boarding school

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.

 

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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???

 

THE MISSING - personal journal entry

The Missing.  Heavy sandbags weighing down on you.  No choice but to fold in half, shoulder to shoulder.  Crumbling ribcage.  Those bones don’t stand a chance against that aching heart.  Pulling your sternum, caving you in.  Black hole strong. 

I read a lot about “missing.”  All the articles talk about missing boyfriends, exes.  Nothing about your child. 

It is hard to describe how tethered I feel to my kids.  I remember after Vi was born, it was as if a whole piece of my being was opened.  I didn’t even KNOW I had love like that in there.  And, as much as I feel the love, I also feel the heartache.  Their joys = my elation; their sadness = my worry.  It isn’t weird, oh no, it’s primal.  The connection is so deep you can’t just walk away from the feelings. 

Now I am talking about MISSING, not loss.  I would never want to equate the emotions of missing to the grief of familial loss.  Yet I would think the deep pull, the weight, has to be the same.  Inescapable.  Reminders everywhere.  Smells, tastes, shapes.  Scenes playing in a loop on a private screen you can’t turn off.

Enduring these feelings is a tough one for me.  AS IS leaving Violet every single time I have to, saying goodbye.  It doesn’t feel natural to be separated from an 11 year old.  When my time with her is grand it’s even worse.  It erases all the bad things and I don’t want to let her go.  It is a physical ache.

Violet struggled on her first visit home, at the tail end.  The consequent prescription was local visits only (near school) until she could be successful.  I went alone to see her for another parent workshop. 

 Dear Violet,

 Wow.  I am struggling today.  

I had been worried about you all this past week.  School has been weaning you off the Abilify, and you were having a really hard time.  I could feel how confusing the pain was, just through the tone of your voice on the phone.  How could I explain the withdrawal of an antipsychotic to an 11 yr old?  I can’t even imagine what it would be like myself.  Inconsistent feelings, unexplainable highs and lows, spikes in hormones.  My girl.  I wished I could hug you and make everything better.    

I went to you alone this time.  You have always been great one-on-one.  Our visit was short, but so sweet.  I went to your school for a workshop.  Got to take you for the afternoon and an overnight.

We went to an empty college parking lot and I taught you to drive.  You looked 25, making jokes while steering with one hand.  Your caution cracked me up – you stopped 45 feet before a stop sign.  You were ballsy in the empty lot, but then took about 25 minutes to get from your premature stop to the actual sign, doing a full curb-ride in your panic.  I made a video.  We were hysterical laughing.  It was the best. 

We went to a totally disgusting food place.  Ate ice cream at a dreamy 50s soda shop.  Fell asleep together at like 8:45pm.  Had breakfast.  There were kids from school at the breakfast place who were having longer visits, planning their weekends with their parents.  We could hear them and I got nervous, like it was a potential land mine.  You just ignored it and went back to school with zero issue.  That’s progress right?  Being able to tolerate disappointment with ease?  I wish you could teach me.   

The older you get, the better it gets.  Now I have the classic Mom footage of the first driving lesson.  I have probably watched it 143 times since I left you.  Every time I laugh…and then I cry.  I miss you.

The day after leaving you is easier to deal with when we have a hard time, as backwards as that sounds.  When we struggle, it’s easier for me to go home and enjoy the other kids with less guilt.  I know everything IS as it should be - you need to be there to keep progressing and I need to be home to keep the family afloat.  But when I have a weekend like this with you?  I just can’t get over THE MISSING. 

It has been nearly 8 months since you left our home.  I never would have believed anyone who would have told me that before.  My baby girl, my daughter, my first child, I miss you. 

I can’t stop the tears.  I am not good at this, this sadness.  I am good at laughing and smiling.  This is not for me.  I know this is life and it will be OK.  However, my rationale can’t talk my heart out of it today.  Heavy, overwhelming, nonstop.  Aching guts.  Tears are just too ready – go back IN!  Even as I let this sentence go through my mind, they flood.  I miss you.  I miss you.  I miss you.

I acted like a big baby yesterday.  Everyone and everything has been frustrating me.  I have zero patience, picked a fight with daddy.  I wish someone would just understand what this is like.  I have a hole of sadness in my heart I cannot get rid of.  It sucks.

I have to remind myself that this too will pass.  IT WILL PASS.  I had better be growing, out of my own hardship too.  Learning how to deal with sad feelings for the long term goal?  We all know I need it. 

Violet I love you.  I miss you.  I am proud of you and what you have done.  You are so brave to face yourself.  You’re a big, strong, giant of a person.  You can do this.  And if you can, I can too. 

Love Mommy

 

LIFE.  So many ups and downs, struggles and triumphs.  The ‘goods’ would never be SO good with out the ‘hards,’ but this is REALLY hard.

Violet’s toolbox for emotional issues - journaling, breathing, music, exercise, reading, focusing on positives and gratitude. 

I am grateful for how this experience will change us.  I am grateful for choices.  It is positive that I made these memories with my daughter. 

She isn’t gone, she is just gone for now.  Come on Amie, you can do it.  Take a deep breath, meditate, distract yourself, get through it.  Get through The Missing.

 

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.

 

 

 

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.