child psychology

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/

 

 

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.

 

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

 

 

HOME SHE CAME

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

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

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

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

2 Days Until Christmas

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

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

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

Christmas Eve

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

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

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

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

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

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

Violet’s pajamas were too small

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

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

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

And here, the struggle began.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Day

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

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

“I want to sit next to Violet!”

“Noooo!  I’m sitting next to her!!!” 

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

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

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

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

The Day After

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

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

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

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

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

 And just like that, the switch flipped.   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you OK Violet?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

PARTNERS FOR LIFE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reuniting, forgiveness, repair. 

Oh Siblings.  Partners for life. 

 

 

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

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

 

 

ATTACH ME TO YOU

Make me feel safe.  Be my home. 

Hold me close.  Look at me.  Love me.

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

Please attach me, securely, to you.

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

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

The Attachment Theory

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

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

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

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

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

·      Nurture

·      Structure

·      Engagement

·      Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attach me to you, securely, please.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

HELLO AND GOODBYE

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

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

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

She pulled.  She tried.  She fell.   

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hello Hope.  Goodbye Violet.

 

 

 

THANK YOU FOR THE PRESENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She was mine. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, what are we doing next?”

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

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

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

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

“Amie, live in the present.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So what do we do today?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truly.  Ain’t no gift like The Present.

 

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)

 

INTO THE WOODS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

thx for this article M!

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

 

 

WILDERNESS - THE HARDEST TIME EVER

“If we choose to place Violet in a Wilderness Program, I can have her placed by next week.”

“Next week???  What???  Noooo, no way.  I am talking like - let her finish out the school year.  Then, we have summer plans like weddings and things that she is IN!  I mean, I have to have her there, these are things that have been planned and she is looking forward to them.  I couldn’t take those away from her.  I will just present it to her like a therapeutic summer camp and she can go after we are back from LA in like 4-6 weeks.” 

“I have had this same conversation and I know it is a lot to think about.  If you really think your daughter needs something like this, you will find you don’t want to wait.  Weddings, vacations, none of those will matter as much as getting your daughter some help.” 

“I can’t think about that sorry, not happening.  I don’t want to NOT have her with us.”

I cried.  Rivers, lakes, oceans of tears that swallowed up the car we were driving home in and floated us back to our apartment.  My husband just held my hand and let me swim in it, there was nothing he could say, nothing he could fix.   

Back to the nest and the anxiety set into my diaphragm - the familiar 3 pm accomplice - as Violet’s bus pulled up.  She entered the house with an angry look on her face, threw her bag down, stomped into her room, slammed the door.  Eye rolls from the babysitter who had picked up the other kids, more stomach-turning anxiety.  Door knock, I walked in to attempt the “5 min alone” we were trying as per the NYU Child Study strategies. 

She turned away from the computer – another screen of distraction – arms crossed, asked me what I want.  “I want to have our 5 minutes honey.  How was your day, you ok?” 

“Terrible.  Everybody hates me.  Miss Ashley hates me, Miss Laura hates me, they all think I’m dumb and you guys hate me too.  I hate that school.”

“I hear you feel that way, but we love you, so maybe you’re not interpreting things the way people mean them babe.  Can we try to focus on something positive?  Like, how about, what you would like to do this weekend?”

“I don’t know.  I know you won’t answer me about summer camp.  I ask you EVERY SINGLE DAY AND YOU DON’T ANSWER ME!  LILLY AND EVERYONE GETS TO GO AND I DON’T AND I HATE YOU FOR DOING THAT TO ME!!!”  Tears from her, while I try to hold mine in as I watch my daughter unravel into her anxiety.

“Vi, I told you, we can talk about that in therapy when we have someone who can help us through all of these emotions you have around it.  It is not a conversation we are going to have now.  Can we please spend our 5 minutes talking about something positive?  What about your music lesson, have you written any more of your song?”

“I DON’T CARE ABOUT MY SONG!!!  I HATE YOU GET OUT!!!!  YOU’RE THE WORST MOTHER EVER AND YOU HATE ME SO I HATE YOU!  I am going to leave this stupid house.  I am going to hurt you the way you’re hurting me!  YOU’RE A BITCH AND I HATE YOU!!!”  (screaming)

“You are not allowed to talk to me like that Violet.  Take a deep breath and count to 10.  You must calm down, you will scare everyone.  Do you want a hug?  Here, hug me and squeeze me as hard as you can and get all those feelings out.  Everything is ok.”

