"At the first sign" parents, teens get a head start on sobriety

Behind the door of recovery

By Jim Holt, Signal Senior Staff Writer

Each and every proclamation of sobriety was met with applause. No surprise.

And as each addict shared their own personal triumph with the family help group at Canyon High School Tuesday night, their accomplishments, while commendable, were not exactly earth-shattering: One day sober, one week sober, 30 days without using.

What may have shocked some attending the free weekly family therapy session for the first time, however, was the age of addicts.

“My name is Danny and I’m 30 days sober,” said Danny, age 14. And, although his name has been changed for this story, the age is accurate.

Danny joined about a dozen other teens that had arrived with their parents, but were then pulled from their parents and placed in a room by themselves.

The kids discussed their addiction and their sobriety, while their frustrated parents discussed the horrors of drug addiction destroying the young lives of their sons and daughters.

The Action Parent & Teen Support Program, run by Cary Quashen and his Action Family Counseling treatment center, takes place every Tuesday night at Canyon High School, beginning at 7 p.m.

“You are the parents that care,” Quashen told the parents grouped together.

“If I ask your kids ‘How many kids are smoking pot?’ you know what they tell me? ‘Everyone,’ and they say that because everyone they’re with is smoking pot.

“Where are their parents tonight? Every parent with a kid in any kind of trouble should be here,” Quashen said. “You are the parents that care.”

“They don’t want to deal with pot,” he said about the absent parents. “But, when they’re dealing with harder drugs, they show up. As a society, we’ve given up on marijuana. Two years later, the parents are telling me ‘my kid is shooting dope.’”

Addicted Teens

Over in the next room, Freddie - also not his real name - is sharing details of his heroin addiction.

“When I first started smoking weed, I was 12 or 13 in Saugus,” he said, noting it was about the same time he had his first encounter with the Tuesday night Parent & Teen Support Program.”

“At 13 and 14 it was Xanex. Then at 15 and 16 it started with Roxies and Oxyies (prescription opioid drugs). Then I started smoking heroin, same age. I went from Roxies to heroin in four or five months.”

“I would do anything to get the money,” said Freddie, now 24. “I stole everything out of my parents’ house. They were locking all the doors.”

“They gave me a chance and brought me into the house a month ago,” he said. “They think there’s some way this could work. They can’t trust me because I’ve lied to them all my life.”

“Their way is going to rehab,” Freddie said. “But, the longest I’ve stayed clean is two and a half months.”

“I was scared of needles but somehow that didn’t matter at all,” he said. “I started slamming heroin at 16.”

When program directors asked Freddie to describe his recovery plan, his plan was a simple one.

“I’m taking methadone, trying to control it,” he said. “On methadone, as long as I can taper down on the methadone.”

Frustrated Parents

Over in the parents’ room, Freddie’s mother and sister voice their desperation.

“He hates me. He says he hates me,” said Freddie’s sister, wiping away tears.

“No,” one of Quashen’s assistants told her in front of the group. “He hates himself. It’s nothing you’re doing. He’s with the kids group, even though he’s 24 now.”

One mother wanted to know how she could turn off the cell phone connection “to limit his internet use.

The short answer she was given was “no” with the note that kids determined to get online will find a way.

There was a tool, however, the mother was advised to use.

“Talk to your kids,” Quashen told her. “The more attached you are to your kids, the harder it is for them to go out and connect elsewhere.”

“What about taking the phone away for an hour?” the mother asks him, noting she feels guilty carrying out this particular form of discipline.

“Guilt keeps us helpless,” Quashen told her. “You are not their friend. You are their parent. We let our kids own the house because we want them to like us.”

At the end of the two-hour session, teens reunite with their parents.

Freddie’s mother is crying so hard she cannot articulate how she feels. His sister is crying as well.

He hugs them both. They say “I love you” and he says it back. The group watches, parents cry watching them.

At the end of the program, each teen meets up with their respective parent, hugs and says the same thing.

Then they all leave.

Wes Fox, center, squeezes his son Mitchell's hand as he tells other parents and teens gathered at Canyon High School that Mitchell will only keep his driving privileges if his drug test numbers continue to decline. Katharine Lotze/The Signal
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Photos by Katharine Lotze/The Signal

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