There are so many elements of Wilderness that are unexpected, but here is a super positive one.
Violet was admitted on June 20th. I got home the same afternoon to my two other children, Soleil – 6, and Axul – 4. I had been so consumed with getting Violet to Wilderness, I don’t even know if I had been giving them attention. Their sister was such a squeaky wheel and man, she got A LOT of grease. These are very low maintenance kids and really didn’t demand that much. Doesn’t mean they didn’t need it; there is a big difference between asking and needing.
“What can a family do while a child is at Wilderness? First, recharge your batteries – you will need them! … This time can be difficult for other members of your family as well. Oftentimes siblings are very confused – happy their brother or sister is getting help, but also missing him/her. Take some time to reconnect and give them the time and the attention they deserve.” - A manual from the program.
Here is where I felt guilt. TONS of crazy guilt for allowing myself to relax and liking it. I felt like I was betraying my adoration for my daughter. But they kept telling me to chill out. Relax. Let yourself heal.
I WAS SHOCKED. Still am. Totally stunned by how much of my life had been affected by Violet’s issues. I can’t even think of how gravely I can present this in words, but EVERYTHING in my life, our lives, had been governed by the anxiety around it. When you are living it, the downward gradation is so slow, it creeps. It gets worse and worse, happens more and more frequently. Then you have a good day and you pretend the bad ones didn’t exist. Then it gets terrible again and you “can’t believe you are living like this.” Then you feel resentment, then you feel guilt, then you feel bad for your other kids, then you want to save the first kid, then you can’t stand your husband, then you pity everyone, then more guilt. It’s crazy making.
So, now imagine all of that just disappearing. Just gone.
I remember feeling a knot in my stomach, a deep inner-diaphragm-under-my-ribcage-knot of tension. I looked at my phone and it was 2:45 pm. The time, on any other weekday, that I would begin receiving the slew of texts, messages, screaming fits from Violet as she was on her bus on the way home. The time when she reappeared into my world after school, facing a babysitter ill-equipped to handle her, complaining about her terrible day. And the knot happened to me probably every day for 2 months after she left. Isn’t it crazy how physically our bodies respond?
We explained very openly where Violet had gone to the other kids. “We all know Violet was unhappy and needed some help. She went to a camp where they are going to help her feel better about herself and she won’t be home for a while.” They seemed to get it. I know now, that Soleil in particular, experienced major loss.
I was observing them for the first few days and it was just fascinating. The second day or two, Soleil was antagonizing her brother (which was very rare), and she screamed about something nonsensical and I realized she was re-creating the same tension she had become so used to. It was now her normal.
“Girlfriend. You don’t have to do that ok? We don’t want to have screaming or feelings like that. We should just try to relax and be ourselves. That is what we are trying to fix, so let’s not MAKE it happen, ok?”
HEAL. RECHARGE. These words kept running through my mind. I could actually sit on our couch and not worry about hearing someone scream. I spent minutes, maybe even an hour reading without one disruption, everyone playing quietly, happily entertaining themselves. Went to dinner without having to manage constant entertainment. Had conversations without crying or interrupting or disrespect. We laughed together freely. No one took anyone too seriously.
I got a glimpse into what family life could be like; what we wanted ours to be. Loving, peaceful, fun. I was getting an opportunity to rewrite the wrongs. And they weren’t Violet’s wrongs, they were all of ours.
I tried to get over the guilt, got over the stomach knot, and just collapsed into the recharge. And even though it’s hard to admit it - it was sublimely salubrious. (awesome word)