troubled kids

INTERVIEW WITH VIOLET

“Hey Vi, remember when we made that interview for that Mom who was about to send her son to Wilderness?” 

The one thing I really wished while we were in the throes of the Wilderness decision was that I could have spoken to a kid who had been through it.  I wanted the reassurance the kid had survived, felt OK about it, still loved the parents.  No one could give that to me. 

I was referred to a parent who helped me through our decision making process.   She checked in on me, emailed me, called and texted me.  She didn’t know me.  She would anticipate moments and send me a little note.  Even just, “How ya doin?” completely slayed me with its thoughtfulness.  This was the most incredible reinforcement for what a ‘kind’ person really is.  I SO wanted to be that for someone else.

I got a call from a great friend who asked if I could speak to a mom who had mentioned Wilderness.  I was actually excited.  I could not WAIT to be helpful.

The mom and I spoke, we cried.  I knew JUST what she was feeling.  I could actually hear her saying the EXACT same things I had said before.  “Well, we were thinking we would send him after school is over…” I mean, verbatim!  It was so bizarre. 

The wound was so shockingly open.  I could not believe how deeply I felt what she was going through. 

Violet was home for the holidays and I tentatively asked her if she would talk to this mom.  She agreed.  Then, I decided I should just talk to her and record it.  SHE WAS AMAZING.

“It has helped me through tough times…I say to myself - you know what - this is the old me and I don’t have to do this…even though my brother and sister and my mom and dad don’t really have the same problems or the same things they needed to work on that I have?  They still have changed a lot from the program…”  (Violet)

Well, now?  I have been feeling rather stuck here.  I wussed out on asking my daughter about posting this interview for the past couple of weeks.  I was too worried she would say no.  She literally asks me IN THE INTERVIEW if I would “close my ears,” so I really wasn’t sure she would be comfy with it being published.  I have paranoia about exposing her too much.  FINALLY, I asked.

“...I keep listening to the interview, Vi.  I’ve sent it to some other moms who have reached out to me.  You did such an incredible job talking about hard things.  I really feel like it would be helpful for some people to hear.  I thought maybe I could edit some and pull things out and I just wanted to ask you if you would be ok with a few things being posted on the blog.”

Silence.  Dreading her answer…

“Well, Mom, if you think it could be helpful you can put it all on there, I don’t care.”

OMG what.  Have you really evolved this much my little darling?  Have you matured so much that your vulnerable words and feelings and expressions are safe to share?  I am floored once again by your growth.  And grateful, so so grateful.

She was 11 when we made this.  Violet has always been verbal, but never would have been able to talk about her emotions like this before.  I am blown away every time I hear it.  Most adults are not this vulnerable.

So here we are.  THE INTERVIEW.  Ignore the windshield wipers, the nervous sound in my voice.  Nothing is rehearsed.  I didn’t even think of questions before we started.  We were just talking. 

Full disclosure, this was a 20 minute conversation.  My friend helped edit some of the superfluous things out so you can make it to the end, which is when I had to “close my ears.”  ENJOY, and share if you wanna.





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/

 

 

 

 

HELLO AND GOODBYE

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

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

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

She pulled.  She tried.  She fell.   

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hello Hope.  Goodbye Violet.

 

 

 

THE WILD GROWTH

Violet’s letters went from screaming agony, “PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE Mommy!  Come and get me!  I hate it here…” to “…I am learning how to do really cool things.  I miss you A LOT and I have really changed, I haven’t gotten upset in a while, I am growing a lot emotionally.  I think I am almost ready to come home.”

Almost.  Just the word itself held so much meaning for me.  It embodied acknowledgment.  She was accountable with one little word.  She was challenging herself, she was working and growing; she still had some things to deal with.  She knew she wasn’t ready, yet.  But almost…sweet almost…sigh.

When you have spent 10 years screaming into a vacuum of futility, “almost” is like a brand new hearing aid.  I’m not crazy.  AND NEITHER WAS SHE.  We were all just hard of hearing for a while. 

