What were your attitudes toward use of substances when you were a child and an adolescent?
I grew up in a big, Irish Catholic family, where drinking in moderation wasn’t part of the vocabulary. Our annual family reunion is a perfect example of my family’s attitudes about drinking. My Uncle was an executive at 7-up, and lived just outside Indianapolis. Every year, he would score VIP access to the Indy 500, and my extended family would converge on Indianapolis for the race. The race is run on Sunday, but they would start the pre-party Wednesday. Needless to say, the Indy 500 is a big deal up there, and everyone is partying. One of my uncle’s best friend’s would throw a massive party- imagine industrial size trash cans full of a concoction called Bora-Bora, and about two watermelons, 20 oranges, apples, etc., cut up and floating on top. That is quite possibly my first taste of alcohol, because the kids would steal the fruit out and eat it, completely oblivious to the saturation of grain alcohol we were consuming. After three straight days of round the clock partying and no shortage of lovely displays of complete buffoonery in front of no less than 15 children between the ages of 12 mos-12 years, race day arrived. Race day began at 6:30am at the country club for Bloody Marys and betting. Once everyone (our family plus the extended families of the other 7-up executives) was assembled and nicely buzzed, the line up began so that we were ready to go when the POLICE showed up for our police escort to the track. I can say that the four of us kids old enough to go, were always in the van driven by my Aunt who, while not completely dry, did drink responsibly. So imagine a police escort, and as our caravan is blowing through red lights, the adults in our cars are heckling the people at a standstill because of us, by toasting them with their beer cans singing “In heaven there is no beer, and that’s why we drink it here!” There was literally a mini-van designated as “The Chariot of the Coolers,” because they took so much beer to the race. Anyhow, I could do this all day, but I think you get the picture. I couldn’t make stuff up that was this dysfunctional if I tried! Needless to say, I think my views and attitudes about drinking, and what was normal, were probably quite distorted.
What was your personal and peer group experience of substance use? How are your views the same or different now? What might it feel like to work with clients making different choices, or to encourage choices that you did not make?
I grew up in Olney, MD, and it was a small town, in the middle of nowhere back then. Most families were on the upper end of middle-class, so with the lack of things to do and places to go, plus a little disposable income, there were drugs and alcohol around enough that it was pretty normalized. But, my oldest friend was in AA, and I spent a lot of time with her attending young people’s sober activities, so I had the experience of seeing substance abuse from both sides. My views of substance use are much different now than they were then, in the way that most people see things differently through the lens of maturity and knowledge. I don’t look back at my choices and see them as all or nothing or right or wrong, nor do I think how I navigated my adolescence has any bearing on how I would advise a client. I think I would just strive to give them the best information and support I could, regardless of the choices they make.
Who advised you about drugs and alcohol, and when? What was your response? What encouraged or discouraged use in the approaches you encountered? What do you hope to emulate or discard from your models?
I don’t remember any preventative drug or alcohol programs being given at that time, and it was just before the danger of smoking cigarettes campaigns really took off. In addition, it wasn’t something that my parents or any of my friends’, were discussing with us. Remember, this was quite a long time ago, they were focused on butchering conversations about HIV and AID’s with us. Also, my parents were not part of the hippie movement, so they were fairly clueless. They came from the “teens having good wholesome fun” upbringing, so there was no proactive “Don’t do drugs” talks, because it didn’t occur to them that we would.