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.

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Pickled…

vlasicdillpickles

Earlier today, I was talking to a client about the pickle jar lady and I realized that I had never written about her, which is a shame because I owe her my life…

My sobriety date is December 17, 1994. I was in treatment over Christmas and New Year’s and if I remember correctly, it was one of the coldest and snowiest winters we had had in a very long time. I can remember standing outside of the cafeteria, smoking a cigarette in my pajamas and parka, holding one leg up and then the other, as the snow drifted around my slipper covered feet. Near blizzard conditions! And yet, it was painfully peaceful. Although I had a horrific detox, close to seven days, once I entered the rehab part of my stay, I settled into the daily schedule and routine and spent the nights listening to “AA people” tell their stories and then I would go and drink some decaf, smoke about two packs of cigarettes and settle back into one of my several Michael Chrichton books my friend had brought as a gift. During my entire treatment, I only had a roommate in detox, so I often snuck into my bathroom, put a towel around the bottom of the door, sat on the floor and read and smoked. That damn bathroom became my safe refuge for 35 days!

And then on December 23rd, life got a little tough. My cigarettes ran out. If you’ve never been to jail or drug/alcohol treatment, let me inform you that cigarettes are a commodity which could raise many dollars on the underground market of the hallways and cafeteria lines. No one was going to give up smokes for free, especially with 30 mile and hour gusting winds and heavy snow, limited the number of people coming in for visits. A quick call to my father educated me of the fact that he had no intention of bringing me anything “habit forming” and that he wasn’t going to indulge my addiction anymore.

I had only one option. Every night at around 7pm, patients who were in rehab and had signed up, receiving permission from their counselor, could leave the building by a staff driven van, and attend an off campus AA meeting. I knew these vans typically stopped at gas stations allowing the patients to buy cigarettes and candy. It was my only chance.

So…I bundled up in a heavy sweater, put my boots on and headed out for the night…in search of cigarettes…which was the first stop we made right across the street. I remember clearly because it was the first time I had been out in over a week and I was like a kid in a giant toy store for the first time. I bought a carton of Camel Wides, several Reece’s cups, a bag of Combo’s and a strong cup of REAL coffee. And then we were on our way into the blizzard. What I didn’t know was that down that slick street lay my most life defining moment yet…
blizzard

I had never been to an AA meeting outside of treatment, so I didn’t know what was waiting for me. The driver let us off at the door a church and we all walked inside and down a small set of stairs into the basement. Before we even got to the room, I could see a cloud of cigarette smoke wafting out of the door. We went in to find several round tables set up facing a podium and in the back of the room, people were milling around a coffee maker. I quickly made myself a strong cup of coffee and sat at a table in the very back.

Several minutes later the meeting started. I don’t remember much about the meeting until the speaker, a small woman in her mid fifties, started telling her tale. Before she started, she placed an enormous pickle jar on top of the podium. True to the traditions of AA, I will try and leave much of her story out, but she talked about having a prominent career which she lost within a few years of the beginning of her drinking. I remember she said that at the end of her drinking, she was sleeping under a park bench. I thought she was lying. I couldn’t believe that this woman, who seemed to have it all together, seemingly a normal housewife with kids and a husband, could have ever been such a drinker.

Never once during her speaking did she ever mention the jar of pickles, until the very end. And right before she finished her story, she gestured to the pickle jar. “And that is why I carry this jar with me when I speak.” She said, “To remind me. That once I was a cucumber, but now I’m a pickle. And once you’re pickled, you can never go back.”

And I stopped. I mean I completely stopped in my tracks and stared straight at her. That bitch! I thought. How dare she! Because…she was so true! In that moment I realized she was exactly right. I was a pickle. And no matter how much I didn’t want to deal with it, things would never be the same for me again. I would never, ever be able to drink successfully again. I knew it in my heart and soul. It was truth. And I’d like to say she was staring right at me when she said it, but she wasn’t. She didn’t know me. I was alone in my realization. And I was alone as I went upstairs and stood in the blowing snow, smoking a cigarette as the church choir practiced Adeste Fideles inside, their melody chiming through the windows. After all, it was Christmas, and I was in treatment for drugs and alcohol. Merry Fucking Christmas!

And as we drove back to the hospital, something changed in me. I remember sitting in the back of the van, watching the snow fall heavy in the lights of night, cars swerving all of the street. And as we passed Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Arby’s, Long John Silver’s and probably twenty other fast food restaurants, where for five dollars I could buy any kind of deliciousness, I listened to the reporter on National Public Radio talk about how women in Azerbaijan were being pulled naked through the streets and raped. And I realized, this was as bad as my life had to get. I had a wonderful life, and as my father had said earlier that day on the phone, “you’re pissing your life away and you don’t even realize it!”

And when we returned to the hospital that night, I took a hot shower, put on my pajamas and sat on that bathroom floor and wept. For being a pickle and an alcoholic/drug addict pissing his life away. But most of all for so many more chances and the possibility for so many more Christmases. I wept for finally hitting my bottom…and realizing it!

Later, laying in bed, I pulled on my headphones and listened to gregorian Christmas chants on the radio and fell asleep, peacefully for the first time in many, many years. I knew things would get better, because I had finally accepted my place as a pickle!

And when I look back now, I’ve encountered so many pickle ladies who have helped me along the way during my journey. God bless those pickle jar ladies!!! God bless them for helping me to recognize and appreciate what has so beautifully been given to me.

Because we’re on borrowed time as it is…

18 Degrees of Insanity…

peter
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…