anxiety

2 DAYS BEFORE

"Anxiety is a chameleon, a shape-shifter, a distortion, a robber." - Meredith Bluestine

Graduation was 2 days away.  The phone rang, it was Violet.

“Mom, promise me you will get here as fast as you can.  I mean from the airport.  Just drive straight here.  Promise me.  Because we are having a celebration and I don’t want you to miss it.  Also, I want to sleep at school with my friends for our last night together.  But I still want you to pick me up in the morning to get ready for grad.  OK…wait…maybe I should just stay at school to get ready?  I mean, if you CAN’T pick me up, if you are gonna be late?  Forget it.  It’s not even worth it.  I’ll just stay here.  You can just drop my dress off and I will get ready by myself if you can’t even BE here when I want you to.”

“Babe, you are my main priority for those days, whatever you want - I will do.  I am there to help, and that’s it.”

“You didn’t answer my question!  Will you get here when I NEED you to?  I mean, do you even REMEMBER when I asked you to come and get me?”

“5:55 am.” 

“OK, yes.  That’s right.  Don’t forget.  Will you actually do it though?  I mean, do not forget Mommy, 5:55 am.  Because I have to do my hair and it takes so long and…what if my dress doesn’t fit?  What if it doesn’t look right?  I am going to do my own makeup.  Maybe I should just get ready at school.  Don’t forget - 5:55 am – I mean - if you can REMEMBER to pick me up that early.”

“Yes Vi, of course I will be there.  Even though it feels a LITTLE early considering the ceremony starts at 10, I will be there 100%, don’t you worry for one second.  I know you’re anxious, I am too, and it will STILL be OK.  I want to try and find something I can use to thread the gold stuff through your hair.”

“WHAT!!!  You said you KNEW how to do it MOM!  You said no problem!  Are you telling me NOW you don’t know how to do my hair?  Oh my god.  Oh my god.  What?  Why would you say you knew how to do it if you didn’t???”

“Babe, I DO know how to do it.  It would just be easier with a tool.  OK, let’s just take a breath, and remember that while this is a very emotional experience, on the whole it is very exciting and should be fun.  Everything is going to be great.”

And the reality gripped its claws into me.  The anxiety would not change.  The difference would be how she handled it. 

Was she screaming?  No.  Was she irrational and crying?  Not at all.  Was she saying inappropriate and disrespectful things?  Not even once.  But her anxious spiral was frenetic and palpable.  Anything was fair game to get nervous about.  It was, of course, 2 days before graduation and she had to do a speech in front of a crowd.   It WAS a big deal. 

“Mommy, this is why I wanted to go on the school outing the day BEFORE graduation!  I KNEW I would need a distraction!  Now I will just be sitting here, and I will be worried the whole time!”

Anxiety: an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehensions and fear, marked by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to handle it. – Merriam Webster

She was scared.  She couldn’t stop snowballing.  She was also now 13 and recognizing her own needs.  She was acknowledging her feelings, not acting out because of them.  It made her swell of anxiety manageable and understandable for me.  She was using her tools.  She was telling me what was wrong, and letting me know what she needed.  I could relate to her.  I could actually help her.  It was a relief.

I hung up with her.  I walked in to bed the babes.  Soleil asked me to tell them about the next few days, “starting with tomorrow morning.”  I ticked down the list of our itinerary.  We would fly, drive, arrive.  My husband and I would meet with the therapist for discharge information.  We would go to the house where Vi had been living and check it out for a little party with the graduates.  Soleil wanted to write new words to a popular song to sing to Violet.  I could see Soleil getting excited to go.

“Oh my god Mommy, is their place really cute???”

“I’ve never been inside Sol, but from the outside it looks like an adorable little house!”

I talked about the fact that my husband and I had to give a speech too.  I had some concern about the younger kids seeing me cry as much as I was anticipating.  We discussed it openly, so they were prepared and not afraid.  Such heavy emotion from parents sounded hard for a 6 and 8 year old to process without fear.  Sol asked me what my speech was like, and Axul responded. 

“Mommy is gonna sound like this Sol - ‘WEEE MISSSED YOU VIOLEEEEET!  WAHHHHH, wahhhhh wahhhh – uhhhhhhh uhh huhhhh!!!’” (mocking me crying)

Time for lights out.  As I trekked through the minutiae of our trip, Axul was writing in his journal.  He asked me to read what he wrote - all about Violet leaving and then being with her.  The kid was 6 and so sweet.  He wanted to participate.

“Mommy, I want to write a speech too!  I want to say something.”

“I love this idea Ax, but it is really late.  How about you tell me what you want to say, and I write it down for you?”

“Yes!  Ok…write this…Dear Violet, I have missed you so much.  I can’t believe you are here with me.  I can’t believe you have been gone for 2 years.  It feels like 4 hundred thousand.  I love you.  Love, Axul.”

Slay me now.  Killer.

Now for my bedtime routine.  I washed my face and felt my tears mix with the water I splashed on my cheeks.  I was so scared too. 

What was I afraid of?  I think it’s that I didn’t want to have to face all those FEELINGS.  It was just too much.  So many different ones at once.  They ALL made me cry, no matter if they were happy or sad.  It was all too overwhelming, this culmination of everything we had all been through. 

I sat down at the computer and redid my speech for the 30th time.  Was it ok?  Would I even be able to read it?  I couldn’t even get through it in my head without sobbing.  You would think after 45 million times of going over it I would be able to have SOME self-control.  My husband must’ve thought I was losing it.  I had cried for the past 48 hours, nonstop.  Anxiety robbed me of much in these days.  The capacity to self-soothe was right in the forefront.

Time to sleep, if I even could.  2 years later, and 2 days until graduation. 

Violet was coming home.

ONE LITTLE DATE

It had been nearly 2 years since Violet began her epic therapeutic journey that was changing all of our lives forever.  She was just 2 months away from being 13 years old when they told us.

“Guys, congratulations.  Violet is set to graduate on August 12th.”

And just like that, one finite little date morphed into a key.  And the key turned a lock.  And the lock opened a door.  And the compartment I had kept hidden from even myself spewed forth a flood.  And the flood drowned me. 

WHAT THE HECK WAS THIS?  Wasn’t this what we were waiting for?  What were all of these feelings and where were they coming from? 

Fear.

Excitement.  Relief.  Paranoia.  Joy.  Sadness.  More fear.  Happiness.  Gratitude.  Anxiety.  More fear.    

Grief and loss all over again.

All I could do was sob.  I have NEVER had such conflicting and extreme emotions simultaneously.  Our daughter was graduating from her therapeutic boarding school.  We had missed her so much.  This kid had worked so hard on herself.  When I reflected on how arduous the journey had been, I could barely wrap my mind around it. 

I had left my child, an 11 year old, alone in the woods.  It was the most unnatural, terrifying, heart-wrenching thing I had ever done.  By far, the most crucial milestone of my life. 

I heard the date and it was like I got tackled by all the feelings of losing her again. Right when you think you can’t possibly feel any more emotion, there it is - MORE.  Totally unexpected.  How could one date unlock SO MUCH?  And, how incredible is the brain that it created this defense? 

"Compartmentalization is an unconscious psychological defense mechanism used to avoid cognitive dissonance, or the mental discomfort and anxiety caused by a person's having conflicting values, cognitions, emotions, beliefs, etc. within themselves.  Compartmentalization allows these conflicting ideas to co-exist by inhibiting direct or explicit acknowledgment and interaction between separate compartmentalized self-states."  (link below)

YES.  This was it.  I had allowed myself to grieve.  I had felt it, well, part of it.  These feelings of maternal desperation were in direct conflict with the betterment and healing of our family.  I made a compartment, or my brain did.  I didn't even know it.

Violet had been doing SO WELL.  Her therapist proudly told us she was the number one most desired mentor by the newer girls.  For the past many months, in times of consequence, disappointment, discomfort – Violet had been able to let it roll off her shoulders.  She had become the local diffuser of upset in the house.  She sounded like a teen therapist. 

I was so blown away by her progress, so happy to hear levity and pride in her voice.  Then, one little date came.  Apparently, Violet had a compartment too.  She cried.

“I don’t want to leave.  I’m scared.  I feel good here.  I have always felt bad, you know?  And now I have friends, I am a leader.  I am funny and people like me and come to me when they need help.  I am scared to leave and go somewhere else.  I don’t want to go.” 

OF COURSE she didn’t want to leave.  Imagine feeling terrible for your whole life, leaving your home and family and being sent somewhere strange.  Then, you find yourself again, renew your self-esteem.  NOW, finally feeling safe, you have to leave that place too?    

We sat on the phone for our family therapy call - my husband, me, Violet and her therapist.  We all cried.  The reason was not joy.  It was empathy.  I couldn’t believe Violet was being tasked with MORE intense things to process after all she had faced and accomplished.  Through her own tears, the therapist said the perfect thing, yet again.

