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LECANTO — Steve spent his 16th birthday surrounded by friends but wishing he was somewhere else.
“I started crying this morning. I was extremely emotional,” Steve says. “I had big plans for my 16th birthday. I was going to go out and get high with my friends Patrick and Joey.”
He didn’t do that, of course. Steve, whose last name is not mentioned to protect his privacy, is in his final days at the Centers treatment facility in Lecanto.
An alcoholic and drug addict, Steve is scheduled to leave the Centers on Friday for his grandparents’ house in Spring Hill.
His grandparents, who watch him because his mother in Baltimore kicked him out of the house, have a strict regimental plan — school, ROTC, church activities — to keep him busy and out of trouble.
Steve is confident he will stay away from alcohol and drugs, despite the real potential of meeting up with the same buddies with whom he partied in the past.
“I’ve learned a lot through recovery,” he says. “I take it a lot more serious.”
Steve is one of 15 teenagers with drug or alcohol addictions being treated at the Centers, an in-house program that was created about four years ago.
Clinical manager Steve Archbold said teens arrive at the Centers through several paths, including court-ordered stays or being sent by their parents.
“What they all have in common is they have all tried something else and it hasn’t worked,” says Archbold, a 33-year veteran in substance-abuse counseling who has been at the Centers since October.
Teens at the Centers attend school classes, 12-step meetings, visit with counselors and learn a life they’ve never known.
“Some of these kids don’t have any reference of what normalcy is,” Archbold says. “Their earliest memories are of being beat up by their mother or having sex with their parents. You have to teach them what the new normalcy is.”
Steve, fresh faced with pieced earrings in both lobes, grew up with his older brother and sister in Baltimore with his mother. His father, Steve said, spent nearly all of his time in jail on petty crimes that piled up.
Steve’s mother, who was bipolar and a drug user, condoned drug and alcohol use with her children.
“My mom wanted to be a cool mom,” he says. “There were always parties at our house.”
Steve started smoking marijuana with his friends, Marcus and Nieman, when they were in middle school.
“I don’t honestly know how it happened,” Steve says. “I really liked it when I did it. It wasn’t a common, every day thing.”
He was arrested at age 13 for trying to steal a four-wheeler.
“I was so scared at the time,” he says. “My mom picked on me. She smacked the crap out of me.”
His mother sent him to live with his grandparents in Florida.
“I was good for about seven months,” he said. “I started getting high with a whole bunch of people.”
He smoked “Spice,” legal synthetic marijuana sold at some local convenience stores. Steve got in more trouble, including fights. He was booted from school in the eighth grade.
“I don’t know why they expelled me. Being high, I guess,” Steve says.
He was drinking cans of “Four Loko” — 23-ounce cans of alcohol that, until November 2010, were mixed with caffeine. One can equals the alcohol content of about four or five regular beers.
“My friends’ parents bought it for us. We would drink at least five of them on the weekend,” he says. “We would drink it like water.”
His grandparents sent him back to Maryland. The situation with his mother deteriorated.
“One day I came home from school and all my stuff was in the middle of the yard,” Steve says.
He went to live with his girlfriend’s parents, who were good people. Still, Steve drank and drugged.
In June, he boarded a plane back to Florida.
Road to recovery
It was June 15, to be exact.
“That was the last time I used,” Steve says. “I got high before I got on the plane. I was so high I didn’t say bye to them. I just walked off. I was so high and didn’t even realize it.”
The destination was an Eckerd wilderness camp in Brooksville, a Level 6 facility for boys. Hard work was the key. Counseling or recovery was not.
The camp closed and Steve was transferred to the Centers in Lecanto. He was introduced to 12-step programs and began to learn of another way of life.
“I was quiet. I didn’t talk to anybody,” he says. “Then I began to open up.”
He’s a regular at 12-step meetings and is working a program of recovery with his counselor.
“I realized I’m not really alone,” he says.
The key to the Centers’ success with teens, Archbold says, is consistency. The teens need to know and see that counselors follow through.
“It’s a lot of repetition,” Archbold says. “It’s hard work for them. It’s very hard work for them.”
Archbold says he has a history of drug problems that were resolved years ago. “I’ve been sober for many, many years,” he said.
So he gets to teach the teens from knowledge and experience.
“We talk about the 12 steps at some point every day,” Archbold says. “We teach them they can have some fun when they’re clean and sober. They can have some joy in their life.”
Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.