Tag Archives: adolescents

You must not run away

 

“No one is after you! No one, I say! You all ran away–and now I know why. I sat by the lake, and there came a fly. The fly ran away in fear of the frog, who ran from the cat, who ran from the dog. The dog ran away in fear of the pig, who ran from the cow, she was so big! The cow ran away from the fox, who ran as fast as he could in fear of the man. That man heard a thump, and away he. It was just a sheep, with an old tin can.

I looked at them all, and then I could tell they all had no fear, and now all was well. They all went away. They all waved goodbye. SO…I sat by the lake and looked at the sky.”

–from A Fly Went By, by Mike McClintock

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Who Are You?

The Who Perform at Oracle Arena. in Oakland, CA on  May 19, 2016.

The Who Perform at Oracle Arena. in Oakland, CA on May 19, 2016.

** This blog from 2016 is likely my most popular, for reasons that shouldn’t surprise–the nice picture. Still, the story behind it is worth reading, if I may say so myself. It was poignant enough to include in an amended from in my 2019 book, The Psychology of Tommy: How a Rock Icon Reveals the Mind, now available through Amazon. But for now, from three years ago:

To my surprise, “Who Are You” was the first song of The Who’s set at the Oakland Arena last Thursday night. I was taken aback. Having attended several of their concerts over the years, and observed numerous set-lists from different eras of their remarkable fifty-year history, I had expected the familiar choppy chords of “I Can’t Explain”, or maybe “Substitute”—two mid-sixties gems to warm up the crowd. “Who Are You”, with its thoughtful narrative, reflecting the bands mature, late seventies outlook, seemed misplaced as the opening number; a reminder of a once concert-climaxing provocation. According to legend, the lyric recounts the story of a lost night on the town by its writer, Pete Townshend. He wakes up in a Soho doorway, a policeman knows his name. He says “you” (Townshend) can go home (in lieu of being incarcerated), if he can get up and walk away. The Who of this late seventies period were addled, about to lose Keith Moon, and struggling to keep up appearances as dignified, veteran rockers competing with up-and-comers, the emerging punk rock tsunami. The song reflects upon aging, being jaded with fame; feeling broken and undeserving of love. Its refrain poses a question—Who Are You?—that seems a cousin of “Listening To You” from Tommy, written several years earlier, only this time the creator/performer is not so much celebrating the feedback of listeners as much as he is staring back, at once bewildered and knowing, appealing for answers amid spiritual crisis.

Last Thursday, the fierce, youthful eyes of The Who’s original line-up—Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, Keith Moon—gazed out at the arena audience from a giant screen montage of the band’s storied career. Their eyes could see for miles, as their first American hit proclaimed in 1967. Their four distinctive, rock-prototype personalities seemed to look out over time, holding in their minds the dreams and expectations of their audience. With druidic presence, they performed a brutal yet playful music that set them apart from others of their era. Yet despite their bravado and bonhomie, they were ever more frail than we, the audience, knew or could tolerate. Waywardness, collapse, and mortality were always close at hand with The Who. As early as forty years ago, just a decade into a career they once thought wouldn’t last a year, there was already a casualty list, and a mooted retirement just around the corner. At that tired, apparently mid-career stage they seemed to check their purpose, looking to the crowd, to people like me, asking, what the fuck do you want? In 2016, time is truly running out, finally. “Who Are You”, a now relatively callow musing of a thirty something, might as well be an opening number, however relevant it may still be. Half the original band is gone. The remaining Who or Two are in their seventies. There are no new albums, rock operas or not, on the horizon. No more hits. Now it’s about playing for a legacy, and manifesting old rhetoric about caring, having a social conscience: hence a robust, charitable infrastructure, especially for its teen cancer trust; The Who’s heartfelt commitment to serving the age-group they once observed so astutely.

I arrived at the arena last Thursday in a bad mood. I’d had a tough week. I was tired, also feeling jaded, and my once fanciful belief that rock and roll can save the day was waning. The Who came onstage sometime after 8:30 in the evening and played for two hours. Another surprise was the lack of encore, but in terms of song selection, the performance, there will have been few complaints. As The Who’s ensemble band (Daltrey and Townshend, plus about a half a dozen others) left the stage and the lights came on, fans started trudging towards the exits, still feeling the concert high. I moved against the stream of traffic, towards the stage, where a cabal of security guards presided. I’d decided upon this action just as Townshend launched into “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, The Who’s traditional set-closer, and despite the surprises, my cue that the show was nearly over. You see, the concert wasn’t even the highlight of the evening. That was still to come, or so I thought. Three months earlier, six months since I’d sent a final draft of my Tommy paper to The Who’s management office in London, I received an e-mail from Pete Townshend’s personal assistant, saying he wanted to meet me. I’ve been alternately giddy and dissociative ever since, and that’s when I let myself think about it.