“Violet, listen to me.  It is time.  You are ready.  You can do this.  It is normal to be afraid.  It is normal to not want to leave.  It wouldn’t be the right time for you if you were dying to get out of here.  And you will never lose me.  I will be here for you and you will have calls with me and you can do this.  You really are ready.”

My heart hurt for her.  The girl was still a 12 year old!  She was a child.  This was just SO MUCH.  I was not anticipating this round of heaviness. 

I pushed mute on my phone.  I didn’t want her to hear me heaving while I cried.  My husband grabbed my hand and squeezed.  I wanted to smoosh her and tell her it would be great.  I wanted to but I couldn’t.  I was so scared too.

In the following 2 weeks, Violet started to struggle again.  She acknowledged that she may have been sabotaging out of her own fear.  This blew my mind too.  She was SO brave to be this self-aware, vulnerable and honest.

“Behavior is said to be self-sabotaging when it creates problems and interferes with long-standing goals.  These acts may seem helpful in the moment, but they ultimately undermine us, especially when we engage in them repeatedly.” (Psych Today)

Here we were standing at the precipice of all of our long-standing goals.  We wanted Violet to come home and be able to assimilate all she had learned into our family in a healthy way.  I could totally understand how it would have been easier to postpone dealing with transition and the unknown.  We all had to show our faith in Violet. 

“Violet my love, my first little girlie.  We are scared too.  The time has come.  We can all do this together.  We believe in you.”

I had several days during this period of sitting in my car and crying.  The strength of my sobs left indents on the steering wheel.  Vi had sat in her therapist’s office crying too. 

We had almost made it through.  I couldn’t believe it.  I could not believe it had been two years.  We were actually on the other side.  I couldn’t believe how raw I still felt.     

Now, to find a new school.   A new beginning, the next chapter.  Somewhere Violet would thrive.

I couldn’t believe how scary this still was.  That part, I feared, would never end. 

It is time.  You are ready.  You can do this. 

 

http://flowpsychology.com/compartmentalizing-psychology/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/self-sabotage

PETITION TO WIN

When our daughter Violet was younger, I found a shoebox stuffed in a corner of her closet.  I lifted the lid to find tons of pieces of paper in it, like 50 torn shreds.  As I opened the first folded piece, a lump in my throat constricted like a knot. 

“You hate me.”  I opened another.  “You hate me.”  And another.

What was this?  My heart pounded, my ears rang.  The next 30 had the same kid scrawl saying the same sentence, most with tears drawn all over the piece as if the words were crying. 

She was only 9 years old.  

I was haunted.  She was SO young, and this was such a desperate measure – trying to shed her innermost thoughts by boxing them up, yet concealing them as if she knew how scary they would be to me.  It was like peeking through a curtain to see what was constantly running through her mind.  Even now, my heart cracks in half remembering it.  The teardrops drawn were self-fulfilling, my own poured down my face.

How could this be what she was thinking?  I LOVED HER so much it hurt.  I always felt like a warm mom, constantly hugging and praising.  I just couldn’t understand.  And, how could she POSSIBLY interact with anyone in a positive way when she couldn’t escape herself?  We listened to Violet put herself down, OUT LOUD, all day.  Now you’re telling me THIS was on repeat even in her silence?  It must have been an unbearable place to exist in, a tireless loop of self-loathing. 

“When self-esteem is compromised, the feeling of self-loathing may be intermittent, and it may be suddenly triggered by disappointments, struggles, painful memories or anxiety about the future.  These triggers can create an overwhelming flood of feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and powerlessness which can lead to self-destructive behaviors, emotional withdrawal or aggressive behaviors towards loved ones and family members.”  (Out of the Fog, see link)

This is exactly what was happening in our lives at the time.  Self-loathing turned into acting out.  Unfortunately, for our precious little girl, it was not intermittent.  It was continuous and consumptive.  An inescapable prison, without doors or windows from which to even glimpse hope. 

“In sociology and psychology, self-esteem reflects a person's overall subjective emotional evaluation of his or her own worth.  It is a judgment of oneself as well as an attitude toward the self… Self-esteem may, in fact, be one of the most essential core self-evaluation dimensions because it is the overall value one feels about oneself as a person.”  (wiki – see link)

The self-esteem piece has consistently “shown up” throughout all of our family’s trials and every family we have interacted with in our process.  It seems to be the baseline of ALL of these issues, regardless of how they manifest.  Eating disorders, self-harm, acting out, depression, school refusal, substances - they ALL seem to stem from anxiety and lack of self-esteem.  The world is a difficult place when you DO feel good about yourself.  Try multiplying it by 1 billion when you don’t.

12 years old now, and over a year since she left home, Violet was truly transforming her soundtrack.  Being in the woods in wilderness therapy changed her.  She began to believe in herself again.  Going to a therapeutic boarding school continued her metamorphosis.

At Violet’s school, they pass through therapeutic levels.  As you progress, you gain more trust, responsibility, and freedom.  In order to pass through to the next, the girls “petition” the staff.  They write a speech about their growth, and present to a team of about 8 people.  

How do you demonstrate change in self-love?  I don’t believe it is the grandiose moments.  They are fleeting, sometimes contrived for a result.  I am most encouraged by the subtleties.  The littlest things seem to be the biggest barometers. 

Violet proudly showed me her speech for her petition for Level 3, the Leadership Phase.  These sentences covered the journal pages of her speech notes:

“I’m awesome.”  “Keep it up.”  “Good job.”  “You got this.”  “I love winning.”  “Be the best you can be.”

Violet let me publish this.  As incredible as the content is of the speech, it was the outlining words of encouragement she was giving to herself that were the most moving.

There is nothing I can write to explain how this felt to me.  This was not my troubled Violet.  This was the girl I believed in, the one who was now overtaking the sad parts.  These, to me, were the greatest indicators of her sense of self worth.  Her private journal moments, full of strength and hope.  Impossible for me NOT to cry every time I see it. 

She petitioned to move up to the Leadership Phase.  It worked. 

SHE WAS WINNING, and clearly, loving it.

 

IMG_0458.JPG

 

 

http://outofthefog.website/top-100-trait-blog/2015/11/4/self-loathing

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-esteem   

STICK IT TO ME

“Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.” (anonymous, see link) 

“Mommy, do you realize I am about to have my year anniversary at school?” 

“Uhhh, yeah girl, of course I do.” 

You have actually been gone 444 days, but who’s counting?  I AM honey.  I am.

84 days of facing herself even when it was torturous.  360 days of hard core therapeutic work at school.  Getting up when knocked down - growing, regressing, continuing to push through.  Finding the bravery to feel her feelings and re-interpret them.  Retraining her brain.  Trying and never giving up.

444 days of missing her.  And she was only turning 12. 

Our daughter struggled with a mood disorder - a baseline of irritability, coupled with anxiety.  If you were to ask her about her day, her first impulse would’ve been to share what she DIDN’T like about it.

How do you turn negative thinking into positive?  How do you REALLY change perception?  Self-esteem?  And how do you develop the perseverance to make it really stick?

Two prongs to the therapy – the power of “positive psychology,” and perseverance. 

“Positive psychology is concerned with three issues: positive emotions, positive individual traits, and positive institutions…The easiest and best possible way to increase one's happiness is by doing something that increases the ratio of positive to negative emotions.”  (Martin Seligman, see link)

THE ASSIGNMENT:

·      Avoid saying negative thoughts out loud during the day.

·      Write down something you have done well, something positive that happened, and something you are grateful for every evening.

·      Let the staff rate you on a number scale (1-5).

·      Keep this up in your journal without reminders.

Violet had done similar exercises before.  However, as soon as she felt a little better, she would falter.  She was yet to grasp that consistency ensured success.    

Perseverance: (def) steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.

In this case, success meant being “steadfast” in using the tools to feel better, even when it was hard, boring, a pain in the butt.

There have been many times that I KNEW how to make myself feel better – meditation, exercise, dancing, writing, reading, even crying.  Yet, actually doing any of them felt daunting.  If I could push through, I WOULD feel better.  But that old self-sabotage would creep in and I’d take the easier, lazier route of instant gratification.  I was not steadfast.  I STILL do this, and I am 39. 

So, how do you instill perseverance in a 12 year old?  The strength to continue something difficult because it does make you feel better, if not immediately, in the long run?

In Violet’s school, she is surrounded by support, which affords her constant reinforcement that I could never have been so diligent about.  House meetings where peers and staff tell you how you’ve done well and how they feel when you haven’t.  Group therapy, social skills classes, “how to be a good friend” talks, self-esteem group, conflict resolution help, leadership opportunities.  Her own therapist meets her once a week and is also available daily for whatever comes up.  The team of people keeping her on task is huge.  No judgments, just reinforcement.

Weeks passed of her practicing these tools – gratitude, positivity, consistency.  Her scores went from 3s to 4s and 5s.  The tone of our phone calls changed.  She was chattier.  I could detect excitement.  She was cultivating more genuine friendships, not allowing disappointment to throw her off.  Gaining healthy perspective.  Imagine how powerful it is to be affirmed every evening that you have shown your best self?  Has to feel awesome.

