Mental Illness and Addiction
I dearly love my 33 year old son. We have many wonderful pictures of him playing and having fun and I fondly remember holding him while he fell asleep on my shoulder. However, my son suffers from ADHD, from Borderline Personality Disorder (for information about BPD, see the links below), from substance dependence, from a serious mood disorder and more recently from schizoaffective disorder. That is why he has sometimes behaved as a "600 pound guerrilla," which is a term we first heard applied to difficult children at the Bethesda Toughlove meeting.Each child has a unique personality, including many wonderful traits. Some, like my son, also suffer from a condition so severe that it suggests that he may suffer from a brain disorder. In many ways, he is exceptional. People love him. He is highly intelligent. However, to have treated him like a "normal" child or to treat him like a normal adult who is 31 years old would be like expecting child with limited intellectual abilities to have normal intelligence.
In my son's case, he suffered additional problems because he was adopted. I am convinced that children who are adopted suffer from "abandonment" by the natural mother, with whom they bond while they are still in the womb. My son was adopted at seven days old. Nevertheless, I think he suffers from this sense of abandonment. He also suspects that he suffers because his natural mother used alcohol or illegal drugs during her pregnancy.
In addition, my wife suffered from serious chronic illness. This illness created tension in the home that affected my son. It also led me to make decisions as a parent that tended to undermine my wife's parental role. Thus, there were a combination of genetic, perinatal and environmental factors that help to explain my son's illness.
Often a mentally ill child must be properly diagnosed and begin to receive appropriate psychiatric medication. For example, my son at one time benefitted greatly from a combination of Zyprexa (olanzapine) and Wellbutrin. Zyprexa was developed to treat schizophrenia, but it also helped my son. However, the Zyprexa caused him to gain a lot of weight. So his doctors also have used other medications for him.
A challenging child's handicap may not be as easy to see as mental retardation. However, if you read sources about borderline personality disorder (below), mood disorders or depression, you may begin to get some insight into your child's special problems.
With some children, it is very important to get "tough". They need rigid limits and they need to "hit bottom" by learning that they either shape up or face a very difficult life. Other children, such as mine, are prone to self-injury. If treated in a tough way, they may well pursue a course that is so unreasonable that they will die. Before you decide to get tough, please understand your child very well. Many addicts die before they are 30. With the right child, this risk may be worth taking. For some others, it is inhumane and incorrect.
I found that Toughlove meetings were a great way to meet parents like me and my first wife. The people we met were very understanding. Some had both normal children and tough ones. None seemed to be deficient parents. All were trying their very best to cope with very tough kids. We value the support we got from these very loving people.
Let me express my deep personal sympathy for all parents of tough kids. My son was a source of strain in my first marriage and tension in my life. This forced me to develop a fresh spiritual life. I was forced to develop a lively, fresh relationship to God. I also learned to practice meditation, which I teach. I pray that every parent of a difficult child will find peace, relaxation and love in the midst of their difficulty. It is all too easy to sacrifice oneself and to forget that life is a precious gift to every one of us, parents included.
The course of my son's disease has not always been in a downward direction, but it is something of a roller coaster, with pronounced ups and downs. He has the ability to be always in crisis. While I continue to hope, I no longer think that I can make him shape up. It is his life. Sometimes it is painful to watch. It is up to me, because I still love him, to watch and to be alert to times that I can be of some help.
This page is my personal testimony and contains links I know you will find helpful. Please use these resources, including the recovery books that I make available for sale.
Because of your teenager's behavior have you ever felt:
If you answered YES to any of these, then you could benefit from a TOUGHLOVE® support group in your area. (This is a personal web page, not sponsored by any group. My suggestions are purely personal.)
NOTE: These links are recommended by me. They are personal suggestions and not those of TLI or any other group.
Bethesda TOUGHLOVE® Parent Support Group
Please ask for Harriet.
For more information, write or call:
or If you are in Maryland, Contact the Central Maryland office at:
Microsoft Encarta's Definition of BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER:
People with borderline personality disorder experience intense emotional instability, particularly in relationships with others. They may make frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment by others. They may experience minor problems as major crises. They may also express their anger, frustration, and dismay through suicidal gestures, self-mutilation, and other self-destructive acts. They tend to have an unstable self-image or sense of self. As children, most people with this disorder were emotionally unstable, impulsive, and often bitter or angry, although their chaotic impulsiveness and intense emotions may have made them popular at school. At first they may impress people as stimulating and exciting, but their relationships tend to be unstable and explosive."Personality Disorders," Microsoft(R) Encarta(R) 98 Encyclopedia. (c) 1993-1997 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
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