October 8, 2012
Strength in Numbers
“Hi. I’m Jordan and I’m an addict slash abuser, I guess.” I watch my son shrug his shoulders and hunch over, clasping his hands in his lap after uttering these words. He speaks the words quietly, but his apathetic tone and body language read loud and clear. He doesn’t believe the words he’s saying and is merely being cooperative. After a loud and cheerful “Hello Jordan!” the group turns their attention to me. “Hi. I’m Brandee, and I’m Jordan’s mom.” We continue like this around the circle until every patient, parent, sibling and friend has been introduced and welcomed. Despite the warm, welcoming nature of everyone here, there is nothing pleasant about this. My 15 year old son is in rehab and this is family group therapy.
We sit in a large circle in cold, hard plastic chairs with shiny metal legs. The room is large and cold with white painted concrete block walls and a stage at the front end. It feels less like a hospital and more like my sons elementary school auditorium. The large banners above the stage boldly spell out the “12 Steps to Recovery” and “The Serenity Prayer” and are a harsh reminder to me that this is no place a school play would be performed. There are about 20 of us altogether: 8 or 9 teenage patients and their loved ones, as well as Matt, the head counselor for this group. Most of the kids, the patients, are wearing sweatpants and socks or slippers. There is no need for shoes since they won’t be leaving tonight with their family members. Some of them won’t be leaving for a very long time. I sit in the circle for 30 minutes or so listening to the stories. Every patient has their own story, as it’s referred to by the staff. It’s their own personal truth about their journey into drug or alcohol use and subsequent abuse. They are encouraged to own up to these truths and reveal them to their loved ones and the group. One boy, just slightly older than my son, is leaving the hospital tomorrow. He sits with his mom and we all listen as he reveals his fears about returning to his old environment. Matt gives him some suggestions and advice and we move on to another patient. There’s a girl without any family present for this evenings group. She’s been in and out of programs several times already at the age of 16. This time it was a court order that placed her here for treatment and it will most likely keep her here for a long time. Another boy, Keldon, is around 17 years old and sits between his dad and his older sister, with his step-mom on the other side of his dad. He looks terrified and pale. He had overdosed the night before and almost died. Fortunately his family was able to have him transferred to this facility after the immediate medical need was attended to. The stories continue with horrific and elaborate tales of overdoses and multiple arrests for various reasons. Some were arrested for vandalism while under the influence. Some had stolen from their parents or even from stores. All had difficulties in school. Initially, I felt a bit of relief as I began to realize that my son’s story was so much less colorful than what I was hearing. After all, he’d only been arrested once, by my own doing, for sneaking out a window when he was grounded. I almost felt out of place and began to think maybe I had gone too far by bringing him here. What were either of us supposed to gain from sitting here listening to these kids sharing horror stories? I had brought him to this place searching for answers and I was only getting more fearful for his future with every person that spoke.
When my son began to speak, to tell his story, all the frustration I had felt over the past several months began to rise to the surface. There was something about the way in which he told it that actually angered me. He spoke as nonchalantly as if he were reporting the weather on the local six o’clock news. He gave his truth, but with no emotion or expression whatsoever. I...