behavior problems

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.





BOUNCING BACK

When you are a parent of a child who struggles, all you want is to find a solution.  Defiance, school refusal, rebellion, self-harm, drugs, promiscuity, learning issues, bullying, depression, anxiety, aggression – it hardly matters what the struggle is.  I am the mom, I want to fix it.  Violet’s reactions all came from her feeling horrible on the inside, and watching your kid feel bad is IMPOSSIBLE.

We had tried SO MANY different things.  Schools, therapies, medication, affirmations, nutrition, exercise, more sleep, less sleep; the list goes on and on.  With every new thing, I would become so very hopeful. 

Panacea: A remedy for all diseases, ills, or difficulties; a cure-all.

Yes, this is the one, this is the thing that will work.  Once we get the sugar out of her diet, she will feel totally different, she will be happy! …OR… Yesss, this is it.  The medicine we have been searching for!  The doctor said, it could literally clear the clouds out of her way and she will be able to see how great she is! 

Grasping at every little straw of hope, I felt desperate and fragile.  We would wait at the edge of our seats to see if she had SOME relief, to see if our family could be fixed.  After years of trying and failing, she went to Wilderness.  I genuinely BELIEVED that after 84 days at Wilderness, after being at a therapeutic school for 4 months, we would have found the proverbial “fix.”

No such panacea. 

This is from a very eloquent woman friend of mine who struggles with an older son…

“Every time I think he is headed in the right direction, he turns around and spirals downward.  Hope becomes something that I cling to and resent at the same time.  It is a slim tree in a tsunami.  The higher I climb its limbs, the greater the fall.”

Violet was gone for 6 months.  She came home for the holidays.  I was too optimistic.  Old habits die hard.  Places, people, sounds and smells can be SUCH strong sense memories.  Coming home was a dunk in the old pool of turmoil.

She had an uncontrollable outburst after Christmas.  We needed the therapist, and siblings, to help pull her out of it.  The next day, she left for school.  I buckled.  I couldn’t bear the feelings caused by seeing her in that state, especially after all this work.  I lost perspective and couldn’t seem to pull MYSELF out of it. 

My husband tried to talk me down, “Amie, try and relax.  That was A LOT to ask of her.  It was a ton of pressure for the first home visit.  She had one hard time, one day.  Overall, she did really well.  She was able to bounce back after her episode and function with the family after moments, not days.  That NEVER would have happened before.  That IS progress.  You have to try and see the little things, or you will make yourself crazy.”   

In my clear mind, I KNEW how hard it was to change behaviors and cycles.  The ability to come back to the family within moments WAS serious progress.  I was the one who struggled.

“Two steps forward, one step back.”  Ultimately, this is still one step forward.  So, how could I embrace that part?  How could I experience the backslide and recover in order to continue to move forward?

Resilience: the ability to properly adapt to stressful situations or adversity; the ability to bounce back from hardship, to return to good condition.

From Day One, Violet’s school curriculum focuses on Resiliency.  How do you handle adversity?  Do you buckle or can you bounce back?  How quickly?  Can they teach you to do it faster?

Violet’s therapist shared a line with me, “Will this matter in 6 minutes?  6 hours?  6 days?  6 months?”  I burned this one into my brain.  Major aid for perspective.

 As heart rate recovery time indicates physical fitness, “resiliency” indicates psychological health.  Resiliency functions like a muscle; it can be strengthened.    

There is a trial going on lead by Dr. Martin Seligman (see link).  He has theorized a way to strengthen psychological fitness in a training program for soldiers.  Meant to enable the soldiers to “bounce back” with increased resilience, it should help decrease the cases of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). 

People with strong emotional, familial, social and spiritual fitness tend to be more resilient.  Here are some areas of focus: 

·      Accepting Reality – Let’s not be hyper optimists thinking things are great when they aren’t and let’s not be pessimistic.  No denial, or “the sky is falling,” just healthy acceptance.

·      Finding Something Meaningful – Let’s try to focus on something that derives meaning for us.  Relationships, family, spirituality, purpose.  (See Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankl – I loved this one). 

·      Honing the Ability To Improvise – Let’s find that knack for coming up with a new solution, a flexible way of adapting to situations.

If it works there, in the most strained of situations, why wouldn’t it work for us all?

Reality and perspective.  Meaning and purpose.  Solutions.  Resilience.  Fall off the horse, get back on and try again.  Got it.  Man, we are all a work-in-progress.

“More than education, more than experience, more than training, a person’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails.  That’s true for the cancer ward, true for the Olympics, true in the boardroom.” (Dean Becker)

And, may I add Mr. Becker, true for families.

