I kept looking at the subject of this Open Call and wondered whether I should respond or not. At first I didn't want to but it kept haunting me so I decided to delve into a chapter of my life that became the defining moment for my 'real' family so here goes...
When my children were 10 and 12 years old we moved them to Newfoundland. We had heard so many wonderful things about the people there and had high hopes of forming life-long friendships with the inhabitants. My daughter seemed to gain instant acceptance but my son had to work at it a bit harder. My husband and I are very laid back and had no trouble fitting in.
After living in our new little corner of the world for a couple of years something changed within our close family unit. Because we had been moving every couple of years, we had formed a tight bond in order to create a home in whatever community in which we had decided to live. Over the summer between grade 9 and 10 for my daughter however, things began to change. Some of the threads in our tightly woven family fabric slowly started to loosen.
When school first began we were getting odd phone calls from my daughter's friends, saying they were concerned that she was missing classes. She has asthma and had indeed been having a rough time with it so was home sick several times. Although her friends were pretty great for the most part, they sometimes did strange things to get each other into trouble in order to take the heat off themselves for something they might have gotten in trouble for, so I dismissed the behaviour.
I love my children and I have always enjoyed spending time with them. I never understood why parents wanted to get away from their own kids. With school, work, friends, etc. I treasure every moment we spend together. They are just fun people to be around. That's why it was so difficult when things began to change. My daughter was spending more and more time alone in her room or out with her friends. She was becoming moody and I chalked it up to typical teenage stuff. She had always had a bit of an attitude and I figured I'd just have to bite my lip and ride it out.
One afternoon in the early Autumn of 2005 I received a very disturbing call at work. It was my daughter and she was hysterical. She said she was at school and the guidance counselor wouldn't let her leave unless we picked her up because one of her friends said she had attempted suicide the night before. I didn't understand a word she was saying. I could hear her, I just couldn't make sense of any of it. I began to shake and quickly called my husband and asked him to pick me up right away.
We flew across town to my daughter's school and found her huddled in a corner on the floor with a male friend....the one who had told on her. The counselor was visibly shaken and told us that our daughter had gone berserk in her office. We saw some of the physical damage and I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach.
Apprently while my husband and I were at my son's basketball game the previous evening, my daughter swallowed a handful of pills while she was online with this mysterious male friend and he had convinced her to make herself vomit right away. I always had pain pills on hand for my back so naturally I thought it was my fault.
We left the school and took my daughter straight to the hospital emergency room and waited to be seen by someone in psychiatry. I couldn't believe I was sitting there. What the hell had happened to our lives? How could I have been so blind? She sat there, eyes glazed over and wouldn't let us touch her. She was only a shell then, completely devoid of the daughter that once inhabited the body that sat across from me.
That was only the beginning. The most important thing to me was to keep my family intact. I was embarrassed that other 'real families' might look down on us so I tried to make things as normal as possible. My husband, son and I went out of our way to try and bring my daughter back into our circle. We offered to do things we knew she enjoyed...together...the way it used to be.
Despite our efforts, things just kept getting worse. I desperately wanted to repair the broken link in our now weakened chain. As a result we decided we didn't care what the 'real families' thought of us and we began reaching out in every different direction. It was like we were weaving a huge web in order to keep our daughter from getting away from us altogether. We called her friends and their parents and asked questions and educated them on what we knew was going on. We also contacted every government agency we could find in order to try and get help for our floundering daughter. It wasn't easy and in most cases all they did was hand us useless pamphlets on how to recognize teens abusing drugs.
Finally one of my daughter's friends came forward to tell us how this all began. She said that she and my daughter had gone to a party at the beginning of summer and had tried a couple of joints. What they didn't realize was that the weed was laced with Meth. The friend just did it again occasionally but my daughter couldn't seem to get enough and in her friend's words, "She fell harder and faster than anyone I've ever seen."
Our family had been through a tragic loss 3 years before combined with moving, the loss of family pets, etc. and it had all been building up inside of my daughter without us realizing. The drugs helped her escape and she ended up hanging around with a new crowd that could facilitate this new lifestyle of hers.
It all came to a head one night when we had forbidden her from going out. She had allowed one of her stoned friends to pierce her lip at a party and it had become badly infected so we had sort of grounded her. A typical reaction would have been an argument followed by the slam of her bedroom door but not this time...
The body that used to belong to my daughter flew into a rage. She came at me with a knife and kicked me hard in the small of my back. I looked into her eyes and all I found was a cold blackness. That's when I fully realized that my daughter was no longer present. My son had just finished playing basketball and I had been trying to get him something to eat but we couldn't get the situation under control and I became frightened for his safety. I knew his sister loved him but I also knew it wasn't her we were dealing with now so we pushed my son out the door and frantically called our closest friends from across the street and asked if they could keep him there and feed him. I'd explain later.
