It has been a little over six months since my son went to a Wilderness Therapy Program and then a Residential Treatment center after that. He celebrated his 16th birthday in the Idaho desert. He has been sober for that whole time and without using any electronic devices, so his brain is getting a chance to not only re-boot, but to thrive. It has been completely worth the enormous expense, financially and emotionally. We are now living in a place of strength instead of fear.
People have called us brave as parents. Some have said they could never do what we did. But, last June were at the end of our ropes and frankly, life wasn't a bowl of cherries during our son's early teenage years. We had no more options. It is tough to be a teen these days. There is so much going on: instant communication and news, pressures about one's future, social anxiety, depression AND digital addiction. We worried about what he was watching, what he was playing (video games), who he was texting, who he was hanging out with......the list goes on.
We tried keeping the "conversation" going. We tried to meet his friends, get to know their parents, provide activities that we could do as a family, eat dinner together. As things went south, we knew things were getting "unsafe" for our son. His local high school wasn't helping matters either. There was an abundance of marijuana and other drugs. My own fear escalated on a daily basis. I sought help to feel better and learn new strategies to cope.
The more I shared about the situation, the more I discovered that I am not alone. I met parents in the same boat, school wise, drug wise, technology wise. The more I opened up, the more others shared their similar stories with me. Wow, there is a BIG club out there! Layer by layer, as we found our way with the help of many professionals, our lives began to lighten up. We sent our son away, which led us to begin the process of amazing self discovery. We can flip this boat around! We can do it. We don't have to be afraid. We will get stronger. And stronger. And stronger.
Yes, there are days that aren't as good, emotionally. But there is strength in numbers. We met some great parents at the Wilderness Retreat. We met some great parents at the RTC (residential treatment center) Parent Days. We have learned that there are phases one goes through in this CLUB. Yes, there is relief initially, then it turns to acceptance and then it turns into strength. We are so much better for having been through all of our challenges. It's called living! We love our son. We miss our son! But we have him back as our son! And he is alive! And he is thriving!
No situation is perfect. We aren't perfect. He isn't perfect. We will make mistakes, he will make mistakes. We can learn from them. We can discuss our feelings and emotions. We will grow! Of course, no one knows what the future will hold for any of us. We take steps forward and a few steps backwards. That's okay. We have a lot of information we didn't before. We are not alone. Our journey continues. One day at a time. One step in front of the other. Breathing! Being grateful for what we've been through.
I am strong! I am no longer afraid.
I am standing tall!
We took a morning flight to Salt Lake City from Oakland International Airport. Picked up the rental car and headed south to begin our 2 1/2 day visit with our son. We had our family Thanksgiving meal the day before and so did he with staff, other students and some parents at his residential treatment center. We heard they had a feast and lots of pie!
We were filled with excitement and anticipation when we arrived to pick him up. He was ready and greeted us warmly with hugs. We signed him out and were reminded of our mutual contract, signed verbally over Skype earlier in the week. Our son agreed to it also. He was to never leave our sight. If there was a bathroom break, we stood outside of the door. I am glad to say we never had a problem and it went very smoothly.
We headed out towards one of the big malls in the Provo area seeking a movie theatre. There are plenty of Cinemark Theatres throughout the area to choose from. We decided to have some dinner before seeing Thor: Ragnarok with Chris Hemsworth. We were all very happy to see each other after our last visit for Parent Days a month before. The conversation was a bit one sided with all of our questions, but we are working on communication, so there is room for improvement.
After the dinner (we had burgers) and the movie we made some family phone calls. Our son is not supposed to use any technology, so I dialed and held my iPhone within range of all of us in the car. We talked to Grandma and some cousins and everyone was happy to hear from our sixteen year old. From our parking space at the mall we saw what looked like an obstacle course of Christmas lights. Cars headed toward the "Enter" sign and turned off their headlights and zigged and zagged through the maze of flashing and pulsating lights. I googled the attraction and was surprised to see that it cost $25 per car. It seemed a bit high priced.
We headed back to the RTC (residential treatment center) to return our son by 9 pm and checked him in with staff. On our way we had a required "family meeting" which covered: What went well, what didn't go well. We each took turns answering those questions. The goal for the weekend was to "have a good time", so we were definitely successful on the first night. We said our goodbyes, shared some hugs and would return in the morning for our next adventure.
