Navy

Sean entered the Navy after almost a year of sobriety. He had a difficult semester in college and decided to get his alcohol use in check before deciding on future plans. The Navy appealed to him, he wanted to be a cook. He took the entrance exam and scored so highly he was assigned to submarine training.  Sean was very patriotic. He was eleven when September 11th happened, he never forgot that tragedy.

Unfortunately, when he signed on he was told to lie about a history of cocaine use. Despite urging him to be honest he covered up this use. Even with sobriety, the Navy was understanding of alcoholism but, not drug use.

Sean did well with training. The structure focused him and he excelled. He went on to Submariner school in Groton,CT.  Again, he did very well.  Our family breathed a sigh of relief, hew was going to be OK. He had a job he loved and a purpose and he was so proud of himself.

Spring arrived and he seemed to change overnight. He wanted to go to visit NYC, a place our family often vacationed when he was growing up. We bought him a ticket to meet him for the weekend. I could tell his mood was very different. The behaviors were alarming, he would perseverate on alcohol and marijuana use.  It seemed like a freight train on course for collision that couldn’t be stopped.

In May, Mother’s Day weekend he was taken to a psychiatric hospital after a possible suicide attempt. He had failed a drug screen with marijuana. This would likely mean a dishonorable discharge. He hadn’t taken the news well.  We visited him that weekend at the hospital and saw the despair and disappointment.

The Naval police wanted help finding the opiate dealers near base. They told Sean he could stay in the service, not on a submarine but, maybe a ship if he helped out. Giving money to a person with a history of substance abuse to buy drugs is not a story with a happy ending. I came to visit Sean one weekend and realized he was in opiate withdrawal. I sat with him, in a Hilton Garden Inn, while he vomited and perspired, refusing to go to the hospital. He was still hanging on to this dream of being in service to our country.

I arrived home after that weekend. He called from the Brig. All the pre-made meals and cookies I had brought to him went to waste.  Like food could change the course of his disease… He was being charged for lying on his admission paperwork. He never had a positive opiate screen. The most he could charged with was history of occasional cocaine use that he lied about. He told a physician at the mental hospital about this use and it was not kept confidential.

Sean’s first incarceration was in the Navy. In retrospect, it was the nicest jail he was ever in. It had an exercise room, the food was good. There were only two other inmates.  We could visit on the weekends, for several hours at a time.  We could hug. We shared books and played cards. Sean enjoyed reading, and his favorite was “The Prince of Tides” by Pat Conroy.  I still have the copy on my bookshelf in a closet with old photos and travel books.  (We used to love travel until, I never wanted to be more than a few hours away from home in case anything ever happened….when it did happen I was in town, at an Al-anon meeting, not working…)

Sean had a court assigned attorney, a Harvard graduate. He managed to get Sean out with time served, maybe 2 months and an other than honorable discharge. It seemed like a miracle. Though now, when I know more clearly how he was set up, I can’t believe we didn’t pursue litigation. We were just happy he was coming home, we hoped to get treatment.

Sean did come home. I called many local psychiatrists. No one was taking new patients. I even told many, that I was a physician in town.  I could pay out of pocket. We didn’t even think he needed much other than a mood stabilizer. We thought if his mood was better the substance use disorder would go away.

I hear it’s better now in our town but, I was aghast at the difficulty.  I had 2 colleague friends, that in retrospect, I wish I had asked for their personal help. I didn’t, I was too ashamed. The stigma of this disease had hit me hard. Too many people told me they were very sorry but, they were glad they didn’t have this problem.  Behind my back, I heard someone say they were glad they were a successful parent because their child didn’t have a opiate use disorder.

Eventually, we did find someone. She refused to talk to me or my husband. She gladly took our cash but, wouldn’t talk to us, even when I came to an appointment with Sean. We finally called and left a voice message saying Sean had stolen 900.00 from us and we thought he needed an inpatient treatment setting.

We had been foolish to allow him to come home without a better plan.  We thought we had succeeded in keeping him sober before, we could do it again. However, this time we were dealing with opiates and it was a new level of danger for all of us. I think we were in denial at the time. Not wanting to think this use had escalated to dangerous opiates.

Sean did get to inpatient at Hazelden/Betty Ford, after running away and being homeless in NYC for several weeks (another story). He began another blissful time of sobriety, Oct 22 to mid April the following year.