It had been nearly 2 years since Violet began her epic therapeutic journey that was changing all of our lives forever. She was just 2 months away from being 13 years old when they told us.
“Guys, congratulations. Violet is set to graduate on August 12th.”
And just like that, one finite little date morphed into a key. And the key turned a lock. And the lock opened a door. And the compartment I had kept hidden from even myself spewed forth a flood. And the flood drowned me.
WHAT THE HECK WAS THIS? Wasn’t this what we were waiting for? What were all of these feelings and where were they coming from?
Excitement. Relief. Paranoia. Joy. Sadness. More fear. Happiness. Gratitude. Anxiety. More fear.
Grief and loss all over again.
All I could do was sob. I have NEVER had such conflicting and extreme emotions simultaneously. Our daughter was graduating from her therapeutic boarding school. We had missed her so much. This kid had worked so hard on herself. When I reflected on how arduous the journey had been, I could barely wrap my mind around it.
I had left my child, an 11 year old, alone in the woods. It was the most unnatural, terrifying, heart-wrenching thing I had ever done. By far, the most crucial milestone of my life.
I heard the date and it was like I got tackled by all the feelings of losing her again. Right when you think you can’t possibly feel any more emotion, there it is - MORE. Totally unexpected. How could one date unlock SO MUCH? And, how incredible is the brain that it created this defense?
"Compartmentalization is an unconscious psychological defense mechanism used to avoid cognitive dissonance, or the mental discomfort and anxiety caused by a person's having conflicting values, cognitions, emotions, beliefs, etc. within themselves. Compartmentalization allows these conflicting ideas to co-exist by inhibiting direct or explicit acknowledgment and interaction between separate compartmentalized self-states." (link below)
YES. This was it. I had allowed myself to grieve. I had felt it, well, part of it. These feelings of maternal desperation were in direct conflict with the betterment and healing of our family. I made a compartment, or my brain did. I didn't even know it.
Violet had been doing SO WELL. Her therapist proudly told us she was the number one most desired mentor by the newer girls. For the past many months, in times of consequence, disappointment, discomfort – Violet had been able to let it roll off her shoulders. She had become the local diffuser of upset in the house. She sounded like a teen therapist.
I was so blown away by her progress, so happy to hear levity and pride in her voice. Then, one little date came. Apparently, Violet had a compartment too. She cried.
“I don’t want to leave. I’m scared. I feel good here. I have always felt bad, you know? And now I have friends, I am a leader. I am funny and people like me and come to me when they need help. I am scared to leave and go somewhere else. I don’t want to go.”
OF COURSE she didn’t want to leave. Imagine feeling terrible for your whole life, leaving your home and family and being sent somewhere strange. Then, you find yourself again, renew your self-esteem. NOW, finally feeling safe, you have to leave that place too?
We sat on the phone for our family therapy call - my husband, me, Violet and her therapist. We all cried. The reason was not joy. It was empathy. I couldn’t believe Violet was being tasked with MORE intense things to process after all she had faced and accomplished. Through her own tears, the therapist said the perfect thing, yet again.
“Violet, listen to me. It is time. You are ready. You can do this. It is normal to be afraid. It is normal to not want to leave. It wouldn’t be the right time for you if you were dying to get out of here. And you will never lose me. I will be here for you and you will have calls with me and you can do this. You really are ready.”
My heart hurt for her. The girl was still a 12 year old! She was a child. This was just SO MUCH. I was not anticipating this round of heaviness.
I pushed mute on my phone. I didn’t want her to hear me heaving while I cried. My husband grabbed my hand and squeezed. I wanted to smoosh her and tell her it would be great. I wanted to but I couldn’t. I was so scared too.
In the following 2 weeks, Violet started to struggle again. She acknowledged that she may have been sabotaging out of her own fear. This blew my mind too. She was SO brave to be this self-aware, vulnerable and honest.
“Behavior is said to be self-sabotaging when it creates problems and interferes with long-standing goals. These acts may seem helpful in the moment, but they ultimately undermine us, especially when we engage in them repeatedly.” (Psych Today)
Here we were standing at the precipice of all of our long-standing goals. We wanted Violet to come home and be able to assimilate all she had learned into our family in a healthy way. I could totally understand how it would have been easier to postpone dealing with transition and the unknown. We all had to show our faith in Violet.
“Violet my love, my first little girlie. We are scared too. The time has come. We can all do this together. We believe in you.”
I had several days during this period of sitting in my car and crying. The strength of my sobs left indents on the steering wheel. Vi had sat in her therapist’s office crying too.
We had almost made it through. I couldn’t believe it. I could not believe it had been two years. We were actually on the other side. I couldn’t believe how raw I still felt.
Now, to find a new school. A new beginning, the next chapter. Somewhere Violet would thrive.
I couldn’t believe how scary this still was. That part, I feared, would never end.
It is time. You are ready. You can do this.