We headed back to our Holiday Inn Express and were happy to be able to spend time with our son. It felt like a long time since we enjoyed a movie as a family and had a meal without technology in the middle of it. The next morning we had plans to check out the Provo Recreation Center. "WOW" is all I can say! What a place! It had everything and the price was right! A day pass was $5 for adults and $4 for under 18.
We took a tour of the place and decided to come back in the afternoon after lunchtime. We played ping pong, pool and table top shuffleboard (not sure of the real name of this fun game). We swam in the pool, floated along the lazy river, jumped off the cliff (platform), sped down the water slide, climbed the rock wall and fell back into the water. It was so much fun! There were tons of families there too!
To be continued.....(find out what else we did during our Utah visit in the next blog post!)
As they say on postcards, "We are having a great time and wish you were here......"
Thanksgiving is next week and I want to take a moment to give thanks! I am grateful for so many things. We spoke by Skype with our sixteen year old today and he is continuing to do well at school. There are a few minor things that he is working through, rule oriented and getting assignments done, but all are handled in a way that shows growth is happening. He remains upbeat and looks great.
1. I am grateful for a new beginning. It has been a wild ride this year, but BlueFire Wilderness helped save his life. Our son admitted to spiraling downward just before we sent him at the end of June. By the end of his thirteen weeks in Idaho, he was able to see that his negative behaviors and negative friends were NOT good for him.
2. I am grateful for his new environment in Utah. It's very costly and further away in distance that we would like, but he is SAFE and following a program which will help him learn (school stuff) and succeed. He says he'd rather be home, but he enjoys it and knows he has work ahead of him.
3. I am grateful to the countless friends and family members who have cared enough to listen to me. The topic of a struggling teen is not for the faint of heart. We have opened up and in return have received so much. I know we are not alone!
4. I am grateful for my BLOG. Thank you My Warrior Mom Life readers. I know many of you personally (see #3) and others I do not, but I can't tell you, how much writing about our story has helped me. It is a release putting it into writing. I feel free-er because of it. I hope you will keep reading and sharing with others. I know I can help many people along the way!
5. I am grateful to be able to BE PRESENT. Sure, I'd like to check out sometimes, and honestly do occasionally, but being mindful is so important to my everyday existence. All we really have is TODAY! I am going to live it!
6. I am grateful to be able to WALK and TALK. "One foot in front of the other" has been a mantra of mine for the past six months or so. I __________ (walk, talk, swim.....fill in the blank), because I am able! For that ability, I am grateful.
7. I am grateful for HUMOR. They say that "laughter is the best medicine". That is for sure! Even in the darkest moments, I have been able to laugh. It is vital to my personal mental health. Know any good jokes?
8. I am grateful for HUMILITY. I have been blessed to be "good" at many different things. School and athletics came easily to me. I did work hard and practice too, but I am grateful for those gifts. Not everyone can claim them, for example: my son. It's taken me a long time to understand that.
9. I am grateful to be HAPPY. Some days I miss my son terribly. Other days, I do my daily tasks and keep moving forward without realizing it. However, I am glad not to feel that pit in the bottom of my stomach, morning, noon and night. I can BREATHE. That is true happiness to me.
10. I am truly grateful to have a partner who is on this journey with me, every step of the way. We are in a "club" we didn't sign up for. We are stronger for it. We are survivors. We are not perfect. We are able to ask for help. I am so fortunate to have you by my side! Thank you!
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you! I am only one Mom of millions, but I remain a
When my son came out of the Wilderness Program at the end of September, he was pretty scruffy. Before heading to the new school, he was able to take a really long, hot shower at our hotel. On the packing list was an electric razor. They don't allow regular blades, as you can imagine. After he cleaned up, he looked amazing! WOW!
But his hair was still long, about shoulder length. I didn't really mind it that length. He looked good. But we were sure surprised when we heard from his therapist that all the boys just had their haircut, a few weeks into his stay at the Ranch. When our Skype call began, what a sight he was! Short hair! He said he hated it! Another WOW! He looked good. It was a little short on the sides and a tiny bit longer on the top.