At eleven o’clock the moment arrived. Stoic security men directed me to the back of the arena, where the private room indicated on my pass was. This was the green room, or NIC room, whatever that stands for. Anyway, taking my wife’s hand, we moved with the crowd, exited the main floor, only to find ourselves in front of more security people, now herding most out the back passage while a few fans stood off to the side. This was the privileged group of visitors: special guest, VIPs. There was about two dozen of us shepherded down a second hallway to a pair of rooms, one inhabited by the band as a whole, the other—this ‘NIC’ room, off to the side—designated for Pete Townshend’s guests. Inside, the pleasant personal assistant named Nicola, with whom I’d exchanged e-mails earlier, welcomed my wife and I, gestured to a table of wine glasses, a fridge containing sodas, and invited us plus the ten or so other guests to relax, wait a few minutes, and Pete would soon be with us.

He appeared without fanfare, his back to me at first, his balding egg-shaped head unmistakable. Looking around at the assembly, gauging the energy, the quiet mood, I knew immediately that this meeting would not match my fantasy: it would last a minute, if that; it would feature a few words, platitudes about a great show (and it was), the years of pleasure and obsession stretching behind me—and a hand shake. The first people Pete spoke to seemed like music biz folk: those who worked on the road crew during the 1989 tour, or something like that. I felt out of place, being about as close to the music biz as an out of tune yodeler. He approached, looking weary, of course, and softly took my hand, saying ‘hi’ in a whisper. His personal assistant introduced us, as he didn’t know who I was. Who are you? I thought he might ask, and then ask it again, with attitude. In some ways it made sense, his torpor. He’d just finished a two-hour show, had given his all, as ever—the whole swinging arms, power chord all. He was, as my dad would say, knackered, and ten times more than myself, was not in the mood. Or, he wasn’t in the mood to talk about my paper, or Tommy, as he has done actually, repeatedly, for almost fifty years. But he asked to meet me, I can’t help thinking, also repeatedly. After a nice photo opportunity, a signature on my paper, a warm ‘good luck with that’, he turned and walked, ready to greet the next lucky fan. Have you ever met a celebrity, an idol—dreamed of such a moment, anticipated the moment as reality approached—and then experienced the aftermath: the point when you realize the moment is over?

I’m not sour. I’m not jaded. I have moods. I’m mildly disappointed, but I know what I’ve achieved and what I haven’t. I know who I am. I’m still hopeful. I still hope Pete reads my paper, because I don’t think he has. If you read this blog, I hope it moves you to buy my paper, give it a read. You might learn something about psychology, music, culture, rock and roll and what it, The Who, yourself, mean to people.

*Photo by William Snyder

 

Graeme Daniels, MFT

 

 

 

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Tommy

 

No essay, just a link. Check it out…

 

http://cap.sagepub.com/content/22/1/94.abstract

 

and read the following blogs: “Ever since I was a young boy”, “Your mind must learn to roam”, “You didn’t hear it. You didn’t See it”, “Listening to you”

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Names matter, don’t matter

 

They do if you give them up. Daniel Pierce is a seasoned psychologist, presumably trained to maintain the confidentiality of his patients, or clients as he sometimes calls them. It’s the most important thing he does, he says, and he doesn’t do much. He gives the reader his name, plus that of some others, people who don’t require or deserve the privacy, but otherwise names are a problem. People’s names, place names: they don’t matter, or they are anonymous. My novel, Venus Looks Down On A Prairie Vole, places confidentiality at the center of a host of themes underpinning its plot: that of a jaded counselor taking an impromptu hiatus from his practice, but thwarted in that effort by a stalking ex-prostitute who wants information about a patient whom she says has sexually abused a child. BTW: this ‘thwarting’ was a main reason the novel was originally called Blocked. The blockages are all around: her blocking of his escapism; his blocking of her social intervention; the internal blocks that Daniel Pierce suffers from, that…well, maybe you get the idea.

Daniel is reluctant to give it up, this information she seeks, but he strings the woman along, hopeful of a diversion to juice up his drunken life; or perhaps he’s intrigued by a strange opportunity. See, he’s met numerous people over time who are similar to Lira, the seductress who takes him to a bar, then to her home, and then upon a ride-along through an alternative world-view, that of an activist. Like many unctuous members of society, she wants Daniel to violate his neutral position, the trust that one of his patients has placed in him, in the service of protecting society, and specifically children. But it doesn’t work like that, Daniel rebukes. In fact, he declares that such cavalier heroics will do more harm than good, impinging upon efforts to prevent child abuse rather than the reverse. He articulates, of course, something I believe: that if our profession is going to help understand child abuse, we have to give its perpetrators reason to speak to professionals. And I mean speak to us, not comply with us. That means maintaining privacy when hearing that which turns the stomach. As far as authorities are concerned, it means not naming names.

