Friday, January 18, 2013

The Crack Effect

Ever known anyone addicted to crack? 

I have. My son. I'd like to apologize to him in advance for using him in this example. He's since turned his life around, gotten married and has a child on the way. He won't appreciate this reminder, I'm certain.

Yet the seven years of hell I endured when my son was a crack addict has been on my mind a good deal recently, for reasons unrelated to my child. I've been thinking about what I call 'the crack effect'. See, crack doesn’t just rip open the life of the addict. It reaches out to grab everyone who loves that addict by the throat.

The crack effect, more than the crack addiction itself, tears families apart in some ways I found shocking.
My son stole my debit card. He used it to buy his birthday gift from me. Without permission. I discovered he'd stolen my card when I went to buy his gift. Unwittingly, I gave my kid a seven-hundred dollar cocaine birthday party. Hell hath no fury like a mother at the end of her rope. I confronted him. Thanks to him, I'm pretty good at confrontation. He cried. He said he planned to repay me. Payday came. Payday went. No moolah was forthcoming from the munchkin. He had reasons. By this time, what he did best was make up hard luck stories.

I went to my bank and reported the theft. I took their form to the sheriff's department. I signed my name to the statement taken by the detective. The same officer came to my house to take my child in for questioning. He was charged and booked for felony theft by false pretense.

He called me to bail him out. My words? I'll never forget them. "I put you in jail for stealing seven hundred dollars from me, and you think I'm going to hand out thirty-five hundred more to bail you out? Reality check, kid. Time to grow up and accept responsibility for your choices."

I cried. Bitter tears. Tears of anger and frustration, and through it all, I held on to one hope. That at the end of his jail time, he'd be clean. Free of crack.

Then, the crack effect kicked in. He called every relative he could get to accept a collect call. And those relatives in turn called me. Not with sympathy about the tough choice I'd had to make. Oh, hell no.
They called to tell me they thought I was a horrible mother for putting my son in jail. My mother-in-law spoke the words I feel best illustrate the crack effect. "Why did you leave your debit card out where he could get to it?"

Did you catch that? That's the crack effect. It's a shift in perspective. The crack addict and thief wasn't to blame for his choices. I was. The entire mess became my fault because I didn't prevent my kid from stealing from me.

The crack effect tapped my mother, too. She was also being called, and she also didn't have the heart to deny the collect call from her only grandson. Her comment is equally etched in my memory. "But you could afford the seven hundred dollars. Did you have to put him in jail?"

In other words, I could afford for my son to steal from me, so why make a fuss?

Why does the crack effect happen? Glad you asked. After pondering the question for five or six years, I've decided the person exhibiting the crack effect has a need that has to be met, much like the addict. My son was begging his grandmothers to bail him out because I would not. Unable to refuse his collect calls and disturbed by his insistent bids to have his need met, these good Christian women developed a need. They needed the calls to stop. The easiest way to make that happen was to shame me into coughing up the bail money.

They both failed.

The rest of the story I'll save for another day. I've related the important part.

To this day, the crack effect lives on. I'm still the villain in this scenario. I'm wrong for believing I should be able to leave my debit card in the middle of my kitchen table, with the PIN number written on a sticky note if I choose, and have a reasonable expectation it will be there, unmolested, when I elect to pick it up again. I'm wrong for putting my son in jail and causing a disturbance in the family.

What does this mean? What's the point? Why am I blogging about a story I won’t finish for you?

Because the point here isn’t the perils of drug addiction.

The crack effect will wear you down, turn you inside out, and make you question the validity of every belief you ever had. And in the process, you will become lost in a fog of gray so thick, you might never see daylight again.

If you stand around long enough, listening to what a person suffering from the crack effect says, you will start to believe you're the fucking villain.  The real villain had no choice, see? He was compelled, for whatever reason, to make a bad choice. But you, you should choose to do what benefits—or causes the least amount of discomfort for— those suffering from the crack effect.

Even if the choice is to leave you crack addict out o the streets to steal from someone else. Even if you know, without a doubt, he will steal again.

I will tell you what I said then, and still say today. I did not cause my son's life to go to hell because of any choice I made. He made one choice. I made another. I made the best call in a tough situation. Don't dare think this was his first act of thievery. It happened to be his first act as an adult. Yeah, that's right, it was his seventeenth birthday. The minute my son was legally able to be charged as an adult in the state of South Carolina, he was standing at a teller machine with my debit card in his hand, committing a felony. The bank statement showed two withdrawals. One two minutes before midnight. One a minute after. (To get around the three hundred and fifty dollar per day withdrawal limit for my card, see?)

According to the law, one bad act.

Here's the question I want you to ponder.

What if some other mother's kid has stolen money? Assume there is a large pool of people suffering from the crack effect as well as from the original theft. Assume those people are insisting a felony and an egregious and ongoing breach of trust should be dipped in fog and called a 'private contractual matter', best left in silence. You know, waiting for payday, so the thief can hand some moolah back to those stolen from.  

Been there. Done that.

Ask my son what I'm going to do. He already knows.

On that note, I'd like to announce that the much-anticipated release of Incidental Contact, the third book in my De Marco Men series, will be delayed indefinitely. 


  1. I totally understand where you're coming from and you are very correct, Eden.

  2. Great article, and great decisions. Few people can act with that level of maturity and pain.

  3. Eden, you gave a prime example of tough love. Those decisions are never easy, and what makes them harder is the lack of support from your family. The fact that your son turned his life around is proof you made the correct choice-the hardest one a mother can make. I'd hate to imagine where he'd be today if you'd taken the easy route.

  4. having dealt with a parent with prescription drug addictions, I know where you were coming from and you were right to do what you did. Addiction is hideous and it brings everyone down with it. You have to sever ties, as hard as it is to do. Hardest choice you had to make, no doubt. But the right one.