Name: Cindy Brewer
From: Naples, Florida
Not My Son
We decided to name him Thierry for two reasons: the French version of the name “Theodore” would allow us to carry on my husband’s family tradition of passing down the father’s or grandfather’s name to the first-born son; the meaning of the name, “Gift of God”, seemed the perfect response to becoming pregnant. He was so perfect when he was born that even the nurses commented they had never seen a more beautiful baby. He was inquisitive and determined as he grew into a toddler. He loved people and seemed to make friends easily. Kindergarten was the first time Thierry wasn’t able to find “that” friend to make him feel comfortable. Unknowingly, he was suffering from high anxiety. Throughout First and Second grade, Thierry continued to actively make it a priority to fit in with the other boys. He was considered one of their group but it didn’t seem to satisfy the growing need for acceptance. He asked to be homeschooled the next year and I agreed. I felt that, with my background in education, I could successfully homeschool Thierry and his younger sister, Mia.
It seemed to be the right choice because Thierry blossomed. He learned easily and became involved in several outside activities while continuing to practice karate. Thierry and his sister developed a close relationship which was wonderful to see. The next two years were the best years of motherhood for me. The beginning of Fifth grade brought a wind of change. Thierry began to get angry often and seemed unreasonable at times. During this year, I began to think that he needed to start attending school outside of the home again. I thought that perhaps he was lashing out so often because he was tired of having his mother as a teacher. We toured the local Middle School and got all the necessary papers filed. But Thierry decided that he wanted to remain homeschooled despite the constant verbal confrontations. That year he started Civil Air Patrol and became the youngest volunteer at the Botanical Gardens. He continued to practice karate and became a student teacher. We started calling him, “The Most Interesting Boy In The World”. Things seemed to be turning around, I thought. However, during the next two years, Thierry’s emotional outbursts became more frequent and started escalating in intensity. My husband and I explained it away as puberty and a need for greater self-control on his part. The summer after his Seventh grade year, we were all in agreement that going back to school for his 8th grade year, was the right choice. Thierry immediately found a best friend and felt comfortable in the small school setting. Once again, things seemed to be working out.
But that year was the last year of normalcy.
We decided to move to Colorado after finding out that my father-in-law’s Alzheimer’s disease had progressed to the point of needing full time help. Instead of putting him in a long-term care facility, we moved in and I helped my mother-in-law care for him. My daughter seamlessly entered Fifth grade and my son started 9th. He began to play football and started out as his outgoing, gregarious self. But this school was the extreme opposite of the one he had left. Instead of being welcomed, he was rejected. The black belt he had earned in karate became a source of ridicule, not pride. His anger, anxiety and deep seated fear of rejection, peaked. He started using marijuana to ease these feelings and to fit in with a group of kids. He got into fights. He skipped school. He stole our cars at night and started selling drugs. He disappeared for days at a time. He was arrested for shoplifting. All I could do was pray, cry and try to keep peace in the house for the sake of his grandparents. I was losing my son and, in my opinion, it was marijuana’s fault. It didn’t help matters that the drug had just been declared legal the year before we moved there. I knew that Thierry needed more help than I could give. I researched programs that could help him. I decided on a program as close to Denver as I could find. I felt like I had no choice if I was ever going to “get my son back”.
So, in August, before his sophomore year, I drove him to Missouri and dropped him off at a 15 month residential treatment program for teen boys. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I cried myself hoarse on the drive back. As he became clean, he started seeing things from a different perspective and seemed wiser and stronger. With every visit, he became more like the boy I knew. When it was time to bring him home, everyone was nervous. We hoped that he would be able to maintain his desire to stay drug free and he hoped that things would run more smoothly than they did during his freshman year. His friends were waiting in the driveway when we pulled in. They were so excited to see each other! It felt like a new start for all of us. At least for the first month. As Thierry returned to school, his anxiety skyrocketed and soon he was using marijuana to manage it. That was November. In December, because my father-in-law had passed away about a year ago, my mother-in-law decided that she no longer needed us to live in the house and asked us to return to Florida. It was an extremely difficult move, but I thought that perhaps it would be for the best for Thierry. Maybe moving would give him the fresh start he needed.
Both of my children started school in January of the New Year. Thierry was attending the same school as the best friend he made in 8th grade. They rode together each morning and afternoon. Thierry started wrestling and was good at it. He seemed to want to do well in school and life. But the addiction was still in control. Marijuana, which had just been legalized a few months earlier, was again easy to get. But Thierry quickly jumped into the harder drugs of acid and cocaine. He was uncontrollable. He stopped caring. Again. In April, with only a month and a half left of his junior year, he dropped out of school. Panicked, I quickly enrolled him in an online school so he could finish up from home. The next few months were slow and painful as I pushed and prodded him to complete his work. His drug use continued to escalate.
