Sunday, November 4, 2012


This is an embarrassing post, because it is about...spas. T loves spas.

I, actually, do not love spas. I didn't go to spas a lot before T.

It started one weekend when he was about 15 when we proposed that we all try out a Korean day spa near us. For those of you who have not been, Korean day spas are a family affair. You don matching gym outfits and go from sauna to sauna, laying around on mats on the floor and enjoying refreshments in between. There are people of all generations.

This was a BIG hit. T was solemn, as he often is, and then he wanted to do it again the next weekend. Solemn always equals trust, with him, and I don't always understand why it comes on when it does, but when he's solemn, I know we're in the zone, doing something right.

From that point on, the thing we did together most frequently as a family was to hit the Korean spa on Sunday afternoons. He would proudly announce this habit any time he got the chance - in family therapy, group therapy, with friends. I was often mortified. I found out that most people do not visit spas with their teenage sons. He invited people to join us - his friends, their parents. It became "our" thing.

We went to spas through thick and thin. Whether things were flowing between us, or not. During all the ups and downs of his substance abuse struggles. He loves spas. Now that he's home, one of the first things he wanted to go back to is our spa routine.

Just recently, we tried another spa option: a day spa in the desert in southeastern California with outdoor mud baths and mineral pools. It's not terribly expensive. This was also a major hit. He wanted us to stick right by him, figuring out how to participate, talking about his future while baking in the sun and soaking in the pools. He was solemn, serious and thorough in his exploration of the various options, then giddy and chatty in the car on the way home.

When we first started spending weekends with him oh-so-long-ago, I had not been the parent of a boy before, and being a bit of a jock, I had some ideas about how we'd spend our time. We went to the X Games. I got tickets to a season of college football. We hit went go-kart racing, rock climbing, and camping. Eventually I realized that I was totally stressing him out. None of these things were his idea of a good time. Spas are his idea of a good time.

He likes warmth, quiet, relaxation, and being tended to. I imagine (and one of the readers of this blog turned me on to the author of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, who kind of confirmed this for me) that our kids tend toward substance abuse in part because of the craving for sensations of well-being they were denied during early childhood. Spas kind of fill that need. They are a realm of pure sensation, but safely modulated by rules and rituals that are easy to understand. They are about being warm, relaxed, and quiet. They are about the sanctity and primacy of physical well-being.

I also see that something here has to do with abuse and recovery. Adults took advantage of T's vulnerability, physicality, and trust, as is true of every child I know who spent an extended period in foster care. I see in T that it's very hard to relax. He is tense, hyper-vigilant, and used to being exploited. At a spa, he can be physical, vulnerable, and still in control. I imagine what it was like to be separated from your birth mom just a few days after being born, and to be withdrawing from drugs at the same time, as he was. I see that his whole life has been one of physical tension and un-ease. This is part of why drugs that relax him are such a draw, and probably always will be. This is why he loves spas. This is why he did NOT love x-games, college football, and camping as much as I do.

I'm glad he has spas. I'm glad he has the vanity and pride to feel that he deserves to relax, to feel good, to take care of himself. I'm glad he's found a sober, legal way to fulfill the need for physical well-being and relaxation that eluded him. I'm happy to set aside my macho sports-based idea of recreation to take better care of him. I'm in awe of his adaptive powers of self-preservation when I see how many needs are fulfilled for him by simple things.


LaurenL said...

This very wise, but they always are!, post made me think--would SSRIs meet T's needs and possibly replace illicit drugs?

marythemom said...

Very cool! So glad you found something positive that works!

Vertical Mom said...

You are a good mom and very wise. I am filing this one away.

Casa Bicicleta said...

Though my daughter is not a substance abuser (she's 8) she has that "thing" inside her where anything mildly stressful pushes her over the top. I'm talking kids movies that have a little edge to them, anything vaguely scary or darkly exciting. She cannot tolerate that stuff.

She totally adores the salon when she gets her hair cut -- she could sit in the chair for hours-- and now you have me wondering if the spa thing might be a logical next step even though I cringe at the idea (for me).

Thank you for the well articulated post. Food for thought.

Rose Pipper said...

I loved your post. I would love to visit the bullfrog spas in UT. I love getting pampered like a princess.

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