In April of 2015, we learned that our youngest daughter told her therapist that she’d been a victim of sexual abuse for over two years beginning when she was only twelve years old. As devastating as this was, it paled in comparison to her attempted suicide just two weeks later. While she was in the psychiatric hospital for a mandatory 5 days, my ex-husband and I realized that we couldn’t protect her from herself, didn’t know how to help her and needed to take immediate steps to get her into an intensive therapy program in order to save her life and any hope for a healthy future.
After much research, we found Sunrise Residential Treatment Center was the best place for her because they specialize in trauma victims and their program is for the entire family. And God knows… we all needed help to get through this! Unfortunately, Sunrise was at full capacity and could not accommodate our needs until space opened up. We needed to do something immediately to protect her from harming herself again and were forced to admit her into a wilderness program.
She did very well, graduated the program ten weeks later and was transferred to Sunrise’s Washington Fields campus. Her therapy team quickly determined the best approach to address the plethora of issues stemming from the trauma and began to execute her treatment plan immediately. Thrilled to be out of the wilderness, have an actual roof over her head and good food (that she didn’t have to cook herself), her first few weeks went pretty well. However, when the therapy began to creep under her exceptionally durable suit of armor, it wasn’t pretty. She wouldn’t speak to me other than to yell and scream for twenty minutes on our weekly “social call”. It was extremely difficult to hold firm to the decision to place her in a long-term treatment program. But I knew this was her only hope for survival and a chance to have a productive and happy future.
The months with her away from home seemed to crawl by at a painfully slow pace. Her progress was difficult to measure as it seemed to be “two steps forward and three steps back”. While I’d visited during parent weekends and witnessed the genuine caring and dedication of the entire Sunrise Team, I began to doubt the decision to send her so far from home and whether or not they could “fix” her. She was beginning to exhibit positive behaviors that were clearly a product of the therapy and coping skills she was learning and I remained hopeful even when she regressed.
The therapy team said she was “stuck”. While she was learning the skills she would need to lead a healthy and successful life the practical application of those skills was not happening. She was determined that even after everything that had happened to her throughout the trauma and then hiding it and living alone with it for an additional two years…she was “just fine”. She was determined to continue to isolate herself and shoulder all of the pain she was living with independently. Simply ride out the time between then and her 18th birthday when she could simply walk away from Sunrise. (Picture a beautiful 17 yr. old sitting Indian style in the middle of the road with her arms crossed tightly against her chest – That would be my stubborn daughter – Not sure where she gets thatJ)
The truth is this… The road to recovering from her trauma and allowing herself to become vulnerable was far more frightening and painful than suppressing it and isolating herself from those who care for her. She’d been a difficult teenager (now we know why) and extremely stubborn by nature, so we were forced to just wait for the “lights to come on”.
However, after ten weeks at Wingate Wilderness and six months at Sunrise, it became glaringly evident that even my daughter couldn’t possibly be this stubborn. The fact is, she really was “stuck” and needed to get “un-stuck” quickly. She’d celebrated her 17th birthday this past Fall and we were running out of time. So I asked our family’s therapist if it might be beneficial for me to come to St. George for a few weeks to share in my daughter’s therapy and healing process at Sunrise.
A few weeks later I’m at Sunrise training with the Staff and learning what residential therapy is all about. Attending weekly individual and family therapy along with daily group therapy, MA sessions, dinner, hiking, outings, studying and talking with my daughter as well as the thirty-some other teenage girls she now shares her life with and WOW it has been an awakening!! To put things into perspective… Each of these young women has had their lives shattered by one horrible thing or another… and I used to worry about project deadlines??! This is REAL life here. I quickly learned that, like my daughter, their success in this program is literally a matter of “life or death”.
