behavior

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???

 

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

 

 

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.

 

WE ARE NOT ALONE

Having a kid who struggles is isolating.  You feel alone and confused and you are suffocating.  No one knows what you’re dealing with, how could they?  No one talks about it for fear of the “finger pointers.”  Those who have not had a challenging child have a common reaction – wild child = neglectful (or oblivious) parents. 

No one wants to expose anything that may invoke judgment.  I am very open, typically confident.  We taught our kids the importance of manners and kindness and we role-modeled it for them.  When you have a child who, in spite of all these best efforts, is disrespectful and unruly, you cannot help but doubt yourself.  All the psychologists in the world couldn’t allay your fear that it was your doing, your fault.  So you DON’T talk openly, and you sacrifice the chance for real support, even just through the comfort of company.    

Because this is YOUR KID, it’s not like making a fallen soufflé.  It’s so very personal and sacred.  The lack of control DOES at some point feel like a weakness; it IS embarrassing.  A lot of people can empathize, but it’s totally different to live inside the skin of it. 

To the Parent Workshop we went and get this – you go down to where your kid is, but you can’t see them.  We knew Violet was in the woods behind the place where the meeting was, but she was never to be seen, or hugged.  I was starved for her, even just a glimpse.  I’ll admit it, I tried to peek.  Didn’t work.

Two parts to the workshop – info gathering and experience sharing. 

The invite to the workshop meant that Violet was about halfway through the phases.  They were teaching us the tools to help the kids acclimate back into whatever the next step was; giving you enough time to practice. We were all dying to see her.  Yet, I had a consumptive feeling growing like weeds, overtaking my newfound confidence.  Fear.  She was working so hard, as we had been.  We hadn’t seen each other in months.  I did not want to backtrack.  We had ironed out so many wrinkles in our family vibe and I needed to maintain the even keel.

The workshop drilled the language protocol focused on active listening, feeling statements, clear boundaries and conflict resolution.  It also discussed some brain mapping of thoughts and reactions (mid-brain to fore-brain) that were awesome to understand.  The freedom of making it so black and white was a total relief.  The connections COULD be exercised, it could be managed at some level.

·      Repeat what they say nearly verbatim so they feel heard.  Ask questions.

·      Take space when you need it, even to contemplate a response.

·      Don’t speak from an emotional place, ditch emotional reactions altogether. 

·      Use “I” statements only.  “You” sounds too judgy.

·      Create the structure of limits and consequences, mean what you say – follow through – don’t bend to placate. 

·      Give choices to empower.

·      Meet resistance?  Repeat decision emotion-lessly until absorbed. 

I began reviewing my notes, attempting role-plays with my husband who REALLY loved that.  “Honey, let’s practice!  I HEAR you saying that you don’t want to go to the movies, right?  I FEEL frustrated ABOUT the tone of voice I heard BECAUSE it sounds like you don’t care what I think.”  Ohhhhhh yes, who WOULDN’T love that?  (sarcasm)  

Sitting with 16 parents, we shared our stories. 

To hear each story was like someone pulling an element of your own memory and shoving it in your face on a platter.  The similarities were actually BIZARRE.  Some of the dialogue was even identical.  My angst had company.  I heaved a sigh and squeezed my husband’s leg as each parallel universe concluded.  You wouldn’t believe the flood of stranger vulnerability.  It was crazy-liberating. The mind trips of guilt, shame, repression, resentment, cyclical dynamics, being overly emotional, feeling out of control, feeling helpless!  ALL mirrored with every tale.

There was SUCH value for me, for us, hearing other people’s experiences. This was when I started feeling like I should write things down.   If I was getting this level of comfort from ONE day of talking to others, what could I achieve writing? 

These are not kids who you could easily identify with developmental delays or physical impairments.  These are kids who are anxious, depressed and dealing with issues that are SO internal.  They act out of their discomfort with rage and anger toward their families, their friends, THEMSELVES.  These were the kids who without intervention, would end up being the “bad” kids.  The ones the world wants to push out.

UHHHHH.  The wrenching heartbreak around parents who have struggled for so long, blamed themselves for so long, is palpable.  The absolute tear-jerking realization that you have given your child a future with HOPE in it?  So totally overwhelming.  The feeling in the room was charged. 

I did write things down – like 2 million and 40 things.  Looking at them on the paper?  I was STRONG.  No problem, I could DO this.  I had the recipe, there it was.  The veritable family fix, IF you could do it all without emotion.  Anxiety strutted its heavy-gut boots back onto center stage. 

There were parent calls once a week, which tracked people in similar phases of the program.  I had never been a part of a support group and maybe even avoided them unknowingly.  This one I joined.  Someone finally spoke up – they were scared too.  Ahhh, it’s not just me, it’s OK.  I was calmed just by someone saying it.  The end of this trial was near, we were ready for our next phase and We Were Not Alone. 

“I felt it shelter to speak to you.” – Emily Dickinson

Not being alone.  Not being crazy.  Not being the worst parent ever.  Not without a bucket-load of work to do.  Major comfort in company, solace in support.

Like a warm blanket in one word - PHEW.     

 

 

http://cognitivepsychology.wikidot.com/cognition:brain-structure

http://biology.about.com/od/humananatomybiology/a/anatomybrain.htm

 

HEAL AND RECHARGE

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)