Daniel Pierce wasn’t always so inclined to protect devils in order to further understand them. One of his background jobs was that of a group home director—a man in charge of delinquent boys, who keep secrets as well as any therapist, and punish violations of confidentiality more severely than the board of behavioral sciences ever does. A passage depicting efforts to out the identity of a house assailant reveals Daniel as a kind of one-time policeman: a house heavy and dad, lecturing young criminal minds about the importance of standing by the innocent; about not protecting wrongdoers, by giving up their names to those in charge. Daniel’s youthful adversaries managed to disillusion him, by reminding that for many, loyalty is more important than justice; that protecting friends and other loved ones is more compelling than doing right. Now it’s sometime later and Daniel Pierce is not so sure about who is innocent and who isn’t; about who are the abusers, or the oppressed. This is partly because he feels like one of the oppressed, which is hardly surprising, topically speaking. His political leanings unclear, he could be a supporter of either Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders: marginalized, confused, and looking to blame either a subset of society or its entrenched institutions for the messy world he’s a tiny part of.

On balance, his biases are progressive, but above all he’s isolated, seeing hypocrisy, shallow rhetoric and contrived solutions on all sides of the grand social split. He’s alienated, fed up, and tired of social advocates in particular: bleating feminists on the left, blow-hard paternalists on the right. Grieving the loss of his one and only love of his life, and estranged from his son, his only child, he’s in collapse, sliding along a path towards a bottom out drinking experience until this one woman appears, like a seraphic breeze with a provocative mission. She says Derek Metcalf, Daniel’s patient, has committed a horrible crime, and that Daniel can and should help him to confess, if not report that event if it’s already occurred. Daniel is non-committal, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with Lira’s plan, or its premise, and privately holding that he doesn’t know much. Like many troubled drinkers, he doesn’t remember much. Actually, he doesn’t even remember (partly due to his alcoholism) ever seeing a patient named Derek Metcalf. The profile Lira gives him sounds a bit like a man named Andrew, who came to see him once, flitting in on a bicycle, discussing a sordid life of street drugs and prostitutes, appearing and later proving elusive, for he too is on the run, escaping from his life, operating incommunicado, living anonymously, having sex anonymously; explaining that his name, where he’s from, where and who he is at any time doesn’t matter. Only it matters.

 

 

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You Didn’t Hear It, You Didn’t See It

 

“1921” begins as a sentimental ballad, one of the few in The Who’s catalogue. The line, “I had no reason to be over-optimistic, but somehow when you smile I can brave bad weather”, is one of my favorites. Then, without reference to anything specific, the song turns: “What about the boy! What about the boy, he saw it all!”. Now, if Pete and the boys had plans to enact whatever “it” was, they didn’t let on. Actually, The Who toured with Tommy for at least two years without giving the slightest effort to elucidate the plot, at least not on stage. So it seems symbolic, this thing that Tommy Walker witnessed and shouldn’t have. Anyway, it’s more about the reaction than the event. In the next song, “Amazing Journey”, the opera introduces the famous deaf, dumb, and blind boy motif, which is the implied result of the trauma indicated but not specified in “1921”.

This incident, understood to be the murder Tommy’s mother’s lover by Tommy’s father (or the reverse for those who may have watched the film first), leads to the presumed psychosomatic reaction, manifest as Tommy’s disability. In my paper (reminder: due to be published in The Journal of Culture and Psychology next month), I don’t dispute this popular interpretation, but rather color the event in psychoanalytic theory, and open the matter of Tommy Walker’s early developmental history to further discussion. In covering the possibilities, I employ the theories of Melanie Klein, John Bowlby, plus the observations of researchers Jude Cassidy, and Besel Van der Kolk. Fancifully, I compare Tommy to Hamlet in so far as both protagonists suffer trauma that is as much about secrecy and lies as it is about violent horror. In the refrain of “1921”, Tommy’s parents, anxious that their son has witnessed their crime, exhort him, “You didn’t hear it, you didn’t see, you won’t say nothing to no one ever in your life”, and so on. Like many trauma victims, Tommy absorbs the message but extends the parameters of the injunction. He develops pervasive habits of dissociation, acting out, avoidance.

Then again, it’s possible that the crisis of “1921” is culmination of an already insecure attachment, perhaps established during Tommy’s infancy. Bowlby would at least argue that such a predisposition is attributable to external events: the back-drop of World War, the likely depression of Tommy’s mother in the aftermath of her husband’s earlier disappearance. Bowlby’s followers would assume that Tommy is afflicted with the consequences of maternal unavailability. Attachment researchers might speculate that his symptoms constitute avoidant, ambivalent, or most likely, disorganized attachment. Kleinians, meanwhile, might suggest that Tommy’s deaf, dumb and blind condition is an attack upon bad objects, and at least imply that such aggression, experienced within the murky back and forth of intrapsychic projections and introjections, had been within him since birth.

