Decision Tree

This is a pretty simple concept. When I was in fifth grade all of the kids in the neighborhood decided we were going to steal alcohol and cigarettes from our parents and throw a little party. Needless to say, my best friend and I were the youngest, 9 and 10, while the other kids were almost in high school. Because they were much older, the told us we should bring the beer and cigarettes. If I remember correctly, I volunteered to bring the cigarettes and my friend stated that he would bring the beer.

Later that night, we met in the middle of the cul de sac, our loot in tow. We ventured out to the woods and began to have our party. I think we might have lit one cigarette and shared a fourth of one beer before a parent found us and the party was busted.

Being the my parents had recently divorced, but continued to always parent on the same page, my mother called my father. Later that night he showed up. I don’t remember much about what happened that night but I do remember sitting on the steps in our entry way talking to my parents. Although I cried the entire time, my parents were not harsh or bitter, only asking me to be as honest as possible about the activities of the evening and who decided what was to be brought to the party.

I didn’t know it at the time, but every other kid involved lied and placed the blame of the evening on me. Apparently I was the one who came up with the idea. I was the one who volunteered to bring the beer and the cigarettes and I was the only one who drank or smoked. Funny…I didn’t remember it that way?

My parents asked me only once, “Are you sure that’s the truth?”, and I answered yes. “If you say it’s the truth, then I believe it’s the truth.” My father said. “We raised you to be honest and I believe we did our job.” There was some discussion about what I thought my punishment should be and then I was dismissed while my parents sat on the front porch and talked about the incident…while drinking a beer.

For the rest of that summer, all of the kids in the neighborhood were unable to play with me because their parents had termed me a “bad influence”. They would ride up and down the street and shout “smoker, smoker” and “drinker, drinker” at me, knowing they had been part of the party as well.

I was 10. During that same summer, my friend and I had been caught by his father dressed in drag in the front yard of my house. My mother took a picture of us, every bit the Kennedy clan in wide brimmed hats, smoking tree twigs as cigarettes. His father had been furious. My mother laughed as our neighbor hauled my friend away while tripping on his long gown.

When I was in high school I got in trouble for another drinking party. While talking to my father over dinner he brought up the incident from the summer of my tenth year. “You know, I was always very proud of you for that night.” He said. “The other kids were rewarded by their parents for lying because those parents couldn’t deal with the fact that their children could possibly engage in such behaviors. They received new hockey equipment and shoes while you were punished for your involvement. Their lies will haunt them.” He told me.

“In life, there is a decision tree. The tree grows into a trunk which supports the rest of the tree. This is the foundation of your morals and values given to you when you are young as well as any of your genetic makeup. Next, we have the branches. Each branch splits in two eventually. Each branch represents choices you make in your life. Each choice leads to two or more choices and so forth. As you grow, your decision tree grows and all of your choices compound on top of one another. I wish I could show you my decision tree, and explain all of the good and poor choices I made in my life so that you could live your life to the fullest based on my experience. Unfortunately, you have to grow your own branches. Your mother and I always understood that which is why that evening, whether you had been telling the truth or not, we knew your choice would ultimately affect mostly your life. One lie would lead to another lie and to another lie. As life moves forwards, those kids who lied that not will display similar behaviors but you will be a finer human being for telling the truth and moving through difficult choices.”

And then he patted my back and the lesson was over.

I won’t bore you by telling you I became one of the most prolific liars this century has ever seen or that I had countless arrests and addiction treatments. I won’t bore you with how I treated people horribly, felt that I was owed something from my family and blamed other people for all of my mistakes. I won’t bore you with the countless drugs I did or how much alcohol and cigarettes I used over the years. I definitely won’t bore you with details about how I didn’t care about others’ feelings for years and only, selfishly, thought about my wants and needs.