We have hour-long family therapy calls once a week.  Violet joins for the second 30 minutes, after my husband and I get a run down of the week from her amazing therapist.

“You know Miss Amie, we are having a bit of a hard week again.  She was doing so well when she was working on that assignment.  Without me driving it, she slacked a little.  Now, we talked and I reminded her.  She decided she wants to continue it and we are starting again this week.  I encouraged her to remember how good she felt about herself when she WAS doing it and that she needed to take ownership of doing it for herself.  Not for external incentives, but because it made her feel good.”

“When individuals start a daily gratitude journal, they begin to feel a greater sense of connectedness to the world…Thankfulness may launch a happy cycle in which rich friendships bring joy, which gives you more to be grateful for.” (Psychology Today, see link)

I also started practicing positive psychology.  I wrote notes of appreciation, sometimes it was not easy.  I DID feel something.  Like the negative loop in the background of my consciousness was quieting.  Left more brain space to “hear” gratitude and it was making my general sense of being - BETTER. 

“Studies show that we can deliberately cultivate gratitude, and can increase our well-being and happiness by doing so. In addition, gratefulness—and especially expression of it to others—is associated with increased energy, optimism, and empathy.” (Psychology Today, see link)

Violet had now been doing her gratitude journaling for weeks, completely self-propelled.  I was stunned by this dedication to her own well-being.  So impressed.  And it was working.  Violet was scoring all 5s. Her pride, her hope - she actually sounded lighter. 

“Mommy is there somewhere I can work when I come for visits?  I want to earn money so I can buy stuff on my own.  I just want you to know that when I ask for things, I don’t expect them.  I am really grateful for what you and Daddy have done for me.  I know how expensive all of this is (school, therapy) and I don’t want you to think I am being ungrateful when I ask for things like books or clothes or whatever.”

Huh?  I am sorry, is this Violet?  Do you have the wrong number dear?  She was not ever entitled, but this new level of appreciation was completely unexpected. 

I FELT her blossoming in my bones.  However, we were still waiting for some indication that all of this would stick.  I didn’t even know what that might look like.   Happiness?  Was that too optimistic?  Maybe contentedness?

Happiness: (def) A state of being that ranges in emotion from contentment to immense joy.  Happiness is the feeling that comes over you when you know life is good and you can't help but smile.  It is the opposite of sadness. 

"Well, Miss Amie, we have had an AWESOME week.  I am just moved to tears watching your daughter.  She has done SUCH an incredible job.  She has taken her work and been doing it all on her own.  You will hear, she has pages and pages of positive thoughts to share with you.  She has been self-regulating.  She has been a true leader, helping other girls when they were struggling.  She has gotten along with her teachers.  It is just incredible to watch.  She really seems happy.  Even right now she is laughing and playing with her friends with a giant smile on her face."

My heart skipped.  Was this it?  Was this the next milestone of progress?

I have seen my daughter have fun.  However, the joyful feeling of “fun” would not have lasted more than 5 minutes after the fun occurred.  I can also very clearly say, we have NEVER heard Violet say she was happy and mean it.  Not once in 12 years.  It was such a point of sadness for me. 

“Violet, why don’t you tell your parents how you’re feeling.”

“This is the best day ever.  I am in the best mood and having the best time!”

Silence.  Emotion.  Her voice was light.  Unstrained, genuine.

It is one thing to help her not be miserable.  It is a totally different thing to hear your child, who has NEVER seemed happy, say they were.  I rushed to write it down in my journal so I would never forget it.  Glorious.

Positivity, gratitude, appreciation – all amazing concepts.  But they are nothing without consistency.  AND THAT TAKES SO MUCH STRENGTH, so much will power. 

Perseverance is the glue that holds all that positivity in place. 

Don’t move.  Pretty please stay right there.  Fingers crossed it sticks.

 

 

 

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positive_psychology

http://my.happify.com/hd/5-scientific-facts-that-prove-gratitude-is-good-for-you/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/gratitude

https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200602/make-gratitude-adjustment

http://www.todaysparent.com/kids/preschool/how-to-raise-an-appreciative-child/

 

 

WORTH IT

Years ago, I judged someone for sending their daughter to boarding school.  The mother told me and I had a reaction.  I admit it.  Her daughter was 16.  

Our daughter Violet has now been gone for just under a year.  When people ask where my daughter is and I tell them, I can see the very same judgment in their eyes, even if it is in silence.  She is 11 years old.  Isn’t life interesting? 

Naivete, judgment, guilt and shame.  Who the hell was I?  Life isn’t always what it seems.  I knew that truth even in my younger years, when I walked with less dirt in my tracks.  I want to be forthcoming in hopes that maybe someone else can hold off on their judgment and spare themselves the guilt.  It is an avoidable burden. 

I feel no need to justify our choices.  In fact, I feel beyond grateful.  Like we have saved our daughter’s life.  Hope is a precious light to find when you have been lost in the miserable dark for a decade.

So what could EVER make it worth it?  How could we EVER send our child away?  SHE WAS 11.  It was so very young.  And, WAS it worth it?  

(this is a little recap for those who are new to our story)

From infancy, Violet waged a war with depression and anxiety, and was losing.  The struggle with adolescent mental health is a real one, just as real as with adults.  It permeates every aspect of your life and strangles every inch of your body and brain.  It is emotional, mental, physical.

11 months before her departure we were living in agony.  All of us.  Have you ever seen a child - a 6 year old, an 8 year old, who just could not control how awful they felt inside?  Violet was crumbling, and there seemed to be no way to pull her out.  Believe me, we tried EVERYTHING.  I truly suffered from half denial, half unhealthy optimism that something would change on its own, with maturity.  No dice. 

The feeling of powerlessness while you watch your child struggle for their own self-love is the most profound suffering I have endured. 

It just kept getting worse.  In our family of 5, the dynamics grew to be hyper dysfunctional – we are still unraveling them.  Furthermore, continuing to watch your child battle every single second for emotional stability becomes absolutely inconceivable.  Desperation struck.

It is like the man stuck in the avalanche who chews his arm off.   I would have done ANYTHING just to know she could have some help and hope.

She went to a Wilderness Therapy Program.  Leaving her there was the hardest thing I have ever done.  She was my first baby.  She was there for 3 months, and we couldn’t see or speak to her, more torture.  In those months, I met parents of teenagers who had JUST STARTED to deal with their issues and many had already been sucked into self medicating, whichever form of my ultimate fears it took: self harm, drugs, promiscuity, rebellion, suicide. 

Violet had just turned 11.  This was the first time I felt like one of the lucky ones.

She graduated.  She was confident, self sufficient, calm.  But what did this really mean for the real world and all of its triggers?

I missed her desperately, still do.  Yet, even with all that she had accomplished, she had not any real time to apply her new strengths, her new tools.  How could we throw her to the wolves without any practice?

Violet needed longer to assimilate.  She needed to be in a place where she was supported, positively reinforced, incentivized and surrounded by peers.  She needed to break the patterns of misinterpretation, self-loathing, reacting.  She needed to become emotionally intelligent.  She needed to learn self-regulation.  If she could do all of that at 11, wouldn’t THAT make it worth it?

She went to therapeutic boarding school and it was not easy.  Ups and downs, major bumps in the road.  Valleys of upset rivaled by mountains of hope.  Ridiculous work and growth for all of us.  Sacrificing proximity to your child at such a young age is gut-wrenching.  Lots of visits, goodbyes, and tears.

Breaking patterns of behavior is just as difficult as kicking drugs.  Not only are the compulsions the same, both stem from the same impetus in MOST cases – lack of self esteem.  Violet was addicted to the dysfunction.  If you are attempting such deep change, you must look at addiction in all its forms to fully comprehend the weight of the task.  Because it is so connected, here are some stats that will sicken you.

·      67% of drug addicts also suffer from depression.

·      After a short-term rehab (28-30 days), 90% of addicts will relapse.

·      61% of those addicts will relapse again within a year.

·      An addict who has been clean for 5 years decreases his relapse rate to 40%. 

So let’s put this into "Violet terms."  Substances aside, she suffered from these mental health ailments.  She basically went to a short-term rehab – Wilderness – which was not 30 days but 90.  The potential relapse has to be similar, so off she went to a boarding school. 

Now it’s Month 11, that’s right, 11. 

What felt like a torture chamber of fluctuating highs and lows took a turn.  We had our first successful visit.  This meant our whole family, together for a long weekend, without any major freak outs.   

It was a local visit near her school and we stayed at an amusement park.  It was structured fun and everyone participated.  We met every morning to remind ourselves of the family goals – Kindness, Respectfulness and First Time Listening.  All 3 of our children (11, 7, 5) started with 25 dollars and 5 would be deducted for not adhering.  They were to use the money for anything they may have wanted from park kitsch to dessert.  Got rid of all bickering over silly asks and saying no.  Pretty awesome to watch how unimportant themed dolls became when their own stipend was on the line.

