trauma

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

 

 

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.