When we were looking at places for our son to go after Wilderness, one of the appealing aspects of the treatment center we chose was their Cross Country 5K Running Team. From our point of view as parents who participated in athletics as kids ourselves, this was a big draw to the RTC/School we chose. Most of the boys at the Ranch are on the "team" and it provides a positive activity to do as a group, and also a focus on one's own individual goals, strengths and challenges. The unknown was if our son would be interested in taking a risk and trying it out! He was not a typical "sports" kid while growing up.
We were pleasantly surprised when he approached us about buying him the team uniform, a few months ago. We asked about his commitment level and if he really planned to follow through with it! He responded with a big, "YES". (Thank goodness for positive peer pressure!)
"Okay, let's give it a try!" we replied, keeping our fingers crossed. We didn't want to show too much excitement in order to avoid jinxing it!
The team holds one on campus practice a week, followed by three to four days of off campus running and drills. In order for our son to get the most from the team, he had to earn his Level 2 back.
I am happy to report that after almost four full months, he regained his Level 2 in April! Besides going to the Music Room to listen to music for enjoyment, getting an extra hour of free time daily and the ability to stay in a hotel with us on future visits, a real biggie was about to occur! He entered an actual RACE and finished! And now has TWO races under his belt. One took place in Salt Lake City and the other in Provo, UT a few weeks later. His therapist sent us pictures of our son at the finish line (via text) and we were thrilled and amazed! What an achievement for a kid who hasn't done a lot in the way of sports. What a victory for him to try something new! What a great way to start believing in one's self. And who knew? but he's a pretty fast runner too!
The boys on the team have been told by the coach and others at the Ranch that the 5K runners have a high success rate of staying clean and sober when they leave the RTC. Our son repeated that stat to us more than once in our recent Skype therapy calls. Step one for him is to believe it himself. He now runs regularly, which produces endorphins for his body! The exercise he is getting will start to feel good to him, inside and out! It's just a matter of time!
On race days, the boys get up very early to reach the start line by 7am. For the race in Salt Lake City, they arrived just in time for the start, but didn't have time for their normal stretching. It all worked out and the sweat on his brow was "glowing" in the photo we saw. Another side benefit was the smile on his face that is now a common facial expression of a boy who was in a dark, sullen and reclusive environment just a year ago. It's been a transformation and renewal of a whole body, spirit and soul. We are so proud of his participating and of his many self-improvements. Yes, there is always more work to be done, but don't discount what positive change has already come to him! He is at Level Two, working towards his Three. He shared that he likes the feeling when he's done with a race. He is in a new place! In fact he is "Ready to Run" just like in the Dixie Chicks song! I am very happy to report this exciting news to all the readers of this blog! Stay tuned for more! We are heading to Utah this week and for an adventure in MOAB and the beautiful desert! Until next time......
We just had our 16 1/2 year old son's six month review with the residential treatment center (RTC) where he has been since the end of September. Overall it was good. Progress is being made, even if it is slow at times. He is making friends and his peers enjoy him and his sense of humor. He is respectful to others and he follows the staff's prompts when given. He might even be described as one of the "chill" kids at the Ranch (I've been told that's good). He is participating in his many assigned therapy sessions: Social Skills, Processing, DBT (Dialectical behavior therapy), Intervention, Drug and Alcohol, Ropes Therapy, Equine Therapy, and Adoption Group. Those meetings take place over the course of four days in his week and the rest of his time is filled with PE, his new Cross Country 5K team practices, daily chores, his latest job as "Chores Assistant Manager", study time, school and meals. Whew! Sounds exhausting, right?
He has shared with us that he has at least one thing per day that he looks forward to. He writes us weekly letters (they are obligatory), writes in a daily journal (also obligatory), does his own laundry, including changing the bed sheets on Saturdays! We have a weekly Skype therapy call with him and his therapist. He has begun to keep a small piece of paper in his pocket with some "TO DO" items that he has written on it. Progress!
He is taking baby steps towards re-establishing his Level 2 by fulfilling requirements of "having meaningful conversations" with staff and getting signatures toward that goal. By taking a look back at the paragraphs above, one might think "I couldn't do that". You might be right! Making changes in ourselves can be uncomfortable. We may move the needle on the ticker only slightly, but it is moving. Most of us would respond in a positive manner to some type of external motivation. My son has always been a challenge in that department.
I remember when he was little, I read that if you offer kids "stickers" for cleaning their room then a parent will see success with that chore. Nope, didn't happen. At a time when money might seem like a motivator, I offered matching funds for whatever he put into his savings account at the bank. Nope, later I discovered that he drained that bank account without my knowledge. We tried good ole fashioned bribery. Nope. If you do this, then that "good thing that you like" will happen. Nope. Nothing we could connect as a "carrot" was enough. It was frustrating and head scratching! I even had years of experience working with kids (granted, they weren't my own!) as a sport coach to draw from. Not much worked.
