As a parent, nothing can prepare you for the pain and anguish that comes with making the decision to send your child to a residential treatment facility. When I first said goodbye to my son, I felt as if the entire world had caved in around me. I had no idea how I was going to pick myself up and continue to walk through my life, having just handed over my child for someone else to parent. Entering Oxbow felt like the end of the world. Life as we knew it was over. Hope had diminished. And our family would never be the same. I had no expectations. I was depleted.
I have now spent the better part of 3 years entrenched in a world of disclosure and clarification, of structure and flags, of level drops and phase reviews. Innocuous words that would come to mean the difference between good days and bad, highs and lows and breakthroughs and brick walls, both for my son and for me. Along with this new language came new emotions and depths of frustration and despair I could never have never imagined.
There is no getting around the fact that this is a daunting journey. One I, personally, felt ill equipped to handle. How could I not? I mean there was nothing about what I was going through in any parenting book. When I chose to become a parent, no one ever warned me about this path. There was no “worst case scenario” pamphlet stapled to my son on the day I became his mom. No, this journey wasn’t even on my radar. Until one day, when I found myself living a life that was completely unfamiliar to me, a life for which I was completely unprepared. A life with issues so taboo, that not only is it NOT ok to talk about it, but, no one could possibly understand. And so, all of the sudden, I felt alienated. And depressed. And alone. And even ashamed. Some days I didn’t know how I was going to get out of bed. Some days I didn’t.
I have heard parents in support groups talk about the shame they feel about “falling apart” or “losing it.” I have heard parents say they felt that they were “not strong enough” to handle their situations. The truth is that we all have those feelings. And we are all going to handle them differently, not better or worse, just differently. Some of us will cry, some of us will withdraw, some of us will lose ourselves in our work and some of us won’t be able to get out of bed. The emotional toll this takes on us all is tremendous. Add to that the financial toll it takes and the stress level shoots straight off the charts. There have been days that I thought there was no way I was strong enough to continue. There have also been days that I have surprised myself with my strength. But I know now that there are going to be good days and awful days and I am allowed, even entitled, to them both. I just can’t give up. I can stop for a moment, cry it out or sleep it off, but then I have to keep going. We all do. And in order to do that, we need to allow ourselves to grieve the loss of the life we had planned, to grieve the loss of the parents we thought we’d be and the sons we thought we’d have.
I have seen a lot of families come and go. I have been to every parent seminar, some twice, and I have spoken to many parents in various stages of their journey. I have learned that while we cannot be expected to be strong everyday, neither can we be expected to have the strength to shoulder this burden alone. I have found that connecting to other parents was/is an important way to get the support I need and to feel less isolated. There is nothing better than hearing someone say, “I’ve been there.” It’s a tremendous relief to be able to share openly what I am going through and what I am feeling. We need to feel supported. We need to find people in our lives we can talk to, whether they are our partners, our therapists, our friends or family members, our clergy or other Oxbow parents. We need to allow ourselves to be supported by others and, in doing so, find comfort. It is not only important; it is imperative that we know we are not alone. For me, this was a huge revelation. It is the main reason I never miss a parent seminar. While they are always informative and insightful, for me the best part is hearing others share their stories. It’s being able to say out loud what is really going on with my son. It’s knowing that someone else has walked in my shoes. We are all connected on this journey and it is so important to reach out to each other and feel the support.
Next week will be my son’s final phase review. He is going to be leaving Oxbow. He’s ready. I’m ready, too. He worked very hard to get here, but he could not have done it without the support of his staff and peers. And I could not have done it had I not learned the valuable lesson of allowing myself to lean on others and ask for support when I need it. I’m proud of my son, but I am also proud of myself. I was right that we would never be the same again; we can’t go back and undo what has been done. But life was not was not over and the world did not end. It was a journey I never imagined I could survive. But I have. And so has my son. And not only have we survived, but we are looking ahead to new chapter of our lives with something we almost lost… hope. Karyn – an Oxbow Parent