Atwater: Selfish, childish behavior can turn self-destructive

“Laurie” was the youngest of four girls. Right out of the gate, her mom would tell you, she was all about “Laurie.”

When she was very young, it was cute, and when she would take her older sisters’ clothes or toys as if they naturally belonged to her, everybody chuckled and took pictures and called her “Little Miss Me, Mine.”

As Laurie matured, her self-centered behavior didn’t change and became a lot less cute. She got in trouble with the parents of friends and soon lost friends because of her bossy ways. Her family felt a little worried but thought she’d grow out of it. They went to see a family therapist as Laurie reached her early teens because of her absolute willfulness and unwillingness to follow family guidelines. After a dozen sessions, they agreed on a behavior contract, and with a sigh of relief, her parents thought they finally had turned the corner with \Laurie.

Two weeks later, she was busted at school for possessing and selling weed and was expelled.

Completely unrepentant, Laurie attended the required drug and alcohol evaluation and the subsequent drug education classes, but she had no intention of cleaning up her act. She felt her parents and the school were trying to control her. Although Laurie, now 16, already was drinking regularly – as was her right, she thought – and weed was almost legal, her friends started moving into prescription pills.

After finding Laurie non-responsive on the couch one afternoon after school, her parents, horrified and uneducated about her budding addiction problem, called their family doctor, who suggested a treatment program. Within 48 hours, Laurie was in her first adolescent drug and alcohol rehab.

This wasn’t Laurie’s last rehab stay, but her parents started to understand what they were dealing with and slowly began to treat her like a person with an illness rather than a selfish little girl. It took much heartache, two more rehabs and the willingness on her parents’ part to do some difficult things.

They realized things like not bailing her out of jail, not giving her money when she said she didn’t have enough to eat and not rescuing her from disastrous decisions was the only and most loving thing they could do. They found they needed acceptance and support to take this difficult path.

Although her parents had begun to think it might never happen, Laurie, now 18, is living in a recovery home with four other girls and doing well. She is working on a GED, has a part-time job and has been sober for nine months.

• Rick Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor.