Denial is a very painful reality. It alienates friends and family. It destroys life-giving relationships. Sometimes, if not confronted, it actually kills people.
AJ is the middle son of five boys. He is sixteen. His oldest brother goes to an Ivy League school in New England. Brother number two goes to school in New York City; brother number four is a sophomore in high school and brother number five is a freshman.
All of the brothers are good students and are involved in athletics. AJ is probably the brightest and most accomplished athlete in the family. As a junior, he was a starting varsity lacrosse player and a starting back on his varsity football team. His Mom would say that anything he tried, he would excel in.
In early elementary and middle school, AJ was very complaint. He did well in school and was well behaved. Even though he grew up with four other brothers, fighting was almost non-existent among them.
As AJ began high school, his parents noticed some subtle changes. His friends radically changed. They were no longer just neighborhood kids or guys involved in sports. They were kids from all over. AJ's parents were concerned because they did not know any of the parents. AJ started pushing the family boundaries. He was pushing the curfew issue on a regular basis and blowing off the family meal two or three times a week. He was pressing for sleepovers almost every weekend and starting to skip class.
Initially, AJ's Mom asked to meet with her son's guidance counselor. The guidance counselor tried to allay her fears by suggesting that this was just a phase that many teenagers go through. She suggested that AJ's mother not worry but rather relax. AJ's Mom did until his grades started to slip and he came home intoxicated after one of his night football games.
Both of his parents confronted AJ about his behavior and his poor decision-making. He responded by suggesting they were overreacting. He begged them to lighten up. One of his football coaches approached them and suggested that they cut AJ some slack.
As parents, they did step back. They gave AJ a little more room to grow. Things did settle down. There was no noticeable alcohol use. AJ did stop the cutting and his grades did improve. However, he was still pushing the limits with his curfew and his overnights (which unbeknownst to his parents were at homes without any adult supervision).
After football season, during a study hall, AJ got busted for selling pot on campus. Needless to say, he vehemently denied the charge. Due to the presenting evidence, he was suspended pending a school investigation.
His parents intensely questioned their son on the pending allegation. He gave an all-star, academy award winning performance denying all charges. AJ claimed he was being set up. His parents did not want to believe that their son was involved in such reprehensible behavior. Even though there were strong facts pointing to his guilt, his parents supported him and rescued him from being accountable.
AJ is well liked by his teammates, classmates and faculty. No one really wanted to believe that AJ was playing with fire. A few weeks after the pot incident, a faculty member saw him in the bathroom snorting something. The teacher wrote it up and handed it in to an administrator. AJ was confronted. Again he denied doing anything inappropriate. The school again dropped the ball because AJ was and is a "good kid."
During all of this, AJ's grades improved. That was another factor that deceived his parents. A number of AJ's friends expressed some serious concern about AJ's social choices. His crowd of friends was changing. Although he was acting differently and his excuses were becoming less plausible, his parents were still in denial that AJ was mixed up with serious drugs.
A growing number of friends were discretely trying to let AJ's parents know that AJ was getting himself mixed up with some potentially very serious stuff. Again their concerns fell on deaf ears. AJ was a good guy. He did not do those kinds of things.
One Friday night in late winter, AJ went to a senior party with some of his lacrosse buddies. The party was unsupervised. There was plenty of drinking and smoking of weed.
In the early hours of the morning, AJ disappeared with two others. They started to snort heroin, then all went their separate ways. While walking back to the party, AJ passed out on the street. A passing car saw him hit the ground and not get up. They called the police who in turn called an ambulance.
AJ was rushed to the local hospital. Upon arrival, he was minutes away from expiring. The doctors had a hard time bringing him back, but succeeded in reviving him. After a few days of tests and observations, AJ was ready for discharge. The medical recommendation was at least a short-term rehab.
While in the hospital, AJ came clean and admitted to smoking pot regularly and trying ecstasy and coke. On that Friday night, he had been drinking and his friends talked him into trying heroin. They told him that the rush was immediate and unbelievable. That seduction almost cost him his life.
Finding an adolescent rehab for a senior in high school was a nightmare for AJ's parents. There was nothing readily available. Their insurance company wanted AJ to try outpatient first. If he failed, they would pay for inpatient. Unfortunately, doing it their way could have cost AJ his life.
AJ's parents were overwhelmed. They did not see any of this coming. They were in total denial. Even when they were initially alerted to AJ's poor decision making, they elected not to address the signs that were staring them in the face.
Their denial could have cost them their son's life. Denial is a painful reality. We need to take the blinders off and face some painful decisions that our children are making. We can no longer bury our heads in the sand or pretend that it can't happen to our kids.
Everyone reading this column who has a teenager is vulnerable to his or her son or daughter making poor choices. Act now, don't wait until it is too late.