But I will tell you that because of those years, I do not behavior in any way like that today. In fact, I attempt to live such a right life by the standards I set for myself that I am completely offended when others challenge these values. About a year ago, a business associate accused Alex and I of lying about how we had witnessed an event and reported it. I won’t dredge up the past because, as I stated, I’ve learned from those behaviors and don’t react the same way today, therefore we are friends again and both apologized for hurting each others’ feelings.

Needless to say, in being called a liar I explained that I was completely offended because that challenged the foundation of my sobriety and my values. If I am a liar, then the rest of it is a scam true; my recovery, my relationships…all of it. I might be a lot of things. But I am not a liar. Those behaviors of yesteryear were my picking the wrong branches to climb. Today, I choose different branches because I’ve learned…and my dad was right. In looking at his choices and the choices of others, and learning from one another, I’ve been allowed to live a better life.

While dissecting your life, ask yourself, Am I happy? Are there things I want to change? Are there things I believe are out of my control? What would I change today that would make me happier?

Now look at your choices!

You have many choices. The fact is not that you don’t have choices. The fact is that you don’t like where your choices lead. Many of us don’t like our choices, but sometimes choices we didn’t want to take led us in the right direction. I had no intention of staying in treatment on December 17, 1994 but by going I’ve been allowed to have the most amazing life possible. While working in treatment, I was adamant I was not going to participate in a new family group therapy program that had been designed, but after making the choice to participate rather than be fired, I learned I loved working with families. I was also forced to do an internship in an inner city elementary school. I begged and pleaded with my dean to let me do another internship, but due to my lack of planning, it was all that was left. During that internship, I met my mentor and had some of the best life change experiences ever!

It is easier to let go than to resist.

That branch was my most important.

My parents were very wise. They knew how to raise me with enough liberty to become the person I was meant to become while guided enough to have the values and morals they had learned would further me the most in this life. They were wise because they never allowed me to see them argue, with the exception of a few occasions, and they never spoke poorly of each other. They never made parenting decision without consulting one another. They did this because they loved me. They were the best parents any kid could wish for in life.

My mother was very, very wise. She never threw anything away in fear of possibly needing it again someday. Downstairs in our basement, right on top of her old Smith-Corona typewriter, sits a gorgeous photograph of the Kennedy sisters, both draped in beautiful dresses, wide-brimmed floppy hats shading their faces as they drink lemonade and smoke cigarette tree branch twigs.

I might post that picture someday…hell, we’re on borrowed time as it is!

Help the Kids!!! All of the Secrets Revealed!!!

Please Help the Kids…Serve as Hope for Someone Else!!!
Contact me and be part of the movement!
petermonnmsw@gmail.com

My Twelve Steps Companion iPhone application tells me that as of today I’ve been clean and sober 16.76 years or 201.14 months or 6,122 days or 146,927 hours. That’s a lot of time but honestly, sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday that I was with my friends in high school drinking and partying. For years I worked with teenagers in an inpatient, addiction treatment center but today I am a private practice therapist who works with clients with varying issues and ages. Pain is universal.

But before I get too deep into the background story…for those of you who just want to be part of this project, let me take a moment to pause and explain. Daily I’m asked for advice on the strangest, but most honest, parts of the lives of teenagers using drugs and alcohol. Most days I receive phone calls from teenagers asking me how to talk to a friend or what drugs are safe for them to use. While my answers to these questions varies, I rarely give advice on safe drugs to use, what is apparent is most kids feel they have nowhere to turn for the real answers. Parents, teachers, other counselors, nurses, etc…call me daily too asking all kinds of questions about new over the counter drugs, or how much certain drugs cost or what boundaries they should or shouldn’t set. I have decided to begin a project where all of this advice can be easily accessed so parents and teenagers can be more successful and have the lives they dream of having. You want to be the next Jennifer Hudson, Kurt Cobain, Kid Cudi or Lil Wayne…it’s all waiting, you just have to reach out and grab it. I am asking anyone who had drug and alcohol problems as a teenager but is successful today to be part of my project. I am also asking anyone affected by these teenagers drug or alcohol use, but learned what worked and didn’t work to be part of this project. If you’re interested, please contact me at petermonnmsw@gmail.com for more information…but I encourage you to read on!

