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!

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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.