Cassidy’s paper, “Truth, Lies, and Intimacy”, is the centerpiece of an argument that Tommy suffers not so much from witnessing a murder, but from the distorted narrative that surrounds this horror. She and others, including Bowlby, suggest that distorted narratives lead to a profound confusion which prevents individuals from storing memories properly, hence flashbacks, nightmares, and other disturbances linked to complex PTSD. Of these, none are clearly indicated by Tommy’s affliction. Beyond defiant, he is like the early Who, lost in his own world and marching to the beat of a different drummer (BTW: rock has never known a more different drummer than Keith Moon), and his residues are behavioral, while his internal world is opaque. More than harmed, he is broken, alienated from society, even reality, and it’s hard finding a way back. This idea is axiomatic for many artists, psychologists, and historians, who reflect on this phenomenon, knowing it personally, but extrapolating, imagining collective obsessions around unresolved pieces of historical narrative: the assassination of JFK, the subjugation of Native Americans; conspiracy theories relating to area 51, even 9-11.

Now, had the narrative of Tommy lingered on things like flashbacks, nightmares, or broken alienation, the opera might have ground to a halt, become a drag, as the contemporaneous hippies might have thought. So credit Townsend for staying in the context of light entertainment, making it fun, giving Tommy a talent–pinball–for him to play with (his therapy), instead of wallowing in self-pity and gazing at himself in mirrors. How very rock and roll, I say. Then, when he’s either bored or emptied by games, he grows up a little, notices that his fans relate to him, and decides to broaden his message, speak out. He becomes a spiritual guru. How very late sixties, I say. So, rock stars mature. The paranoid-schizoid becomes a depressive, and it’s all fun and games until–well, someone gets hurt–and then something must be done, though what that something is…is unclear and problematic. After all, the play’s the thing.

 

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Your mind must learn to roam

A line from “Acid Queen”, one of the lesser famous yet wonderful songs from Tommy, The Who’s iconic 1969 rock opera, and the subject of my forthcoming article in the March issue of The Journal of Culture and Psychology. I reference the song “Acid Queen” in my paper, in a section that tracks the opera’s plot-line, thin that it is, plus its themes. The Acid Queen is a seductress, representing sex, drugs and rock and roll, that triumvirate of original rock and roll sin that, like the devil that once seduced blues musicians (the 20s and 30s blues myth), will tear the soul apart. In “Acid Queen”, a narrator ambiguously instructs that Tommy, or the listener, must “gather your wits and hold on fast”, for growing up, with or without rock and roll, is not easy. Straightforward narrative is not one of Tommy‘s strong points, yet a narrative replete with such ideas is what Pete Townshend wanted to give his music, and rock music in general.

In the 1960s, rock had an emerging narrative, albeit one that was mostly implied, and rarely made explicit. Previously, movies and books with a rock and roll ethos existed, but the most in-depth pop artifacts of the period (Catcher in the Rye, or On The Road) seem more like older cousins of the fledgling ‘rock’ sensibility. The groundwork for a different spirit lay in the context of the era: a relatively prosperous space following world war wherein youth had newfound access to disposable income, plus an evolving electronic media that would galvanize voices against the next war on the docket. I think those post-war kids demanded an art form to truly call their own, and rock and roll, more so than pop, jazz, or even blues, was it. In the 50s, rock and roll’s earliest fans, its infants, seemed to have modest needs, basic social needs: to go out and dance, and thumb its nose at adult squares; to have sexual freedom, and flex muscles. Social conscience, an awareness of life beyond borders of various kinds, of political or spiritual purpose: rock’s adolescent period, the now so-called classic rock period, developed a more mature (if still imperfect) outlook.

The Who weren’t the first, or even the most successful artists to push the limits of the form, or inspire society. Clearly, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, and arguably several others were more impactful at the time. Also, The Who were unlikely heroes from the outset of their career: beyond rebellious, they were noisy, nihilistic, and sort of remote from the sexy, peace-loving milieu of the sixties. Boasting “I hope I die before I get old” in “My Generation”, they seemed the antithesis of mature in 1965. If you want proof of this, look no further than footage of their performance at the flower power-inaugurating Monterey Pop Festival of 1967. Observe the ferocity of their act, the extra layer of violence within their notorious instrument-smashing finale. The Who weren’t just breaking through to an American audience that night. They were staking out a position that ran against the grain.