I watched our daughter.  She wasn’t a different person.  She would still feel the rise of upset.  BUT, she took her space without me asking her to.  She journaled.  She breathed.  She came back to us and was genuinely ready to be functional and healthy.  She was polite, kind, engaged.  She was sweet to her siblings.  She was expressive in an appropriate way.  She didn’t triangulate my husband and me and came to each one of us with her issues.  She was easy.  She was calm.  She was confident.  She was all the good parts of her.

I left that visit feeling totally renewed.  Like I could have swallowed her school therapist whole, I loved her so much.     

Our lives were changing before my eyes.  I was getting my daughter back, our family was healing.  There were no words to express my deep belly-aching joy.

If this was sustainable, even increase-able…would she be happy someday?  Really, truly, happy? 

That would make everything worth it.  Now, you must wonder…HOW was she doing it???

 

INTERVIEW WITH VIOLET

“Hey Vi, remember when we made that interview for that Mom who was about to send her son to Wilderness?” 

The one thing I really wished while we were in the throes of the Wilderness decision was that I could have spoken to a kid who had been through it.  I wanted the reassurance the kid had survived, felt OK about it, still loved the parents.  No one could give that to me. 

I was referred to a parent who helped me through our decision making process.   She checked in on me, emailed me, called and texted me.  She didn’t know me.  She would anticipate moments and send me a little note.  Even just, “How ya doin?” completely slayed me with its thoughtfulness.  This was the most incredible reinforcement for what a ‘kind’ person really is.  I SO wanted to be that for someone else.

I got a call from a great friend who asked if I could speak to a mom who had mentioned Wilderness.  I was actually excited.  I could not WAIT to be helpful.

The mom and I spoke, we cried.  I knew JUST what she was feeling.  I could actually hear her saying the EXACT same things I had said before.  “Well, we were thinking we would send him after school is over…” I mean, verbatim!  It was so bizarre. 

The wound was so shockingly open.  I could not believe how deeply I felt what she was going through. 

Violet was home for the holidays and I tentatively asked her if she would talk to this mom.  She agreed.  Then, I decided I should just talk to her and record it.  SHE WAS AMAZING.

“It has helped me through tough times…I say to myself - you know what - this is the old me and I don’t have to do this…even though my brother and sister and my mom and dad don’t really have the same problems or the same things they needed to work on that I have?  They still have changed a lot from the program…”  (Violet)

Well, now?  I have been feeling rather stuck here.  I wussed out on asking my daughter about posting this interview for the past couple of weeks.  I was too worried she would say no.  She literally asks me IN THE INTERVIEW if I would “close my ears,” so I really wasn’t sure she would be comfy with it being published.  I have paranoia about exposing her too much.  FINALLY, I asked.

“...I keep listening to the interview, Vi.  I’ve sent it to some other moms who have reached out to me.  You did such an incredible job talking about hard things.  I really feel like it would be helpful for some people to hear.  I thought maybe I could edit some and pull things out and I just wanted to ask you if you would be ok with a few things being posted on the blog.”

Silence.  Dreading her answer…

“Well, Mom, if you think it could be helpful you can put it all on there, I don’t care.”

OMG what.  Have you really evolved this much my little darling?  Have you matured so much that your vulnerable words and feelings and expressions are safe to share?  I am floored once again by your growth.  And grateful, so so grateful.

She was 11 when we made this.  Violet has always been verbal, but never would have been able to talk about her emotions like this before.  I am blown away every time I hear it.  Most adults are not this vulnerable.

So here we are.  THE INTERVIEW.  Ignore the windshield wipers, the nervous sound in my voice.  Nothing is rehearsed.  I didn’t even think of questions before we started.  We were just talking. 

Full disclosure, this was a 20 minute conversation.  My friend helped edit some of the superfluous things out so you can make it to the end, which is when I had to “close my ears.”  ENJOY, and share if you wanna.





HOME SHE CAME

Our 11-year-old daughter had not been home for 186 days.  Never in a million years would I have believed anyone who told me she would be gone for this long.  Never.

The professionals thought she was ready.  I had waited 6.2 months to have our family back together in our own house.  So, home she came.  

“…And this presupposes the human capacity to creatively turn life’s negative aspects into something positive or constructive…human potential at its best always allows for…turning suffering into a human achievement and accomplishment; deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better; and deriving from life’s transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action.”  Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning.

This ordeal is replete with ups and downs.  Committed to optimism, I will try to see opportunities in the negatives.  I will acknowledge errors, change and adapt, turn guilt into an occasion for betterment.  There are beauties of life that are borne from this struggle, for each one of us.

2 Days Until Christmas

For years we have spent the days leading up to Christmas at my in-laws.  Violet wanted to go straight there and be included in the routine.  I listened to her, instead of my instincts.  The kid had not been HOME in 6.2 months, it clearly would have been better to let her reset at home first. 

My husband and I met her plane and squeezed the life out of her, overjoyed to have her in our eyes and arms.  We drove to the in-laws, where the other children and family were.  Within minutes of getting into the car, she was asleep.  My normal “mom alert” for emotional overload, I realized our error.  Adoration for them aside, this meant she had to immediately deal with more familial personalities than she had faced for 6 months.  I didn’t even THINK about how stressful it would be to have questions about where she had been and what it was like.  UGH.  Dumb Mommy.

We celebrated, did presents.  Watching her navigate the complete immersion gave me guilt.  She looked drained.  I took her a few times to another room to have an alone check-in.  She held it together; she did pretty well.  She only needed to make it through the night.   

Christmas Eve

We left that morning.  FINALLY, we were taking our little girl home.

She was ecstatic.  She bolted up the stairs, laid in her bed.  Soleil, Ax and Violet all giggled and played, so happy to be together again. 

Holidays for us feel magical.  They aren’t about religion.  They are traditions and family.  Our tree was so tall and beautiful.  Presents piled underneath.  Glowing lights, Bing Crosby, pine tree smells and comfort food.  No sleep the night before.  Frost outside, insides warm.  Loved it.  Easily one of my favorite times of year.

Our family friends came for a Christmas Eve pajama throw down.  Again, love for them aside, it was asking her to manage more dynamics.  Not bad, just effortful. 

My husband had ordered our family matching onesies, with nicknames he called everyone, sewn on.  As he unveiled them, Violet’s eyes lit up from the affection of the familiar name.  Her most desired love, affirmed in a single gesture.

We all ran, excited to put them on and laugh at each other. 

Violet’s pajamas were too small

She was the only one whose didn’t fit.  I panicked and tried to make light, “No big deal honey, you’re not a kid size anymore, you need women’s!  Take mine.”  She cried.  To a girl who was already self-conscious, this was traumatic.  The sweet moment, contaminated.

 The Big Deal with Little T Traumas: Trauma is just that - more than mind and body can bear without causing disruption in our lives.  Big “T”s are the obvious – accidents, death, divorce.  The Little “T”s are relative. (see link)

For Violet, it was pretty much anything that eroded her feelings of self worth – a look from someone without a smile, not being the best at something, feeling different.  All related to personal issues and tolerance levels. 

And here, the struggle began.

Violet was who she was.  She WAS going to interpret smaller incidents as overwhelming; they WERE going to feel like Little “T”s.  The only thing she could do was strengthen her skills for managing those feelings, by focusing on positives, gratefulness, and calming strategies. 

We went upstairs in private and tried to wrap our minds around the pajamas. 

She cried and tried not to get hysterical, “I’m so fat Mommy and these look terrible.  They are so tight!  And I want to wear MINE, not YOURS!  I want to have MY nickname that Daddy put.” 

“Honey, I understand how you feel.  Look at the tag babe.  These are for KIDS!  You are 11!  You are almost as tall as me, you just need a women’s small, that’s it.  I know it’s disappointing, but all we can do is come up with another solution.  Try and take a breath, put mine on, and shake it off.”

We switched, leaving her with “Ahmee the Mommy” on her chest.

She did it, soothed herself, used her tools.  Changed into mine, came down to read the Christmas Story.  By the third page, she was fast asleep on the rug.  FRIED.

Christmas Day

6 am, kids ran down and slayed the presents.  Coffee brewed, carols played, paper schrapnel covered the floor.  Hysterical laughter and smiles from ear to ear.  Lots of thank yous.  Ahhh yes, together.  My heart overflowed.

Soleil and Violet had a dance party together.  They tried on new clothes.  Soleil was beside herself with joy that her sister wanted to play with her.  We started to prep for dinner and set the table.

“I want to sit next to Violet!”

“Noooo!  I’m sitting next to her!!!” 

This kind of bickering, I would embrace.  The internal smile in Violet was worth it.

I felt so content.  Although not without its moments, I was able to have perspective and see that everyone was enjoying each other, including me. 

We all got ready for guests.  Violet “styled” Sol by helping her choose clothes.  She beamed with feeling old and cool.  Did her hair just like Violet’s.  Ax wore a suit and wanted to show Violet as soon as his getup was complete.  Sibling love in the air, the band was back together. 

The day progressed, no major issues.  We made it through some stressful dinner guests and bedtime without disruption.  Tension, but no breakdowns.

