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November 30, 2005

Magical Thinking

Psychologists describe “magical thinkingas the conviction of an individual that his or her thoughts, words, and actions, may in some manner cause or prevent outcomes in a way that defies the normal laws of cause and effect.  The loss of a child is one of those cataclysmic events in a parents life that can trigger magical thinking.  As our mind struggles to comprehend a tragic new reality, that we resist with every fabric of our being, it is common for us to attempt to assuage our inner conflict with thoughts of “if we had done this or that” the outcome might have been different.

From the beginning I have tried not to linger for long in that garden of magical thinking because there is no real solace in creating false hopes and phantom scenarios that can never be.  Yet a question that is frequently asked when we do presentations does deserve some conjecture, as best we can, given the time that has passed since David’s death and the understanding we have gained along the way.

The question comes in many forms but is essentially this, “If David had cheated death that day and recovered from the effects of the poisonous propellant and the near drowning, what might his life be like today?” 

The truth is that there are a number of possible outcomes that he might be experiencing today.

His near death experience might have led him to be in active recovery from his substance abuse. 

His continued use and abuse might have caused him to be estranged from those he loves and who love him.

He might still be struggling with addiction, and be in and out of treatment programs. 

His continued use and abuse might have led him to a life on the streets.

And finally, his continued use and abuse might have led him to jail or prison.

The truth is also, I would give anything for it to be ANY one of the above.

November 30, 2005 at 10:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

November 27, 2005

When Did You First Realize That Your Son Had A Drug Problem?

People often ask us, "When did you first realize that your son had a serious drug problem?  Was it the first time he came home drunk, was it when the pipe fell out of his pants pocket, or the time he dropped acid, or was it that night he was so high on alcohol and marijuana that he threatened to slash his wrists?"

The truth is that David had a drug problem long before we his parents realized it.  Each of these incidents should not have been just a "warning sign" to us.  The truth is also that when any of these signs appear it is usually just the tip of the "iceberg".   Each one of these incidents should  have screamed an alarm that would have deafened us.  And yet we wrapped ourselves in a cocoon of fear and denial, which insulated us from his addiction and allowed it to fester until it's venom claimed our joy.

When did we first realize that our son had a drug problem?

Not Soon Enough.

November 27, 2005 at 10:09 PM in The Journey | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 23, 2005

A Colleague

A colleague of mine called this week to ask my help with one of her staff members.  She said her co-worker's 16 year old son had been suspended from school for repeatedly coming to class "high", smoking marijuana on school property and has been arrested on several occasions.  As a condition of his readmission he was ordered to seek a substance abuse assessment, and an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) was recommended by a local treatment center. 

I told my colleague that this seemed a prudent course of action and asked her how the family was responding. She replied that the son had barricaded himself in his room, was refusing to stop smoking marijuana and that his mother was in a rage!  I asked if she was angry at her son and was told,  "No she is pissed that not only does her son have to go through this IOP program, but that she also has to attend meetings and PAY for the IOP program on top of that!!!"

"Is she not concerned about her son's substance abuse and the extreme level of unmanageability it has brought to their family", I asked?  "No", came the reply.  "She doesn't think he has a problem and even if he did...its just pot, he'll get over it...after all she smoked marijuana and she turned out alright."

I told my friend I would be happy to talk with her, she thanked me and wished me a Happy Thanksgiving.  After I put the phone down I closed the door to my office, something I often do when I feel the clouds of dark memroies beginning to form around me.  I shut my eyes and drifted back back to those difficult months before we got Dave into treatment. It was a time when sadness, fear, anger and denial ruled our lives. 

I was right back there where this mother is right now. I know what she is feeling ,and the powerlessness that grips her heart...I know where she is...

I hope I can help her not be where I am now.

November 23, 2005 at 12:02 PM in The Journey | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 18, 2005


I have a difficult time watching the spate of popular television shows today in which actors playing the part of Medical Examiners (MEs), examine bodies and conduct autopsies during prime time on network television.  Theses segments are often characterized by gallows or black humor as the actors speculate on the events that brought the corpses that lay before them on their sterile and cold stainless steel dissection table.

I can imagine that my discomfort is shared by the thousands of family members who have lost loved ones to substance abuse.  In some cases our young people die as a result of criminal activity related to their addiction, but in most situations where there are "suspicious" circumstances a Coroner is called and sensitivity to family wishes or emotions become secondary to the investigation of the death.

After David was declared dead in the emergency room of the hospital, and Josh and Marissa had said their good bye, we initially thought that his body had been removed from the ER to have any viable organs removed that could be used for donation and transplant.  To my ever lasting regret I was out of state visiting my father when he died and had to be told of, and consulted with, about his death via telephone before boarding a plane to begin my sad journey back to Indianapolis. 