Over the summer, I reached out to a friend of mine who was aware of Thierry’s struggles and asked her if there was anything she could think of that might help him. She suggested he apply to the small private school her daughter was attending. She knew the coach of the football team and introduced him to Thierry. She seemed to be working miracles with him and he was excited to finish his senior year there. I had found out that they were looking for a theater teacher at the same school and I applied. I started working part time the same year Thierry began. It went well at first. I enjoyed seeing him on a daily basis and he appeared happy. As it is with those which suffer from addictions, those interested in drugs or alcohol find each other. Soon he had a group of “friends” that did everything he did—except study and make good grades. Thierry was angry that he wasn’t the star player on the field and wanted to quit football. He was angry that he wasn’t making A’s because “the work was stupid”. The only one who was never to blame, was him. In November, Thierry dropped out again. I continued to work at the school and walked in everyday on the verge of a breakdown. The weight I felt in my heart seemed beyond something I could bare. I wanted my beautiful, perfect, strong, intelligent and talented son to be graduating with honors and feeling excited about starting a new, adult life in the real world. I wanted…..everything I couldn’t have. I cried every day.
It’s been almost three years since that day. I still work, full time, at the school and my daughter is a sophomore. My son earned his GED last year and has been able to hold down a job form almost four months. This is progress. He still uses marijuana on a daily basis but is no longer using the harder drugs, I think. The same year we moved back to Florida, I met an older gentleman who is a retired OBGYN and an expert on birth injuries. He had become sort of a grandfather to the kids at the school for Dyslexia at which I was working. Immediately I felt as though I could talk to him. I shared the struggles I had been having with my son and started speaking about my husband as well. He had many similar anger and self-control issues as Thierry. After only about 10 minutes, this gentleman looked at me and said that he believed my husband had Asperger’s and explained why. I was shocked! He was minutely able to describe my husband even though they had never met. He also said that Asperger’s was on the spectrum and was hereditary. There was a very good chance that my son’s issues were related to the spectrum in some way.
I was astounded, relieved and distraught. I was relieved to think that there was a reason behind the emotional outbursts, anxiety, anger and sometimes irrational thinking. I was distraught because I wish that I had met this man before I had even conceived. Not that I wouldn’t have wanted a child with my husband, but so I would be able to understand, help, comfort and educate Thierry on why he felt the way he does. Instead, he felt lost, confused, angry, alone, and rejected. Of course he turned to drugs to manage his anxiety! Instead of reacting in fear, I wish I would have been able to see beyond the moment and find a better answer for him. I don’t think that I will ever get over feeling as though I’ve failed him. I hurt every time I think about it.
Currently, he sees a therapist weekly who specializes in Bi-Polar 2 disorder which is Thierry’s diagnosis. He takes two different medications; one for depression and one to control his anger outbursts. Interestingly, the second medication is the same one used for Epilepsy, although the strength of the medication is higher for those who are epileptic. The brain connectors which cause the seizures are the same ones which don’t connect the right way for people with Bi-Polar disorder. The research on mental health has been, and will continue, to save lives. Interestingly, Thierry doesn’t have Asperger’s, only my husband does. Mt husband also has Bi-Polar 2 disorder as well as Dyslexia and ADD. My daughter has Dyslexia and ADD but doesn’t have any other struggles. As if that isn’t enough!
So how is this an essay on drug abuse and addiction in America? Because, after all of these heartaches and mistakes and understanding through education, I have realized that more than likely, the majority of those with addiction problems, are trying to feel normal and cope with a confusing list of reactions and thoughts that no one else seems to deal with. Continuing the learn about how the brain works and affects mental health, will allow scientists to find better drugs to help the receptors and connectors do what they are intended to do. When the right drug is found which alleviates the symptoms which those who struggle use illicit drugs to cope with, I believe that the addiction problem will slowly go away. I don’t believe it will happen immediately and perhaps it won’t happen for everyone. I suppose I can only speak for myself through the lens of my own experience. I believe without a shadow of a doubt, that my son would not have felt the need to ease his confusing emotions with marijuana, if I had known beforehand that these specific types of mental illness ran in my husband’s family. If I had known….I would have watched closely for the first sign of struggle. If I had known….I would have understood his first intense tantrums for what they were. If I had known….I would have taught him ways to remove himself from a situation that was causing him fear, anxiety and anger. If I had known….I would have found a therapist for him at a very early age. If I had known…..I never would have sent him away—I would have kept him close, hugged him, comforted him, sung to him, reminded him that he still is the “Most Interesting Boy in the World”. If I had known….I would have confirmed over and over that he is our “gift from God”.
Do I still do those things now? Yes. But our relationship is still bumpy and broken with wounds that will take a lot of time to heal. Sometimes, he still gets very angry because he struggles with feeling as though he was rejected and sent away because we didn’t love him. Sometimes, he doesn’t want to take his medication and only uses marijuana. This leads him down a spiral which causes more anger at others and at himself. Sometimes, no all the time, I get tired. I imagine a life where I married someone else who didn’t have mental health problems. I imagine having kids who are “normal” and not on the spectrum. I think about how much easier that would be. Sometimes, I feel like the outsider in my family. They understand each other in a way I will never be able to. I’m still in the middle of it all so maybe I’ll feel differently a few years down the road. I hope so. I’d still like for my son to feel the way he did when he learned from home those two magical years of 3rd and 4th grade. I want him to know how perfect he really is.