The Day After

Violet’s flight back to school was the next morning.  I could have guessed this would be a hard day.  She saw her local favorite friend, who she was always great with, a perfect distraction.  Still, she came home and looked completely ravaged.  She seemed as if she had outrun her capacity for effort.  The high of being home was wearing off. 

We started dealing with packing.  What to leave, what to bring.  I saw something lurking behind the façade of “I’m fine.”  The understandable anxiety and sadness of leaving again?  Resentment that the other kids got to stay?

I went downstairs to make dinner.  Heard some foot stomping and my stomach flip-flopped.  We had not had aggressive sounds in months.  Precursor to danger.

“What are YOU looking at?”  Violet shoulder-shoved my husband as she passed him in the hallway.  Oh no.  He tried to help her…

“Vi, what was that?  What’s going on?  Feels like you need to use your tools, you ok?”

 And just like that, the switch flipped.   

I don’t even remember what happened in these mere moments.  There were more disrespectful words and tones, it escalated quickly into yelling.  My husband came downstairs.  I got involved.

“Violet.  Take this sheet of paper and go into your room and write down your feelings.  You are NOT able to express them appropriately right now.  When you are?  You are welcome to come back and talk.  BUT NOT NOW.  Go.” 

“I NEED TO EXPRESS MYSELF!!!  You are not listening to me!!!”

“Please Violet, this sounds too out of control.  Please go into your room and take space.  You have to calm down before we can listen to you.  PLEASE.”

“BUT YOU HAVE TO LET ME EXPRESS MYSELF!!!!!  I HAVE TO!!!  You have to LISTEN TO ME!!!!”

“Violet, I cannot listen to you like this.  This is NOT our deal.  Go into your room and use your tools.  Breathe, write things down, listen to music.  Please, you MUST take space.”

Door slam, crashing sound.  Screaming.  Refusal to use tools.  I tried desperately to get the therapist on the phone.  The Little Ts accumulated and just became too much for her to manage.

I watched the undoing redo itself.  I was ensnared in the terrifying tangle of old, sticky, inescapable webs.  I wanted to run out of the house and start over.   

She had done so well for the past 3 days, I was desperate to save this deviation.  She had made it through the initial overwhelming situation, a pressure-filled holiday homecoming, the pajama trauma, the weird guests, what was happening???  No Violet nooooo.

After 25 minutes on the phone with the therapist, she was quiet.  I tentatively creeped up the stairs to spy and see if she was ok. 

Axul, who had been listening in his room, creeped over too.  I tried to wave him off.  He slid a piece of paper under her door. 

Finally, the door creeked open.  Violet came out holding the paper.  She came down and rejoined the family.  She still couldn’t relax the tortured expression on her face.  We tried to ignore it. 

I had not done a good job with MY tools.  I was too shaken from the flashback.  I truly felt at a loss.  This tapped right into MY Little Ts.  It was too familiar, too reminiscent of old spirals.  Too out of control, too unreachable, too scary. 

Compassion: the response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help.

We sat in silence, all 5 of us.  The weight of the tirade fresh in the air.  Finally, Axul looked over at her.

“Are you OK Violet?” 

Ice thawed.  She hugged him, still solemn, thanked him for the picture.  Soleil joined in.  Pretended to fall off the stool and giggled on the floor.  When it didn’t work the first time she did it again.  Slowly but surely, Violet’s sullen face melted into a smile. 

I sat quietly and watched these children commit to their unspoken pact to help their sister.  As the dark cloud lifted, I looked at the paper Axul had given her.  It was a little 5-year-old drawing of our family, with misspelled scrawl that said, “FEL BETR.”       

Can you teach empathy?  Can compassion be learned?  Out of this struggle, we have all found our deepest human potential.  Even though it IS suffering for me to watch my child, my children, experience this?  Even though after all the loss, work, and sacrifice - it is STILL so hard?  I get THIS.  I get to watch my 5 and 7 year old find compassion.  As the struggle dissipated into opportunity, I sighed.  So grateful.

I drove her to the airport the next day.  Held her hand the whole way there, heavy bellies in the car.

“Will I be able to come home again Mommy?”

Chestpains.  Nausea.  Violet.  My darling little first born babe. 

“Sweet girl, all of this work is so we can be together.  That is ALL I want.  I am dying for you to be home.  I miss you so much every second.  We just need to figure out how to make it healthy for everyone.”  And we will.

She had used her tools.  She struggled, she recovered.  She succeeded and faltered.  She made progress.  We all had more work to do.  

I mentally wrapped all of our Little Ts in a holiday bow and packed them away.  The New Year would bring new visits.  New opportunities for discovering our best selves.  For creatively turning negatives into something constructive.  Soleil and Axul had it down.  I wanted to do it too. 

 

 

http://www.amazon.com/Mans-Search-Meaning-Viktor-Frankl/dp/080701429X

http://fountainhillcenter.org/articles/big-t-vs-little-t-trauma-second-article-series-trauma-today/

http://blogs.psychcentral.com/after-trauma/2014/02/the-big-deal-with-little-t-traumas/

 

 

 

 

PARTNERS FOR LIFE

“Relationships with siblings are ineradicably fixed in our psyches.”  (Belinda Sharp)

Oh siblings.  The implied permanence of the sibling relationship makes the connection so damn serious.  You just can’t escape them no matter how you try.  No matter how much hurt, how much love, you are still just…connected.  How can you not be? 

By the time children are 11, they spend 33% of their free time with their siblings--more time than they spend with friends, parents, teachers or even by themselves. (Penn State University study, 1996) 

33%???  That’s crazy!  We must learn so much about relationship management from our siblings.  Nurture, competition, rivalry, emulating, sharing, manipulating, pushing boundaries, acquiescing, pecking order, conflict resolution, who you are when faced with crises – it’s endless.  The sibling exchange has also been called the “rehearsal for adulthood.” It truly must be one of the most pivotal relationships of our lives. 

I knew it was grossly important for my kids to reunite with their sister, have resolution around her absence and what that meant for them.  I wasn’t quite sure how we would DO at it, but it was time to try. 

Violet went to Wilderness in June, graduated in September and transitioned into a therapeutic boarding school.  Now it was Thanksgiving break.  Our other two children hadn’t seen their sister in nearly 5 months; they were dying for her.  It was time to get the band back together.  I was completely petrified.

INTERJECTION:  Wilderness and the 3 local visits with Violet at school were FULL of hope for me.  They were all very “successful” – no disrespect or uncontrollable outbursts.  I was extremely optimistic that things would be better from here on out.  I feared struggle but did not anticipate it.  I have learned that this is an insane rollercoaster of thrilling growth and depressing regression.  A hard ride to endure, yet thus is life when change is the mission.

The younger kids, Soleil (6) and Axul (5), seemed so very excited to see Violet.  However, all the kids are SO different from each other.  Ax was very vocal and overt, and Sol was extremely internal.   She didn’t want to discuss Violet, didn’t want to draw pictures for her.  As the visit came closer, she seemed quiet.  I could FEEL her concern.  She loved her, they both did.  But there was a rift between the two girls. 

Among the children, Soleil had gotten the brunt of Violet’s acting out.  They both wanted attention from Daddy most of all.  Violet had been Daddy’s only girl for a year and a half (stepdad who has never NOT acted as the real dad) and Soleil arrived, dethroning her.  They looked different and they acted differently. 

Violet woke up scowling, needing silence for about 20 minutes while she shook the night terrors off.  Soleil was the kid who woke up singing, skipping into the kitchen for breakfast.  You can imagine how annoying the singing would be.  Well, I can, and I am the morning girl too.

When Violet was in a good mental space, Soleil worshipped her.  Copied her dance moves, wore her clothes, liked what she liked, tried to be old like her.  When she was in an insecure spot, Soleil’s confidence grated on her.  Soleil had her feelings hurt a lot, and developed some walls to protect herself.  None too great that you couldn’t see her die-hard desire for Violet’s love peeking over the top of them.  Painful.

We got to the school and all reunited.  Nervous stomach.  Axul was all over Violet asking questions, jumping around, following her like a little puppy.  Soleil was hugging Violet, but standoffish.  Violet noticed.

We drove to a house we rented in the beauteous blue mountains.  There wasn’t a TV.  There was a roaring fireplace where we did puzzles, art projects, read.  We hiked together, played hide-and-seek, cooked.  Played jump rope outside.  Chased and laughed and screamed. 

First day?  Great.  Easy, calm, sweet, lovely.  The second and third day became difficult.  Hide-and-seek would be so hysterical that it would get edgy.  The screams too loud, the touching too rough.  I could feel the eggshells creeping back in and my attention getting sucked up by Violet’s mood maintenance.

Thanksgiving dinner came and there were just too many old triggers with everyone together.  Violet had tools and strategies written out, goals in place.  Didn’t matter.  Her emotional strength could not rise above the familiar frustrations of the 3 child dynamic.  I started getting worried. 

