Until May 23, 2013, Chris' erratic and self-destructive behavior was easily attributable to common teen angst. At least, that's what his mother, Nancy, told herself as red flag after red flag popped up and was rationalized away. Slipping grades, violent outbursts, increasingly troubled relationships with his friends, girlfriend, and parents; it all pointed to drug and substance abuse. As communication between Chris and his parents collapsed, home life became unbearable.

Chris himself turned a blind eye to the destructive effects of his drug use. In his mind, all of his problems were caused by his cruel parents, his stupid teachers, and his incomprehensible girlfriend. In the chaos of his tumultuous existence, marijuana remained his only comfort. "Nothing was right unless I was smoking."

On May 23, 2013, Chris' confession forced the family to face the truth they had all so desperately denied; "I am doing drugs," he glumly admitted to his shocked parents.

To both Chris and Nancy, recovery seemed impossible. In the forty years Nancy had spent as an educator, she had come to know all too well the devastation addiction wreaked on the lives of teenagers in the South Bay community. According to Dr. Moe Gelbart, Executive Director of the Thelma McMillen Center, "New brain research indicates that the earlier one begins to use drugs or alcohol, the risk of long term addiction increases significantly. That is why it is so critical to abstain during the first 25 years that the brain is forming and developing." Fearing the worst, Nancy couldn't even bring herself to order a cap and gown for Chris' imminent high school graduation.

Thelma McMillen Center at Torrance Memorial Hospital offered the only glimmer of hope in this bleak time. Chris had resigned himself to the program, thinking that he could just put up with "the farce" of rehab to go back to what he truly loved; marijuana.

However, meeting by meeting, day by day, week by week, Chris and his family began to see progress. "The fog lifted." The Thelma McMillen therapists and counselors worked with Chris every day after school in a series of individual therapy sessions, group therapy, exercise therapy, family therapy, music therapy, and parent meetings. These sessions provided Chris with the words he needed to hear to commit to his recovery.

The greatest tool Thelma McMillen taught Chris and his family was understanding. Understanding the underlying anxiety that fueled these self-destructive patterns of behavior. Understanding that marijuana is a gateway drug. Understanding the true nature of addiction as a disease. Understanding the hardwiring that predisposed Chris to this illness. Understanding acceptance, communication, and choice.

Together, with the help of the counselors and programs at Thelma McMillen, Chris and his family climbed the slippery slope of teen addiction. Chris graduated with honors from high school, and boasts over fifteen months sober as he enters his freshman year at a prestigious performing arts university. The most profound change in his life, according to Chris, is his newfound ability to finally "live life true."

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