This post is to illustrate the difficult journey parents face when they have a child who is troubled with either a mental illness, addiction or both. The child can be an amazing person but if under the influence or experiencing a psychosis or other mental health breakdown, they act out in different ways and do things that embarrass us, humiliate themselves and make things worse.
Charles, 20, was only arrested twice. On this occasion he did commit a bizarre crime and one other time when the police simply profiled him because they needed to make quota. Do know that parents suffer right along with every DUI, every possession arrest, every trafficking charge and their crimes during these episodes don’t reflect who they really are.
It was 2012. Charles had just turned 16. He didn’t have his license yet and things in our household were falling apart. I was falling apart.
As his depression and anxiety worsened, so had his sleep disorder and drug use.
I think to this day that his sleep issues (DSPS) made everything worse despite working to find a treatment that worked. His risk-taking escalated and he had been way too cavalier about life and death.*
Despite trying to get help, we had no clear diagnosis at this point and getting one was a circuitous route. Was it drugs or mental illness? I just didn’t know.
I prayed the trip would give us peace and a break
We had really great weather that week but I was a nervous wreck the entire vacation. Alarm warnings were going off in my head but there appeared to be no fire.
The day we were packing up to go back home from our beach trip, a young lady walks down our driveway. I didn’t recognize her. She showed me a piece of paper and asked if I knew the young man in the picture.
It was Charles.
And it was a picture of him in a convenience store he had gone to multiple times that week. He had told me about the couple that owned it. He really liked them and he loved the grilled sandwiches they made with an egg over easy.
I looked at this young lady and asked why she wanted to know. She said it was a picture taken by their security camera at 3am in the morning.
What was he doing in a store at 3am? I froze in fear.
The store had not been open and she explains that he broke in that night and had stolen Mike’s Hard Lemonade, two cigars and $5 from off the counter.
I couldn’t process the information. I ran upstairs to find Charles. I see him and demand to know where he had been that night. He looked panicked. He said he did not remember but follows me down dutifully.
Inside I’m dying
He walks outside with us in front of everyone packing up to go. He’s in disbelief and confused. He looks at the picture and he looks like he might faint. It’s almost like he didn’t believe it until he saw it himself. I am confused.
I was furious, scared, disbelieving, crushed. How could he do this? For $15 worth of crap? Why? How? Had we not taught him right from wrong? How had I failed? All these thoughts banging around in my head all at once. My mouth went dry.
The shame is burning my face and I just want the earth to swallow me whole.
We all get in the car, me, Charles, the young lady and Randy, and we ride up to the store where the police are waiting. I’m yelling and crying. Not helpful to the situation. He yells back. I am losing it. So is he. I can’t even hear anyone else in the car because all this noise is roaring in my ears.
When we arrive I see the door is shattered. How did he do that? And with what? He doesn’t even have a car? But it’s not far from the cottage. Maybe he walked? Or rode his bike? How did he break that door? Did he break that door?
The police are waiting.
Strangely enough, at 5pm the previous night, the store owners had installed their security camera. At 3am Charles broke in.
We are invited to come in and look at the footage of the crime. It’s Charles. He is wearing exactly the same shirt he is wearing now. If he was trying to get by with something, he was doing a lousy job of it by wearing the exact same clothes–the loudest and most conspicuous shirt he owned–black with bright lime green and red splash on it. We can’t see any expression on video but I see disbelief and shame in his face now.
We’re all in shock
The store owner, the boyfriend of the young lady who had walked down the driveway, looks at Charles in disbelief. He had clearly taken a liking to him and said, “I cooked you sandwiches every day. How could you do this to us?”
I had no answer. I can see my husband crumble with shame. Then I see Charles do the same. His shoulders cave.
We go back outside and they ask to search his bag. Not knowing I could have said no, I hand it over. But then why would I not allow them to? The Mike’s Hard Lemonade and the two cigars are in there.
They handcuff Charles and put him in the car. He looks so young. I want to scream, “He’s just a baby!” Now it’s just plain surreal. I feel very defeated and sad. I want to cry. How is this happening? For some odd reason I take pictures.
