Saturday, December 13, 2008

Let's Go Sailing Down Denial River


So, I'm using a social-networking site to keep track of Wally. He obliges me by posting these cryptic little snippets, which I'm sure are intentionally designed to push every possible button. Things like "I don't like my new probation slip," and "I'm ready for an evening of underage drinking and intravenous drug use."

Now, I don't believe he does any intravenous drugs -- that really isn't his style. I believe that comment was sarcasm. The drinking, however, is another story. While he abstained after moving back into my home, mainly because he had no friends to hang with, he certainly did quite a bit while living with Doug between ages 13 and 16 -- his circle of friends was affluent and certain of their invincibility. Once he moved out to live on his own, the pattern reasserted itself.

Wally should not drink. No kid his age should drink, but especially someone whose maternal grandparents were both alcoholics, and whose paternal grandmother and uncle have shown a propensity toward substance abuse.

The most recent alarming post was that he had been kicked out of his dorm. This is finals week and he will soon be traveling back to Doug's neck of the woods for his winter break. I texted him with a brief question as to his circumstances; he called back and told me the whole sad story: Unruly behavior indoors, more unruly behavior out of doors, a window broken, police called, alcohol found on him, etc. There were a few "I messed up" comments, but most of what I heard from him was along the lines of:

  • "It's finals week -- can't they give us a break?"
  • "How can they throw us out into the street? Don't they realize we're thousands of miles from home?"
  • "This is just another way they rip us off -- I'll have to pay to get my dorm room back and probably have to take some stupid sobriety course."
  • "They were so NASTY to us!"
  • "So we were making a lot of noise -- couldn't someone just tell us that without calling the cops?"
  • "I hate having to tell Dad -- he'll freak out; he's known to be irrational."
  • "I don't drink anywhere near as much as some other dudes on campus."
  • "Dad says I need to quit drinking -- oh, like he doesn't? He's the world's biggest hypocrite."
After expressing a reasonable amount of sympathy for his immediate predicament, I took the liberty of reminding him (via text message) that it isn't THAT hard to make good decisions. His response? "K."

Within the last month or so, he's expressed the desire to leave the rather large university he's attending and return to the environment he's called "home" on and off since 2002. I asked him if "up and moving" is going to be his default response to any difficulty. True, he's been "up and moving" along with one parent figure or the other since he was five and a half, but his father lived in his childhood home until age 27 or so, and ditto for me until about age 22 -- for us, the frequent moves are a relatively recent phenomenon. No, this activity is much more typical of the stepfather he so loathes. When I pointed it out to him, it seemed to get through. But now I'm not sure. I fear that instability is the norm for him -- one mini-drama after another. He was in trouble with the law for petty vandalism at age 13; refused to settle down and abide by the rules when living with Doug and Judith, thereby getting himself kicked out and sent back to live with Carl and me; continually restless, oppositional and uncommunicative for the entire year and a half he was with us; one can only guess what sorts of scrapes he encountered once he moved out and was on his own before heading off to the university. I know about 3 traffic tickets, one of which I paid. He seems to have fallen into that pattern of continually craving "excitement" and risk, especially if it involves other people. I'm amazed at his level of extroversion -- this is someone who seems incapable of just relaxing by himself. Doug is like that to a degree, although for him it's more of a strong need for one partner. Wally doesn't seem satisfied without a throng.

It's sad; I have no idea what to do about him. This is not to say that the divorce and parent remarriages on both sides aren't at the root of it, because I'm sure they are ... but what to do? Divorce Carl? Have Doug divorce Judith and get back with me? Apologize for ruining Wally's childhood? I've done that already, to a limited extent. Wally's been in counseling with Doug, Judith and more than one practitioner. He is not a stupid person; he has the ability to look himself in the eye and decide to grow up.

Question is, will he? And when?

Edited to add: Reading over his remarks leads me to the conclusion that he's way out of control and headed in a far more grim direction. Time to tie up the raft...

2 comments:

William Cooney said...

One can take this for what it's worth: Wally is likely afflicted with some kind of mental disturbance which is behind his antisocial behavior. The point I would make is - now hold on - he is likely suffering and having to endure his own pugnacious shenanigans because of his mental illness.

Too often, it seems, signs of underlying mental illness are dismissed as immature bahavior and a perceived unwillingness to conform all because of people's aversion to the dogged sense of stigma that still attaches to those who grapple with mental illness.

Real or perceived, this stigma needs to die out. My advice: consider enlisting the help of a psychiatric nurse practitioner who can prescribe some medication to ease his angst, anxiety and other pathological sources of stress.

Volly said...

Thank you, Bill ... I think the signs have been staring us all in the face for sometime, hence the title of the post...

He's 19 now and for the past 4 years or so has been rejecting everyone's attempts to get close enough to pin him down and give him meaningful help. Each individual incident (there have been many) is manageable, but taken in the aggregate, it does indeed add up to something that makes the future a scary prospect.

Thanks for the nonjudgmental support.

/v