Okay, here's the deal: I've been debating the origin of this essay. I am indeed a little weary and in need of a small vacation. However, I have lately had a slew of banged up teenagers who come from really shitty home environments. With mom in prison, she lives with eight other people at grandma's horribly managed house. Another kid who responded to my question, "do you ever have any meals together at the kitchen table?" said: "No. It's either in my room or on the living room floor watching TV. We don't have a kitchen table". So, when I worked with a father 25 years ago, and now his daughter has permanently lost her kids as she heads to prison, I penned an essay addressing this issue. Maybe it's a good idea to occasionally take the kids gloves off.
Someone came in last week and asked a rather intriguing question. They asked, “since you have been a therapist for so many years, is there stuff you know now that surprises you?” I really have pondered that question and the answer is, unsurprisingly: yes. So how about if we narrowed down the inquiry to, “what’s the most shocking thing that you didn’t know before”?
Remember in the great movie The Sixth Sense when we observed the sick mother adding slow acting poison to her daughter’s food? What kind of screwed up human, mental illness or not, would do such a thing? In my forty years of counseling, I have yet to meet anyone suffering from Munchausen syndrome (purposely causing your child to suffer so that you get people’s sympathy). Personally, I believe it would be difficult to ignore the paternal instinct of absolute disgust and remain completely clinical with such a person. However, in retrospect, perhaps I have observed a close diagnostic cousin over the years. Because I have been practicing for so many years, I have had a family generational vantage point most therapists do not have. I am now in my third generation with some families. As such, with my more torn up families, I get to see a trickle-down effect of family dysfunction. The following example is a melding of a handful of situations.
He was in his early thirties when he was truly lost with methamphetamine. He was one of my first IV drug users. One harrowing story was when he did a shot so huge, he had to have a junkie companion hold the syringe and finish the shot for him. He was “pinned to my chair with electricity when two young teenage girls came in. While they were being escorted to the back to ‘trade’ for meth, I wanted to scream to them to stop. They had no idea how bad this gets. But I was helpless with my own huge shot, and couldn’t speak.” A year later I did my first (and only) 11pm emergency crisis with him at my office. I could see his extreme heart rate in the carotid artery in his neck. I talked him down from his suicide plan, and he started to come back in for counseling. Over the years he has been in rehab (and did very well), later relapsed and took his marriage to the brink, saved his marriage with his sobriety, relapsed, got straight again, and I finally lost track of him. Who didn’t I lose track of? Guess.
Not unlike The Sixth Sense, he has spread his poisonous dysfunction to his three children. All three of his kids has been poisoned by “David”. His son is on probation and has lost permanent custody of his children, one daughter is in prison, and the youngest daughter I last saw with a broken nose, headed back to the abuser, and permanently depressed for having lost all three of her kids. For good. No one to celebrate Mother’s Day with again- ever. Is it genetics? Is it the toxic environment? Who really knows. Regardless, he owed it to his children to fight and defeat his love of meth, and to vigorously teach them how to fight their probable genetic predisposition for the love of altered states. So thirty years ago he was hammerin’ home a giant shot, and here we are thirty years later his personal needs have poisoned his kids.
So little “lost control of your drug (including alcohol) users”, picture this amazing scenario: your cute four year old daughter runs up to you when you arrive home. She wants a ride on your feet as you walk around the house. Walk with her back to your room and tell her you have a surprise for her! Help her roll up her shirt sleeve and give her a shot of meth. Her veins are small, so be careful! Just a little one, cause it’s going to take a while before she is big enough to do a bigger shot. Later, maybe at eleven or twelve, you can help to walk her into a friend’s back room and teach her about trading for her drug of choice. Bring a change of clothes for her. You don’t think that’s her life because of you? Are you serious? Of course it is. In this small town, I have an easy dozen of next-generation lost young people. You think it’s just about you? Of course it’s not. So here’s the options:
*Permanently repair your life. Rehab, 12-step, counseling, religion, on your own.... it doesn’t matter. You dedicate your life to changing the future of your children and grandchildren. You don’t whine, make excuses, slip up...... you dedicate your life to your children. Either do it or don’t do it.
*Teach them the skills they will need to combat their probable genetic weaknesses. Problem solving, stress and anxiety durability, and ability to handle suffering are all going to prove to be necessary skills to make them the improved generation.
*Model really good behavior, even if you have to pretend. If we intend for them to be better than us, we have to give them a picture of what that is. Never let your guard down.
*If you find you do not possess the paternal or maternal character to devote your life to your children, put your kids up for adoption as soon as they are born. All of them.
If you decide you do not love your children and just can’t improve your life, at least accurately picture the events correctly. As you take a hit off the dirty pipe (or pathetically drunkenly rage), vividly picture you putting four drops of poison in their milk every day. In this manner, you will kill them slowly. Kill their kids too. It would have been so much more humane to let a family adopt them when they were young. You should seriously consider that last option. However, I would rather fix my life and save my kids. I have never met an altered state I loved more than my children.