We subsequently learned that the ER and the Coroner had miscommunicated about our wishes for David's body, and that not only were our desires to have his organs donated not fulfilled but the Coroner would not allow me to see my son until the ME had performed an autopsy and released the body to the funeral home.  For four days my emotional pendulum ranged from abject grief to blinding outrage as my emotional need to see my son's body competed with my minds inability to grasp the full extent of the events that had occurred and I sank into a dark abyss of sorrow, anger and fear.

Light did return, as it always does, in rays of hope and love piercing the darkness.  I finally was able to to see my son's body, hold his cold hands, run my fingers through his still soft hair, kiss his pale lips and have my tears fall on his face.  I eventually got over my resentment toward the Coroner and his staff...they were just doing their jobs....

But I still find it hard to watch those TV shows...and probably always will.

November 18, 2005 at 12:42 PM in The Journey | Permalink | Comments (2)

November 17, 2005

Jails, Courts and Prisons

There was a story on the AP wire yesterday about the staggering number of people in our nations prisons for substance abuse offenses.  It reminded me of something a friend of mine, who is the head of addiction services for a local treatment facility, has said for sometime.  Dr. George Brenner believes that too often today treatment is the course of last resort when hospitalization, probation or jails fail; when in fact it should be the first thing we try! The monetary and human capital that could be saved would be a greater stimulus to our economy than any governmental program in history.  Yet society stigma regarding substance abuse continues to color our enforcement and judicial systems.  If we do not get out of today’s mode where Jails are the waiting rooms for this disease, Courts our Assessment Centers and Prisons the Treatment centers, we are doomed as a society.

November 17, 2005 at 08:56 AM in The Journey | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 12, 2005

500 Deaths A Month

A couple of weeks ago we were in Washington D.C. as guests of the Drug Enforcement Agency attending a meeting to discuss how to confront the denial and stigma in our society with regard to the use, abuse of substances; and the tragic cost and loss addiction causes everyday. Around the table with us were parents, brothers and sisters from eight families representing nine young lives that were brutally cut short by drug use. I say brutally because there is no other way to describe the feeling that a family experiences when the life of a son or daughter, brother or sister is ripped from you.

Normally I have an aversion to statistics related to substance abuse issues because they are inherently impersonal, but that day I heard one that shook me to my core. It is that on average 500 young people die from substance abuse every month…that is almost 18 young lives a day…and close to one an hour. That means that 6000 families join our ranks every year and become members of this onerous club of young lives cuts short and those that are left behind to mourn them.

When one life is too heavy a price to pay…6000 becomes obscene...where is the outrage????

November 12, 2005 at 01:58 PM in The Journey | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 08, 2005

David's Spot

This past week we returned to the mountains of northern Arizona where over the past twenty years we have holidayed periodically in the spectacular beauty of red rock surrounded Sedona.  A place of breathtaking views storied psychic vortexes and mystical time sculpted mountains that are said to promote the healing of the spirit and inner peace for all who seek. The sky, forever a brilliant blue, provides a beautiful contrast to the deep reddish brown sandstone canyons that rise precipitously yet majestically in every direction, cathedrals to no religion that the mind of man could conceive.

There is a road through town that you take until the macadam ends and is replaced by a trail of dust, rocks and ruts.  Houses give way to mesquite, cactus and scraggly pine trees.  The trail ends at the foot of a mountain where the car must be abandoned and we start to climb on foot.  We hike a mile or so until the path turns sharply left but we turn right and begin our climb up.  The way is treacherous at times the footing solid, then loose, then solid again until we reach our goal…the outcropping near the top of the mountain we have been to before.  We pause to catch our breath and take in the commanding view that unfolds before us, peaks, canyons and valleys that stretch in every direction to the horizon.

On the tDscf0957op of the mountain there is a gnarled fir tree, weathered and bent by wind and time.  At the base of this ancient tree is a cairn of rocks stacked with care and with purpose.  Some years ago, our first visit to Sedona after Dave’s death from addiction, we climbed to this spot and left this cairn in his memory; and each time we return we climb the mountain to celebrate his life and his struggle with substance abuse.   We have claimed this spot for him and for us. 

It is David’s spot on the mountain, where beauty, peace and love reign supreme just as he does in our hearts.   

November 8, 2005 at 07:13 PM in The Journey | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 05, 2005

What I Feel And What I Know

The news this week that the city of Denver legalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana resurrected an old philosophical conflict in me borne of my own use in the 70s.  Of course in my  using days I would have supported the notion that decriminalizing  the use of marijuana was a good thing.  I don't feel that way today.

What I feel today is that we as a society have been too quick to criminalize continued substance abuse and addiction in favor of treatment.  We  have repeatedly ignored the growing body of research that monies spent on incarceration would be better utilized on treatment. education and prevention.

What I know today is that for me and for my son David, marijuana was a gateway drug that led to the deepening of our addiction.  For me marijuana use contributed to an adulthood of abusing and using alcohol and other substances to excess.  For David it cost him his life and robbed his loved ones of his light and love.

November 5, 2005 at 10:29 AM in The Journey | Permalink | Comments (0)