That Time I Sent my Kid to Treatment and Expected her to Change our Family System
Years ago, my child had begun to walk—well, let’s be honest here—run down a path that felt destined to lead to terrible things. She was barely a teen and already experimenting with drinking and substances, showing formidable defiance, beginning to fail out of school, and running a very unpleasant show in two households. Like so many who get pulled into the whirlpool of parenting an out-of-control child, my ex-husband and I were terrified and completely out of our depth.
A friend who worked in the treatment world suggested sending her to a residential treatment facility in another state a long plane ride away. (This was years before I came to work at Evoke, and sadly, years before I even knew what Wilderness was.) Although it cost more than either of us could afford, we genuinely felt it was the only way to keep our child from ending up sick for life—or even dead.
Even though the place was warm and safe-looking, tucked away in the California hills, I died a thousand times driving away from the gated grounds. Clutched in my hand was my side of the work to be done—a single slim book. A month later I was back for a parent weekend. There, they told us a lot about how to manage the kids when they got home and showed us a video on vulnerability. I prayed she would get her act together, realize what a gift this time in treatment was, and turn her life around—all in eight weeks. Totally reasonable, right?
While she was gone, I read the book, went to parents’ weekend, and sought individual therapy. But I spent all my time in these activities focusing on her—how would she behave, how would I manage her, what if she wasn’t fixed? Neither her father nor I did one meaningful thing to work on building our own Selves, or even just to acknowledge our parts in what she was going through. The folly of not doing our own work is forehead-slappingly clear now.
If you had a badly pocked highway to fix, why would you only fix one lane? Put a different way, why on earth would you put the responsibility of changing the family system on the shoulders of a struggling teenager whose brain hasn’t even finished developing yet? You wouldn’t! So why were we sending our kid to treatment, not doing our own work, and hoping for transformation? The simple truth is, from down in the vortex of the whirlpool, I wasn’t thinking of changing myself--I was just trying not to drown. And I didn’t know what I didn’t know until I knew. Unfortunate, but true.
My daughter returned. Her father and I were quickly up to our old tricks again, and she had not magically seen the light and transformed. We battled all the time. We’d set boundaries only to have them crash right down. Resentment and pain and anger seemed to infuse the very air we breathed. I felt like a complete failure. A terrible mother. And I worried constantly about how my beautiful tempest of a girl would fare in the world. It was hell.
It was really only once our daughter went to college—away from us--that she found a way to stop whirling. There, she is majoring in Psychology, going to therapy, reading books that expand her own consciousness and spur her personal growth, and aiming to get a doctorate and become a therapist. She seems to have worked some of her stuff out--despite us.
Today, I work for a company dedicated to helping adolescents who are struggling just like my girl was. But, hey, guess what? One of Evoke’s most important tenets is that things go much better when parents do their own work too.
The messages Evoke sends are clear and pervasive: Grow your own Self, your child and family will be better for it in the long run. The work is hard; but getting resources through Evoke is easy, and they can be accessed even after your child leaves the program. Weekly webinars, a YouTube channel, podcasts, blog articles, parent support groups, a parent coaching program, and therapeutic Intensives all remain options in perpetuity.
I sometimes wonder what our story would have been like if I’d figured out what my work was and started it back then; if there could have been more peace in our house and more clarity before she left us for good. I know it’s not useful for me to dwell on these thoughts—that regret is part of my work. The important thing is, for me and my children, I’m trying now. Fifty-one and still a beginner, trying to grow a Self.
Better late than never.