A voice in the wilderness

Discussion in 'General Parenting' started by smallworld, Aug 30, 2009.

  1. smallworld

    smallworld Moderator

    As some of you know, my son J spent his summer in a therapeutic wilderness program in Georgia. husband and I traveled to Georgia last week right before J transitioned out of the program to spend a night in the wilderness with him. For me, the highlight of the trip was when J read aloud his Letter of Accountability, which captures so eloquently the take-away lessons he learned in the wilderness.

    Here's the text of J's letter:

    Dear Mom and Dad,

    This is my letter of accountability. Over the years I have hurt you with angry and selfish behavior. The biggest thing was my shut-downs.

    One example is when Dad and I were canoeing in New Hampshire when Dad told me I was going to the B Program and would repeat 9th grade. I instantly shut down, forcing you to paddle back yourself, and I refused to talk to anyone for the last few hours of the trip. I felt angry and stupid and refused to accept the county’s decision. This created tension in the family, and created a sour aftertaste in an otherwise enjoyable trip. I was trying to control the situation by avoiding it.

    Another thing I did was avoid school. The most glaring example is when I locked myself in the bathroom so I wouldn’t have to go to school. This was a continuation of my avoidance patterns. I felt depressed and felt like an outsider at school. This made Mom stay home all day, Dad had to leave work early and I missed a day of school. This also resulted in your taking all the locks off the doors. I again was trying to control the situation.

    Something else I did was set off M. I can’t remember a specific time, but whenever M was getting angry and about to throw a tantrum, I would make a smart remark that would put her over the edge or I would make a comment after she was throwing a tantrum to make the situation worse. I got a strange sense of pleasure from being able to have so much power over her.

    I also yelled at you a lot and took out my anger on the family. Whenever I came home from a bad day at school or had anything gone bad in general, I would wander around the house insulting anyone or walk into the den and take the remote from A or M and watch a show I knew they hated. At those times I felt angry and stressed and wanted to take my anger out on others. This put everyone else in a bad mood and led to more conflict in the family. I did this because I was angry that I was the only one in a bad mood and wanted the power to make others feel the same way. Arguments, sometimes tearful, often originated from problems as small as losing a baseball card to failing a test to being in the B Program. I felt angry and helpless in these situations. This created more tension in the family and hurt my relationship with you and my sisters. I wanted control over these situations by dragging others down with me.

    Another thing I want to take accountability for is my self-care. I would go weeks without showering, I rarely brushed my teeth and would occasionally skip haircuts. I would feel lazy, tired, angry or depressed and didn’t want to bother with those basic necessities. This would make me smell horrible, my teeth sometimes became yellow and my hair would pile up on my head. This would also make me less social and unpleasant to be with. I wanted to do more fun things and have freedom from these things.

    Another thing I did was not apply myself in school, particularly in this past school year. I felt angry that I was placed in the B Program with autistic kids and slept through classes and didn’t do my homework out of protest and boredom. This led to me failing classes and digging the hole I was in deeper. I did this for power and control over the B Program.

    I also spent all day in front of screens. A typical day included a rotation between my computer, the TV and the Wii, excluding any meal or a planned activity. I felt bored and uncreative so, because I could never think of anything else, looked at screens all day. This cycle ended up making me feel depressed. The cycle made me less social and separated me from the rest of the family. I did this so I could have fun when I couldn’t ever think of something more creative.

    Something else I did was throw and break things when I was in a bad mood. I felt angry and wanted to take my anger out on something. So when I was in a particularly bad mood I would walk around the house pushing books off of tables and knocking chairs over. This created a mess that I usually left others to pick up. I wanted power over the family by bringing down your moods with me.

    I also refused to talk to Dr. H. I have hardly ever talked to him during sessions for a year and before that I would only talk on and off over the entire course of seeing him. I think only for a month of so did I actually talk to him about semi-meaningful things. I felt angry that I had to “waste” an hour talking about things I didn’t want to talk about. By doing this I continued my avoidance pattern and wasted a lot of time and money. I wanted to do more fun things than talk to him.

    I also would never admit when I was wrong and I would shift the blame to anyone else. Whenever a situation would arise when I did something bad I would always completely deny I did it or at least tell a very altered version of the story, even when it was obvious that I did it. This would be about something as small as a fart to hurting A or M. I felt embarrassed that I had been caught in the act and didn’t want to admit it to myself. This led to lengthy arguments and more fights with A and M. I was looking for love and belonging and didn’t want to be the one in the family who no one liked.

    And finally, Dad, I want to take accountability for at the Atlanta airport, right before I was handed off to the wilderness staff, I muttered to you, “I hate you.” I did this because I knew you were already having a tough time sending me here and knew it was what would hurt you most.

    I’m sorry I hurt you with all of these patterns. In the future I hope we can have an open and honest relationship.


