Bowling Alley Blues

A long time ago I spent a year as a profoundly unsuccessful drug counselor, and I use the word “profoundly” – not out of any sense of false modesty.  The painful truth was that just one “Grateful Dead” concert would often undo months and months of work with the adolescent substance abusers who were in my charge.

Part of the thinking behind our early 80’s approach to treatment was based on the notion that, if we could just expose our clients to alternative ways of socializing, they might then avoid making “bad decisions.” This meant, for example,  that I spent almost every Friday afternoon trying to coax/ cajole/beg a dozen floppy haired (hey, it was the 80’s) high school aged students to get out of the van and into a bowling alley, where we could learn how to have “fun” together.

The result was that I spent a lot of time in the bowling alley parking lot, doing monologues that went something like this:

“What do you mean this whole thing is ‘uncool’? Once you’ve made a 3-9 split, you’ll never go back to crack! And wait until you see the spiffy shoes you get to wear, too!” (Did I mention that I was “profoundly unsuccessful” at all of this?)

One particular conversation has stayed with me for almost 30 years. It was a Friday night, and I was driving JD, a 20 year-old  who had been in recovery for a few months, to a mixer. (We had spent the last few weeks talking about how he could handle difficult social scenes without resorting to his drug of choice, and this was going to be a test case for him.)  On this night, though, the normally engaging JD was almost completely silent until he was about to get out of my car. I noticed that his hands were twitching, and he looked beyond uncomfortable.

“Hey, JD, it’s just a dance. Relax. Remember: one day at a time. One event at a time. You can do this.”

“Yo (he was a Philly guy), what you don’t get is that I haven’t gone to one of these things straight since I was 13. I don’t know how to do any of this stuff sober.”

I thought of JD the other day when I saw a sign for an upcoming Stewards’ Dance. I know that a lot of guys look forward to these events, but there are some who view them with dread. While I’d like to figure out a way to help them all get through these social challenges, it’s important for even the less adept guys to figure out how to survive these events out on their own. Despite the angst of awkward adolescence, it’s better to throw yourself into these rites of passage experiences when you are still in school.

Some folks will debate whether or not pot is addictive. (I think it is, at least psychologically.) But one of the real dangers of marijuana is that it numbs you out during times of stress, and going through the normal ups and downs of adolescence stoned can prevent a boy from learning how to deal with the everyday challenges of life.  As JD taught me, it’s even harder to deal with high school stress when high school itself is in the rear-view mirror.

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