Before long I began to realize there was sort of “a quiet magic” going on all around me. At first, I thought it was the AMAZING Staff members who fill the house with such a supportive, secure, safe, stable, healthy, happy and healing environment. But as I’m sitting in group therapy one afternoon I realized it’s not the staff’s “magic” I was feeling, it was the girls’. When one girl is struggling or feeling vulnerable the others help them process through it. They’re honest and supportive while still holding each other to high standards with reminders of their internal strengths and learned DBT skills. I began to watch and listen more closely because it warmed my heart to see how they strengthen one another and as a group. When I shared my observation with Craig he just sort of smiled before saying, “There is more to residential therapy than meets the eye huh?” I agree and he adds, “Residential group therapy was created by design and it wasn’t to save expense.” What an awakening! All of a sudden everything fell into place. These girls are all amazing in their own way. The environment at Sunrise allows them to share and learn from each other while supporting the growth and healing of their peers within their community.
This “magic” has worked its way into my heart as well. My daughter began to make progress shortly after I arrived. Apparently she’s been “alone” in her fear and pain for so long she’d forgotten how much she was loved. She didn’t like it at first but I kept showing up every day. It wasn’t long before she began to wait for my arrival. It wasn’t easy for her to realize that not only was she loved but she could still love. Today she’s no longer “stuck” and our relationship gets stronger every single day.
So… “a few weeks” has kind of morphed into “this my home away from home”. I’m blessed to have the flexibility to work East Coast hours remotely and still spend a few hours on campus each day. And each day I learn something new.
A couple of weeks ago, while my ex-husband was her to visit, we went repelling off of a 200ft. cliff. Yes-Indeedy!! Apparently this is yet another form of therapy?? You would think a person like me (who gets to feeling a bit faint and dizzy just before having a complete panic attack – when I look down) would be most concerned about the actual exercise of the repel itself. Nope. That’s not how it works when you’re watching your baby go over that edge. If you can survive that without experiencing heart failure, the repelling is easy! 🙂
Once the shock of the outing wore off (haha) I had time to reflect on how incredibly similar the feeling of watching my daughter go over the edge of that cliff was to leaving her in the hands of the folks at Sunrise so many months ago. I first had to realize that we simply didn’t have the expertise to properly fit her with the safety equipment designed to preserve her life or the know how to hold those anchor ropes to keep her from falling or slamming against the cliff’s edge – in order to trust Ben to keep her safe. I had to realize that from the top of that cliff I couldn’t catch her if she fell or help her if she became afraid – in order to trust that Craig was down there waiting to brush off any dirt or scrapes and care for her when I couldn’t. I had to trust them. Sounds so simple right? Trust me… it’s not.
The fact is, she trusted both of them enough to allow herself to become completely vulnerable and literally walk off the edge of that cliff. She was in the very best hands, she knew it and it her confidence in them was evident. So… I went right over that cliff’s edge after her! I needed her to know that I trust them too and would do anything to stay close to her and have her in my life.
I learned that my silly fear of heights is nothing in comparison to the fear of losing my child. If, after everything she’s been through, my girl can allow herself to become vulnerable, master her fears in order to trust and accept the help of her therapy team and peers, find the strength to fall down, rise greatly and find her own successes in life… Well then, I can manage anything. So bring on the cliffs Craig and Ben – Game On!
What a privilege it has been to spend time with the Sunrise Staff and these wonderful young women. The experience has impacted every aspect of my life and future by solidifying my goal to begin a national foundation to provide funding and ongoing support programs for adolescent trauma victims in need of full-time residential therapy.
P.S. Do blogs even have post scripts? I completed the “blog” above last night and was about to post it earlier but didn’t have time before Process Group today. Good thing – This session was incredible for the girls. Unwittingly, as their peers became vulnerable, each of the girls followed suit. It was amazing to watch and listen as this beautiful thing evolved. By the end of the session, I was in tears (not at all uncommon for me) and trying not to sniffle too loud and averting my eyes to hide the tears that refused to stop running down my cheeks. When I lifted my head I found both Noel the Residential Director and Brad the Executive Director/Senior Clinical Director crying too. I was incredibly moved by this genuine display of emotion and caring.
By a mother of a student at Sunrise Residential Treatment Center