Yet they were raised to fame alongside the aspirations, lies and traumas of the period, and despite the immaturity, the ugliness on the surface, they were as idealistic as any of their peers. Their violence, as oblique as an intelligent audience intuited it to be, was contained within their art and was therefore no more anti-social than a war movie or a western, but no less revolutionary than long hair or a picture of a Campbell’s soup can. Their loudness was an insistence upon being heard, at once petulant and logical; detonating of harmony yet music to the ears. Their legendary squabbles, conflicts of personality, were a microcosm of democratic values, rock and roll style. After a few years of roaming thus, on the road, from stage to stage (The Who were the first British Invasion band to build a following through incessant touring) they arrived at the decade’s climax, stealing the show at Woodstock, and delivering for an unsuspecting (even) larger audience a character–a mythic character–that was uniquely a product of the rock and roll experience.

Tommy Walker is a child of war: his caregivers are stolid and traumatized, and he is disoriented by their emotional absence. Acting out occurs, a crisis happens, and a secondary trauma concretizes insecure attachment, and begins the drama. Thereafter, Tommy goes inward, retreats from this older generation. Disillusioned (or some primitive version of that), he finds his own music within himself (a “vibration” that brings the raucous music of The Who to mind); he plays unusual games, discovers pinball, and becomes a bizarre celebrity through his talent–a rock star of sorts. He finds his voice, literally and symbolically, and seeks to redress social wrongs through spiritual awareness. And his celebrity, ultimately, is a different kind of hero. Not only talented, he is a unique voice, a social leader, reflecting the expectations of a new audience: that he be thoughtful; that he represent the values of youth, and be engaged with the world. Above all, that he be honest.

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The Reading

I was ready for my reading. The first of its kind was to take place before a private little gathering in a semi-lit room, with an overhead projector not working because my friend, a confirmed techno-specialist, didn’t have the right cord to fit my computer, my less-than-a-year old computer. We could head down to the Radio Shack to get the VRG-DHR cord (I don’t know—I can’t remember its actual name) cord that we needed, he offered with enthusiasm.

“Forget it,” I said with mine draining from me.

Whenever I invite friends or family to show up for me, whether it’s for a public event or not, I find that I have to fight impulses towards the negative: a sour, ill-humored cloud that creeps over me, threatening to douse energy and kill joy at the first sign of a setback. It wasn’t so much that I needed the damn laptop presentation anyway. It was leftover from the workshop I’d given six months ago, and was a supplement to a reading of about half a dozen passages from my non-fiction, Working Through Rehab, which I am occasionally hawking to would-be readers through…anyway, I didn’t need the laptop. That was the point. So I had to coach myself to breathe, or more specifically, to issue forth a gust of breath that would dislodge the wad of resistance that would soon form a mass and block my voice. I had to, as they say, get over it. “Whatever,” I said aloud to no one, dismissing early interpretations: that this was a harbinger; a symbolic alert, signaling me to stop what I was doing, sneak out the back door, leaving a note with apologies for everyone’s inconvenience. For the next few minutes, the lull prior to my beginning, I fought gravity’s tug upon my lips, that smile that was turning upside down. People started to arrive, greeting me with pleasure, eager to support this writing thing I did on the side.

“How’re you doin’?” asked my best friend, seeing a cloud over my face.

“Nervous,” I said.

“Drink water,” he advised.

I did. Throughout the talk, whenever I paused to field a question or a comment, I stole a sip from my bottle, and felt buoyant, if nearly drowned after an hour. There weren’t many there—maybe a dozen people, total. But it wasn’t so much how many were there, or even the fact that I was speaking before an audience, sharing passages from my book, and breaking to make comments in between. It was the who that mattered. Speaking to family, friends, plus a crossover of collegial knowing, I imagined deeper judgments, more fraught investment, and a more rigorous, concerned critique: speak louder, someone whispered ironically after five minutes. “You should look at your audience more”, someone else remarked afterwards. I nodded politely and took it in. How do I do that and read? I thought churlishly. The positives made it through the blockade, however. Gathered around me in a circle, the assembled uttered their “good job” pronouncements, their gentle congratulations and other good wishes. One person left early, without comment, which nagged at me for the rest of the evening. “Sorry I had to go,” he texted later. “Had to pick up my kid. Good job.”

You’d think the event was about me, and it was. The book is about drugs, adolescents, their parents, and the people who work with those suffering from drug abuse and addiction. If you check out the image which is the cover of the book, take note of its artful rendition of drug treatment, milieu therapy, and community mental health. Up front there’s me, the author, sat on a time-out device, having left the field, but now raising a thumb in accordance with an old protocol of rehab expression, indicating that I have something to say. To my left is a doctor, or psychiatrist, holding a clipboard, observing from an aloof position the goings on, wondering what prescription(s) may be best. Over my right shoulder, there’s an officious-looking floor counselor, a fledgling member of the mental health army, not yet working with kids in the manner of his/her choosing, monitoring an affectless, acting out, poorly attached and difficult young person who will nonetheless touch hearts. With his back to all of this is a man busy at a console, producing a report, maybe of numbers. But he’s not an accountant. He’s a therapist, or a case manager, as they are euphemistically called in such places. Tellingly, his back is to the scene, thought it’s not by choice. It’s by necessity. This is the business of mental health that I’m talking about, and writing about, and reading aloud. In public.