The impending doom culminated in a full-scale-screaming blow out.  I panicked and called in reinforcements (school therapist) who said to bring her back to school if she couldn’t calm down.  Uggggh, nooooooo.  How could it STILL be this hard?

The kids did not want to see her struggle, they didn’t want to see US struggle with her.  There hadn’t been screaming in our house for 5 months and it was scary.  My husband and I argued.  Felt like we dipped right back into the same old place. 

We had a family meeting to reset.  We all decided to try and make everyone feel heard and ready to proceed together for the next day.  We made promises, agreements, structure.  We were going to try to have fun, and that was it. 

After bedtime, in the quiet moments with my husband, I cried.  I was SO disappointed.  I wanted everyone to just love each other and have fun being together.  WHY COULDN’T WE DO THAT?  I felt like a bad person when there was arguing and yelling.  I didn’t want the kids or my husband to resent me or Violet for re-introducing the drama.  It was just not what I thought it would be.  That was a bitter pill to swallow.

Soleil did not seem to be latching back onto Violet.  It was probably a defense mechanism, a protection, but I wanted to fix it.  I knew it wasn’t right for me to force the issue, so I had to back off.  I had to let her be who she was.

“Mommy why doesn’t Soleil seem happy to see me?”

“Babe, I see what you’re talking about.  You know what?  Everyone is different.  I think we just have to let her warm back up on her own time.  The good news is, when she does?  You can trust it is genuine because she clearly isn’t gonna fake it.”

The sibling relationship.  SO SACRED.  These are the people who knew you when you were formulating your first words and thoughts.  Your first giggles and interests.  Your first terrible dance moves and mistakes.  Your first understanding of love and family.  The idea that my kids weren’t connected was killing me.  I have always adored my brother.  I have so many amazing memories with him.  I didn’t want any precious love or time to be lost. 

From the time they are born, our brothers and sisters are our collaborators and co-conspirators, our role models and cautionary tales.  They are our scolds, protectors, goads, tormentors, playmates, counselors, sources of envy, objects of pride.  They teach us how to resolve conflicts and how not to; how to conduct friendships and when to walk away from them.  Sisters teach brothers about the mysteries of girls; brothers teach sisters about the puzzle of boys.  Our spouses arrive comparatively late in our lives; our parents eventually leave us.  Our siblings may be the only people we'll ever know who truly qualify as partners for life.  (Jeffrey Kluger, TIME)

As we were leaving the house and driving Violet back to school, the kids giggled in the back, harboring a secret.  They finally told me that every night of our days together, Soleil had snuck out of her bed to sleep with Violet. 

“Are you mad at us Mommy?  Please don’t be mad!”

I sat silently trying not to cry.  Was I mad?  My heart throbbed in my chest.  Nope, this wasn’t mad.  This was quiet peace and understanding.  She did love her.  She did forgive and miss her.  She just wanted to tell her herself, in the silence of sleepytime, without anyone looking.

One day my husband and I will be gone.  Our children will have their own families who know and love them.  But no one will ever know their youth the way they will know each others’.  No one will have as many funny stories and insights into how they were formed to be who they are.  Seems like it’s a part of my job to take care of it, no?  Let our legacy be siblings who love each other.  I promise to try my hardest. 

Reuniting, forgiveness, repair. 

Oh Siblings.  Partners for life. 

 

 

https://www.psychologies.co.uk/family/the-importance-of-siblings.html

http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1209949,00.html

 

 

ATTACH ME TO YOU

Make me feel safe.  Be my home. 

Hold me close.  Look at me.  Love me.

Do these things so I am not fighting off fear my whole life.  Fear of being hurt.  Fear of being alone.  Fear of surviving.

Please attach me, securely, to you.

Now the real education began.  Violet’s school held a workshop about 3 weeks after we brought her.  I could not believe we got to be with her so soon, I was freaking out.  Seeing her, being with her, I cherished it.  But, I am going to take this entry and focus on what we learned and go back to our experience with Violet later.

We saw her briefly at the school breakfast then went to our class.  Let’s start at the beginning folks!  After all of their material and then lots of personal research, here is my layman version… 

The Attachment Theory

This controversial 1930s study speaks to what real bonding and attachment are about, not just the feeding and providing.  Physical contact and comfort obviously affects child development, but still interesting…

Harry Harlow’s experiment took baby monkeys and he made two “mothers.”  One made with wire and a bottle with milk, the other with no milk but soft blanketing surrounding the wire form.  The monkeys spent 17 hours per day laying on the soft mother and only 1 hour drinking from the wire one.   Now this seems totally cruel to the monkeys and would never be allowed now, still was a huge impetus for BF Skinner and Bowlby’s research on mental health development that influenced psychology in the 50s.

Babies need to feel attached to someone who is consistent, responsive, sensitive, comforting, present.  Darwin would say it is about surviving.  Ainsworth and Bowlby would expound on it with experimental interactions; the “Strange Situation.”  (see links below)

In this case, attachment is defined as “your internal working model of social relationships.”  There are four forms of attachment in this theory – Secure, Insecure, Anxious (Avoidant and Ambivalent), and Disorganized.  Even just the word choices?  I get it.  I want the secure one. 

Easy to say and even easier to understand, here are the ways to achieve it:

·      Nurture

·      Structure

·      Engagement

·      Challenge

I’m a baby.  Hug me so I know you are mine all mine and I am yours all yours.  I will feel loved.

I know when I wake up I will have breakfast.  I know that when you sing that song and give me a bath every night it is time for bed.  I can count on it and that means I am being taken care of. 

I think you love me when you play with me.  You think I am great.  Then I think I am great too.

Ask me to do more things, harder things.  Trust me to try.   You think I can.  Then I think I can.  Then I love you for believing in me.  Then I really, truly CAN.

So that’s the healthy version.  Now imagine a kid who wasn’t cared for this way? 

A baby who was neglected, a kid who was left at the hospital without a safe parent there.  A kid who has lost a parent, only known inconsistency, been abused.  Even less obvious – a kid whose parents argued or were in and out of being stable themselves, divorce.  OF COURSE, it affects your relationships – with others AND yourself, how could it not?  My self-esteem is so tied into how my parents loved me and each other, and so are the patterns of my relationships.   

I was there for Violet.  The two of us were in our own little world, which felt great to me at the time.  I played until I was holding my eyelids open with toothpicks, answered her every wail, held her when my arms were shaking from fatigue.  Still, Violet has an Insecure Attachment.  So what was it?

I was in a bad marriage.  I was sad.  Her bio-dad neglected her.  I was young, inconsistent and had very little structure.  I know Violet’s genetically predisposed frustration tolerance was low but maybe it meant she needed more of all these things?  Some people may have thought me too attentive, so I am confused.  She must not have felt safe, even though I tried my damndest.

Your initial attachment to a primary caregiver casts ripples into your interpersonal dynamics for the rest of your life.

An Insecure Attachment can lead to struggle.  Difficulty trusting relationships, feeling unsafe.  Feeling unlovable and sabotaging.  Fear of vulnerability and getting hurt.  Resorting to something controllable - anger, avoidance, ambivalence.  Fear dominates the landscape.

In another study I found, the doctor quotes, “…usually there is an opportunity to return to a more normal path of development.”  Well, PHEW, thank goodness, dear sir.

This is our job while Vi is at school.  Finding a way to be more structured, consistent, engaged, nurturing, so when she comes back it is already in place.

I began consciously instituting these tools.  Higher expectations, lists of chores for mornings and evenings with incentive programs around them.  Structured alone time with each kid during the week as built-in as the school day.  Engaging activities, time to be together and just love each other.  It isn’t just the feeling of “order;” it also provides us endless opportunities for praise and you can’t beat that. 

With the workshop completed, we spent 2 days with Violet.  We were focused on “success.”  A successful visit meant no disrespect, adhering to the goals we outlined, enjoying each other without frustration.  Tying the workshop info altogether – it was maintaining consistency, having structure, nurturing and having fun.  If we were successful, she would get another visit sooner, perhaps including her siblings.

We avoided technology.  We followed our agreements on bedtime and how many sweets and treats.  Laughed at her jokes and played games.  Listened to her with both ears and eyes.  Held hands, hugged her a lot.  Loved her.  I felt her tethered to me, but not stuck like glue.  Maybe her attachment was healing?

There were a few times when I got nervous.  Felt the old eggshells, saw her angry face creep in.  She did struggle using some of the tools.  She had relaxed a little at school and I worried that there would be a backslide.  I tried to give her a break, it was STILL very new.   

We drove her back to school.  Filled out all the paperwork full of goals and reviews.  On the whole she was successful.  I had to remind myself this was a work-in-progress. 

I hugged her and again, was sad to say goodbye.  She ran off into school smiling and didn’t even look back.

Attachment:  A bond that holds us together, lasting psychological connectedness.

I love my family.  I want our connectedness to last.  I want my kids to go off and explore their worlds and know they have a safe, loving, happy home to come back to. I want to create healthy, secure attachments.  I want Violet and my other kids to have them, and I want to give one to my husband.  And I too want to feel safe enough to be vulnerable and authentic.