The violence only increased after that and culminated in my daughter's foot going through the front window in an attempt to escape. We called the police and my husband just held her on the couch until they arrived. At this point we didn't care about what the neighbours thought and we watched as the cops put our daughter's hollow body into their car as her new 'friends' waved from the corner.
I stayed home to tidy up and retrieve my badly shaken son, while my husband followed the police car to the hospital. They refused to do a tox screen. I couldn't believe it. They just said they didn't believe she was suicidal and released her back to us. As much as I wanted my real daughter back, I was horrified to see my husband pull in the driveway with her, just before midnight. None of us slept that night and I ended up on sick leave shortly afterwards. I had an actual condition brought on by a trauma such as this.
My daughter had been kicked out of school temporarily and I was left home alone with her each day. She spent the entire time tearing me down with her well thought out words. Words she chose specifically to hurt and shock me. It was an awful existence made worse by the fact that my daughter's actions were now beginning to unravel our family even further. My husband and I began arguing and pointing fingers and my poor son wasn't sleeping and was being pulled 3 different ways.
The way I felt during this time was that I was in the middle of the ocean on a tiny raft. With one hand I was desperately clinging to my daughter as she continually went under and was being swallowed by the huge waves and with the other hand I was holding onto my husband and son as they were slipping further and further into the water with me as I was being dragged in by my daughter. I was terrified that if I let my daughter sink any deeper, my husband and son would also go under and we'd all end up drowning. My strength and endurance was being tested and overextended every minute of the day. I didn't know how much longer I could hang on.
That was part of the problem. We were a family. I shouldn't have felt that our survival was my job alone. I didn't come to this epiphany until we attended a family therapy session. It was the single most pivotal point in our life as a family and I strongly suggest it for anybody going through a difficult time like we were then.
We were interviewed by 2 doctors in a room. They asked each of us questions, individually, and no one was to speak or comment on what each of us said until it was our turn. Behind a double-sided mirror were 2 therapists, watching our every move. When our group discussion was complete, we then went behind the glass and watched as the 2 therapists described to the doctors what they had just seen. It was definitely an eye opening experience.
I discovered that I internalized absolutely everything and mistook my daughter's actions as a diliberate way of hurting me. My daughter felt that everything we did was in order to keep her from gaining independence. She couldn't fathom that we were just genuinely concerned for her well-being. My husband was struggling with loss of control over the situation and fear that he couldn't always be there to protect his loved ones. My son was the biggest victim of all. They called him Switzerland and said he was just trying to be fair to everyone in and effort to keep us together and to keep him from losing his foothold in our now very battered family.
When impartial people laid it out for us, it all made sense. Words we couldn't accept from each other were much easier to swallow from strangers. Despite appearances, not all families led lives of harmony with picnics and hiking and happiness oozing out of every pore. They told us that because of some of the things we had been through together and the fact that all of those things had brought us to this point, we were a very 'real' family in the truest sense of the word. We had cared and fought enough to arrive at this point together.
We left the building feeling hopeful, raw, exposed and wounded but with a sense of renewal and unity. We went to a local family restuarant for lunch and began some much needed reparation work.
The following weeks were still difficult but we had a new awareness of what each other was going through and it made us more tolerant and understanding. My daughter raised concerns about the upcoming Christmas season though. She now knew how we all felt and was worried that she might ruin the holiday. That fear in and of itself was a huge step for her. Gradually the soft brown of her eyes returned and although she was still very guarded, she walked right up to me one morning, just before Christmas and voluntarily gave me a hug...completely unsolicited. I hung on for as long as she'd let me but released her without contest when she had had enough. It was a huge breakthrough. We hadn't been permitted to touch her at all up to that moment.
It has been a long 4 1/2 years for my family. We still have our daily struggles and I think we're all a bit jaded but we are a family...a real family. I don't think any one of us could fit into any other family. Although we are 4 individuals, we all have very interesting, similar senses of humour. We have this sort of running joke where we stop in the middle of one of our unique family conversations and laugh about what other people (outsiders) might think if they were to hear small, quirky parts of what we are saying. We're pretty sure they'd think we are all insane. Some of the sentences we put together include words that we're pretty sure are never thrown together by other people.
I think we are the perfect example of a real family. We are NOT a real example of a perfect family. We love each other despite many obvious faults and have been through devestation and elation together. We have survived as a unit even though each of us has changed and grown in different directions. We have hurt each other at one time or another but have always supported one another too. For some reason, it was decided that we should be together and regardless of what has happened and will happen, we will remain a real family and face the future (whatever that may be) together.