I can still remember being on the adult unit of the hospital where I got sober and listening to the teenage girls while they smoked on the patio at night, laughing with each other and talking about the dude’s number they got at the AA meeting they had gone to earlier. I remember watching in disbelief as the counselor monitoring them sat inside writing group notes, not paying attention to the girls or they mindless chatter. How could she not want to be part of this mesmerizing conversation? For years I had therapists who would fall asleep during our sessions or would trust the word of my parents instead of mine, never attempting to relate to my youthful beliefs or even remotely trying to see things from my point of view. So I thought to myself, I could do this. I could be that counselor or therapist I never had when I was a teenager. I could relate and show kids that adults can relate to them. Adults can be wrong and apologize first. Adults can listen to the same music, watch the same music and watch the same movies and television shows…not because they’re fake, but because that’s what they enjoy. (I can’t stand anyone fake so in my years of working with teenagers it’s been vital that when I am uneducated on a certain band or movie, to honestly more about their interests and ask for suggestions so I can decide on my own if I like a certain band. Some I’ve loved…some I still can’t stomach.)

Years ago I read a book by the editor of Sassy magazine where she described her attitude towards putting a magazine out for teenage girls. She described how her reader was the girl who walked down the hallway and had freckles or underdeveloped breasts, or overdeveloped breasts. Every boy looked at her or no boy looked at her. These girls didn’t feel they “fit it” and for them, this was traumatic, much the same way we consider sexual or physical abuse. She talked about sitting down on the floor and pulling her jeans up and getting down on their level to talk. Later, I had a professor who worked at Indiana Girl’s School who shared that she had a huge basket filled with cheap bottles of cheap nail polish. In exchange for talking to her, the girls were allowed to paint her nails. Often, she walked out of those sessions with a different color on every fingernail…but the girls talked…and they eventually felt better. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

And then the boys. The forgotten diverse population of our times. After 15 years working in the field of teenagers I have realized we assume our boys are going to be just fine because they’re boys. We make statements to boys like “grow up” or “be a man”, but nobody teaches them how to be men. They are afraid of growing up in a world without instructions and therefor front to make it appear they have a clue about the real world. Most do not and we are setting them up for failure. It is our job to hold their hands, even if they are resistant, through the dark, guiding them until they find their way. As a gay counselor I was apprehensive at times to work with male clients, but even to this day, I’ve always had amazing trusting and therapeutic relationships with the hardest core teenage men. They don’t care for bullshit and I do not bullshit.

Parents have asked me for 15 years what my secret has been working with teenagers. I just think like a teenager. I don’t have to try because honestly, most days I feel like I could wake up and this could all have been a dream and I’m still in high school myself. I try to treat teens the way I wanted to be treated, while still setting limits, boundaries and structure because I believe that’s what I wanted and needed. I had a mother look at her daughter during family group while she was discussing the love she felt for her boyfriend and the mother shouted “you don’t know what love is! You’re 15!” Let’s be honest. Love doesn’t feel a whole lot different at 15 than it does at 50. Quit lying to your kids. They know you’re full of shit when you do!

And that’s really the secret. Really listening to what the kids are telling us.

This has never been better stated than in the movie Bowling for Columbine when the director Michael Moore interviews singer Marilyn Manson whose music supposedly served as inspiration for the violence.
Michael Moore: If you were to talk directly to the kids at Columbine or the people in that community, what would you say to them if they were here right now?
Marilyn Manson: I wouldn’t say a single word to them I would listen to what they have to say, and that’s what no one did.

