Dateline NBC
Cameras captured Carrick Forbes using heroin about two years ago.
updated 7/29/2005 8:32:37 PM ET 2005-07-30T00:32:37

Thom and Deirdre Forbes, both 52, live in the affluent suburb of Hastings-On-Hudson in Westchester County, New York.

Teenagers here, like those across the country, often experiment with drugs and alcohol when they are underage. The Forbes are determined to keep their teenage son away from drugs and alcohol, even if it means being over-protective. They have good reason: Both are recovering alcoholics, and their daughter, Carrick, was an addict. For the last 8 years, the family’s life has revolved around trying to keep her clean.

“Dateline” met the Forbes in the summer of 2003 when Carrick, 19 at the time, was living in a downtown apartment with her drug dealer boyfriend. Her days and nights were centered on scoring and shooting heroin.

For a year and a half, “Dateline” cameras recorded the Forbes’ efforts to make Carrick stop using heroin, and the emotional roller coaster that families of addicts ride as their hopes for recovery get dashed over and over again.

NBC’s Ann Curry reports in the hour-long documentary, “Saving Carrick,”  Dateline, Friday, July 29, 8/7 c.

Below, is an edited excerpt of Thom Forbes' interactive memoir, "Elephant on Main Street." Forbes writes about having been haunted by the thought that his daughter's addiction would cause her to overdose or get killed before her 20th birthday. He shares his thoughts on letting the cameras into their lives, and provides a glimpse into the impact of addiction. Talking about addiction openly in society, he says, may go a long way in saving others.

Imagining Carrick’s eulogy
For several years, I’ve lived with the specter of my daughter killing herself. It haunted me whenever the phone rang at a time when it didn’t normally, or if a holiday passed without our having heard from Carrick. Or when I saw or heard Deirdre, my wife, weeping.

However Carrick’s death would happen — a heroin overdose, hypothermia, murder, suicide, AIDS — I knew I would have to the find the words to express what had happened, and why.

And so, in interior monologues, I would imagine myself speaking at Carrick’s funeral. I wanted everyone to know something about the hopelessness of addiction and the powerlessness of love. The elephant of drug and alcohol abuse on our village’s Main Street — indeed, on all Main Streets. It’s the thin line between enabling and encouraging. But words without stories are feeble comforts.

“Dateline” documents our struggle
In July, 2005, NBC’s "Dateline" will air an hour-long special report titled “Saving Carrick.”

More precisely, "Dateline" documented the impact Carrick’s addiction had on my family from the summer of 2003 through the autumn of 2004. During this period, we threw Carrick out of the house after she walked out of yet another rehab. She served time on Riker’s Island and started speedballing. Wracked by this combination of heroin and cocaine and realizing that she could not return home as an active addict, she finally hit bottom in January 2004. She and [boyfriend] Pete detoxed at Coney Island Hospital, then entered a methadone program at Mount Sinai Medical Center.

In April 2004, our family reconciled. Carrick, who turns 21 on August 4, took twelve college credits last year to obtain her high school diploma and will matriculate full time in the fall of 2005. On camera, she will talk to "Dateline" viewers about her addiction in a way that could profoundly change many people’s lives.

Deirdre, meanwhile, has graduated from a substance abuse certificate program at the top of her class. She worked as a drug counselor at a program for women in the Bronx that was shut down for lack of funds, and is now the intake coordinator for Madison East, a new co-ocurring disorders detox unit at Mount Sinai.

I’ve suspended my fear that Carrick will unknowingly inject rat poison into her veins. I fret now when she rides the subway late at night, as fathers normally do. I still worry that the Hepatitis C that she contracted while she was on the street will corrode her liver. I also fear that all the good things that are happening right now could slip away as easily as Carrick does in my nightmare. But her death is no longer something my conscious mind compulsively discusses with itself. Now, I find myself celebrating Carrick’s rebirth in little moments like hearing a glass shatter in the next room and knowing her fumbling fingers were responsible.

Elephant in the room
"The Elephant on Main Street," my interactive memoir, is the back story of the struggle for recovery and reconciliation that Dateline’s cameras report within the context of our family’s — and our neighbors’ — quest for escape, sociability, and meaning through drugs that alter our consciousness.

“The elephant in the room” is a common term that refers to something that everybody sees but is afraid to talk about. We pretend that we are imagining it, or that it will go away if we ignore it, or we may be fearful that talking about the elephant will get it riled up. After all, no one wants to see an elephant stampede. That can be as fearsome as, well, as a druken, abusive parent. Or child.

It is my belief that we, as a society, condemn ourselves to watching our loved ones suffer the same pains and degradations, generation after generation, that are the inevitable outcome of substance abuse. We refuse to talk openly and honestly about this disease that is no different than any other.

In the memoir, I write about the three-year period between the time that Carrick first tried heroin and ran away from home—to a day when I simultaneously smell pot in her room and read a stunning essay she has written about the first time she shot up.

I also deal candidly with Deirdre’s and my past use of drugs and alcohol — indeed, we were high on booze, pot and cocaine the night Carrick was conceived — and on genetic, cultural, and social factors that were part of the mix of all of our addictions.

The impact of addiction
Even when she was not with us in our home, Carrick’s demands on our psyche dominated our lives. Multiply our experience by the nearly one in ten Americans who are dependant on drugs and alcohol and it’s clear that the emotional impact of addiction on our society is enormous.

Well over half of Americans — 63 percent — say that addiction has had an impact on their lives, according to a survey conducted in April 2004 by Hart Research and Coldwater Corp. This is either because they are addicts themselves or a friend or family member is.

Some parents remain remarkably ambivalent about their children’s drug and alcohol use. We all know kids will be kids. The question is whether parents will be parents.

I think that parents who condone, facilitate, encourage, or turn a blind eye toward underage drinking and drug use are putting their kids —  and ours— in harm’s way. They certainly are perpetuating the myth that  drinking and drugging are requisite part of “growing up” — that unfortunately has become a social norm.

The foregoing is an edited excerpt of Thom Forbes' interactive memoir, "Elephant on Main Street," published with permission.

NBC’s Ann Curry reports in the hour-long documentary, “Saving Carrick,”  Dateline, Friday, July 29, 8/7 c.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments