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In DL, recovering student addict faces slippery streets

Chuck Reed is heading to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. It's Saturday night, and his ride's car careens on the streets of Detroit Lakes in an April snowstorm, flakes plastering the windshield.

He walks into the brightly lit hall of the Alano Club. He sports his trademark baseball cap, baggy jeans and a T-shirt a few sizes too large - his skinny frame a bit like his teenage self, shrouded in outsized life experiences.

When Reed started coming to meetings earlier this year, he felt self-conscious among men and women, some of whom have kicked addictions twice as long as his lifetime. But he realized in some ways he had more in common with them than most of his peers.

A knack for rationalizing self-destructive behavior. Restless dreams about using again. The sweaty panic of waking up to a sense these dreams are never going away.

At the Lakes Recovery School across the street, teachers and counselors believe Reed, a senior, is a success story in the making. He's bright, articulate, definite college material. But he and his teachers know the way ahead is full of slick patches that can send him careening off his path.

"The drug user side of you follows you around like a shadow," he says. "and keeps tapping you on the shoulder."

In the candle-lit Alano hall, he talks about his past: a stint in foster care and a stretch living in a friend's pickup. Since age 14, he's tried marijuana, acid, heroin, mushrooms and a laundry list of prescription drugs.

Last year, Reed moved from Lake Park High School, where he thought everyone was waiting for him to drop out, to the alternative Detroit Lakes Area Learning Center. After failing a couple of random drug tests, he had to sign up for treatment or leave.

He was fresh out of treatment when his mom died, and the news sent him on an all-out bender. He was beginning to realize that years of falling back on drugs in tough times had stunted his ability to deal with heartbreak clean.

But it was not until the next semester that Brad Laabs, coordinator at the Lakes Recovery School, drove that point home for Reed. As Laabs puts it, "You have a 17-year-old with the life experiences of somebody in his late 20s and the emotional coping ability of somebody in his early teens." At Lakes Recovery, a school within the Learning Center, Chuck decided to give staying clean another shot.

Sobriety ushered in a torrent of emotions: bouts of anxiety, insomnia, thoughts of suicide. But he gradually is getting to know his sober self, and he find he likes that side of himself better. His sober self is funnier and more open. After looking ahead only to his next hit for years, he now has a college major - audio production - picked out.

He doesn't expect a smooth ride. He shrugs off the adage that friends don't give friends drugs; he can't bring himself to cut his using buddies out. Nor can he shake the disembodied smell of pot that conjures deceptively blissful visions of drug use. In addiction circles, he says, they call that euphoric recall.

His job is to reinsert the unsavory facts into a more complete picture. The fact that all he has to show for his four years in the workforce is a car that doesn't run. The fact that he could have been in high school track or football when he was passing out in strange rooms. The nagging chest pain and headaches. He compares it to getting a credit card statement after a mindless shopping spree: "You kind of look back, and you go, 'Wow, how did I get here?'"

After a couple of relapses this semester, he feels he's getting better at staying on track. He can give himself a mean pep talk; he can ditch the handy mantras, like "Nobody cares anyway."

After the NA meeting, he lingers and chats with other addicts. They will be rooting for him. Then, he steps back into the night, where the snow is now falling softly but the streets are still slippery.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529