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Atwater: Hurricane ‘Hal’ hard for parents to handle

Published: Sunday, March 9, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, March 28, 2014 1:08 p.m. CDT

When he was a little kid, “Hal” always had to do things himself, and he usually messed it up. When you’re young, this is OK. Children are designed to mess things up.

Hal was the center of attention at family gatherings. His antics had everyone rolling in the aisles. His favorite toys were pots and pans and newspaper. His nickname became hurricane Hal. As he grew up, the toys changed, but the “look at me” attitude and the messes didn’t.

Hal’s teachers became concerned by third grade, and by middle school things had gotten out of hand. He was a smart kid and grades weren’t a problem, but his need to seek attention and approval intensified. He was disruptive in a class clown sort of way, was disorganized and always in some sort of minor trouble.

His friends had shifted from his neighborhood pals to the more troubled group in school, and his mom and dad were worried. Eighth grade is where the pills started. What were once manageable behavior problems moved ominously toward drugs. It seemed where Hal went, there went trouble.

Hal’s parents had good reason to worry. Both his mom’s parents were alcoholics, and his dad’s brother and sister had both had drug problems. Hal’s parents had heard the train coming down the tracks, but they had both hoped a good home and two loving parents would be enough to head off addiction. They were wrong. They had love and enabling confused and had bailed Hal out of trouble since he was a little guy. Their intentions were good, but they were unprepared for what was coming their way.

The “Hurricane” hit full force sophomore year. Hal had been a good wrestler and had wrestled with the older kids in his first year. Unfortunately, sports don’t equal immunity from drug problems, and pills actually became more available. Hal dropped out of sports after his first year, and his new sport became finding and using stolen anxiety medication, sleeping pills and opiate pain medication. He began supporting his use with sales and trades, stealing from his parents and later burglary.

After living on lockdown in the house for a year, hiding the valuables and sleeping with her purse under her pillow, Hal’s mom had enough and sought professional help. Hal, in the meantime, had found help his own way through a rather direct court order. He had been arrested for possession with intent to sell and was suspected in a number of shoplifting and “smash and grab” burglaries.

Hurricane Hal is now in rehab, and both his parents are in a parent’s support group and also attend Al Anon. They are saddened by Hal’s behavior but relieved to understand what they (and he) are dealing with.

• Rick Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor. He can reached by email at rickatwater@northwestcommunitycounseling.com.

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