Do you think you’d know—and acknowledge—if your 20-something son or daughter was a drug addict? A potential murderer? A gambler in debt up to his ears? Owned guns?
“Sure,” you say, without hesitation.
I say: “Don’t be so sure!”
A woman I know well (let’s call her Rose) didn’t recognize that her son was addicted to painkillers, and more, until he almost OD’d on heroin and called her frantically because he couldn’t breathe. “Let’s just say I didn’t want to know,” Rose told me.
“I never dreamed I’d be able to close my eyes and mind to my own child with such a big problem, but I could and I did.”
“He didn’t live with me, which made it easier. I never went to his apartment, maybe because I was afraid of what I’d see,” Rose said.
When Rose did go to her son’s place, while he was in rehab, she was greeted by shelves and shelves lined with empty bottles of drugs, like OxyCotin; piles of clothes strewn around every room; ashtrays overflowing with cigarette butts; furniture destroyed by graffiti and other telltale signs that her son was in trouble.
“Thankfully, he has been ‘clean’ for seven years, is married to a wonderful woman, and has a beautiful baby daughter and a good job. He’s one of the lucky ones and I’m a lucky mother that he didn’t die,” Rose said.
I thought of Rose when I saw Elliot Rodger’s parents being interviewed. Elliot went on a shooting rampage a few days ago, in Santa Barbara, CA, killing seven (including himself) and wounding 13. Elliot’s mother, Li Chin, wasn’t lucky like Rose. She learned the truth much too late. For everyone involved.
The deeply disturbed, 22 year-old left behind a 137-page manifesto, called “My Twisted World: The Story of Elliot Rodger,” which detailed his feelings of intense rejection, by girls and then women: “All of those beautiful girls I’ve desired so much in my life, but can never have because they despise and loathe me, I will destroy. All of those popular people who live hedonistic lives of pleasure, I will destroy, because they never accepted me as one of them. I will kill them all and make them suffer, just as they have made me suffer. It is only fair.”
Elliot had Asperger syndrome, considered to be the mildest and highest functioning end of the Autism spectrum. Difficulty with social interaction is one of the most common symptoms of the illness, as is an inability to understand the intent behind another person’s actions, words and behaviors. If this was the case with Elliot, perhaps he would have thought that a girl “loathed” him, simply because she turned down his invitation to go on a date.
Elliot had been in therapy since he was eight years old, countless news reports revealed, but neither his therapists or his family had notified authorities that they thought he was a danger, that is, until Li Chin recently discovered Elliot’s social media posts about suicide and killing people and called the police. However, they didn’t see anything amiss or alarming when they went to Elliot’s house to investigate and told him to call his mother, when they reassured her that he was okay. (They never actually went inside the house.)
Elliot reportedly told deputies it was a misunderstanding and that he wasn’t going to hurt anyone or himself. He said he was having troubles with his social life. He noted in his manifesto that he worried the police were going to find his weapons and writings. “I would have been thrown in jail, denied of the chance to exact revenge on my enemies. I can’t imagine a hell darker than that,” Elliot wrote.
Why did Rose and Li Chin only wake up to their sons’ severe mental problems at the 12th hour? Is it, as Rose said, the power of denial, especially when a mother is concerned?
Or, do disturbed young people have the ability to successfully—and continuously—hide their addictions and other mental problems. And, is their ability so masterful that it also helps them hide their illnesses (or, at least their plans) from experienced, certified therapists?
You don’t need a PhD in psychology to know that young people who feel deep rejection (either from their parents or their peers) often turn these feelings into anger, both self-loathing and repugnance of others who they perceive are their “enemies.” We’ve been hearing, for example, about more and more young men, like Elliot, who turn against women who reject them. A 16-year-old, Connecticut high school student was stabbed to death, in April, by a classmate after she rejected his invitation to go to the prom.
Although I certainly don’t have the answers to the questions I posed a couple of paragraphs ago, I think it’s our responsibility as parents to try and get a handle on our children’s psyches. I realize this is an especially tall order today, as communication with our children is often limited to texts and emails. We also may be at work when a teenage child comes home from school, and then he or she stays behind closed doors most of the evening. And we’re just too tired to start a dialog.
I imagine there are parents around the country who are getting together to reinforce one another and address issues such as these. If there aren’t, it’s high time to start.
Elliot Rodger’s final You Tube video explaining what he was about to do—and why.
Please let me know your thoughts on this