Browsing the archives for the today tag

10 Tips for Parenting through Self Injury

family, Love, Mistakes, Spiritual Journey, Vulnerability

It has been a couple of months since I wrote about my teen daughter’s cutting, and what it was like to be a parent surviving through self-injury. Now I see parents arrive here at MereWisdom.org from time to time with searches that break my heart – for I typed so many of the same things trying to find answers. For these visitors, I offer the following wisdom gained from making a million mistakes in responding to my daughter’s self harm.

Victoria in a New Place
For those looking for people who are getting through this, I would point you to my daughter’s site where she wrote to share some of her story of Survival of a Self Injurer. Worthy of note and celebration in this is that she now has nine months free of self-injury, one day at a time.

Caring for Myself and Family

1 – There is nothing I can do to save her or protect her completely – The belief that if I just try harder to protect her, to limit her choices, and keep her safe to get her through this without being able to harm herself further is, in the end, a lie. I had to accept my powerlessness to stop her from harming herself before I could stop dying inside from whether she has or has not self-injured today. It’s her behavior and only she can make different choices.

2 – I did not cause it – I struggled with my own guilt for a long time. A long, long time of second guessing myself, thinking that my own faults and failures ends up, really, only another form of the false beliefs in item one, above.

3 – Her Self-Injury is not the most important thing in my life – She is more important to me than what she does. My son is equally important to me, and can’t be ignored because of constant crises in her life. Self-injury can pull a family out of a normal orbit into a tight orbit only around the self injury. This reinforces the self-injury from my experience, and it harms everyone else now out of orbit.

4 – I needed help for myself and my family and not just my daughter – It’s her behavior, but it affects all of us. More importantly as the family increasingly becomes centered on the self-injury, the more the family systems break down and require conscious rebuilding. Normal systems and family behavior that act as balancing forces for our children and ourselves become reinforcing factors for out of control behavior instead. And as we broke down, it was invisible to us. Outside help is critical.

5 – Learn to live in Daytight Compartments – The notion of “One Day at a Time” is almost a cliche in dealing with these situations, but there is some truth to the idea that just for today I can endure and do the things that I could never do for the rest of my life. For me, the idea of daytight compartments, like watertight compartments on a ship, helped me get through tough times.

Responding to Self Injury

6 – Talk about it – One of the things I did right in this was insist from day one that we would not act ashamed about it and talk freely about self-injury. It is always ok to ask if injuries need immediate treatment, for example. It’s ok to talk about feelings – from my feelings about specific events to her feelings before or after cutting. It’s also ok to talk about other things besides self-injury – there is a whole life taking place at the same time.

7 – Set Boundaries on Behavior – I mentioned above that trying to control her behavior stems from a false belief that somehow I can do it for her. This is one of the broken systems that reinforces negative behavior, rather than balancing or opposing it. Natural consequences are much better. One of the first consequences we had was that all cuts had to be examined by a medical professional within 24 hours.

8 – Build a Team – My daughter’s recovery team became her school nurse, her family doctor, her psychologist and later a psychiatrist. Each of them got a copy of the Bill of Rights for People Who Self-Harm and it made a very real difference in the level of care she received.

9 – Stay the Parent – My daughter at one point was using her self-injury as a point of leverage to take control of the family. She would threaten to cut herself to get herself out of situations, and these tools helped get us past that point. She would threaten, and I would respond that I can’t stop her if she chooses self-injury but then medical care is required, and if self-injury was a part of any behavior contract, then those consequences would happen as well.

10 – Love her enough to respect her decisions – This is the hardest one, and a recent bit of learned wisdom. I think this is because the same need I have to protect her from harm is also in play to keep her from harm by way of her consequences of her actions. This is still an ongoing struggle for me as it is a great theory until I see behavior that is likely to cause problems for yars to come or legal issues and so on. In our case, it meant loving her enough to respect decisions even when the consequences included not living at home for a while, hospitalization, school settings that took her away from music, and so on.

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Living in Daytight Compartments

Life as it is, Spiritual Journey

Have you ever been exposed to an idea that seemed mildly interesting, but then later helped you grasp something vital? That’s what the concept of daytight compartments are to me. I first heard of them in a Dale Carnegie class, many years ago, and loved the mental image of doors sealing off each day one from another so I only had to worry about today. I was already familiar with the idea of watertight doors on a ship, and always wondered what the doors between days would look like.

Daytight Compartments

Thinking about it now, I imagine there comes a time in many sailors’ lives where the idea of watertight doors stops being an interesting idea and an occasional threat to the skull, and instead becomes a necessary reality. On ships, these doors prevent a leak or flooding in one compartment from threatening the other compartments. What is a disaster in one part of the ship is stopped from being a disaster in other parts of the ship because of these doors.