Meanwhile, that review came, the one I moaned about in my last entry: it arrived finally, and it was pretty good, sort of. The reviewer read between the lines, observed the melancholy, and something of the humor. He or she (it’s not clear) wrote that I was cynical and bitter, though the comment was not a complaint necessarily. This reminds me of something I heard recently and have recycled for patients: if you don’t complain how do you know there’s pain? I don’t mean it to sound like a rap, but there is pain. That’s the melancholy truth of Working Through Rehab. From my point of view and that of other veterans of drug treatment, there isn’t a happy plan in place for the consumer; no all-conquering model for the professional to embrace. Once, there was a working idea: treat the adolescent more or less as an adult, and certainly as an addict. Operate as if a compulsive pattern has gained a foothold, and that strategies for using other human beings in a human way were profoundly offline. Those who thought this weren’t wrong, and most agree the attachment disorders of those in treatment seem pervasive. But disagreements abound as to solutions. Containing the drug user’s behavior is one thing; aiming for motivation, and assessing capacities are the other great tasks, and this is where drug treatment with adolescents–with everyone, frankly–has gotten tricky.

Why? Because increasingly, kids, old and young, think that using drugs, sex, video games, and cell phones are acceptable tools for soothing the attachment disorders which they may agree are present and ongoing. Don’t see this? At least as far as drugs are concerned, read the latest statistics released by The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) about the opinions of high school seniors. Only 16% consider that use of drugs constitutes an unhealthy risk, compared to 27% who thought this just five years ago. Wake up: self medication is being normalized. This is why treatment centers like Thunder Road are at risk of being closed down; it’s why places like it have already closed down, and why public officials are reaching out to the media, bemoaning the impending lack of options for at risk youth. It’s why drug treatment as it once was may be a thing of the past, except for the wealthy. It’s one of the reasons my book is a little melancholy, and just one of the reasons my reading of it might stir the nerves.

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The Submission

When I first submitted Working Through for review at the The Therapist, I waited. I waited patiently. Over the previous year, I’d been writing prolifically, completing two books, one a novel whose basic plot I strain to describe in less than a paragraph, but whose themes cover the bases of a therapist’s sphere of influence: addiction, depression, psychosis, and most crucially, the good news: empathy. My other book, my expose of drug treatment and adolescents, fully entitled Working Through Rehab: An Inside Look at Adolescent Drug Treatment, is an ambitious, sprawling memoir cum essay that has been variously thrust at agents, publishers, and indulgent peers, though getting people to read it feels a bit like peeling wet leaves off a driveway in the dead of winter. I take my readers one at a time.

A colleague, a good friend whom I do not shame into reading my material, suggested I take advantage of membership in the statewide association of Marriage and Family Therapists, and submit my non-fiction to its flagship journal, The Therapist. The magazine, which is published quarterly, or thereabouts, features a section in which members can volunteer to read submissions and then provide a review. It seemed like a good idea to take advantage of a service that is a privilege of membership. My friend is good at having ideas that obscure his lack of effort. Anyway, what could I lose? I thought, especially after I’d just waiting six months waiting fruitlessly upon a publisher to study WTR, express enthusiasm for its content, but ultimately reject its content. They don’t publish memoirs of non-famous people, said an executive editor, gratuitously pointing out that I wasn’t famous. Fair enough, I thought. However, he could have told me this earlier, rather than having me wait with bubbling hope that a fantasy writing contract was forthcoming. In the end it was a flat e-mail that delivered the publisher’s verdict—an afterthought, really—by a deputy editor who had forgotten to reply to my last message. A flattering response, “well-written and compelling”, was quickly followed by the word, “unfortunately…” rendering the compliment a consolation.

So I submitted WTR to The Therapist in January 2014, thinking it might be advertised in the next issue, and possibly reviewed in the issue following that (as suggested by the editor). March was the next issue, and my fresh-looking book was there in print, alongside several other titles, looking eager like playful children, but also like bags on an airport carousel waiting to be collected. I was pleasantly anticipating, thinking my book an important work. As far as I could tell, no one else was writing about what really happens in drug treatment, and I feel in my gut that there’s a readership for subject that’s slightly off-center: it’s comprised partly of parents concerned with the impact of drugs upon kids, which is what publishers might presume the book is about. There’s a faction of society that is more broadly concerned with mental health, and with the problems of poorly attached individuals, the famous and non-famous, who are collapsing around us, killing themselves with addictions, violently attacking others in schoolyards and movie theaters, or just plain killing themselves. And there’s a faction of workers in this field, who aren’t necessarily readers, who are slated to work with all these people and somehow help figure out all of their problems: they are therapists, social workers, drug and alcohol counselors, for the most part, and they—not the adolescents or their families, actually—are the heroes of my story.