 

 

 

https://hbr.org/2011/04/building-resilience

https://hbr.org/2002/05/how-resilience-works&cm_sp=Article-_-Links-_-Top%20of%20Page%20Recirculation

http:// www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx

 

 

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

 

 

THE WILD GROWTH

Violet’s letters went from screaming agony, “PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE Mommy!  Come and get me!  I hate it here…” to “…I am learning how to do really cool things.  I miss you A LOT and I have really changed, I haven’t gotten upset in a while, I am growing a lot emotionally.  I think I am almost ready to come home.”

Almost.  Just the word itself held so much meaning for me.  It embodied acknowledgment.  She was accountable with one little word.  She was challenging herself, she was working and growing; she still had some things to deal with.  She knew she wasn’t ready, yet.  But almost…sweet almost…sigh.

When you have spent 10 years screaming into a vacuum of futility, “almost” is like a brand new hearing aid.  I’m not crazy.  AND NEITHER WAS SHE.  We were all just hard of hearing for a while. 

Here is the self-fulfilling prophecy of the kid mislabeled.  Someone tells them they are “bad,” they get upset and act out because it’s easier to be in control of being “bad” than it is to be vulnerable and STILL be called “bad.”  Too hard to feel shamed.  So these kids push all this stuff down and hold it inside and BAM!!!  Hypersensitivity + shame = anguish and explosiveness. 

Violet had realistically gone through 6 years of people telling her she was doing things that weren’t “right.”  Accuracy was irrelevant; it was her perceptions and the feelings they ignited.  After eons of ‘feeling’ like the world was against her, her self-esteem was left a tarnished shred.

In the woods with people trained to be so patient, nurturing and supportive, she was finally able to stop punishing herself.  The physical feats she accomplished were so outlandish - she was a beast!  Hiking, setting up camp, making food, cleaning up, creating fire – HUGE.  If she can do those things, what CAN’T she do? 

The emotional growth began with accountability that came in a letter – amazing to receive.  She worked on rebuilding trust and respect, with others and herself.  Add more feeling better about herself which let’s face it – this is REALLY what gets us through life’s trials – the confidence you can.  She passed through the curriculum’s phases and her therapist walked us through the next harrowing step.

Just when you think you’ve cleared the hurdles, the next step crushes you...HOME or BOARDING SCHOOL.  Violet had been asking about it for weeks.  I was living in denial.

I remember talking to one of my parent advocates pre-Wilderness.  I asked how long it had been since her daughter had been home and she said 8 months.  I choked.  My ears completely refused to acknowledge this information.  IMPOSSIBLE, that would NOT be happening to us.  We were different.

Now, we were in it, 65 days in.  Her therapist told us she would graduate around her 85th day and we should prep for the next crossroad.  I wasn’t ready.  I had two separate parts of my brain screaming into my ears, Mrs. Long-Term-Rational and Ms. Instant-Gratification-Emotional.  Ms. Thang was SO LOUD, she made it inconceivable to be apart from Violet any longer.  I wanted my baby with me.  I craved her.  But, having her step back into THE GAUNTLET, our home with all the old triggers, seemed self-defeating.  Mrs. Rational took over.  More dread.  

I strapped on my big girl boots and toured the two best choices for therapeutic boarding schools.  I was constantly asking about 3 things that, to me, meant overexposure for Violet: drugs, sex, suicide.  Violet didn’t even know the word ‘suicide.’  I was paranoid about her getting any ideas, if only for manipulative purposes.  Serving such a young age group meant that my fears were prrrretty much alleviated (10-16).  Extracurricular activities abound, homey houses, tons of parent integration.  I was still conflicted, but then I met the girls.  I can’t tell you how quickly Ms. Thang shut her yap.  SO RELIEVED.  They were just like Violet.  Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.

Guided by the therapist, we told her we were looking at residential schools in her next letter.  I was petrified.  How terrible must it have felt to be confronted with not coming home after being away from everything for 3 months?  After everything she had done...  

She got it, read it aloud.   

She ran.

They let her.  She screamed and cried into the woods.  They just watched and waited for the fury to be gone.  She calmed down, went back.  Kids supported her; therapist helped her process it.

The Wilderness Program had girls from both schools come and visit – total streak of genius.  Violet aligned herself with one and luckily it was our first choice too.  We let her be a part of the decision making process, back and forth letters for 2 weeks.  It empowered her. 

“I am still pretty surprised and upset that I’m going to boarding school but here is what I’d like to bring to school…(list of goods)…I am also kinda excited to go to boarding school and would hope that you would take into consideration me going to Lions Lake Academy I really like it there.”