Today…I am listening. I have cleaned my ears out and I am listening like I have never listened before. For years I have been frustrated with the lack of resources for teenagers, parents, siblings and everyone who has been affected by drugs and alcohol as a teenager. The parents have no clue what to do and what decisions are right and the kids think what they’re doing is normal. I get questions daily like, “Since my son is in treatment, should I pay his dealer because he owes him $1500.” or “I don’t really care that she hangs around Sally. They’ve been friends since they were in 7th grade and Sally is a really good girl and comes from a good family. What about the other friends.” First of all, don’t ever pay your kids drug debts, you might as well have bought the drugs, which indirectly you did so own it. And second, Sally isn’t as pure as you think she is but that’s not the point. Your daughter is the worst friend she’s ever had so stop focusing on her friends.

But where is this advice? Where is the truth from kids, teachers, drug dealers, parents, siblings, therapist, probation officers and cops that everyone searches for and ends up calling me or some other therapist. It doesn’t exist…yet.

Every day I am contacted in some way by past clients or patients who I worked with as teenagers. Not all of them liked me when I worked with them, but somehow, they made it out and are successful today. Not all are in 12-step programs and not all of them are clean and sober, but ALL are successful in my book! I had a passing thought of starting a small project and so I chose ten of these young people and contacted asking for their help. ALL ten immediately responded and said they would be more than happy to help. Thus grew a larger idea and a larger idea and a larger idea. At this moment, I have a project in place to provide this advice and guidance my past families and patients have been looking for but couldn’t find.

This is where I help YOU to HELP THE KIDS!!! I am looking for anyone who struggled with drugs and alcohol as teenagers but made it out and is successful today. This does not necessarily mean you are clean and sober, but I am encouraging those people as well. I am also asking parents, sponsors, teachers, probation officers, therapists, counselors, doctors, friends, siblings, neighbors…anyone who experienced working with a teenager suffering from drugs and alcohol who has the inside scoop on what did and didn’t work for you that helped them be successful. If you are interested, please contact me at petermonnmsw@gmail.com with your name and email and I will forward you the outline for the beginning of this exciting project. And let me be very clear! This by no means is an attempt to replace any 12-step program. I am hoping that members of 12-step programs will also assist to offer examples of what works for them to be successful as well. I no longer want anyone, no matter their age, to feel that they don’t know where to turn for an honest answer about addiction and recovery.

Please help the kids! Serve as hope for someone else!
And if you have any questions or need immediate assistance you can always reach me at 317-796-3101.

The Hawk Walk…

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(While I almost NEVER do this…I thought I would just cross post this one from raannt to make sure that all of my readers saw it…)

Ok folks, this one is dear to my heart…and it is very serious to the boys of raannt, who would most likely not even be here if it weren’t for second, third and fourth chances. Teenage addiction is one of the leading and deadliest diseases in the United States. As a person in recovery from addiction and having worked for years and years with those affected by addiction, the 24 Group Inc. is a foundation I stand behind completely, especially since I have the honor of knowing almost all of those involved since the beginning.

On Saturday, October 17th, from 9am-12pm, The 24 Group Hawk Walk…First Steps to Recovery will begin at Carmel Civic Square Gazebo. In their own words, “Please join us for this years fourth annual “Hawk Walk..First Steps to recovery”. This important fundraiser is to provide recovery support for adolescents suffering from the disease of addiction. All of the proceeds from this walk go to support adolescents in treatment for substance abuse, funds that are not available elsewhere.

“The walk is a 5K family fun walk, starting from and returning to the Gazebo in front of the city building in Carmel Indiana, we walk to celebrate Recovery along the Monon Trail on a beautiful October fall morning.

Before the walk you will have an opportunity to hear some interesting speakers and to visit our exhibitors for information on addiction, addiction treatment, and life in recovery.

Please consider forming a “Walk Team” this year ask three of your friends to walk with you or to support your walk. In this way each walk team will raise $80 in support of our effort…about the cost of one day in supportive living for an adolescent or young adult in early recovery.
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There is little or no coverage for substance use treatment form traditional health insurance, please help us stand in the gap for those suffering from addiction.

We need your support this year more than ever, please get involved, take a few hours out of your hectic life, walk with us on this beautiful fall morning along the tree lined Monon Trail, and give to support a young life in recovery!!