At least some of them are, and that’s what’s potentially controversial about my book, because it’s not exactly a tribute. You see, I write about some of the things people expect to learn about drug treatment: like what leads kids and their families into drugs and addiction, and how treatment and therapy can help claw them out. But I’m not writing a how-to guide for parents, or any other consumer of the industry. I’m more of a critic of the process; the only kind of critic this business could really have: that of an insider, versus, say, a peripheral insider, such as a policy maker, or even most physicians. I’ve worked several positions within a hospital-based treatment setting, as a counselor and later as a supervisor of therapists. I was a manager of a six-bed group home for teens for three years; a leader of an intensive outpatient program for another three, and have seen patients across several divides in private practice for about twenty years. I’ve tracked the dialogues between the addicted and their families. I’ve been a part of and witnessed the back and forth arguments between patients and helpers, administrators and clinical professionals, and I understand the context of treatment’s limited resources, the conflicts many do not understand. I know the Gordian Knot that is drug addiction and the continuum of drug treatment, and the strained efforts to untie it.

As for the feedback process: I’d written the book, had it appear in black and white, and learned that it was selected by a volunteer to read. Again, I waited. When it didn’t appear in the next issue I sighed and reasoned that the book was long (350 pages) and dense, and was perhaps demanding more time and effort from a committed reader than I’d accounted for. But when a review didn’t appear in the issue after that (another two and half months on), I wondered what was happening. I e-mailed the magazine’s editor, a man who had cheerfully written that WTR had been selected six months earlier, and asked the question. Seeming like the deputy editor of that unnamed publisher, he wrote back that he hadn’t yet received a review from the volunteer, and didn’t know why. With curious incuriosity, he added that I might re-submit a copy such that the book could be advertised again as available for review, and that I might implicitly begin the cycle of waiting all over again. It was: oh yeah, I forgot, followed by an attempt to sweep the matter aside. Waiting and writing: years ago, when I started practicing this pleasing craft, I had no idea there would be this much waiting. What was I submitting myself to? Coolly, I replied to the editor, modeling the curiosity the situation compelled: Was there a problem? Is the volunteer no longer willing or able to provide a review? Did they get bored after reading a chapter and burn the copy? Or were they so engrossed that they couldn’t take their eyes off the material, even when driving, and thus died in a fiery crash. The sheepish editor, to whom I did not share these fantasies, wrote back that he’d pursue my inquiries. A week later, after I again solicited information, he replied that he still had none to give. He vaguely apologized on someone’s behalf, perhaps his own, for being inattentive. He excused the magazine by pointing out that this event—this phenomenon of neglect—seldom happens, and once again invited me to re-submit a copy.

Which I have done, and I am waiting. It is June of 2015: enough time for topical subjects to come and go; happily, or not, addiction isn’t one of them. And as I wait, I will continue to ruminate on my work, and perhaps inflate its importance, thinking that someone is out there waiting to snatch up another copy for review, but then blocking its exposure by abandoning the task. Or maybe I’ll be rewarded for my patience, and my raw message on this subject will be read, perhaps even in numbers, and a fair critique will come back at me finally. In the meantime, I will remind myself that while the culture continues to seek and develop tools for immediate gratification, the writer must endure the slowest, most excruciatingly elusive feedback system ever known.

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Saving Thunder Road

In a recent article in the Contra Costa Times, journalist Malaika Fraley writes that Thunder Road Adolescent Treatment Center in Oakland is scrambling to stay open. She reports that TR’s longtime operator, Summit Medical Center, has been planning to sever ties with the program for two years, due to annual running costs of the residential drug rehab and plus facility in excess of $6 million, yearly deficits of $800,000, and declining admissions. Well, I think that conversation’s been happening for much longer, actually.

I worked at Thunder Road for fifteen years, between 1996 and 2011. I chronicled my time, what I observed, what I think treatment for substance abuse and teens entails, both from a research and personal perspective, in a book I published in 2013, entitled Working Through Rehab. Among other things, I remember that threats to the program’s viability started around 2004, and continued periodically thereafter. When I left TR in 2011, I’d worked most clinical positions in the program, seen various changes to program structure, tweaks of philosophy and methods, etcetera, and held the view that TR had been “scrambling” for some time. I am sympathetic to its latest bid for survival, and for the prospect of retaining “the only program of its kind” for Bay Area, and especially East Bay, Alameda residents.