These haircuts were part of the program and to have self-respect for caring how one looked. I liked it, but I'm a parent! Each generation has their fads. Remember how long everyone thought Elvis wore his hair? And the Beatles? And the hippies in the late 1960's? We hardly think about it anymore. We didn't even flinch when our son asked for purple hair, or other colors in the past two years. We didn't need to make that one of our battles!
But I can see how differently he acts with this new shorter hair cut. There is a sense of "clean-cut-ness" to make up my own word! So the sixteen year old is clean shaven AND short-haired! What a change from four months ago. His last hair cut was for his 8th grade graduation. And with that haircut, the purple dye was added by our loyal hair salon owner friend. She even came in on her day off to help us out! What a pal!
Now we hear that the boys at the Ranch are participating in "No Shave November". It raises awareness for cancer patients. I'm all for that! We hear that some of the staff members are joining the boys on this one! Way to go guys! One week in the month down, three to go! I'll keep you posted to how it all goes!
Until then, "keep it short on the sides"!
From the John Waite song MISSING YOU:
"Everytime I think of you, I always catch my breath
And I'm still standing here, and you're miles away".
I have many MOM moments like this because my son is at an RTC (resdential treatment center)/school in another state. I'm sure it's natural, but every once in a while that feeling of "missing you" comes over me.
I know he is safe. I know he is doing well. I know it's WAY BETTER than just four months ago, but it still gets me. There is a bittersweetness too it all, he is only sixteen. I also realize this is not a permanent state and that he will come home again. It won't be anytime soon, however. Until then, the house is quieter and much neater. I don't go to Safeway every day to shop for groceries. The water bill is lower, but the little everyday activities are not the same in our house. We could have used his help with the decorations and the treat or treaters on Halloween, that's for sure.
I am sure on his end, he is thinking many of the same thoughts about being away from home. Yes, he has structure and lots of people who care around him. He is doing a lot of fun activities: a ropes course, lots of board games, feeding his newborn calf and hopefully some school work. I wonder if he gets sad at night when he goes to sleep? I wonder how often he thinks of his doggy at home and the way she "growled" at him when he tried to pick her up? I wonder how much he misses his old life, even if it wasn't working, because it was easier?
I write this blog because I want to help others going through struggles with their teenagers. I also write it to help myself, because it does. Right now I have a lump in my throat and a few tears in my eyes, but that's okay. I will be okay. I have to be!
Reflecting on life,
P.S. And the weekly letter just came from the Ranch, from our son and it's super cute. He says he's making friends, just got a job as a manager filling the calves food and is having a really good time! I am a Happy Mom!
It is the end of the 31 day Ultimate Blog Challenge and I have enjoyed writing about our story everyday this month. I will continue with the My Warrior Mom Life Blog on a less frequent basis, but probably not every day. For those who have been regulars, thank you so much for joining me on this journey. For those who have stopped by now and then, thank you, too. I hope you will visit again soon!
For the final day of October, better known as Halloween, I want to write about our wonderful visit with our son for Family Days last week. Each quarter the school has an event where parents come to the campus and engage in workshops and talks with a theme related to helping us with our struggling teenagers. This quarter the topic was "Boundaries". We listened, shared and practiced. Everything about the three days on campus had meaning and purpose. It was very well organized and obviously was well thought out and executed.
The biggest take-away was that we are NOT alone. There are MANY families in our same boat. There were other parents going through similar situations AND other teens going through rough patches, too. We felt the power in the process and were open to learning what we could in our few days in Utah. We didn't know what to expect, having only experienced a family therapy retreat at our wilderness program in August. We were sure that it would be beneficial and help re-establish boundaries for our family.
We ate meals together, played games together (including Knock-out on the basketball court) and helped feed our son's calf early one morning. It was so nice to be a family again. We met other families from all over the US. We learned that many of the boys had also been to a wilderness experience and were now doing well. Our son was doing well. He smiled and talked and played. WOW! What a difference even in the short time at school (about one month's time). We were very happy. We felt like we were living a miracle, and yet stay so grateful and humble.
