I'm bugged. Tonight we went for "family therapy" at the treatment house, only to be diverted into a group meeting with his treatment team, and faced with the possibility that he'll be expelled from the program.
It felt like an ambush,because this is a treatment house for drug addicted teenagers with "dual diagnosis"--in other words, co-occurring mental health issues. And yet, the subject of the meeting was T's behavior--he got into several "verbal altercations" and "punched a wall." We reminded them that he has a history of severe trauma, and a PTSD diagnosis, and that it wasn't too surprising that getting sober is producing some misbehavior. Forgive me for siding with my kid, but he's 60 days sober after several years of alleviating his traumatic memories with drugs, so if he loses his cool and punches a wall and calls someone a name, that is not a five alarm fire in my book.
Moreover, I get very tired of being preached at by "specialists" who don't take the time to learn his history, offer him some superficial palliative care, and then get angry with T when he doesn't change as fast as they'd like, and want me to side with them and tell him to get his act together. Their blame and anger were palpable. I spent the first fifteen minutes of the meeting counseling them and helping them calm down and recover their compassion for T. That annoys me. I understand exactly how challenging he can be. But if you think about his history, it is not that hard to stay objective and rational about why he is having difficulty, and get creative about treating him, without blame.
I am particularly un-cool with "specialists" who threaten him, by telling him that he'll be kicked out of their program, and may have to "go somewhere much worse." I probably don't have to tell the type of person inclined to read this blog why that is a bad idea for a kid with a long history of abandonment and multiple foster placements. Suffice it to say that ultimatums and threats generally don't work for anyone.
My kid is not a hot potato. He is not an interesting project to inform your graduate school paper until you begin to find his behavior challenging or unsettling and give him back to the system. He does not deserve to hear that the residential treatment program he chose for himself has now decided that he's too much to handle because he has trouble getting along with the other kids. We cannot continue to kick him on down the road and suggest that he find yet another program or specialist because his unique needs are just too much for his current provider.
If it were within T's capability to behave in a more civilized, conciliatory way right now, he absolutely would. Calling on one of my fave authors, Gregory Keck, I told them that I firmly believe that T is doing the very best that he can. At first they looked at me like I'm a fool. I repeated it. Then they looked at me like I am outrageous. They expected that we would be frightened and cowed by what they had to share, and they wanted to pass him back to us. We said no. We said, he's here voluntarily, to get help, and we want to work with you to get him that help. His behavior may not be good enough to meet your requirements, and in that case, let's make a transition plan to meet his needs. But let's not continue to talk at him and expect him to gain control of his behavior through mere pressure alone.
I also channeled one of my blogger pals, the Accidental Advocate, and, with her advice in mind, I proceeded to walk them through T's history and the THOUSAND AND ONE good reasons why a sober T might be facing some demons--and the thousand and one reasons why they are obligated to treat him. Thanks to T, I have finally grown into an adult who does not care if the other adults in the room think I'm a bitch--to assertive, too invested, too righteous. I am there to do a job, I am super-powered by love and attunement to his needs, and I will use every strategy I can think of to meet those needs.
By the time T came into the room, the lot of us were able to put on a united front. We let him know that he is frightening the other kids. We talked about the fact that it can be hard or impossible to gain control of your behavior if you are putting a lot of energy into avoiding difficult memories of your past. We told him that now is his chance to do the hard work to uncover some of the unconscious feelings that drive his behavior.
It pains me greatly to confront him in this way, particularly when I am surrounded and forced to ally myself with adults in whom I do not have complete confidence. Of course, he withdrew over the course of this conversation, and it went on much too long. The adults couldn't seem to stop talking at him. But he did listen and he agreed. He did not object to the suggestion that his current behavior is linked to a long-suppressed rage. His defiance melted away. He refused to speak to me afterwards, and asked to go to his room to be alone for awhile. Although it's painful to see him withdraw in this way, it also signals that we've hit upon the truth. I believe that it's appropriate that he should want to recover after such a conversation. Frankly, I think it's a little bit insane for a whole posse of adult specialists whom he has no reason to trust to think that a 17 year-old boy is going to hang out and talk about his feelings for hours on end.
Nevertheless, there are good people (one in particular) on his treatment team, and he has the possibility to get a kind of coaching there than we cannot provide at home. I told him I love him, I'm proud of him, I'll always be his parent. I hope by Saturday, he forgives me, because we have permission for his first outting, and I want to take him to the mall.
Thank you, fellow trauma moms, for understanding. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do, and if that makes you a bitch, then you're a bitchin' advocate mom doing her imperfect best in an imperfect world.