Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Born That Way?

I haven't blogged for weeks, because I have been rather intensely and personally involved in an inner struggle. If you read my wife's blog you know that over the past few weeks we have been experiencing the drama of our manipulative, eighteen-year-old son who did all he could to get himself into a chemcial dependency treatment program.

Here's the synopsis: After his most recent return home he decided to violate his probation by leaving our home with a home monitoring ankle bracelet, eventually cutting it off and discarding it somewhere (his specified drop site has not proven correct), and finding himself back in custody. In his misguided attempt to see yet another new living environment, he was able to convince the CD assessor that he was using any substance he could get his hands on. The report was ludicrous, really, because the usage he reported would really have been lethal; in fact, the recommendation was that he be hospitalized (or at the least carefully observed) until the immediate effects of his toxicity had waned. Other than complaining of a headache, stomach ache and some sweating the difference between what he reported and the reality were very different. But, he did manage to get himself into CD treatment, which was his immediate goal. (In his muddled thinking he thought he would be able to meet up with some of his friends and that it would certainly be a better location than where he had been ... juvenile detention and immediately before that, in our home).

During "family week" (which turned out to be for us "family day," one day instead of the usual three, at the CD treatment center's direction), we learned the ways of the addict. There were few surprises in the disclosure, but the challenge for me is this: all of the "addict" behaviors described have been present in our son's life all the years we have known him (we adopted him when he was 8). The lack of attachment, foolish lying, stealing, destruction, disregard for others, disregard for the law ... all these and other behaviors existed in his life long before he used any chemicals. So, it was not the chemical usage that made him behave the way he has. These were pre-existing conditions. And, as pre-existing conditions, it is unlikely that these behaviors will cease now that he is clean and sober.

Which is kind of a cunundrum, to say the least. He did these things before he used, he did these things while he used, he will most likely do these things after his days of use.

It has been hard for me to make sense of, because the traditional CD treatment modality really does not fit our son. The traditional approach, as I understand it, is that a person who is chemically addicted behaves in these ways *because* he or she is addicted, and that once the addiction is under control the behaviors may cease. This will not be the case for our son, based upon my experience of life with him the last ten years.

And it is because his foundational and most threatening diagnosis is not chemical addiction; it is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. It is this pervasive condition which will continue, all of his life, to plague him. It makes me weep with anger to recognize what is the legacy of his birth mother's drinking while Mike was growing in her womb.

Mike is less an addict by his choice (although certainly he is that now); he is an addict because he was born that way. And sadly, that will not change the expectations of the legal system, it will not alter the way the rest of the world views him, and it will provide him little in the way of personal understanding.

He was born that way, but he had no choice in the matter. And what does that forebode in a society like ours where our principles of law and societal expectations are foundationally premised upon personal choice and the conviction that individuals are held responsible for what they choose to do. What about those who have diminished capacity to choose?

Those are the current inner struggles I face as the parent of a child profoundly affected by foundational choices not of his own making.

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