But what is the meaning of this latest, perhaps most threatening of crises? If the community wants drug treatment for youth; if it believes that drug abuse, gang violence, physical and sexual abuse, child abandonment, are ills damaging the community, where is the ongoing support for programs like Thunder Road? Why were admissions declining? Where is the city leadership, the rally of business sponsorship that would spare a thirty year old institution from this desperate position? At the risk of disparaging efforts that may yet come to fruition, I wonder if there is enough conviction to save Thunder Road; if there exists a muted rejection of drug treatment in the community as a whole.

An overview survey from 2014 by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reveals some interesting trends. Use of illicit drugs has generally declined over the past two decades: decreasing use of alcohol, cigarettes, the misuse of prescription pain relievers; stable rates of marijuana use among teens, but perhaps more importantly, changing attitudes about the perceived risk of harm associated with marijuana use. 36% of adolescents say that regular use puts users at great risk compared to 52% just five years ago. In other words, a majority of teens no longer think marijuana use is significantly harmful, which begs the question: what becomes the pretext for treatment, especially a residential admission, if this attitude prevails? Aundrea Brown, who runs Alameda County’s public defender’s juvenile division, states that Thunder Road is an essential placement alternative to juvenile hall (according to the Times article). The Save Thunder Road petition site says something similar. But I suspect many citizens of Alameda, the county that TR now dominantly serves, might reject the implied dichotomy. They’d surely rebut that neither alternative should exist; that a society moving towards legalization of currently illicit drugs, and that deems K2/spice, painkillers, e-cigarettes (according to NIDA, the only major substance whose use is on the rise) as effective, acceptable mood-altering substances, should leave well enough alone.

I hope the county is able to broker financing for a provider (or coalition of providers) to take over care of Thunder Road from Sutter. On balance, I believe what the program brings is a valuable service to the community, though it undoubtedly needs reform. But a broader question needs to be aimed at the community, in schools, churches, within board meetings and without: what do you really want to do about drug use?

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More on that law

So the dialogue continues on the new law AB1775, the surreptitious addendum (from the POV of therapists and others who will actually have to follow it) to the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act, which decrees that “certain persons” who fail to report to police or a department of social services those who “access, stream, or download through electronic or digital media (material) which depicts a child engaged in obscene sexual conduct” are committing a misdemeanor. Obscene sexual conduct is defined in California Penal Codes 311.2, 311.3, 311.4, and 288.2, among others, and refers to various sexual acts, including the broadly termed “lewd and lascivious acts”, which is in turn defined as that which touches intimate parts of the body (sexual organs, buttocks, breasts of a female) and is “intended to arouse, gratify the lust of another”.

Most of those chiming in on my association list-serve are commenting on the absurdities of this law, pointing out (rightly) that this law will disrupt therapeutic episodes, ruin the lives of people unnecessarily, while doing little to prevent the proliferation of child pornography–the supposed purpose of the bill. The most ardent of critics argue that advocates of the bill lack compassion for those who struggle with porn addiction. Their opponents respond, without apology, that critics are supporting the wrong people (versus victims of child sexual abuse) while delivering motivational harangues about the scope and seriousness of the child porn problem. We are informed of cults, divisions of government–the CIA–who are perpetrating ritual sexual abuse of thousands of children; recruiting children for an army of sex…anyway, something like that. Advocates of AB1775 employ the logic of demagogues: in the 50s they would have justified blacklisting suspected communists by pointing out how many people Joseph Stalin was killing.

I think the issue is not so much one of compassion as common sense. Despite three months of asking, advocates of the bill are yet to give a sensible answer as to how the reporting and subsequent persecution of individuals viewing obscene material will stop those who produce the material. We are told isolated anecdotes of hard drives confiscated, images discovered, and through those images, the locations of victimized children are determined. Really? I wonder how many times this sort of intervention has occurred, and who gave the tip-off(s), which begs the question, why do authorities need therapists to provide the tips. And does it occur to anyone governing sex offender treatment that if someone is referred to said on the back of an episode in which a mental health professional tipped off police about child pornography use, why should such an individual thereafter trust the therapeutic process?

In deference to my esteemed colleague and crusader against ritual abuse, I declare that I’d actually be happy to report the CIA for sexual abuse to my local offices of Child and Family Services, though I don’t suppose the investigation would get very far. Meanwhile, I should get back to my office and prepare for some sessions with adolescents (wrong people) who present with more commonplace habits. You see, I need to explain to them the new law. I need to explain that the law specifies “child” as a minor, and so if they look at pornographic material depicting persons of their age group, I have to report them to authorities. However, if they look at a pornographic image of someone ten years older, then it’s all good. Also, I must warn that if they insist on sending pictures of their junk, breasts, zits on inner thighs and so on, then I might have to report that behavior also. Welcome to the new world order. I hope their generation is smarter. I doubt it.

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