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August 30, 2009

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Trauma of home life with drug addict son

ANY parent who has had to confront a child's drug abuse is familiar with the drawn-out agony of despair, impotence, fear, grief and, while there is still a chance for recovery, hope. That last is perhaps the most ravaging of all.
Hope means you aren't yet numb enough, not yet at peace with the chaos into which life has spilled, not yet so defeated and angry that you're unable to try to help. Julie Myerson, a London novelist and mother of three, was finally forced to throw her eldest son, aged 17, out of the house when his cannabis habit so deranged him that he became physically violent.
"I am flattened, deadened. I have nothing in my mind except the deep black hole that is the loss of my child," she writes. Myerson undergoes a crash course in drugs. Her son is smoking skunk, she learns, a strain of cannabis whose THC content is much more potent than garden-variety pot - except that it has become garden variety. I had never heard of skunk either, but a quick search online led me to a souk of seeds for the home farmer, advertising up to a toxic 22 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content in some strains.
Even as stronger varieties are being bred and marketed, medical research is linking cannabis use to behavioral and cognitive changes reminiscent of psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression and anxiety disorder. "The Lost Child" is a cry for help and a plea for a clear acknowledgment of the toll this drug is taking on our children.
Myerson does have something else on her mind while her son's life shatters. She is in the midst of writing a book about a young woman, Mary Yelloly, who died of consumption in 1838, at the age of 21. Mary left behind an "extraordinary" album of more than 200 watercolors of a fantasy family's life in Regency England. Myerson sets out to bring Yelloly to life, tracking down family descendants, visiting old houses, discovering diaries and keepsakes.
Interleaved are descriptions of the madness unfolding in Myerson's own home. Her son has turned on his 13-year-old brother. He is crashing on friends' sofas, disappearing for weeks at a time, only to turn up haggard, ill, insensible and still stoned.
Mary and the boy are a strange, difficult pair. The switching back and forth between their stories is jarring and confusing - Mary is addressed intimately as "you"; "the boy," nameless, is always spoken of in the third person. I couldn't begin to understand why I should care about Mary Yelloly.
Her story pales in comparison with the boy's. I could see what Myerson might be getting at. Mothers in any century will grieve over their lost children. But the unfolding narrative of a sick child - here and now - has such inviolable urgency that I had to force myself not to skip past Mary.
Myerson is brutal in describing the heartbreaking varieties of hell through which she and her family are dragged. They speak to a psychiatrist who explains that the potency of THC in skunk "can do untold and irreversible damage." They attend meetings of Families Anonymous. They withhold money from their son, who refuses rehab, but then they relent.
The cycle plays itself out several times, with horrifying consequences. Among the more harrowing moments is a struggle with the boy for the key to the house; he strikes his mother's head so hard that her eardrum is perforated. But even more stunning is that, on her return from the hospital, the family goes out to dinner and "talked about other things. Talked and laughed. The boy didn't tell me he was sorry and I didn't ask him to."
"The Lost Child" will appeal to readers of David Sheff's "Beautiful Boy," still the standard-bearer. These are books for all parents, no matter what shape they think their children are in.
Books like these signal the beginning of awareness and hope that we can do right by our children.


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