Even odder, the female store owner smiles, her boyfriend scoffing in disbelief (picture below). Maybe I think this will be some kind of lesson later? I don’t know. Such a bizarre action on both our parts.
In the meantime, Randy is doing practical things like finding out where he is being taken and when we can see him.
This is so humiliating
In front of my husband’s family as well as my sister-in-law’s family. My failure as a parent, as a mom, is exposed. I ache for my child who is suffering but didn’t he bring this on himself? I feel such a mix of emotions yet I feel sorry for him, too.
Back at the cottage before we go see Charles, Randy’s oldest brother comes up and talks to us. He tries to explain mental illness and addiction. But at this point, I have no clear answers as to what we are dealing with despite multiple doctor’s appointments and having spent thousands to find out.
I had been so frustrated with all the “tests” but none of them gave us a diagnosis. Such a waste of time and money to get information that he was “high risk.”
I am glad I didn’t know what was to come. But it was definitely a turning point.
We try to piece together what happened as we wait to see him after he is arraigned by the magistrate.
We visit Charles after a few hours. It’s a low security jail. For adults.
We learn that in North Carolina, 16 year olds are considered adults. I look at Charles who looks 14 years old and he looks the worst I have ever seen him. That’s a crazy law. They have to be 21 to drink but they are adults at 16? It makes no sense.
We are allowed to see him, hug him and talk to him. His dad holds his hands, his own eyes rimmed in red, tears spilling down all of our faces.
Charles is in utter despair
He’s telling me he honestly doesn’t remember.
He says he woke up that morning thinking something was seriously wrong but he couldn’t figure out what it was. I tell him I am struggling to believe what he is saying. But I do not accuse him. Something is not adding up and he does look puzzled. Why? He’s not told us much. Which is and will be typical later on. He was always cryptic and stubborn.
I even wonder if he is suffering psychosis?
We have no choice but to leave him and make our way back from North Carolina to Virginia. We make the decision to leave him where he is for now until we can get a lawyer and figure out what to do. At least he’s safe? Several tell us it’s an “adult” jail but the Taj Mahal of jails. He’ll be fine.
Two days after we get back we have a scheduled meeting with our counselor. I recount the story. He is shocked.
I tell him that Charles said he doesn’t remember and I admit my doubts that this is true. The counselor looks at me and asks about his medication.
I tell him that we had been working on his sleep disorder for years and nothing was working and he had been prescribed lunesta (the letter attached says ambien but I think he was still on lunesta). Not plan A and I felt shame about that but after two years of testing and effort, nothing was working and the kid had to get some sleep and so did we.
He had been warned not to drink after taking his sleep medicine but apparently it had stopped working and he wanted to give it some help by drinking some vodka and orange juice. He was desperate to sleep and marveled at how easy it was for others. This sleep problem started when he was 18 months and over the years had gotten worse and worse. His brain just lit up at night and wouldn’t let him rest.
His counselor told me that if he drank on top of that sleep med, there was no doubt Charles did not remember the incident. He had several young men who had done the same thing and did things that were way off their radar. I had no idea. At this point, we still had no diagnosis and the drug use was making it hard to get any definitive assessment.
We did do intense outpatient treatment after he came home and before the court case. At first it seemed to work and he was trying. We were trying. But the lack of follow up in the program left us dangling again and by spring it became clear he needed to go somewhere even if it was against his will.
Eight months after the breaking and entering that was reduced to a misdemeanor, it was recommended we hire an escort and send him away to wilderness. We needed answers. Hardest decision ever.
At that point, we were desperate for a diagnosis so we could figure out how to help him. But most of all, we were desperate to save his life which was clearly in danger. Charles was a sweet soul. But he fought demons–ones we could not understand.
Shortly after he was sent to wilderness, we joined Families Anonymous in Richmond, VA. It saved our sanity even if it didn’t ultimately save our child.
Below, you will see in his LOA, letter of accountability, that did help us to understand it better later. We can’t always help. We can’t control another human being. All we can do is the best we can do.
*This is a sign of depression and suicidal ideation