But as our three days came to an end, we experienced something that really knocked our socks off and brought us to tears. The boys performed in a variety show. Some played music and and sang. Others performed skits from famous musicals or shows they enjoyed like a scene from Monty Python and the dance from Michael Jackson's Thriller. Since our son was a newbie, his participation was limited to the last song they all performed together. They lined up around the stage in white t-shirts, black pants and smiling faces.
Then the music began and it was a well known song that immediately gave me chills and began my flow of tears. The boys started singing the recognizable lyrics made famous by the band Journey in the early 1980's. When they got to the chorus and sang "Don't stop believin'" it was clear they were telling us parents to NOT GIVE UP on them. They were working hard to earn our trust, set their lives straight again and head towards a brighter future. But we MUST do it together.
Just a small town girl
Livin' in a lonely world
She took the midnight train goin' anywhere
Just a city boy
Born and raised in south Detroit
He took the midnight train goin' anywhere
A singer in a smokey room
A smell of wine and cheap perfume
For a smile they can share the night
It goes on and on, and on, and on
Don't stop believin'
Hold on to the feelin'
Don't stop believin'
Don't stop believin'
Hold on to the feelin'
Up and down the boulevard
Their shadows searching in the night
Living just to find emotion
Hiding somewhere in the night
Working hard to get my fill
Everybody wants a thrill
Payin' anything to roll the dice
Just one more time
Some will win, some will lose
Some were born to sing the blues
Oh, the movie never ends
It goes on and on, and on, and on
Don't stop believin'
Hold on to the feelin'
Don't stop believin'
Don't stop believin'
Hold on to the feelin'
I won't stop believing! Thanks for reading and for your support!
The process for parents with kids at a wilderness program, therapeutic boarding school or residential treatment center is plain and simple. Change is necessary. It isn't easy but, if the kids must change, so must the parents. It's called a Parallel Process.
There are dozens of recommended books that are important to read and take to heart. I have listed some of the books that I am currently reading. They can help parents and families see what changes may be necessary to have positive outcomes. This list is just a starting point for self-discovery and breaking old patterns. They are filled with many valuable lessons and practical advice. I will be adding more titles in future blog posts, but for now I suggest this short list of books that I have liked:
The Parallel Process by Krissy Pozateck, LICSW
Growing Alongside Your Adolescent or Young Adult Child in Treatment
Not By Chance by Tim R. Thayne, Ph.D.
How Parents Boost Their Teen's Success In and After Treatment
The Family Crucible by Augustus Y. Napier, Ph.D with Carl Whitaker M.D.
The Intense Experience of Family Therapy
The Journey of the Heroic Parent by Brad M. Reedy Ph.D.
Your Child's Struggle & The Road Home
I Don't Have to Make Everything All Better by Gary Lundberg and Joy Lundberg
Six Practical Principles that Empower Others to Solve Their Own Problems While Enriching Your Relationships
Are there any books that you recommend to other parents with kids in treatment that you want to share? I am asking for titles of some of your favorites. Please comment below.
Hopefully changing for the better,
Routines are seldom exciting. Routines can be rather dull. But our new routine was different than most because our son is away at school. And the school is more than just the normal boarding school because they deal with struggling teens. There are lots of rules and expectations of how to get along. There are levels that one moves up through to get more privileges and freedoms.
Our son began at Level One which is better than some. Since he went to a wilderness program he jumped ahead of the Orientation Level. I'm not clear on all the aspects of the levels but, there is information in the Parent Handbook that explains it all. Frankly, it's a lot to digest. Happily, our son is doing what he's supposed to to and getting along with staff and peers. The main thing that he's lacking is the ability to open up.
Why does he have to open up you might ask? Well in addition to school, they are teaching communication skills, values and goals. In order to move forward, one needs to learn to get to the root of why their parents sent them there. Or as if often referred to in slang, "when the wheels fell off the bus". The new setting gives the students a chance to work on self-improvement by doing daily and weekly chores among other activities.
Some of the chores include doing their personal laundry weekly, cleaning the house they live in. And yes, that means the bathroom and vacuuming, as well as making their beds daily. Everything needs to be tidy and neat. Try that with any group of teenage boys and you might have some difficulties. But if you want to move up to another level, then these things get done. And a habit will become routine when practiced daily and weekly. So there is a lot of repetition and learning by doing. A mom's dream environment.