Well that motivation piece stands out today as one of the continuing goals at the RTC. He knows that when he gets back to Level 2, he will get his permanent retainer back in his mouth-the one with the teeth on it. He will also get to participate in additional Cross Country practices OFF campus. He will get to do what they call "Short Trips" into town to get a burger or ice cream. He will get to go to the Music Room to listen to music or learn to play an instrument , and he will be allowed to have some FREE TIME. He knows all of this, yet he is on his own time clock in getting things done.
So, we tried a different approach this week. We let go. Our weekly letter to him was loosely based on a blog post I read from an awesome website/blog I recommend called: Hands Free Mama by Rachel Stafford. The message was simple. We love you today. We are proud of you and how you are handling your current environment and surroundings. We told him that he shouldn't take our continual encouragements as our disappointment with him, but use them as a reminder of what awesome possibilities he has inside of him! We wrote that we know he will contribute his many gifts to the world!
We will visit him next week for his "two day" Spring Break recess. We have no idea if he will be a Level 1 or 2. We have no idea if we will stay close-by to the Ranch for daily visits (from 9am-9pm) or if we will visit some of the amazing National Parks, like MOAB in Utah. We know for today that we will get another chance to be with him! We will have fun together as a family, sharing time and conversation and delicious meals. We also know that his level advancement will come in due time. His retainer WILL happen. He will DO school, whatever the form of completiton happens to be. It's all good. And at the same time, he IS growing up!
His motivation will most likely be internal. He may focus on details, or he may not. The journey is his. Ours may be parallel, but it is different. We can not become solely outcome based! We need to enjoy the progress we have all experienced and recognize that we have an awesome son! We love him TODAY! He is beginning to believe in himself and that is worth celebrating!
We are excited to be heading to Utah this week for Parent Days. This event is much more than a social visit, since it combines lots of therapy in the form of role playing, team activities with purpose and lots of family time with other families in our same boat. One thing we aren't sure of at this time, however, is whether our son will be able to spend one night with us in the hotel after Parent Days are concluded. It will all depend on his current "Level"!
In December for our Christmas visit, our 16 year old made his "Level 2" just days before we arrived on the 24th, Christmas Eve. That earned him the privilege of staying with us in our hotel, for the whole five days we were there. We had a very short time to rearrange our schedule to our new "upgraded hotel visit trip". To compare, a "Level 1" kid is picked up at 9am and must be returned by 9pm each day. That makes for an exhausting visit, as we discovered during our Thanksgiving visit back in November. With the overnight option, we would be able to check into our hotel and relax for part of the day and include some hot-tub time, as well. We all loved our Level 2 experience in December.
Shortly after our Christmas visit, our teenager level dropped. It is an occurrence that most kids in the program go through at least once. He had been a little sneaky in not following some of the rules regarding letter writing. When rules are broken at the RTC (residential treatment program), there are clear consequences for it. On the flip side, when goals are met for the various level requirements, more privileges are handed out. It is very clear what the expectations are, for either level direction: up or down. I only wish we had been able to enforce our own boundaries/rules with success before sending him to Wilderness Therapy Program and the RTC.
WHEN IT RAINS IT POURS
After learning about his level drop, we were also notified that our son's retainer went missing. Okay, he lost it again. At first is was a mystery to us, since we knew that the retainer had been secured in his mouth at his last orthodontist appointment. Well, he made some poor choices of opening a bottle with his teeth resulting in the retainer loosening. When he ate, he put the retainer in a napkin at lunch one day. After lunch he realized it was missing, so he looked through all the garbage containers in the cafeteria with no luck. This was an opportunity for us to enforce some consequences of our own. We decided not to replace the retainer right away. During our Skype therapy call we came up with a list of things/action he could do to "earn" a new retainer. This one will be his fourth retainer!
Replacing his custom retainer is an expensive event, at $700 a pop. Attached to the retainer are two false teeth, to fill in the spaces created by the orthodontist. The "money doesn't grow on trees" lesson has been a tough one for our son. He knows we care about "all things medical" for him and knows what his overall orthodontia has cost. But he didn't have to pay for it! It was our opportunity to show him that we "meant business" and that he plays a big role in protecting his dental welfare. He needed to earn it this time!
Our new agreement had the following items spelled out: 1) Earn Level 2 back, which requires getting signatures from staff around duties/chores and the like. 2) Complete more school work and make math a priority subject. (He is still making up for his missteps from last year's school failures.) 3) Show us that he can TAKE CARE of his property. He actually mended a torn shirt with a needle and thread as part of this deal. (We are taking a sewing kit with us for more clothing repairs).
All of these lessons are important for a young person. He is making head way. We are too. We know he will make Level 2. It may be in time for Parent Days, or maybe not. Until then, he will be fine. There is strength in the struggle.
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,
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!
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