Monday, December 22, 2014

The Sleazy Side of Addiction

Things were disappearing all the time.  Small things at first.  Sometimes, days later, they would turn up in a most unexpected place.  For someone like me with a photographic memory, it was enough to drive me insane.  I started keeping things of value at work.  My stepson would blame his friends, yet continue to hang out with them.  He would blame his roommate for items missing from his apartment:  Kindle, I Pad, TV, even his clothing.  When the lease was up, he still insisted on living with the same person.  To me, it didn’t make sense.  There were two things that my husband and I never considered until much later:  his son was lying to us and his son was stealing from us.

My step-son became an expert at using PayPal for modern day check kiting.  Once money was in the account, he would frequent as many small gas stations as possible…the kind of places that only take a dollar from the account on the first day and then a day or two later take the full amount.  He was constantly overdrawing the account by a hundred dollars or more and my husband and I tried to get him to understand the basic math of money without ever realizing that all of this was done on purpose.  Since he also took gas from the lawnmower and had a habit of running out of gas on the side of the road, it became clear that what he was spending at gas stations had nothing to do with putting gas into his car.

As my husband and I became more vigilant at controlling money (we would drive his car to the gas station and fill it up, accompany him to the college bookstore to purchase books), my stepson became more bold and obvious in his thievery.  After a confrontation with him and deadbolts placed on our bedroom door, he treated the garage and shed as his own private store.  Power tools, fishing rods and even air conditioning units disappeared to the local pawn shops.  His own clothes and some of ours ended up at Plato’s Closet, a used clothing store.

Pawn shops are sleazy and reek of desperation, hopelessness and stolen goods.  The people who run them are well aware of this.  My husband would ask them why they would think that a twenty-something year-old would own women’s jewelry, expensive power tools or air conditioning units.  They had no answer.  Some stores put our stepson (and his friends) on a “do not do business with” list, others told us that when they saw the same items come back in over and over again, they wouldn't offer as much money on the pawn because they knew that my stepson was using the money for drugs.  This didn’t stop him; he just stole more or tried a new pawn shop.  A particularly nasty shop owner lied to us on my hidden camera I used to record our conversation.  In the state of Georgia, it is legal to secretly record someone as long as one of you gives consent.  I gave the consent and then I made sure there were long, awkward moments of silence in which the owner felt it necessary to ramble on, filling us in with additional information.  The owner clearly did not want us to file a report to the police and when he learned, probably due to another store patron who could see I was taping the conversation, that he was on film, he promptly called the parents of other friends who frequented that shop with my stepson.  

To have your items returned to you, the pawn slip is needed or the person who pawned them must be present with identification and the funds to buy your own items back.  You can file a police report against the person who took them and gain your items back without paying for them.  Some stores were happy to negotiate the fee to avoid the possibility of police involvement.  There were a few items that we received back on a multiple item pawn ticket that were not ours.

Further investigation revealed that my step son had stooped to frequenting plasma donation centers to earn additional money to fund his multiple addictions.  Conversations via email and other social media exposed his friends suggesting that he rifle through visiting family members purses to secure cash.  Not only could we not trust him, there didn’t appear to be a single childhood friend that wasn't involved on some level in our small town.

Our story isn't unique and I have discovered more people who have been through or are going through similar situations.  The lies and manipulation start small and build up over years until it is just too big for the addict to maintain.  It is very easy to look back and pinpoint events that should have clued you in.  It was also obvious for us that if more family members communicated with each other, some of the spending patterns could have been discovered years before.  But I firmly believe that you cannot change another person’s behavior.  You can only change your own and how you react to someone else.  The change must start with you.  Someone’s life depends on it.