Keeping a schedule can create good habits. They rise at seven am, they take care of personal care, then PE! After that, they eat breakfast. Then they feed their calves. A little housekeeping and then some therapy with their personal or group therapist depending on the day of the week. A little free time, lunch, shower and then school. What? Yup, they go to school beginning at 4 pm every day.
More about that tomorrow, so come back to read about how this school turns education on it's head!
Our sixteen year old son was processing our decision to send him to a new place after wilderness. His stay was thirteen weeks or ninety-two days in total. It was a long time however you choose to look at it. We were proud of his progress and the changes he made and so was he. The summer season was winding down and fewer boys remained at the wilderness therapy program. He became a leader by default at the end of his stay. Not his strength, but when put in that position did amazingly well.
We put the finishing touches on the paperwork for the school/residential treatment center while still back at home. We made arrangements to fly into Utah, drive to Idaho, pick up our son, drive back to Utah, drop him off and then return home. All in just over 30 hours. Whew!
There was a contract in place between us and him about the expectations that were set for the transition. No cell phone use, for us by choice and for him as part of the deal. He would get a short five minute call with his one positive friend back home. It would be monitored and made once we arrived at the new school's parking lot. Sort of a carrot for him, to make sure things went smoothly during the transition.
The graduation from wilderness would take place on a Thursday at 10am. We were asked to arrive at 9:30am at the main headquarters. We flew into Salt Lake City the night before, drove 1 1/2 hours and stayed at a Motel 6. It had been years since I had done that and while it was clean enough, it was more sparse than I recall. We didn't sleep much and woke up at 4:30am. We decided to hit the road and drive the rest of the way into Idaho before the sun came up.
We were both nervous and excited about our reunion and transport. When we arrived at the tiny town where the wilderness program was headquartered we looked for somewhere to eat breakfast. There were only two restaurants: a Chinese restaurant and a basic egg and pancake joint. It opened at eight o'clock exactly which worked great for our schedule.
After our quick bite, we drove to the headquarters and filled out the final release and questionnaire. We waited for our son's van to arrive from his campsite about forty-five minutes away. The graduation was for just two boys: our son and one other. The staff showed short but meaningful slide shows filled with pictures of their personal adventures. What a change our son had made in appearance and attitude. We were so happy to be getting him back after ninety two days in Idaho. One journey ended and the next one was about to begin. We know we made the right decision. We saved his life.
We both agreed, it was school number one! Beyond a shadow of a doubt. Just like our Education Consultant said, it was all about the people! The place had a wonderful home like feeling that seemed like "just the right fit" for our son. It would be a big change from wilderness but kids that entered from that arena, often did very well when they arrived.
The second school felt like the town from the movie, Pleasantville. Very clean, almost to a fault, without any personality at all. The admissions team basically phoned the tour in and was certainly not the "A Team"! They didn't seem to understand what we were looking for at all. The one highlight was meeting two of the boys who were students there, but even they had an edge that we couldn't see our son being with. We were happy that the decision was so easy for us after visiting in person!
We headed home in a whirlwind and by next morning our Education Consultant called and was in total agreement with us. The paperwork was the next hurdle! Luckily most of the documents were ones that the wilderness program needed, so I just had to create a new folder on my computer, make a copy and send them off. Next, get some money from the college fund. It was incredibility expensive, but as I've said before, college wouldn't even be an option without having success in this new school/treatment center.
We wrote our sixteen year old a long letter, sharing all the wonderful things about his new placement. Horses, basketball, positive environment and a one of a kind "calf program". Each boy was given a new born calf to care for. What an opportunity! The boys mixed the formula and fed their calf, three times a day. It taught a huge lesson in responsibility and caring. We added cut and paste pictures into our email letter and sent it off to him.
After we had our weekly therapy session over the phone, on what would be our final session of the wilderness program, we all were ready for our next adventure. Ground rules were set about the transition and this time we were doing the transport. At least that was the plan. Stay tuned to see how we all faired.
Happy to be moving forward,
I am Warrior Mom. I am a self proclaimed Techy and I'm NOW calling a halt to the excess use of it! Let's put some balance back into our lives, especially our teens!