Here is the self-fulfilling prophecy of the kid mislabeled.  Someone tells them they are “bad,” they get upset and act out because it’s easier to be in control of being “bad” than it is to be vulnerable and STILL be called “bad.”  Too hard to feel shamed.  So these kids push all this stuff down and hold it inside and BAM!!!  Hypersensitivity + shame = anguish and explosiveness. 

Violet had realistically gone through 6 years of people telling her she was doing things that weren’t “right.”  Accuracy was irrelevant; it was her perceptions and the feelings they ignited.  After eons of ‘feeling’ like the world was against her, her self-esteem was left a tarnished shred.

In the woods with people trained to be so patient, nurturing and supportive, she was finally able to stop punishing herself.  The physical feats she accomplished were so outlandish - she was a beast!  Hiking, setting up camp, making food, cleaning up, creating fire – HUGE.  If she can do those things, what CAN’T she do? 

The emotional growth began with accountability that came in a letter – amazing to receive.  She worked on rebuilding trust and respect, with others and herself.  Add more feeling better about herself which let’s face it – this is REALLY what gets us through life’s trials – the confidence you can.  She passed through the curriculum’s phases and her therapist walked us through the next harrowing step.

Just when you think you’ve cleared the hurdles, the next step crushes you...HOME or BOARDING SCHOOL.  Violet had been asking about it for weeks.  I was living in denial.

I remember talking to one of my parent advocates pre-Wilderness.  I asked how long it had been since her daughter had been home and she said 8 months.  I choked.  My ears completely refused to acknowledge this information.  IMPOSSIBLE, that would NOT be happening to us.  We were different.

Now, we were in it, 65 days in.  Her therapist told us she would graduate around her 85th day and we should prep for the next crossroad.  I wasn’t ready.  I had two separate parts of my brain screaming into my ears, Mrs. Long-Term-Rational and Ms. Instant-Gratification-Emotional.  Ms. Thang was SO LOUD, she made it inconceivable to be apart from Violet any longer.  I wanted my baby with me.  I craved her.  But, having her step back into THE GAUNTLET, our home with all the old triggers, seemed self-defeating.  Mrs. Rational took over.  More dread.  

I strapped on my big girl boots and toured the two best choices for therapeutic boarding schools.  I was constantly asking about 3 things that, to me, meant overexposure for Violet: drugs, sex, suicide.  Violet didn’t even know the word ‘suicide.’  I was paranoid about her getting any ideas, if only for manipulative purposes.  Serving such a young age group meant that my fears were prrrretty much alleviated (10-16).  Extracurricular activities abound, homey houses, tons of parent integration.  I was still conflicted, but then I met the girls.  I can’t tell you how quickly Ms. Thang shut her yap.  SO RELIEVED.  They were just like Violet.  Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.

Guided by the therapist, we told her we were looking at residential schools in her next letter.  I was petrified.  How terrible must it have felt to be confronted with not coming home after being away from everything for 3 months?  After everything she had done...  

She got it, read it aloud.   

She ran.

They let her.  She screamed and cried into the woods.  They just watched and waited for the fury to be gone.  She calmed down, went back.  Kids supported her; therapist helped her process it.

The Wilderness Program had girls from both schools come and visit – total streak of genius.  Violet aligned herself with one and luckily it was our first choice too.  We let her be a part of the decision making process, back and forth letters for 2 weeks.  It empowered her. 

“I am still pretty surprised and upset that I’m going to boarding school but here is what I’d like to bring to school…(list of goods)…I am also kinda excited to go to boarding school and would hope that you would take into consideration me going to Lions Lake Academy I really like it there.”

I couldn’t even believe it.  She was ok.  She was even a little excited. 

She would graduate in 1 week.  Belly flops of opposing extremes – elation and trepidation.  I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like.  ONE WEEK?!?!?!  84 days later and I would finally get to hug my baby girl.  YES!!!! 

She had done it.  She made it through the WILD.  She accepted another tough transition.  WE ALL MADE IT.

Now if that’s not growth I am surely confused by the definition.