The future…it is what we all want for our children and for ourselves. Today we wrap up our series “The dark side of parenting a teenager in trouble” with one last story. If you have missed the earlier parts, you can find them here: Realizing your teen is in trouble and Finding Hope.
The days following the event left me numb. That is really the only way I can describe it. To the outside, we functioned as if nothing had happened, keeping the secret safe. We told no family. In fact, our family still does not know what happened and, chances are, never will.
So many questions of “Why? Why did this happen?” swirled in the fog clouding my brain. Deep conversations between my husband and I, then hours of soul-searching with our child, sharing how incredibly sad it made us feel that they were this sad and felt alone and unwilling to tell us.
Days of barely functioning, in a state of constant worry, found me receiving a call from my husband one afternoon. His voice barely cracking above a whisper, trying unsuccessfully to choke back emotion, he said, “I don’t know what to do. I had to get out of the office for a minute.” He’s a “fixer” and the realization that all of this was out of his control shook him. Hard. I’ve never heard him that way and it scared me.
I called a dear friend, who is also a school psychologist and has been with me through thick and thin for the past 15 years. Our kids practically grew up with each other. I wanted their opinion and guidance to help filter the pages of thumbnail faces of therapists I had to leaf through to find a good match. We went by specialty and types of therapy tools used. Once we found a few good choices, we then focused on what happened, how we handled the situation, what have we talked about since then and how are we doing right now.
Then they said something that went straight to the core of my being and tears immediately stung.
“You are a good parent. Do not doubt that for one second. You have given your kids everything and then some. You did nothing wrong. These are actions THEY chose and have NO REFLECTION of how you parent. This is nothing YOU did. You have given them unconditional love from day one and deep down, they know this. You have done a great job raising two fantastic people.”
And this has been my mantra for the last three months.
When therapy began, we had to go through our teen’s room and remove everything. I found the cutting tool of choice: a razor blade head hidden in a coffee cup. I also had to remove ANY sharp object, safety pins, staples, scissors, pen caps, etc. they could possibly use for cutting. I also found all the Band-Aid wrappers shoved in drawers and behind the bed. We learned to look for the signs: heightened sense of emotion followed by sudden calm. The cutting is a way to release the feelings pent up when one does not have the coping skills in place to deal with stress. We are learning new skills and, so far, the random spot checks have been good.
It took a while for a sense of normalcy to return. We walked on egg shells for a long, long time. I was afraid to get mad. You know how hard that is to keep that in check with a teen?
We are still in therapy and no longer in “crisis” mode. We are still working through self-esteem issues, but I can see confidence returning little by little. They said the worst part was seeing how upset they made us and never wanted to see that again. This was a cry for help and I’m glad as a family we listened. Our child did not want to die and to realize how the outcome of their actions could have been so devastatingly different was a sobering moment for them.
When I heard this I said, “I can never remember what life was like before you arrived. I can’t bear to know what it would be like if you were gone.”
This is my story. I share in hopes that it will maybe help in some small way. It could be to make you a bit more aware, help start a conversation with your teen, to stay connected or to let you know that you are not alone. If you need an ear that understands, please reach out to JBE and know that I will do my best to be there for you. Thank you for allowing me to tell my story here.