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A no-good, very bad day at the beach

My bizarre desire to take pictures. Her bizarre reaction to smile. Both of us nuts
My bizarre desire to take pictures. Her bizarre reaction to smile. Both of us nuts

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.

What?

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 from 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 the 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.

LOA-CAR-lunesta-ambien-alcohol
The broken door. We suspect he used a sledgehammer
The broken door. We suspect he used a sledgehammer

*This is a sign of depression and suicidal ideation

Published by

Anne Moss Rogers

I am an emotionally naked TEDx speaker, and author of the Book, Diary of a Broken Mind and co-author with Kim O'Brien PhD, LICSW of Emotionally Naked: A Teacher's Guide to Preventing Suicide and Recognizing Students at Risk. I raised two boys, Richard and Charles, and lost my younger son, Charles to substance use disorder and suicide on June 5, 2015. I help people foster a culture of connection to prevent suicide, reduce substance misuse and find life after loss. My motivational, training and workshop topics include suicide prevention, addiction, mental illness, coping strategies/resilience, and grief. As talented and funny as Charles was, letting other people know they matter was his greatest gift. And now the legacy I try and carry forward in my son's memory. Professional Speaker Website. Trained in ASIST and trainer for the evidence-based 4-hour training for everyone called safeTALK.

9 thoughts on “A no-good, very bad day at the beach”

  1. Hi Anne,
    I have written several times to you about my husband’s suicide and my son’s alcoholism. I am grateful for your honesty and openness about mental illness and suicide. One of the comments made through your site a while ago about tough love really helped me. “No addict makes a change unless they are uncomfortable”. I was paying for a low income housing apartment in Illinois for my son. I was paying for his car insurance and believed him when he kept saying he was looking for a job. He swore he had stopped drinking and I naively believed him. Because of my husband’s (his father) suicide, I felt that I needed to help him because he was in the hospital several times for attempting suicide. The bottom fell out when he was taken in for a DUI. That is what finally woke me up. I stopped paying his rent and he was homeless for six days–sleeping under park benches in the rain. He finally got himself into an alcohol rehab center and is now living in a homeless shelter in Evanston, and they are very strict about requiring that he show proof of job applications filed by him daily. He is finally also going to AA meetings which he rejected in the past. The “uncomfortable” living as a street person I hope has convinced him that he must change. We took him to a psychiatrist when he was 4 years old and continued for years as he has a diagnosis of extreme anxiety, bipolar, ADHD and alcoholism now. I am grateful he is alive and think of you everyday. I am so sorry for the loss of your talented, caring beautiful son and thank you so much for all the help you are giving to so many parents and loved ones.

    1. Ann – Thank you for your story. I can see in the statistics how important these comments are. People are reading them and you are making people feel less alone. I was at a speaking event and someone actually said how important these comments were to her and how utterly honest they were. So thank you for your contributions. I read ALL of them.

      I want your son to succeed and I want him to be telling a wonderful story of recovery. He has a lot to work through but I think he is of the age where it can happen. I have much hope for your son. I know what you did was hard. But I also know how it wears on your own life. Keep us updated.

  2. Thank you for this honest and raw post. We had a similar experience on vacation. I experienced so many of the same emotions. Fear, shock, humiliation, sadness, and then, more fear. I had hoped wilderness, TBS, therapy, etc would truly assist with big changes. It just isn’t our reality. Your posts continue to remind me about how critical self-care is for the care-givers. I pray my boy has peace in his future, and I am blessed to have a strong role model in you. My son has struggled for five years to just strong together a few good days. I’m weary, and I am thankful my son is alive. I think of you every day—-That is not hyperbole. Wishing so much I could change what you have gone through. Breaks my 6heart, Anne. I also wish so many normal things for my son. Just to have some average days….I feel selfish to say this. I know I should be grateful for the growth of have seen in him. Just tired. Hugs for you!!! Thanks again for sharing!!! Your post brought me right back and my stomach flipped. Physical response once again. So exhausted. Your sharing helps me to feel less alone and isolated, truly. Bless you for all of the hard work you are doing to spread awareness, knowledge, love, and hope. Charles was amazing and left such a mark on this world…..we all know why he was such an incredible person! 💕💕

    1. I so remember how tiring it was. So hard on either side although I’d prefer yours. Thanks for your comments about Charles. He was so special.

      1. Yes, so tiring. Grateful for the way you are so open and honest. I wish you still had Charles with you, and when I feel weak, I will remember how I can honor you and Charles by being strong and by trying to do the right things, even though they seem impossible at times. Love to you.

  3. Thank you for baring your soul to us and helping us see how very painful the whole family’s struggle with mental illness and addiction is. I experienced it from the other side – in my childhood with my dad’s alcoholism. I loved him so much, yet was often embarrassed by him. I can look back and see that he was sick, not “bad.” I never doubted that he loved us, but was confused and hurt by what I thought were his choices that seemed to me not to give a hoot about his family. His alcoholism eventually took his life at 60, but it was a slow process. You are a loving, caring parent, as is your husband. You did everything you could to get Charles help and he knew how much he was loved. Like you said, you can’t control someone else, no matter how much you want to. Charles loved you, and I know my Dad loved us. That love lives on. Thanks again for being brave enough to share.

  4. I can so relate to this. Daniel did some weird stuff when he was younger that he, nor we, could explain. He was born prematurely and in the care of a neonatal follow-up group until he was 6. He was then followed by a pediatric psychologist until he was 13 because of his ADHD. He saw no one from 13-14, until I found out he was experimenting with drugs at 15 and I took him to a therapist. We went from there to a psychologist, at 17, as the drug incidents continued. She diagnosed him with mild depression and he was put on medication. Medication doesn’t work if your doing drugs and drinking along with it and things got worse. We were strongly encouraged to sent him to Blackwater Therapeutic Outdoor Excursion. That went extremely bad. He was put in a group with a bunch of 21 year olds who were heroin users (he told me this until after him got kicked out). I believe in my heart, that was where he was introduced to the idea of using heroin. Half of the group was kicked out of the trip and they told us our son was a severe addict and we needed to put him in a rehab facility immediately. Their suggestion was affiliated with the Dr. of the practice that was seeing him. We later found out the Blackwater Therapeutic Outdoor Excursion was owned by him as well. It is a very sad state when the people you are trusting to help you save your child are more interested in making a profit and don’t own up to their poor judgment. When we brought him home after that experience, we all felt defeated and had no idea where to turn next. After that it was just one rehab after another. I think we have been to everything in the Richmond area.
    How is it that we could not find the right help when in the care of the professionals who are supposed to know what to do? What could we have done differently?
    Like you, I do not want any other family to have to go through an experience like this and feel so helpless.
    I wish McShin had had the Family Anonymous group back then. Sharing the burden defiantly helps.
    Keep up the good work Anne- people need to hear what you have to say.

    1. I know of Blackwater. I know of the doctor you speak of. That was the wrong turn we took at first. Set us way back. I am so sorry you had the same experience.

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