I couldn’t even believe it.  She was ok.  She was even a little excited. 

She would graduate in 1 week.  Belly flops of opposing extremes – elation and trepidation.  I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like.  ONE WEEK?!?!?!  84 days later and I would finally get to hug my baby girl.  YES!!!! 

She had done it.  She made it through the WILD.  She accepted another tough transition.  WE ALL MADE IT.

Now if that’s not growth I am surely confused by the definition.

 

 

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

 

JUST DO IT

Violet struggled, hit a zenith, went to the woods.  Physically, this is one of the most challenging experiences I have ever heard about.  Emotionally, it is even tougher.  And here is where the real work lies.  First step?  All the ol band-aids come off.

Vi loves fashion, accessories, makeup, always has.  She typically had a 4x costume change per day – I presume it’s something about her outsides feeling better in hopes of affecting her insides.  RIP #1 – VANITY – No mirrors. 

Vi suffered from transition anxiety.  On a normal day I would need to give her about 4-5 ‘heads-ups’ regarding plan anticipation.  Zero room for spontaneity.  RIP #2 –COMFORT OF KNOWING – No future information.

Vi tuned out the world to screens.  Another presumption – it was probably easier to turn on and tune out than it was to function with her discomfort.  RIP #3 – HIDE AND ESCAPE – No technology. 

ONLY YOU.  Focus on only you.  No time, no plans, not what you look like.  Just YOU.  How torturously liberating.

 “What are we doing next?”

“Sorry, too much F.I., try to be present.”

First note from Violet.  Coined “The Bail Letter” by the kids, they bond by helping each other punish their parents with their worst nightmares.  Sleepless nights worrying about your lost, starved, miserable kid – confirmed!  Here are some gems collected from ours and other families…bail me out!

“I cry every night and they make me read my letters out loud and I hate it here.”

“They took away my sleeping bag and I have to sleep on the ground and I’m freezing to death.”

“They are forcing me to take more medicine and I feel weird.”

“They make me eat bugs and garbage.”

“I had to drink dirty lake water.”

 “The kids here are REALLY crazy.”  (that one is funny)

One family therapy call a week.  One highly structured letter from us.  The opportunity for her to respond (not mandatory).  No talking to her, no seeing her.  And we agreed to this so WE had to just do it.

A raw person.  No defenses, no safety nets.  Now?  Let’s tempt their most intolerable frustrations out of the cage.  Let’s taunt them with challenging tasks, while they are exhausted, and ask the frustrations to just sit with us, in the present.

“Your daughter made a fire.”

“Say what.”  (Great, now she’s an arsonist?)

The whole “fire thing” was not clear when I first heard about it.  Then you realize how powerful it is.  A tangible mark for success - oh the exhilarating flames!  The agonizing task of getting to actual flame-age can take weeks to perfect.  Could there be a clearer test of how anyone handles frustration?  Trying something unsuccessfully for days on end while others succeed?  The perseverance it takes is awesome.   

Fire from scratch?  Not like the movies.  Start with a rock and flint or you make a “bowdrill.”  This means finding the right wood, making divets and a rod out of more wood that you jimmy back and forth with string.  That’s just to get smoke.  While you are trying to make the smoke, pieces of wood are sliding out of place non-stop.  You have to take a breath, reset and start over about 1 million times.  IT IS ABSOLUTELY AGGRAVATING.

“How long do we need to DO this for?”

“Sorry, too much F.I.”

Therapeutic milestones are the next obstacle.  Building trust through accountability and consequently respect.  Owning up to your own part in the negative dynamics created, learning how to manage ONLY what you can control.  I kept thinking – holy smokes – my daughter is going to be more prepared for life’s trials at the end of this journey than ANYONE else I know.  Certainly has taken years of therapy for me to come to terms with my part in the dysfunction.  I mean, I am STILL a serious work-in-progress.

“Can you PLEASE tell me what we are doing next?”

“Sorry Vi, too much F.I., try to be here now.”

Sound challenging enough?  I think one of the strongest parts of this is that there is NO CHOICE.  No escaping, no hiding, no option.  You just have to deal with it.  Violet and I made an interview where she gives advice to a soon-to-be Wilderness kid.

“If you go against the program, it’s harder and you will stay there longer.  If you go WITH the program and you help yourself through it and you let the program also help you, you’re gonna fly through it.”  Gotta just do it.

This is a lot to ask.  Completely giving up control, or even the pretense of it, feels totally insecure.  Broken record, but what a crazy opportunity.  Couldn’t feel more lucky or grateful for this for Violet.  How could you EVER be the same after this? 

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)