I’m Working On It

Posted by Marie Svatek, M.D., FAAP on September 21, 2022

In November of 2020 we interrupted our son, Gabe’s, junior year to send him to Evoke. After 12 weeks at Wilderness, we made the tough decision to send him on to therapeutic boarding school (TBS). In August of 2021, we brought him back home to begin his senior year of high school.

When we decided to bring him home, there was significant resistance from his TBS. They emphasized he was not ready. My husband and I knew we were ready. We pulled Gabe knowing this would be a bumpy ride and we rolled the red carpet out for all of us: “Regression, c’mon in!” We were prepared to accept the consequences as we knew none of us were “fixed” but all of us were committed to giving this a chance.

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We made sure to have our support systems in place before Gabe got home. He resumed weekly therapy with his former home therapist. We hired Emma Reedy as our family therapist, which was invaluable since she spoke the Evoke language and was keenly aware of where we all were on this journey. (My husband had met Emma at an Evoke Intensive he participated in while Gabe attended Wilderness.) She taught us so much about having patience, dealing with resistance, meeting Gabe where he was at, letting go of outcomes, among a myriad of other parental issues. As I reflect on bringing Gabe home, I cannot imagine this experience without her guidance and compassion.

All this groundwork got us about a two-month honeymoon.

After that, Gabe began to chafe against our boundaries. He became restless, asking for more trust and privileges. When I held boundaries, he’d get angry and make accusations.

“Buckle up and lean into this,” I thought. Instead of fighting, I agreed with him. We are his parents and we make certain decisions that we think are best for him. He gets to have his own feelings about this. End of discussion. I quickly learned that agreeing with him and owning my piece shuts down his arguing.

His resistance kept increasing. He dropped two classes, started vaping, drinking, smoking marijuana, and stealing and then selling household items to support his lifestyle. “Are we really back to square one?” I worried. Yet I kept thinking about what Brad Reedy says, “His authentic self is in there and your kid will forgive you when he grows up.”

When he returned home, we had given Gabe a car to drive to extracurriculars like show choir and individual therapy. We tied the car to his grades, and other reasonable things like safe driving and honoring certain obligations.

In November we received a call from the police that he and two friends were pulled over and had alcohol and marijuana in the car. He lost car privileges and was grounded for a few days. No lecture needed--the policeman delivered that.

Gabe raised his first semester grades to above our boundary, so we allowed him to drive to school the first day of second semester. He then skipped his final class of that day, Consequently, we restricted the car privileges he had just won back.

When he started to refuse to take his ADHD medication, my response was to welcome heightened impulsivity and enroll in a Pilates class. I needed to increase my flexibility.

Months into this ongoing resistance, we reached out to our educational consultant and considered sending Gabe back to Evoke and/or TBS. Ultimately, we took a breath and decided that we needed to honor the struggle and keep him at home to nurture our connection and the rebuilding of our relationship with him. The going got tough and we needed to really get going.

We began marriage therapy to work on us; we too were regressing into old marital patterns, and we were losing the focus on ourselves as a couple. I also bought a trove of books that would support my emotional growth. When Gabe was out most every night, I’d immerse myself in these books in order to focus on my own growth and decrease my anxiety.

And the challenges continued.

Gabe pressed us to have his friends over so we were clear the same rules applied to his friends regarding substance use. When we discovered one of the friends was sneaking liquor into our house, we banned that friend from the house. When I caught the friend in the house after the ban (Gabe had snuck him in), I knew I had to hold the line even though I was scared to. I kicked the kiddo out. In response, Gabe said I couldn’t control his friendships. I agreed with him—and then reminded him about the house rules around substance use.

Outside our house, while we couldn’t control who he chose as friends, we could elect not to fund his activities with them. He could get a job. Once as we dropped him off at therapy, he related he was getting a ride after with friends and didn’t need a ride home. Later, he called wanting one of us to drive over to his therapist’s office and give him gas money for his friend. We said no. He arrived home 45 minutes later on a cold winter night stating he had walked five miles home. (We watched him get out of a car prior to the door opening. We did not call him out on this.) Our response was, “Nice to see you. Do you want some dinner?” He silently went up to his room.

Once while holding a boundary, he accused me of being crazy and yelled, “What’s wrong with you, Mom?” I agreed with him and with tears in my eyes I answered, “There is SO MUCH wrong with me. You have no idea how many things are wrong with me. I’m working on it as fast as I can.” I walked away and held the boundary.

This letting go and handing decisions and consequences over to him has not been easy for sure. He got himself into an academic hole in April and was failing all of his high school classes, thus jeopardizing graduation. I decided maybe attending college now isn’t his path and let go and stopped asking about graduation. Only then did he recover.

He has chosen to attend a community college and not a four-year university as he initially planned when he returned home. We supported his decision. He is much more motivated when he decides his path. He has now been living in an apartment across town for a few weeks.

Most people cannot understand why we would pay for this and not save money and micromanage (as Gabe likes to say) his every move. We decided we needed to set this boundary and expectation with him and honor his request to treat him like his older sister and allow him to live independently. I recently read the book, Educated by Tara Westover. It affirms the fact that Gabe needs to get out of his context of origin. Curiously the author was born and raised in Idaho. This is where I waited for him to be born for 3 weeks and I was blessed to hold him the day of his birth. An adoption miracle and attachment journey now comes full circle as I let him go to realize new contexts and discover his own Self.

Since he moved out, he has also commented a few times that his walls are bare and the apartment doesn’t “feel like home.” I printed and framed a few pictures of us as well as Gabe with his girlfriend. He loved this act of compassion around his feelings. Later he accompanied us to Target and he and his girlfriend walked straight to the art section. We found him a few minutes later carrying a framed poster of a Joshua tree he wanted to buy. He smiled and said there were many of these in Utah at Wilderness. Tears welled up in our eyes. As he starts to write the next chapter in his life, what a significant symbol this is.

U2 bassist Adam Clayton said, “The dessert was immensely inspirational to us as a mental image. Most people would take the dessert at face value and think it’s some kind of barren place. But it’s a very positive image, because you can actually do something with blank canvas, which is effectively what the dessert is.”

Brad Reedy often says that it is, “not how we speak about our children, but how we hold our children in our minds” that tells them how to feel about themselves. I look back on that time, and know I had lost faith in Gabe, and maybe in much more than that.

Now, I believe my greatest truth I can honor is reaffirming my faith in God; that He has a plan and all will work out how it is supposed to. I recently was somberly reminded how a lack of faith played out as I watched the Broadway musical, Hadestown. I cried as I profoundly realized that a loss of faith is really hell. I'm so glad I have mine back-stronger than ever.


Thank you for your heartfelt story. We are also adoptive parents. 3 weeks into Evoke after 6 weeks of residential care. We want to bring our daughter home after Evoke - but all the videos and podcasts are saying therapeutic boarding schools are the next step. Our daughter is very bright ( borderline genius) and we want her to have the high school experience - and we miss her. Do you regret not sending your son to the therapeutic boarding school?
Do you think your family would have had less trauma if he had more intense therapy's? I do not want to be invasive but any insights you may have would be greatly appreciated.
Regards, D'Lee Mayberry

Posted by D'lee Mayberry

Love this. Thanks for sharing your beautiful hero’s journey with me. So grateful to be a witness to you and your sweet family!

Posted by Emma

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