> No More Secrets And Lies: Do You Still Love Me?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Do You Still Love Me?

I was working nights at the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center and my job was becoming more and more stressful each day. My job duties hadn't changed, and how I performed them hadn't changed. What had changed was the day-by-day difficulty I was having just keeping my job. I was being targeted — something that had started about two years earlier, about the time Mary was in Forest Ridgeand it was only getting worse. Every few months I would get one more crazy reprimand or unpaid suspension for either being a few minutes late to work, not bringing a doctors note back from the emergency room (where Mary had been taken), or for whatever reason my supervisor could think of.

When Mary first got home from the group homes, she would sometimes call me while I was at work. She called almost every night during that first week usually just wanting to talk. We didn't talk long, but I was afraid my supervisor might get upset with me if he knew Mary was calling. I didn't know why he was trying to fire me, and I didn't want to do anything that might make things worse.

One night Mary called because she was having trouble with her computer and she wanted to know if I could help her fix it over the phone. And like with all my daughters, whenever we talked on the phone, we would always end our conversations by saying "I love you,” to each other. Mary and I probably made three or four short phone calls that evening while we were troubleshooting her computer. Our calls would usually go something like this:

"Give that a try, Mary, and see how it works. Then call me back. Okay? Bye."

I didn't say "I love you," after every call, but I did think about it.

The next day she came into my room and said she wanted to talk to me about something.

"Dad, there's something I have to ask you."

"Yeah, what is it, Mary?"

"Do you still love me?"

"What? Of course I do. Why would you ask me such a thing?"

"Well, after we talked last night, the last time you hung up you didn't say 'I love you,' like you usually do and I wondered if maybe you didn't love me anymore."

"Oh Mary, of course I still love you. That didn't have anything to do with it. We had just talked a lot, and I didn't want to say it each time we hung up because I thought that would sound kind-of weird. But I did think about it. You know don't you that you don't ever have to worry about that, right?"

"Yeah. I guess so."

This just broke my heart. It really did. And it still does today whenever I think about it. But I try not to think about it too much because I miss her so much. Our conversation reassured her that I still loved her, but the fact that she was worried about this made me think of how big an issue trust was for her, and how big an issue abandonment was for her. She no longer took these things for granted, like she did when she was younger growing up in our family. And I wasn't surprised. I wasn't surprised that something like this — something that seemed like a little thing to me — was such a big thing to her. I wasn't surprised at all, considering how often she'd been abandoned and left in remote locations around Minnesota and Iowa, not sure if anyone loved her anymore — even her parents. She was still worried she was going to be abandoned, and that any day I might just decide to not love her anymore — a natural reaction for a child who had been through what she had.

*  *  *

Another night she called me at work and was crying:
"What's wrong, Mary?"

"I, I broke the keyboard on your computer."

"Oh really? What? How'd that happen?"

"I got really frustrated and I hit it with my hands really hard. I think I can get the keys back on, Dad. I'm trying to put them back on and fix it. You're not mad at me are you?"

"No Mary, I'm not mad at you. Don't worry about it. I can fix it when I get home. That happens a lot."

It didn't happen a lot, but I was worried that she was worried. She was upset with herself and badly wanted to do well, and she was afraid she would be sent away if she made a mistake — any mistake. And she couldn't sleep until she knew that wasn't going to happen. How could she know any differently? She no longer knew what those mistakes might be because she was seldom told what she had done to get kicked out of most of her placements. She got frustrated and hit my laptop's keyboard with her fists, and then started to panic.

She was afraid she had done something wrong and afraid I might call her social worker when I got home and have her taken away. She was afraid of her feelings — that they had sabotaged her again. And the memories of all those times her caregivers had rushed into her room to tell her she had to pack her things and move again, came flooding back and she panicked. This had bothered her all night, and she couldn't rest until she talked to me about it. I felt bad that she had worried about this.

It took a while for Mary to feel confident enough that she wasn't going to get kicked out — even out of her own home — to be able to relax and be herself. And the only way she could do this was by testing her limits. And I knew she had to do this. And even if she had had an escalating behavior one evening, I was always there the next morning assuring her that she wasn't going anywhere. And after awhile, she realized no one was going to send her back to any group home anymore. I was surprised she didn't know this about me, but I don't think she knew this about anybody.

Flying Phones

She still had problematic behaviors at times and would still lose her temper and do things, like throw the phone, for example. If she was on the phone, and I was reprimanding her or setting some limit, and if she got mad enough, she would throw the phone against the wall. I probably bought three phones during this time and still have the last one (actual phone below). But like with all her behaviors, they occurred less and less over time, and the phone became one of our favorite toys that we ended up laughing about. We joked that her medications were made to specifically stop phone-throwing. 

"Look, Mary, it says so right here on the bottle."  

She got a kick out of that.

But even more importantly, when she woke each morning, I was still there, and little by little she became more and more confident that I wasn't going to send her away — that no one was. I made sure she knew that.

"Mary, it doesn't matter what you do, okay? I'm not going to send you anywhere. You're going to get better and I'm not going to leave you. No one's going to. I'm still going to be with you."

This took a while to sink in, but it was probably the most important thing for her to know at this point in her life. And because of this, she started to see herself as the lovable person she is.

After she had gone past the two-month mark, she felt a great sense of accomplishment and was extremely happy about this. This was a huge milestone for her — to actually be in the same place for more than two months. She had seldom stayed in any group home longer than this. We talked about the fact that she was still home, and how she hadn't done anything to cause her to have to move. I think it's hard for people to grasp how big a deal this was for her.

"Look, Mary. You've got over two months at home now in one place. This is great! You're doing great. You can really do this. We can do this Mary. You'll be fine and you won't need to be in any group home ever again. Let's shoot for six months and then have a celebration."

We set our goal for six months.


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