So in my case, my life was much the same as a ship that is in danger of sinking as crises were overwhelming me. Things in the past would leave me a wreck and before I could recover, there was another disaster approaching fast. I would hear people using the slogan, “One Day at a Time” and try to reach for some sort of serenity about the present day but I could never just force this to happen through an act of will.

And that is when daytight compartments stopped being an interesting bit of wordplay, and became a necessary part of my life. The term “daytight compartments” was first coined by Sir William Osler as a way of describing how the following quote changed his life when he encountered it:

It is not our goal to see what lies dimly in the distance but to do what clearly lies at hand.
— Thomas Carlisle

Sir Osler’s many achievements were attributed by him to this idea of never looking more than 24 hours ahead or behind right now. Dale Carnegie included this concept as part of a strategy of dealing with worry. For me, this is what allows me to continuing jumping through the hoops of a single-father, IT-professional, and artistic life with regrets and fear running off my back like water from a duck’s back.

Most of my fears are about things that have nothing to do with my immediate task of crossing this daytight compartment and making it to bedtime. And most of my regrets are about things that happened yesterday or before. Living in a working space that exists only from now until bedtime is just too small for my many fears to get too large – and yet it’s large enough for me to focus on what is at hand.

Those who know me and hear me talking about my “next right thing” are seeing me working in such a compartment. I can only deal with so much between now and bedtime – the rest I have to leave in God’s hands. And in the meantime, if a disaster has happened or will happen, I am safe in today. And when I am safe in today and can then focus only on the day around me, I can find some wonderful things.

Before IT started me working late-night maintenance windows again, I loved my dawn walks with my dog. I would time them so I was always on the west side of the lake for sunrise so I could watch it reflected in the lake and imagine today’s doors opening, often reciting this along the way.

Salutation to the Dawn

Look to this day!
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course
Lie all the verities and realities of your existence:
The bliss of growth
The glory of action
The splendor of beauty
For yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow only a vision
But today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore to this day!
Such is the salutation to the dawn.
–Sanskrit Poem

What about you? How do you “seize the day” and stay focused in the present? And what does it do for you?

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What if?

Life as it is

I am really good at the game of “what if”. I play it all of the time.

What if someone stole my laptop?

What if my children are hurt?

What if crazed terrorists took over the Burger King while I was eating lunch there?

And I will say that the “what if” game helped me a lot in my former career in security. Take someone’s nice new plans for something wonderful to happen, and then brainstorm about the worst possible things that could happen. It was a perfect position for an expert at “what if”, and I was good at it.

Then all I had to do was chase down all those possibilities and show my plans for dealing with each one.

But for some reason, all of my “what if” games have a tendency to be negative. In fact usually they are in the form of creating catastrophes from what ever I happen to be doing or thinking about.

But “what if” they weren’t?

What if I were to play what if games about positive things. Maybe even getting past the “What if I win the Lottery,” stage of this game.

What if instead of imagining the worst way possible for today to go, I instead asked myself, “what is the best thing that could happen today?”

What if I focused on things that could start with me (and not require lottery-winning luck)?

What if I played this game about how to best care for myself or my children or my home?

What if I just started a blog entry without worrying when I would write my next one or what theme it should fit.

What if I just had fun living my life as it is?

Tags: Life as it is, ,

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The Vulnerable Heart

family, Life as it is, Love, Spiritual Journey, Vulnerability

At last night’s Lifeway meeting (our alternative peer group), the topic was on the importance of staying vulnerable. Several people shared, but as a parent of an addicted teen I have my own experiences I can share. One of them was last night after the meeting and again today.

Victoria's Heart

Last night I found that my daughter has been stealing spare change from my room. Not a huge cause for concern, we have consequences to help take care of that. But then she came to my room and gave me a long hug and kiss and I sent her back to her room to bed. After she left, I realized that she had manipulated me and the situation to steal my keys during her visit so she could get into my computer room and the Internet.

So today she has disconnected her stereo and her computer and gone back under consequences by placing them in the storeroom so I can lock them up until she starts moving in the right direction again. It’s hard to just let the consequences be the only consequences – I am hurt by her behavior. It brings back old tapes and reminds me of a time in my past when loving actions were a lure to get my guard to drop so that cutting remarks could pierce more deeply.

There’s a quote by C.S. Lewis I tried to share last night in the meeting and did not do a very good job paraphrasing it. Taking a few minutes to look, this is what he said that spoke so clearly to me:

“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket–safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.” -C.S. Lewis

I choose today to keep loving my daughter – to stay vulnerable to her. I choose to remind myself that feelings are not facts and that her consequences in the form of loss of her stereo and computer take care of the situation in full and to trust this program that has helped my family so much. For me to distance myself from her in the name of guarding my heart is to send a message that it is her I have a problem with, and not her behavior.

This is incorrect. It is her that I love and her behavior that I will not accept.

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