, too, and you can get away with it? The medical evidence is that one in five kids will develop a dependancy. That the younger they start, the more liklihood it will develop. That drugs effect kids' brains in different ways than adults. That it can have more adverse long-term effects. That the risky behavior associated with use can be life altering.
The message certainly must have sounded ironic coming from us since we had been spectacularly unsuccessful in keeping Carrick away from drugs. But that was the point. "Just say no" is a nice slogan, but it doesn't begin to address reality, particularly when the social norm revolves around alcohol.
We also expressed major frustrations that the politicians and activists on either side of this issue are so far apart. Addicts, and the people they affect, are caught in the crossfire of the policy war, and little of value gets done although billions of dollars are spent putting penny-ante junkies behind bars for years.
Dateline quickly came back to us with a proposal. They wanted to do a story, but "only" if they could tell it through us. They'd give us a digital video recorder, and send crews to follow us at scheduled, relevant events. None of us really had an idea what the story would be about. Deirdre and my activism? Deirdre's new career? Carrick's struggles with heroin? Some tragedy in Hastings related to drinking? Some tragedy in our own lives related to drugs?
What we did know was that we had the opportunity to reach millions of people with a few simple messages. Perhaps the more important one is that addiction is a disease like any other. Although it is chronic and prone to relapse, it is treatable. Carrick became proof of that. But we are all too painfully aware that the outcome could have been very different.
Air date July 29
We learned today that the Dateline Special Report will air Friday, July 29, barring any breaking news event. We are free to tell anybody, and the NBC publicity wheels are grinding into motion. We still don't know what they'll call the show, but I'm betting that Addiction in America has bitten the dust. This turned out to be much a more personal profile than I think any of us anticipated.
It has been three years, almost to the day, since we agreed to participate in the show, and we've been waiting for the air date for what seems like forever. If I remember correctly, they wrapped the editing last November.