kids with issues

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   

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.

 

 

 

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.