Joy and Pain
On Sunday, June 10, Carrick woke up and for the first time in several years did not ingest a substance that would satisfy the cravings of her opioid dependence. She spent a few of days feeling miserable, mostly lying in bed with the TV droning in the background, initially not even feeling strong enough to walked her beloved pit bull, Sadie. But after a few days, she woke up talking a blue streak and she has been vivacious since then. I am immensely proud of her long struggle to kick her addiction. Like so many people I've met over the years, Carrick got sobriety the way that felt right to her.
First, she had the good sense to try methadone in January 2004 after several abbreviated de-toxes failed to take root. Then, against the advice of her counselor at the methadone clinic, she began to gradually lower her dosage in 2005 so she could eventually switch to Suboxone. It has been less than a year since she's been free from trekking to the methadone clinic every day. She started taking 5 milligrams of Suboxone in August 2006, and weaned herself to 2 milligrams over the months. Her psychopharmacologist advised her against stopping Suboxone completely at this point, but Carrick wanted to feel normal — without an opioid substitute — when she starts the fall semester in a writing program at a new college.
Deirdre, Carrick and I went out to dinner at a local restaurant for Father's Day. I hadn't been there since Carrick was an antsy little girl who who'd squirm in her seat, and then get up and dance around in the narrow aisles. It was an appropriate setting to tell her that the culmination of her three and a half years of recovery was the best Father's Day present imaginable.
Duncan, meanwhile, was at his senior prom that evening. We had proudly followed him — taking copious pictures and videos — as he and his date moved from one friend's house to another and eventually to the courtyard of the high school, where everybody assembled for the buses that were to take them to and from the catering hall. The school has hired buses for several years, and it pretty much ensures an alcohol- and drug-free prom. What happens afterwards, of course, is the stuff of legend, braggadocio and, occasionally, police reports.
I didn't think it was necessary to remind Duncan that 1. we expected him to turn down alcohol or drugs if offered and 2. if he does drink or drug, he is absolutely forbidden to get behind the wheel of his car. I've told him for years that if he slips and gets drunk or high, I will come and to get him wherever he is, and there will be no consequences.
Duncan has not been a heavy drinker or drugger. I think that knowing the consequences — namely, losing his privilege to drive his car — has probably stopped him from "socializing," as he puts it, on many occasions. He has taken pride in being the designated driver among friends who do indulge. While I'd rather he hang out with teetotalers, I know these kids well and I'm glad they're getting home safely. Just last week, a mom called to tell me that she'd broken up a beer party in her backyard but was assured by everyone there that Duncan was driving them home. He'd yelled to her, she said, that he hadn't had a drop. I hope so.
Duncan had halfheartedly battled to participate in post-prom trips the following weekend with classmates to 1. Montreal (where 18 year olds can legally drink) 2. some unspecified campground somewhere for unspecified communion with nature. We firmly said no to both, but allowed that we had no problem with his taking a limousine with friends to Jones Beach (which we assume is heavily patrolled) in the early morning hours after the prom.
Well, unknown to us, Duncan was one of the organizers of the after-prom limousine, which turned out to be, literally, a 40-or-so-passenger "party on wheels." Presumably, they went to the South Street Seaport and Jones Beach, as planned. In any event, there was an ample supply of beer on board. (Duncan tells us that they banned hard liquor and drugs, for what that's worth.)
Duncan told us he'd be home about 7:30 a.m. I was just sitting down to work at my desk when I heard him parking outside the window. I watched him and his girlfriend walked to the front door, then went to greet them. They seemed to walking okay, but as Duncan passed me I could smell beer fumes. I asked him a couple of questions, and he admitted he'd been drinking.
Duncan later said that he'd had "only four or five" beers earlier in the evening "to be sociable," that he was perfectly capable of driving by the time he did, and that he regretted concocting some half-assed story he tried to pass off about a friend driving him home. He said that he was "sorry."
As I told Duncan that he would lose the loss of his car for an indeterminate period, it was one of those occasions where I might have felt sadder than he did. I know how much the car means to him. I also know he thought he was doing the right thing by trying to keep things "under control." But just like parents who think they're doing the right thing by letting their kids drink at home, lives are in the balance.
A friend of mine who lives in another community told me today about parents who shut down the keg at a party at their home when they thought the kids may have had too much. But the kids had their own supply of alcohol in the woods behind the home, not to mention weed. She also mentioned cops on the Jersey Shore who confiscated "half" of the supply of booze at a post-prom party, presumably thinking that would prevent anyone from needing ER services. Of course the kids just went out and got some more. And the cops came back, and confiscated half the supply again. The fact that no one would up in the ER on this occasion is irrelevant — at least to parents whose kids have. This is not harm reduction. This is dereliction of duty.
As vigilant as we've been, I also know that I failed to stay on top of the situation as closely as I should have. Last year, when Duncan was going to his first formal, I asked a lot more questions about the bus company, and was in touch with parents who were going to search the bus prior to departure. We repeated this when he took a girl to the junior formal last fall. I regret not paying closer attention to his role in hiring the bus company, and insisting on searching the bus myself. I'm not naive enough to think that this would have stopped the drinking altogether (it didn't in the fall), but it certainly would have sent a stronger message than just hoping that Duncan would do the smart thing.
It seems to me that the culture of teen drinking is becoming more and more ingrained in society — and at an earlier age — every year. There are no easy answers. But there won't be any answer at all if we don't address the issue instead of hoping for the best. I continue to feel that teen alcohol abuse is a more serious problem to more teens and parents than the use of illegal drugs, including heroin, will ever be.