By: Alumni Parent
As a little girl, our daughter was always the life of the party. She was a bright and sunny kid who loved to have fun. She loved to sing and would often belt out the words to Nat King Cole’s “Love” while dancing around the room. She had a whacky sense of humor and always had a sparkle in her big blue eyes.
Our daughter loved to plan parties, decorate our house for just about every occasion and plan menus for the holidays. In middle school everything started to change. She desperately wanted to fit in and have friends. She became obsessed with social media and how others viewed her. The drama started to take over her life. It got worse when she was bullied by other girls in school. Often it was so bad that she refused to go to school so she didn’t have to deal with the fear and anxiety. She became increasingly anxious and depressed and difficult at home. Little things would set her off in a frenzy. She would go to her room and lock herself away, refusing to come out or open the door.
In 8th grade she was diagnosed with ADHD and went on medication. While things were better for about a year, the old issues resurfaced with the pressures of high school, only now the stakes were higher. She began to put off her homework to hang out with friends. She started smoking marijuana and hanging out after school at a nearby park. We would find evidence of her smoking almost every morning in her room. And while the punishments escalated, they did nothing to change her behavior. She would constantly lie about where she was and who she was with. Hours would go by where we had no idea of her whereabouts. When she came home she refused to talk to us. Rather than do her school work and ask for the help she needed, she would just avoid it all together only to fall further and further behind. Our house became toxic as we were either franticly trying to track her down or arguing with her. I became consumed with trying to find her the right help. She went to therapists, tutors and psychiatrists. We tried DBT and CBT and nothing helped. She became my second full time job. Finally, it hit us that we couldn’t help her at home. An educational consultant recommended wilderness and after talking with several programs we decided on Pacific Quest.
It was a very difficult decision to send our daughter so far away. The day the transporter came to get her was like a bad dream. I’ll never forget my husband’s words in the early days after she left. Whenever I felt worried and scared about our decision he would say “I am more worried thinking about what would happen if we kept her here.” As the days went by, and they did go slowly at first, I started to get more comfortable. We would get updates from the staff at PQ as well as her therapists about her progress. During our weekly therapy sessions, we also received feedback about our communication style with our daughter and how we could make changes in how we communicated with her and each other. Every week we received photos from PQ and we started to see big changes. She looked healthier. There was a visible calmness that soon turned to huge smiles which we hadn’t seen in ages. At first, we couldn’t have imagined our city kid adjusting to life outdoors in Hawaii with none of the comforts of home. Not only did she adjust, she began to blossom. Her letters home became increasingly reflective. She expressed pride that she could do the hard work required and move through the phases. She also began to appreciate so many of the things she had at home, including parents who believed in her. She even thanked us for that.
When we went to see her for family program, I will never forget how she put her hand in mine and walked me to her little hut. We spent an incredible two days with her where the work we all did culminated in a reunion of acceptance, forgiveness and appreciation for each other. We talked, we listened, we cried and we laughed. The PQ staff was kind, nurturing and supportive. They taught our daughter the importance of loving herself and owning up to the choices she made and the power to make new choices going forward.
The day before we moved her into a therapeutic boarding school outside of Phoenix, she and I went for an evening swim. It was nearly 90 degrees that evening. It was only the two of us in the pool. She again placed her hand in mine. We stood there eyes locked, stars shining down on us and she said…”mom, I’m nervous about my new school.” This time, I just listened and validated, so happy that she was able to share and seek comfort in my presence. As I looked at her in that moment, I noticed something else. The sparkle was back in those big blue eyes.