We can tell you on this morning in October, you will experience something that is life changing…for you, and for a young person struggling with substance use. Please walk with us.”

While the boys of raannt are often misconstrued as partying, absent minded characters without focus and care for others, the reality is much of our life and the people we know, is surrounded by those affected by addiction. While only one half of us is personally, biologically affected by addiction, both of us live around recovery every day and believe that all addicts and alcoholics deserve the chance for sobriety. After 15 years of my own sobriety, as well as being able to develop a relationship with my mother who was also in recovery, I believe teenagers often get lost or left behind. The boys of raannt have made it our mission to bring social awareness to Indy and to improve the social quality of our great city, but that doesn’t mean that we turn a blind eye to those who have a chance to turn their lives around.

Please join all of those involved with the Hawk Walk, or if you can’t attend, please visit The 24 Group website, read their story and mission, and consider making a small donation…And like us, don’t let your friends drink and drive, always make sure they make it home safe, confront dangerous drug use and be enough of a friend to bring awareness to those you feel have a problem.

And if you are still concerned, contact a substance abuse professional.

Eyes Open…We’re Watching!

18 Degrees of Insanity…

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Years ago, when I read James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces”, I was infuriated. Angry because as soon as I was twenty pages into the book, as an alcoholic and addict in recovery, I knew he had fictionalized his experience. And maybe it doesn’t matter. I’ve spoken to several addicts and alcoholics who feel that even if he helped one person, then his intentions were honorable. And well, it was a great piece of literature. So maybe, in reality, he’s just a great storyteller. But I still felt cheated, because I felt that I had earned my journey. I felt that I had earned my misery, as well as my sobriety. It was mine. The one thing no one could take away from me. And then I realized, it just didn’t matter. We all fictionalize pieces of our lives to help others. Or to even get attention, right?

For years, people have asked me about my story, and I’ve kept it close to my heart, except in the rooms of my cohorts where I find solace and serenity. But now, I think, it’s time. Because maybe, just maybe, I can help one person out of the madness. The madness, which for me ended on December 16th, 1994.

I always considered myself, “The Pretty Drinker”. It was a term I had used to describe my mother in her drinking days, hair combed back, adorned in a cute suit, nice piece of jewelry around her neck, with a beer or martini in hand. And even as a small child, I yearned to be that “pretty drinker”. But there was nothing pretty about December 16th. And to this day, I wonder what it was about that morning, or afternoon as I was accustomed to not getting up until after three at that point, that made it any different. I remember walking into the kitchen and cracking open a Colt 45, having moved onto malt liquor as a starting point every morning, because quite frankly it was cheaper and more potent. In the bathroom, I examined my face. I looked closely at the stubble around my chin, powerful grey clouds foreshadowing a storm under my eyes, and the always constant perspiration. By that point in my addiction, I could no longer smell myself. But I had learned that others could, and quickly. I cracked open a bottle of Vicodin, swallowed two with the malt liquor, and started the shower. Back then and even now, I always start my day with a shower. A small piece of wisdom my mother allowed upon me when she would roust me up in the morning and get me started, long before high school, when her days began late after mine. She had told me it was always important to get up, get dressed and start your day. The motto of a pretty drinker.

I remember standing in the shower, holding myself up against the wall, the Colt 45 accompanying me under the water, as I soaped myself up, cleaned myself up and became beautiful. At least to me…

After my shower, I walked around in a robe, fixing my hair, smoking several cigarettes, smoking a joint, and just lazing in front of the tv. Typically, I had one movie in the VCR that I would just have on in the background, over and over again, and at that point, I believe it was “Out of Africa”. I tended to always lean to the beautiful and the desolate. By this time, it was six or seven and I needed to begin getting ready for the evening. Somehow though, I found myself down at my friend’s apartment, drinking and getting ready for the evening. It was Friday and that typically meant we were on day two or three of the weekend. Looking back, I realize it took me three or four hours of drinking, pills and weed to get to the point that when walked through my friend’s door, they always thought I was stone sober. And then the real party would begin.