Keep me safe.  Look at me.  Love me for who I am. 

Attach me to you, securely, please.

 

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attachment_theory

http://psychology.about.com/od/aindex/g/attachment.htm

http://psychology.about.com/od/loveandattraction/ss/attachmentstyle_4.htm#step-heading

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Bowlby

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erikson%27s_stages_of_psychosocial_development

 

 

 

HELLO AND GOODBYE

Once upon a time there was an ancient forest full of wisdom.  There were tall tall trees that almost touched the sky and small small sounds that pulled your ear to the earth.  When you listened very closely, words like whispers came from the very soil that fed the long trunks and branches.  Down by the ground, your limbs were lost among the tangles of roots, where does one begin and one end?  Shhh, listen to the whispers.

There was a little girl.  She crawled on the ground with a heart too heavy to lift.  She knew not how she got there or quite where to go.  Her eyes lifted to the sky.  So so bright and so so far from her place among the knotted, gnarled roots.   

The roots hugged her fragile frame as the whispers grew louder.  She stretched to the branches, dragging her swollen heart along. 

She pulled.  She tried.  She fell.   

Her own limbs were not strong enough to help her find her way.  The roots raised her to reach a new branch.  The whispers pushed her heart along like a wind at her back.  She tried again.

The weight of her burdensome heart lifted with every height higher she climbed.  Stronger she grew, encircled by the old old trees and the rings of time within them. 

One branch, another, she rose to the treetops.  Hope appeared on branches as leaves, flowers bloomed like songs. 

She reached her little arms as high as they could go.  The sun on her face, her heart was now her ally.

The tall tall trees had a bigger voice now.  The girl was full of wisdom and whispers.  She looked down at her breast, where her giant heart lay.  The sun shone down, casting a vivid purple hue.  Plump with hope and courage, the purple heart beamed, weightless.  She sprouted like the wise tree to shine on that day.  Stronger than the violet ray.

 

Violet looked at the breakfast menu as if golden coins were about to spill from it.  After 84 days of oats, peanut butter and lentils, who could blame her?  AND, who has gone to an “all-you-can-eat” southern diner and NOT felt that way?  (joke)

We tried to be aware of not introducing too many harsh things to her system, heeding warnings from Wilderness.  Lots of potential fallout as you re-renter the wild west of the real world. 

84 days of no noise.  No music, no cars, no chatter from passersby.  No phones, no TV.  Can you really imagine 3 months in the deafening silence of the mountains and then how LOUD the world must seem after? 

We were in an adorable mini-city rampant with hippies and hobos.  We took Vi for a little walk and even the sidewalk was too much for her.  She squeezed my hand with a death grip, paranoid about each street person’s glance. 

Lunchtime.  The hostess walked us to the table and I could feel Violet’s hair stand up on her arms.  Cackles from table talkers, clanking of dishes, scoots of chairs - all WAY too much for her.  We hightailed it back in the other direction, leaving the din behind.

Alone in peace at the hotel pool, we drank in the moments with her.  Hello Violet.  Hello little brave girl, so full of pride, who has accomplished so much. 

There was a transition agreement we had all signed, removing any chance for negotiations and potential rub.  We agreed to shop for school, do special bonding activities, eat sushi.  Call her siblings, only check our phones twice per day.  Respect each other, just be together.  AMAZING.

I relished every passing moment.  Her voice, her smile, her smirk.  Her sarcastic humor.  Her sassy, playful, confident attitude.  I just loved her.  I felt like someone had given me my daughter back. 

I had spent years wondering how to find my daughter again.  I would see teensy glimpses of her incredible personality, and then they would vanish, leaving me to wonder if I had created them or they were real?  Now I could see only her positives.  So much so, that it was even harder to know we were leaving.  Three days was not enough time for me to have to say goodbye again. 

Have you ever forced yourself through something knowing if you could just do it, it would be so much better in the end? 

“What is best for your child?  What will help the new behaviors and tools REALLY sink in, to become the new habits?”

While we debated next steps, (home or boarding school) the professionals kept likening the cycle to drug addiction.  As harsh as it sounded, it was the best way to comprehend it.  Let’s make it plain - how long does it take to really quit smoking?  Are you able to still resist when faced with all of the old triggers/temptations?

I have had friends and family members struggle with addiction.  I have ALWAYS thought the idea of any short term rehab was asinine.  You’re telling me someone who has spent YEARS altering their reality is going to embrace a completely different way of living in just 3-12 weeks?  PLEASE PEOPLE.  That’s ridiculous.  And someone should seriously be reimbursing these families who have spent their savings on such a totally improbable fix.  (sidebar)  

My daughter had spent 11 years of her life stuck in these behaviors.  She was addicted to the cycle.  She broke it at Wilderness, but how could she ever be expected to keep it up in the real world with no real practice?  AND be resilient enough to bounce back when it failed?  To not give up?  To try again?

We KNEW that this boarding school was the right choice.  Doesn’t make it any easier to let her go again.  There is a primal thing inside of parents like - I wanted to hug my cub close and keep her with me to save her and protect her.  But I just couldn’t.  The only way I could best help her was to let her go.

I cherished 3 days.  Felt renewed just like she did.  Then we drove her to school. 

When will I see her again, when will I see her again, when will I see her again.  Had to keep reminding myself to stop thinking of the future, to just take each little baby step and live in the moment. 

We pulled up to the beautiful old house, basecamp of school.  Waterfalls, lake, nature.  She was greeted with the warmest “VIOLET!!!”  The sweetest girls ran out, excited to show her around, make her comfy.  We made her bed, helped her unpack her new clothes.  I squeezed her hand a million times.  She met her “Big Sister” who swept her away to make new friends and see all the cool things they would do.    

I can’t tell how I feel about getting better at goodbyes.  I have had to become a goodbye girl. 

Hold your breath.  Push pause on emotions.  Stand up straight.  Smile, hug, turn and walk away.  Think of all the positives.

Hello Hope.  Goodbye Violet.

 

 

 

THANK YOU FOR THE PRESENT

Three whole months of not seeing or speaking to our 11 year old daughter.  There was no adequate measure of the anticipation dominating our flight to North Carolina.  One more night until graduation day.  What ever would this be like?   

I could not sleep.  Different scenarios spun through my mind like cotton candy, getting fluffier by the minute.  Had to talk myself down.  If I let my mind go?  I would imagine her skipping out from under a rainbow, smiles from ear to ear, joyous giggles spewing forth with unicorns dancing around the campground.  Ohhh, my overly indulgent optimism, a blessing and a curse.  AMIE, be a realist here.  Come back to earth.

To touch her.  To see her.  I could not wait.   

Her 84th day in the woods.  We had to go and stay there for an overnight and experience what she had overcome.  I was giddy with terror.

Another workshop began the day for the parents of 3 children graduating, to review what we learned and practice.  Most of which, I could barely hear through my earmuffs of excitement.  They gave us our packs, reminded us of the rules.  Live in the present.  No future information.  No technology.  No mirrors.  And the door opened…

Tentatively we walked into the woods holding a giant flag, doing call and repeats.  I think I heard her, was that her voice?  Chills surged up my spine, tingled my scalp.  I felt like running.  I think I did. 

VIOLET.  The air sucked into my ribcage.  She was so thin.  She was covered in hundreds of bug bites, scars from old ones and a layer of dirt.  She had sticks and twigs stuck in her hair, smelled like a teenage football player.  She was exhausted.  She was nervous. 

She was mine. 

I ran and hugged her with all my might.  Squeezed and squeezed, trying to get every inch of my skin to touch some of hers. 

My husband hugged her tight next.  I shivered and my eyes welled.  I was scared.  Excited.  Wanted to be perfect.  Wanted her to be perfect too. 

I took a step back and looked at her.  I could sense something was off.  What was it?  She was distant.  Protected.  My emotions swirled as I tried to understand.  It seemed like eye contact was too much.  Too overwhelming maybe?  I felt nauseous. 

Stop Amie.  She is fine, we are all fine.  She has gone through SO much.  Give her a break.  But why isn’t she squeezing me as tight as I want her to?  Because she is scared.  Why doesn’t she seem effusive, bubbling over with the excitement of being reunited?  Because she has gone through SO MUCH, this is intense.  Give her a break.  Not everything has to be perfect all the time.  This is what it is.  Let it be.   

I took a breath.  I tried not to prompt her with my usual, “You OK honey?”  I just tried to let it be, I really did. 

We gathered and had lunch.  She cooked with the counselor, served us all and cleaned up.  All coated with pleases, thank-yous, tons of respectful eye contact.  She smiled real smiles.  She was proud.  Then, we sat around the fire pit. 

“So, what are we doing next?”

“Sorry Amie, too much Future Information, gotta just live in the present.”

The woods.  Crunching leaves underfoot, a bird, a snapping twig.  I watched an ant crawl by next to my leg.  I waited.  I tried to breathe, tried to be patient.  I saw Vi check me out, she noticed my discomfort in just BEING.  Ugh.  Stay in the present damnit!

