This is a question I have been asking myself daily for the last year. What defines age appropriate behavior? Where is the line drawn between experimentation, abuse and addiction?
Early this fall, ironically not long after the illustrious James Frey made his first appearance on the Oprah show touting his controversial "Memoir" of drug and alcohol abuse and his long hard journey back from it, I was forced to make a decision regarding my sons own substance abuse. It seemed to be progressing and nothing we were doing at home seemed to be helping. We were already involved in a day treatment type of program that involved family group therapy sessions, weekly drug testing and individual counseling for my son. He failed, terribly, each and every drug screen, he refused the individual sessions, and refused to participate in the group sessions except to sneer at the rest of the group, vocalize his voracious hate of the program, its leader and those of us in the room. Expensive toys started to disappear, he was cutting classes on a regular basis, he was suspended for days and almost weeks at a time, he appeared high most of the time, stumbled in drunk often, he was belligerent and thought nothing of telling us to go fuck ourselves when he wasn't getting what he wanted, especially when he was drunk. The boy, is one nasty, nasty, drunk. We heard from a few different people he was using cocaine, we found an empty little plastic bags with traces of a white powder that looked a lot more like cocaine than it didn't.
It appeared it was time for more drastic action, we applied for what is known in my county legal system as a "PINS" petition on the advice of his current drug counselor, and separately from a pychiatrist that I know and trust. A PINS petition is an acronym for a "Person In Need of Supervision". The process is long and bureaucratic as with anything else in the overly swamped Family Court Division of the judicial system. The process begins when you arrive at the Family Court Building, you wait until the doors open promptly at 8:30 a.m. where in order to enter the building, you are subjected to having your $350 Coach bag rummaged through, put through an x-ray machine checking for weapons or other contraband, your cell phone is taken hostage from you because it contains a camera, and then you must then proceed through the metal detectors, get felt up by the "court officer" before you are permitted to begin your walk of shame down a long dank hallway until you arrive at the last door on the left hand side of the hall, its lead paint chipping, a yellowing piece of standard copy machine paper with "PINS" scribbled on it in crooked letters with a black sharpie.
You enter into a dreary cement room that is painted the muted shade of vomit green that I recall the basement walls of my high school were painted, and what I assume is probably the wall color in prison. The room is no larger than a prison cell itself, with a single crusty, stained Plexiglas- I assume bulletproof, window in it which although it is a beautiful bright autumn day, make you you feel as though it is the dead of window during a thunderstorm. Or perhaps it is your own depression, sadness and guilt of your current situation that compounds that feeling.
You are instructed via more sharpie written notes on the wall to sign in, have a seat and please wait to be called. After what feels like hours, although it is actually more like 15 minutes; pass, an unhappy, poorly dressed, underpaid civil servant sticks her head through a door and asks what are we here for. I bite my lip to resist the temptation to tell her I am here for the champagne brunch and instead, tell her that I need to file a PINS petition against my first born son, head hung low, and unable to meet her eyes.
She hands me a small booklet to fill out, asking the relevant questions about my son: name, rank and serial number, followed with a questionnaire instructing me to answer as truthfully as possible by checking the box that best describes the frequency of the various delinquent behaviors that my son partakes:
Does your baby boy abuse any of the following substances:
Alcohol, Marijuana, Nicotine, Cocaine, Heroin, OxyCotin, etc.
Is your child still attending HS, is he failing his classes, is he truant, has he ever been suspended, does he meet curfew, has he run away, or threatened to run away, is he dishonest, does he fear consequences, has you child ever been issued a summons, is he verbally abusive to his teachers, are there any outstanding warrants against him, is he verbally abusive to you, have you ever been afraid of him, has he been or threatened violence against you, have you ever had to call the police for a domestic incident involving him, has he gotten into physical altercations with his peers, has he stolen anything from you or shoplifted from a store, does he come home intoxicated, stoned, etc... the list goes on and on.
You review the questions and answers feverishly, and you are deeply, profoundly saddened, by the frequency in which you are marking the little box marked "almost always" and you can actually feel your heart sink a little deeper into your chest, as you notice the number of little boxes that are left unchecked for the column marked "never", and although you still had so many doubts that maybe a PINS petition was a little bit harsh on the drive over here, you suddenly realize, that although this piece of paper that you are about to sign giving Family Court the power to make decisions regarding your child, may drive and irrevocable stake between between you and this man-child that only a short time ago, cuddled up next to you in bed, and proclaimed, that he was never getting married because he never wanted to leave me, may be the one thing that saves his life.