And honestly…that’s about the extent of the party that I remember. That first drink, which at that point in my drinking was always a Jack and Coke, well, actually, a double. And then out…like a power outage at midnight, with the freaks still running the streets in my mind. I don’t remember much else. I remember being at a club and standing at a bar. I remember someone buying me drinks all night long. But I don’t remember that someone. I remember going out into the alley behind the club with someone else, a girl maybe, and smoking rock, something I had begun doing towards the end, but had literally been too ashamed to admit to myself or any of my friends. I remember showing up at my friend Jack’s house and he took my keys and told me I could leave. I remember waiting for him to go to sleep, sneaking into his room, stealing back my keys, plus about six beers and several cassette tapes and heading back to my apartment up north. I inherited one quality from my mother…always wanting to be at home after the party. Home was safe. At home, nothing could happen, and I didn’t like being out of my element.

So I headed up north from downtown Indianapolis. And that is where I vanish into the night…into the black, only to remember one memory until the next day. I’m driving home, and I remember sitting back in the driver’s seat, not touching the wheel, looking over at the passenger’s side and talking to someone…who isn’t there. I rarely share this with anyone, because for me, looking back, it was somewhat mystical, or hallucinatory, but I believe something happened in that car that night. I don’t think I was supposed to make it. But I did…

And the rest, I rely on my father to fill in the blanks. He apparently received a middle of the night phone call and came out to rescue me, stepmother in toe. When they arrived, they found me, pacing in the driveway next to the White Castle, mumbling, not making much sense, in a tee shirt and jeans, in 18 degree weather. Just today when I called him he told me that it was bitter cold that year and he couldn’t believe I was walking around in nothing but a tee shirt. I do vaguely remember walking to the grocery store before my father came, and buying cigarettes with every cent I owned because I knew I was going to jail. I had driven my car almost into the kitchen of Perkin’s restaurant and had landed, nose down, in the ditch. The car was littered with alcohol and most probably other substances. When my father arrived, he looked me over once and stated, “Jail or treatment. It’s your decision, but I’m done.” I guess I decided, as any good alcoholic and addict does, that treatment sounded pretty good, because I jumped in his car and my stepmother drove me to the closest treatment center, leaving my father, a prominent plastic surgeon and board member of his hospital, to say he had been driving my car. The consummate enabler.

I don’t remember walking into treatment. I don’t remember the .37 I blew on a blood alcohol level, which should indicate death. I don’t remember the urine drug screen I gave which tested positive for alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, opiates, benzodiazepines and barbiturates. I was a walking pharmacy of the sick…sick of mind.

I must have slept much of the next day, because when I woke, it was early evening and I was craving a cigarette, at that point, being a three pack a day smoker. I turned over in my bed and looked at an at least 7 foot, black giant next to me, snoring and moaning in his sleep, tossing back and forth and pulling at his sheets. I quickly pulled myself together, ready to sign myself out. I ran into the hall and walked up to the nurses station, only to be met by eyes I had known almost my entire life. She smiled and took my hand from across the counter. “You didn’t know I worked here, did you?” she said. And I stared back at my childhood neighbor and the mother of my childhood friend. Which should have been comforting…

It was so, fucking embarrassing. To say the least. She explained to me that I was on the detox unit and that it was a locked unit, stating that I would be given medication every several hours to help me detox my system. She also explained that I would have my vitals taken to make sure my body was safe. I laughed and she looked across the counter at me. “It’s not funny. You’re in really bad shape.” She handed me a pack of my cigarettes and told me to go to the lounge and have some juice. I walked down the hallway, in a pair of oversized scrub pants, no shirt, a long hospital robe and footies. As I walked past a full, length mirror, I realized one thing. I was glamorous. This was the life I had hoped and dreamed for all of my years.

After all…I was 22 and I was a pretty drinker…