Counselor came over with some tools and we were going to attempt fire.  My husband and I tried for like 15 minutes, I was very frustrated.  IT WAS SO HARD!  Finally, I achieved the few sparks that were the goal and was ready to move on to the next thing. 

“OK, I did it!!!  Finally!!!  Where to next?”

“Amie, live in the present.”

HOLY COW PEOPLE.  I am an adult.  Can I please know what is happening next?  An outline?  Cliffs notes?  Just a tiny clue?  ARRRRRGGGGGH.

An epoch amount of time passed, or at least that’s what it felt like.  We FINALLY moved on to gathering wood for our fire and Violet lead us around the woods explaining which trees were good tinder, how to identify poplar.  She was enjoying teaching us so we asked more questions.  The thaw had begun. 

We played games devised to reconnect families after such tough separation.  It still felt strained to me, like she was so far away.  I tried not to micromanage each feeling, tried not to force myself on her.  Again Amie, LET IT BE.

By the second game, I looked over and saw Violet lean into my husband, and she stayed there.  She just leaned.  He felt it.  He gently put an arm around her.  Such a tender little branch.  I got teary.  She was going to be ok, we all were.

As nighttime crept up on us, we began to get ready in our cabins.  The heaviness of the newness lifted.  We laughed a little more.  We mocked my husband for needing me to switch beds because of the giant spider on top of his.  We took pictures and I hugged her again and again.  I finally got a real hug back.

Laughter.  She laughed for REAL.  It wasn’t edgy, it wasn’t hyper.  It was genuine joy.  It was like a symphony of sweetness.  I let it echo in my mind, memorized it.

The longest, most silent night ever ensued.  Crack of dawn, breakfast.  Violet made it again, used perfect manners, cleaned up.  Nice.    

“So what do we do today?”

“We live in the present Amie.  Enjoy the moment.”

We live in the city.  My mind has crap-on-a-loop at all times.  Constant overhaul of what’s next and what’s after that.  And do I have everything I need for the next 5 things with a family of 5?  Non-stop chaos.  I tried to give MYSELF a break.

This was nature.  Silent, vast, slow moving, real nature.  Blue waves of mountains, hundreds of years standing in the trees around us.  I was remiss to let my mind wander even for a second from the gift surrounding me.  Two people I loved so much.  The present.

I looked over at Violet.  She was peaceful.  For first time in her 11 years of life, I saw her face without the strain of her brain in it.  She really was at peace.  We sat, the 3 of us, legs barely touching.  We didn’t need to fill the space with words.  I breathed deep the smells, the closeness.  I felt content from head to toe.  Gratitude washed over me.

How many ways can you say thank you?  I wish there were more.  Oh limiting English language.  Thank you husband, thank you nature, thank you program, thank you therapist, thank you Violet, thank you life.

We did a little ceremony by a stream and threw in rocks representing old behaviors.  I should have thrown in my ‘what’s next’ obsession.  Ready to be alone, we ran like the wind outta that place.  Went to a restaurant and ate some gluttonous food, bathed for an hour, slept in big cozy beds. 

The days we spent with Violet before going to school were magical.  I felt such a sense of ease.  She was grateful for every little detail, as were we.  I was able to enjoy her personality without the tension.  She was so light, sweet, empathetic, expressive, proud, mature, funny, HERSELF.  My daughter was wrapped in her renewed self-esteem; she knew how strong she was.  I basked in her loveliness, felt like crying from half joy and half holy-cow-look-what-we-have-been-through.  It was yet another precious gift.

I started feeling nervous about the next step.  Was this sustainable?  What would happen with the real world peeking back in?  What if her siblings were here?  How would she handle real opposition now?  What would it be like to drop her off and say goodbye AGAIN?  WHEN WOULD I SEE HER NEXT? 

SHHHHH.  Amie, don’t go there, girl.  Learn from your experience like Violet did.  Stop thinking.  Breathe.  Let this be all there is.  Don’t deviate.  Enjoy the moment.             

Truly.  Ain’t no gift like The Present.

 

INTO THE WOODS

No clocks.  No mirrors.  No physical contact.  No technology.  No future information.

Take it up a notch – leave your family, your home, your friends and all the dynamics and routines that define you.  Someone gives you clothes, a 75 lb pack and a journal. 

Start your day by taking a 5-10 mile hike with the first hour in silence in woods that are more expansive and remote than you have ever seen.  Set up your own campsite.  Try not to freak out from exhaustion and frustration.

Now try to make fire.  FIRE, like a caveman.  Find sticks, find a rock, and after about 45 minutes mayyyyybe you get a spark.  Maybe, you just have to suck up your frustration, accept that it didn’t work out today and set your mind to try again tomorrow. 

Make dinner, eat it, clean it up.  Try to sleep - through rain slides, bumpy ground, hilled sleeping angles, fleets of mosquitos that feed on your every pore.    

Wake up, if you slept at all.  Make breakfast, clean up and organize.  Strap that huge pack on your back and there ya go – Into the Woods.  Now…do this again and again every day…until someone ELSE tells you, you can stop. 

SOUNDS LIKE I COULD USE THIS.  I would last 2 days.  That’s right, 2.

Oh wait, just a few more things – walk with 6-8 other people your age who also struggle from similar issues - stopping to wait while someone who has a hard time pulls it together.  Receive a letter from your parents stating exactly why you have been sent there and read it aloud.  Listen to feedback from your peers.  Be open with your therapist.  Reflect in your journal and start the journey of helping yourself. 

This sounds like punishment right?  WRONG.  The gift of a lifetime. 

Imagine teaching your child self-sufficiency.  Imagine putting your kid in a position where they couldn’t look to you for anything, even BLAME.  Imagine an environment that allows your kid to be stripped down to the bare bones of who they are, face it, and rebuild.  Imagine your kid telling YOU what they realize they need to work on.  Imagine your kid being among actual PEERS, who mirror FOR THEM the effect their behaviors have on a group.  Imagine what that might actually mean in the long run?

Is it potentially teaching them to rely on themselves for emotional sustenance at this crazy-young age?  Is it an opportunity to unlearn years of bad habits?  Is it an opportunity to prevent your kid from falling down a rabbit hole of self-medicating, aka drug abuse?  Promiscuity?  Self-loathing?  Self harm? I am not saying that this is the “fix.”  But it’s a damn good try.

The whole amazing concept is so therapeutically well-structured, it would blow your mind.  (our experience)  After you attempt to pull your OWN self together because you are going through the trauma of missing your child, you have to write your kid a letter for them to read to their group.  Holy intimidating, can you even imagine how powerful that is?  I love to speak to people, I am a communicator.  However extroverted ANYONE is, it is nearly impossible to be vulnerable at this level, IN PUBLIC.  I mean, I was freaked out to even publish THIS.  Now – you’re 11 and just think about this for one teensy little moment…

“I am now going to read aloud to everyone in this strange group how I have disrupted my family and why I am not a productive member of my household and/or community.  I will read about the things I have done and said and tell everyone why my parents sent me to this place.”

Then actually making yourself available for feedback?  GET REAL!  This is one of the biggest all time fears of the public AT LARGE, and now you’re talking about kids who struggle???  Public speaking mixed with vulnerability and the potential embarrassment that accompanies it?  It is just through-the-roof intense.  THROUGH THE ROOF. 

Our letter to Violet outlined her behaviors that were intolerable.  SO HARD for me to do, because I had my own hang ups about not wanting to make her feel worse.  Nasty voices, aggression, unpredictability, actual verbiage of some of the things she said.  Scaring people, hurting peoples’ feelings, being out of control.  It even got as granular as not cleaning up after herself and invading our privacy.  The program helps you structure it and it is bookended with positivity and encouragement.

“…We can’t live like this anymore.  It makes me feel like a person I don’t want to be and it cannot feel good for you…I know in my deepest heart that you are such a strong, brave, smart girl and you will be great at this.  Please make the best of your experience Vi.  You can do this.  I KNOW you can get control of these things; it will change your life!  This is not a punishment, this is so you can have a happy, healthy future and be a positive person.  I know you are going to be mad at us for going there and I think it’s natural to hate us for a little while.  We will always love you, no matter what.  And we will wait for you to love us again.” 

That last part always killed me.  I am terrible at enduring bad feelings.  And we did have to wait for her to forgive us and love us again, and that’s part of our struggle.

THIS is why I was able to sacrifice my daughter’s face being near mine for so long.  These therapeutic, internal dives that we could never have shepherded her through. It is an out-of-this-world opportunity.  And the biggest gift you could ever give anyone, at any age.  The freedom to explore yourself.  Isn’t THIS what growing is really about?  Pushing yourself past your own limits to REALLY find out who you are?

Man oh man.  I want this.  BUUUUT, I’ll skip the bugs and the hole in the woods “toilets,” thank you very much.      

 

 

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/07/22/how-nature-changes-the-brain/?smprod=nytcore-iphone&smid=nytcore-iphone-share

thx for this article M!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walden  - a link from my bro - love it!