“MOMMY HELP ME.  HELP ME!!!!!  My problems are too big.  They have gotten too big and I can’t control them anymore, I NEED YOU TO HELP ME!!!!!  HELLLLP MEEE!!!  …FORGET IT.  GET OUT!!!!!  I HATE YOU!!!!”

Pushed me out of her room and I let the door close. 

I turned to my other kids who sat staring with the babysitter.  I turned, walked to my room where I sat on my bed and just cried into my hands.  Fresh new tears, when I thought my well was dry.  My poor baby.   My heart shattered into a thousand pieces and I just cried. 

Next day school called and told me Violet “needs help now.”  She had spent 2 hours that day in another room screaming and crying with the principal and head clinician trying to calm her down to go back to class, and it was just too much for the staff.  They didn’t want her to finish out the year there because of more negative associations and they cared about her.

The world felt like it was caving in on me – forcing me to choose Wilderness, forcing me to send my daughter away.  My outside brain would say it was best.  My insides thought - I am the only one she really needs and how can I take THAT from her when she is already in such a state of disrepair? 

This has been the hardest time of my life thus far.  The mulling over the decision, the contemplation of what it means in the scheme of our silly summer plans, our new house, our family.  The missing…THE LOSS.

“What will this mean, if we try to place her next week?”

“It means you call the programs, choose one, we work on getting all the paperwork done, you make flights and take her.”

So we did.  This was June 12th.  We planned with the consultant to admit her on June 20th.  We had 6 days until we would tell her, the 18th. 

I spoke to the director of the one we chose.  I spoke to parents ad nauseum.  I sobbed with every single phone call, every single questionnaire, every single address form.  I was living in a weighted cloud of dread that I couldn’t even see through to function in my every day life.  I stopped working.  I could only deal with getting her there. 

My husband, GENIUS, convinced me to tell Violet what was happening while at her therapist the night before we were leaving.  THANK GOD.  She expectedly freaked out, all the things you could have thought of.  She went from dire sobbing to screaming, to throwing things, to soft sadness.  She hated us, she wanted to say goodbye to her friends, she begged and pleaded.  She didn’t understand why we were punishing her, she didn’t know what she could do to make it go away, she was furious, devastated, exhausted. 

We had the other kids stay at my parents’ house so it was just us at home with her.  I packed her bag while she was asleep, crying the whole time.  My alarm went off at 5 am and we got up and went to the airport. 

I spent one night with her at a hotel - it was sad and nice.  She was able to be with me and be present even though we were both scared.  I was trying to be strong but holy smokes – I am a TERRIBLE faker.  Inside I was losing it.  I had to be resolute, there was zero room for any other choice but where we were going.  She asked a lot of questions, and I wasn’t able to answer them.

“I know this is what is happening but I still hate you for doing it.”

“It’s ok to hate me now Vi.  It’s normal.  We will be much happier later, this is hard for all of us.”

I watched her as she slept.  Took her picture.  Hugged her and just let my eyes burn her little sleepy face into my memory, it would be my last one for so long.

The morning of the 20th came, we were planning on spending the morning together.  When we woke up I could see she was anxious.  I asked her if she just wanted to have breakfast and go. 

“I think that would be better Mommy, waiting is just making me more nervous.  Let’s just go.”

We ate and got into the car and went. 

We pulled into the “campsite.”  I signed the contract, left a painfully sized check.  Gave them a bag with only her underwear and bras, a picture of our family that the therapist would hold for her.  Gave her a hug and said goodbye.  Walked through molasses down the dirt road to the car.

I got back into the rental car and drove 2.5 hours to the airport to go home.  The North Carolina intermittent thunderstorms mirrored my angst.  I never knew you could drive and hysterically sob at the same time without crashing.  I just left my little 11 year-old daughter.  That was the hardest thing I have ever done. 

 

As soon as the plane took off, I had my first feeling that things were about to get better.  And they did.