Wednesday, August 10, 2011

My Kid is not a Hot Potato

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.


Lynne said...

Oh, Friend. Reading this stirred up so many things in me. Every time I am at odds with the treatment team it is because some professional has gotten his/her feelings hurt by my kid's behavior. The professionals take it personally sometimes and then I find myself "doing therapy" to calm the very one who's job is to be calm and objective. Nothing. Bugs. Me. More.

Professionals behaving badly are really no different than our kids. Because as soon as the kid comes in the room they "lecture" and "shame" the kid. Why? Because. They. Can. It's all about control. They lectured T. and talked at him rather than to him because he hurt their feelings. Truth is, you and T. probably would have respected the professional more if they had stood up and punched their own hole in the wall!

Every time I am at odds with a professional it is because they see my kid as a punk and I see him as a broken kid--traumatized, in need of acceptance and commitment. So many times, my advocacy has been about bringing the professional back around to my favorite quote by Dr. Daniel Hughes "The adults must constantly strive to have empathy for the child and to never forget that given his history, he is doing the best he can." (might as well have that tattooed on my hand)

T.'s success in treatment will come when he finds that one professional who will commit to him. The one who will look at T. and say, "You get well here. That's it. Punch the wall and we will fix it together. Run away and we will bring you back." It only takes one professional to do it.

You did a great job, Lola! You rocked! You are the best mother on Earth today! :-)

Lynne said...

OH, and I meant to add--there is a name for what you did. My friends (my people) and I call that a Drama Mama Smack Down! (DMSD for short)

You Rock, Lola!!

Lynne said...

Lola, Lulu... it's the details in life that get me every time! Sorry for that, Friend.

Anonymous said...

You don't know me, and I don't have kids yet, but I do work with kids in RTCs and I am so glad you are the kind of parent you are. The way you write about T has taught me so much about trauma. I hope that lots more providers have the opportunity to be schooled by you via reading, not at T's expense.
Someday after T is home and more settled, would you consider you and T writing a book together?

Fi said...

I think you and Lynne are inspirational advocates. I think there is such a huge need for 'how to' advocacy.

I would buy a book on the DMSD. Kids get so much critisism for being them, doing the best they can, when the real issue is the neurotypical 'professionals' not using all their available neurons

DMSD mums are in the minority (or they are too busy advocating and not blogging). It makes me think that therapists that 'get it' are in the minority too, but are stuck in services that are available, and don't have the skills or money to create their own service.
Could it be an opportunity for DMSD Mums?

Julia said...

Wow. I am always newly astonished by the amazingness of your parenting. Every single time I visit this blog.

I am so sorry you had to work so hard to get there but this does sound like a triumph. And I think you taught everyone in that room to find a little humility.

Huge round of applause.

Claudia said...

As always, so much for me to think about! Thank you.

And I don't know if you talk to T about your blog, but if you do - please tell him he's got a bunch of strangers rooting for him.

Heather said...

I am blown away by you and your sheer awesomeness! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. It has been invaluable to me as a soon to be adoptive mom of a 14 year old male. I hope I'll be a better parents because of your many words of wisdom.

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