  2. Andy

    Andy Active Member

    OMG - That is so AWESOME! I have a 12 year old and 19 year old I would love to have him talk to.

    You must be so proud!
  3. LittleDudesMom

    LittleDudesMom Well-Known Member Staff Member

    Wow, that's quite a letter. He addresses so many of the issues that have disrupted the family and situations in which he was a self-sabotager (not sure if that is really a word!).

    Sounds like the program definately gave him some time to look at and in himself. I hope he can call upon the words and feelings he expressed in the letter when things get real.

    It's very mature and introspective look at his issues.

  4. crazymama30

    crazymama30 Active Member

    Wow. I know many adults who could not look at their actions in that way. That is amazing,and I hope it continues.
  5. maril

    maril New Member

    What an insightful message from your dear son. It sounds like he has made strides. I imagine you and your family are proud of him. Best wishes to all.
  6. slsh

    slsh member since 1999

    I am absolutely floored, Smallworld. I think it's nothing short of miraculous that your son was able to admit this to himself, much *less* share it. It's really quite eye-opening. I think his need for "power" is such a common thread in our difficult children' behaviors, but.... I'm blown away at his ability to now recognize and voice it so clearly.

    I hope that he will be able to incorporate his awareness into his future choices. I'm sure it will be difficult, but to my eye he's made an enormous step in acknowledging the causes, and impact of, his behaviors.

    You must be incredibly proud of him.
  7. susiestar

    susiestar Roll With It

    Total WOW!!

    This kind of insight is rare in adults. In children it is even less common and in teen difficult children, almost unheard of!!!

    I hope and pray that this marks a real turn-around in his life and in the rest of your family also.

    Even if it doesn't, WOW! Such a lot of powerful truths.

    This letter needs to be saved and cherished. Please scan it into your computer and then save it on a cdrom or other device. That way you will never ever lose it.

    Many many hugs for all of you. Esp for difficult child.
  8. gcvmom

    gcvmom Here we go again!

    Apparently the outdoor program has had an impact on him, no? That is an absolutely amazing confessional and apology. Somebody has really done their work with him to accomplish that level of insight and clarity. You all must be very moved and proud of this moment. I know I would be.

    I think my difficult child 1 needs to read this!

    Thank you SO much for sharing this very special letter with us! Congratulations!
  9. Wiped Out

    Wiped Out Well-Known Member Staff Member

    What an amazing letter. I actually had tears as I was reading it. This program sounds like it did wonders for him!
  10. klmno

    klmno Active Member

    Awesome!! The program was obviously worth it! My therapist once told me that when people have control issues like that, it is because they feel like they can't control their own life. It sounds like that is what J is discovering and I really hope he continues down the road he's starting on now. If it's any consolation, with a few name changes and a couple of other specific details, the letter could have applied to my son just as much- not that my son has come as far as J, but he's done many similar things and my guess is it's been for the same reasons J described. I'm so happy for you, J, and the rest of your family!
  11. TerryJ2

    TerryJ2 Well-Known Member

    Wow! That's fantastic!
    I hope he can keep a lot of that in mind as he continues his life at home with you all.

    Question--am I reading your profile correctly? That he has bipolar? But he sounds Aspie. He could be both. He sounds exactly like my son.


    Congratulations to all of you.
  12. busywend

    busywend Well-Known Member Staff Member

    Well, they obviously spent a great amount of time on accountability and what it means. They taught him that actions have a reaction or consequence AND that there is a reason he acted a certain way.

    Each paragraph has this same flow. When I....I felt....it caused....I did it because...

    I, too, feel the common thread is control and if he really believes this about his actions it should become his focus for improvement in the coming months. I believe the control was only necessary due to his anger. So, he can not lose site of that beginning feeling and what it caused for him.

    I am happy for you to have this letter. I hope you all can refer to it in the future to help him improve.
  13. Josie

    Josie Active Member

    What a great letter! It looks like the wilderness camp was successful. I, too, had tears in my eyes when I read it.
  14. Iamwipedouttoo

    Iamwipedouttoo New Member

    Thank you so much for sharing this.
  15. It sounds so wonderful.

    Wilderness programs can accomplish so much.

    I considered one for my daughter but first there was the price issue. Our situation is rather tight right now.

    Second there is the boarding school they often recommend after the wilderness program. The school or Residential Treatment Center (RTC) located here in Lucedale has sister programs in Utah. They had some kind of no visit policy where our daughter should earn the right to our visits, which could take months according to the therapists from our local Residential Treatment Center (RTC).

    I was fearing that our rather strongwilled daughter would fight the program so she would remain in it until she was 18, so I chickened out. Fortunately the weekend boot camp took care of the worst issues so we are taking one step at the time.

    But it is nice to hear from someone who took the road, we didn't take.