Our first lesson as Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness parents was to engage in Self-Care. This directive came from the family therapist Kayla. I am going to speak the truth here in that I thought it was a giant load of tree hugging BS. Where was the real therapy, I wasn’t paying a fortune for you to tell me to go spoil myself with manicures, pedicures, and massages.
As I had never heard the term Self-Care before, and I thought that words self-care and spoil yourself were synonymous. I was wrong, yet again. Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health.
The light bulb went off in my head, and I realized that I stopped caring for myself a very long time ago. I lost myself somewhere in these past years, and in truth, I really did want to get back to being me.
I couldn’t recall the last time I laughed, like really laughed; like laughed so hard you are convinced you are going to pee in your pants laughing. The last time that the idea of socializing with family brought joy instead of anxiety and frustration had alluded me. I couldn’t remember the last activity we did as a family that didn’t end in slammed doors, raised voices and the war cry, “This is why we don’t do anything together”.
And most importantly, I couldn’t remember the last time I had fun with my boys. It was no wonder we were messed up. It became clear to me that I was going to have to work on myself just as hard, if not harder than my son was going to work on himself.
I was spending so much time trying to put everyone else and our family back together that I lost and let myself go. I am not talking about the extra twenty pounds I put on. And for the record, I believe there should be a formal term for the weight you gain while your kid is in treatment, like the freshman fifteen, maybe the traumatized 20, I don’t know.
A great article on self-care can be found on pathforward.org, it clearly explains that self-care is not an indulgence but a discipline. At first I was thinking about the activities I was going to partake in to care for myself. But it quickly became evident that the first level of my needed self-care was to start respecting myself, and to actually stop doing things.
I was a people pleaser. I had a deep sense of obligation and I did not want to let people down. I was going to have to start saying no. If it wasn’t required of me, I was going to stop doing it. I let go of clubs and extra-curricular activities, and volunteering. As each obligation fell by the wayside I felt a bit lighter and not so stressed. I finally got the to point that the only obligations I had were work and family.
The shift was even evident in my job. I was no longer going to work 2 to 3 additional hours each day. I was no longer going to take work calls or check emails after hours or weekends. My job wasn’t life or death so I had to stop treating it that way.
I started to ask for help from a select group of trusted people in my life. I cried a lot, and I mean a lot. That in itself was self-care, allowing myself to feel again, feel the pain and sorrow that I had become.
I started a crusade to be kind to myself, such as practicing positive self-talk, setting boundaries with things and people that triggered me, worked on my coping skills, went back to individual therapy, acknowledged and pursued treatment for a lifetime of anxiety, and only surrounded myself with people whom I felt safe. Let’s just say to some people it may have felt like I fell of the face of the earth, and in the past I would have obsessed over what they thought, but at this time I had to choose not to care, I needed to take care of me.
I became a voracious reader of all things wilderness (my favorite books are posted on Letters to My Son Facebook page), I consumed books like they were chocolate candies, by the handful. The stack of books on my nightstand was starting to teeter. Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict had the most profound effect on my ability to view things differently, and today it remains the most meaningful to me.
I started to break the silence and starting talking to other peer parents. At first they were hard to find, but we must emit a pheromone that allows us to find each other. I found peer parents in line at the grocery store, in the airport, and online just to name a few interesting places.
One parent in particular has literally been by my side this entire ride. We found each other through a “parents losing their minds because they didn’t know what to do with their freakin kid FB page”, that wasn’t the official title but it felt like it to me.
I posted about putting a child in Wilderness, and then almost as quickly I put it up, I took it down. I was afraid someone I might know would see it; at that point I was still embarrassed and ashamed of what was happening in my family. But in that brief moment Grace (not her real name) saw it and reached out. At that time was true grace for me, the first peer parent whom I deeply connected with. We spoke on the phone for over an hour and clicked immediately. No need to underplay our kids, no need to dance around or make excuses, we were in the same situation, and there was no need to try to pass it off as better than it was. We were able to lay it right out for each other, and we did.
The long and short of it was that Grace lived across the country from me. Our children went to different wilderness programs, but at the same time. We kept in touch over the months our kids were in the woods. And as fate would have it our sons ended up as roommates in the same RTC. We both feel that we couldn’t have made up the story if we tried. Both of our kids have graduated and are at home now.
Our children communicate regularly as much as we do. She is one of the most important people in my life along with several other peer parents. We formed our own little support community to handle the ups and downs. And I don’t feel like I could be any luckier. Our kids are doing well, and we have each other for continued support.
And just because my son is home, I haven’t abandoned the concept of self-care. I find that I am a better person, wife, friend, and mother when I take the time to care for myself.
Consider incorporating self-care into your life if you don’t already. It is a game changer.