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A Deafening Code of Silence

TJ is nineteen. He recently dropped out of college. While he was in high school, he was an above average student and an excellent athlete. Everyone loved him. He was bright, witty and charming.

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TJ is nineteen. He recently dropped out of college. While he was in high school, he was an above average student and an excellent athlete. Everyone loved him. He was bright, witty and charming.

In the middle of his senior year, his mother noticed some changes. His grades dropped, but he had already been accepted to half a dozen respectable colleges. Many of them even offered TJ partial or full scholarships. His friends started to change. TJ became more and more a social isolate. Even his friends complained that he was different.

When confronted, he always became explosive. He emphatically said nothing was wrong. But something was radically wrong. By late May, TJ was skipping school for days at a time, staying out half the night and coming home stoned and wasted.

However, outside his home most of the world thought he was wonder boy. He was a good student, a good athlete and came from a great home. He was so smooth in school that nobody knew his home was a battlefield.

Finally things got so out of control and TJ's social behavior had become so reckless that his parents made an appointment to see his guidance counselor. They requested that the school social worker be present. TJ went ballistic. He threatened his parents by saying he was leaving and they would never see him again. His ranting went on and on. Thankfully his parents did not concede and cancel their appointment with school. TJ's day of reckoning was fast approaching.

A few days later, the big meeting took place in the Guidance Office conference room. TJ's parents laid out their concerns and their fears. To say his guidance counselor was shocked would be an understatement. She confessed that she had no idea how out of control he was. In school, his only non-compliance was cutting. Unfortunately, they minimized it because he was a college bound senior with a good GPA.

Needless to say, TJ's parents were not pleased with the school's casual approach to senior cutting. What emerged at this meeting was that when seniors cut and leave school grounds, the real trouble begins. It was at these informal "cut parties" that TJ was introduced to smoking weed and doing "e." It was there that he developed his taste for fine wine and expensive alcohol (only premier labels would do).

After a lot of shouting, crying and hugging, TJ agreed to a contract. In it, he promised to attend all classes until graduation, refrain from drinking and abstain from smoking weed.

The rest of the term unfolded without incident. Within a few weeks, TJ's parents thought they had their son back. His grades picked up. He was more respectful and compliant at home.

Graduation was a wonderful celebration of achievement. The summer followed with little or no incident. TJ was excited about going away to school. He was accepted into five colleges and universities around the country. He elected to attend school in America's heartland, a fifteen-hour car drive to the middle of nowhere.

Unfortunately, that is when their real nightmare began. TJ's parents drove their son out to school for football training. They arrived on a hot summer afternoon in August. They got a quick tour of the campus. They loved everything they saw and all the people they met.

The only thing that troubled them was the issue of accountability. Even though they were paying all of TJ's expenses, they were not entitled to any information regarding his life at "X" University. The faculty advisor assured these first time college parents that TJ would be fine.

By mid-Fall, they knew things were falling apart. TJ called and said he had quit the football team. Upon inquiry, his parents found out he had been thrown off the team for missing practice and for getting into a brawl at a town bar near the University. Allegedly, he was drunk.

Thanksgiving Break was relatively peaceful. TJ gave an academy award winning performance. When asked about school, he said everything was great. He connected with friends, but on the surface, everything seemed fine.

By mid-December, right before finals, TJ's parents received a letter from the Dean saying that TJ was not welcome back in January after Christmas vacation. He indicated that TJ's poor grades and poor attendance led the Academic Review Committee to vote for his dismissal. If he went to a local community college and maintained a 3.0 or better grade point average, they would consider him for re-admission.

His parents felt that there had to be more to their son's story. They called his RA and his faculty advisor, but got nowhere. The code of silence was deafening and frightening. Out of sheer desperation, on a cold December Friday, TJ's parents drove out to "X" University. They arrived early Saturday afternoon and began their search for information.

After a little digging, they were shocked at what they discovered. By October, TJ had stopped going to class. He randomly handed in a couple of assignments. He was drinking and smoking weed daily. On the weekends, he turned up the juice to "e" and other designer drugs.

Unfortunately, by Thanksgiving he had skipped by the coke that was offered to him by a classmate and had gotten turned on to sniffing heroin. He became hooked and was strung out more often than not.

His parents were devastated and petrified. They felt they had to find TJ that Saturday and bring him home with them. They feared if they didn't, he would never come home again because he would be dead.

They found him in his dorm room. He was lying in his bed in clothing that reeked of human stench and booze. They could barely raise his consciousness.

When he became somewhat alert, his father told him they were taking him home. He helped TJ to the shower and told him to sober up and clean up. An hour later, his things were packed and put into storage. His essential belongings were loaded into the family car. They made the fifteen-hour pilgrimage home in absolute silence, not even the radio was on. Occasionally you could hear his mother's whimpering.

The next day they had a sit down with TJ and urged him to come clean. He put it all out on the table. He spoke about how he had gotten hooked on drugs and alcohol during his senior year and how he hid it from them. He confessed that during the summer he'd been a disaster. He believes that is when he crossed over the line of drug misuse to abuse and addiction.

After this intense conversation, TJ's parents asked him what he wanted to do. They offered to do anything for their son. He begged them to let him try it alone. All the professionals they conferred with said he was in too much over his head, that he could not do it alone.

A month passed on his terms. He was a disaster. With great resistance, he entered residential treatment. Within a month, he was dismissed for arrogance and non-compliance. His parents told him he had to leave. He could only return if he completed treatment. His mother and father were basket cases. They were so afraid, but their parents' support group has helped them to remain strong in their position.

TJ is still out there. He refuses any kind of structure. At nineteen, he believes he has all of these entitlements without any openness to responsibility and accountability. Unless he commits a crime or tries to kill himself, there is not much we can do to break this lethal hold on him. TJ is shackled by a desire that could kill him.

Parents, there are a growing number of TJs right under our noses. Do not tolerate abusive and reckless use of drugs and alcohol. If your sons and daughters are away at school, be sure to hold them accountable and responsible. Your failure to do that could cost them their lives.