Thursday, June 5, 2014

With Honors

Friday was a big day in our house. Elizabeth "graduated" from preschool and I "graduated" from Crazy School. So now Elizabeth is officially ready to go to kindergarten and I am officially ready to be a healthy, productive adult. Ha!

But we really are proud of our big girl. During last year's preschool graduation, Elizabeth had terrible stage fright and spent the whole time with her head down. This year, their class was doing a beach-themed program and they practiced for weeks. Elizabeth talked all the time about wanting to be brave on stage. She even asked Adam for a father's blessing the morning of the program. And boy, did she nail it. She shimmied, she hula-ed, she even posed for pics with her "diploma." We were thrilled and so was she.

She's really loved her time at preschool. I think pairing teenagers with preschoolers is genius. And she still has a mad crush on Hank.

We even got to introduce the triplets to her teacher, who will be their teacher when they're in the program next year. And I use the term "introduce" loosely. We are talking about 3-year-olds.

If you're dying to see it, and I know you all are, the link to the video of her group's dance is here

So that was Friday morning. Friday afternoon I went to my outpatient program for the last time. Since they have rolling enrollment, patients start and finish at different times. When someone finishes treatment, they do a little graduation thing on their last day. And it is awesome. First, a volunteer from the group writes your name on the board and numbers 1 to 12. Then, your fellow patients call out positive attributes they've noticed in you during your time together; they're called affirmations. The last one, #12, is saved for you to say something positive about yourself. After this, you're given a certificate where another group member has written all the affirmations down for you to keep. Then, the group and the clinicians give you feedback about how they experienced you. Finally, you tell the group what you've learned, how you've changed, and any advice you'd like to share with the newbies. And then everyone claps. And you feel like a million bucks. It's wonderful. 

I was really nervous about graduating. I felt like I'd had this safety net for so long that was now going to be taken away from me. Plus, it came on unexpectedly and they switched the day at the last minute. Since different people attend program on different days, I was worried that some of the people I'd grown closest to wouldn't be there. But thankfully most of them were. Their feedback was so touching. They talked about how caring and helpful I was. One friend, my little buddy I sit next to every day in group, joked that he couldn't talk about me or he was going to start crying. So of course I got choked up for real. After they said all their nice things, I asked if I could give everyone an affirmation in return, since I wouldn't be there for their graduations. I've seen so much strength and beauty and pain and growth in that group, it wasn't hard to come up with something for each person. I guess that's what happens when you get to see someone at their most vulnerable—you can't help but love them simply because of their humanity. Maybe that's why I love novels so much, because they let us peer into the soul of another person (albeit a fictional person.) 

When they asked how I'd changed during the course of the program, I had to pause and think. I knew I'd learned a lot and had a lot of "a-ha" moments. One of the most important things I've learned is that I am the sole determiner of my happiness. I know it sounds cliche. Whenever I used to hear people say, "you can choose to be happy!" I'd want to punch them in the face. But now I can see that my gut reaction was anger because they weren't saying, "You can choose to be happy . . . and here's how. Here's all the junk you need to work through to get there. And here's how you can stop sabotaging yourself . . . " etc. Now I have more tools. I have more awareness. 

For example, a while back, my clinician asked me to fill out a self-esteem worksheet about what I'd learned about myself when I was a child. I could not for the life of me fill it out. What beliefs did I learn about myself? Huh? But I dug and I dug, and with my shrink's help, I started asking the right questions. For instance, when we were kids, my siblings would often call me "mother" as an insult. And I hated it. But I was—I was like a little mother to them, always trying to make them behave. As I talked to my clinician about this, I started to see why. My father would often get very angry with us and chase us or take a threatening stance and look at us like he was going to hurt us. Even though I don't recall him ever hitting us, I remember being viscerally afraid of him when he got mad. So, as a young child, I learned that misbehavior made me feel unsafe. So being "good," made me feel safe. I learned that I must be good at all costs, and I did everything in my power to make my siblings be good so we would all be safe. That's just one part of our family's dynamic, but those beliefs and coping mechanisms I learned as a child play out in my life today and are causing me harm. So I challenge those beliefs. When someone is doing something I perceive as "wrong," I can take a step back and be mindful of what's going on inside me—how my issues might be coloring my perception. And then I can ask myself if it's any of my business, if I'm trying to gain admiration or acceptance by being the "good" one, that sort of thing. Guys, this stuff is amazing!

So that's some more of what I learned. But have I changed? I look at how I interact with my kids, and I know I still have a long way to go, but I really feel like I've made a lot of improvement. The combination of the skills I learned with the meds I'm now on (remember that self-control in a bottle?) has really helped me, well, chill out. I don't loose it as much as I used to. I'm not afraid I'm going to hurt my kids or myself anymore. It may be because one of the meds makes me wicked tired all the time so I'm just too worn out to get in a rage, but all joking aside, I don't care. I'd rather be gentler to my family and myself than have more energy, even if it means I won't be throwing Pinterest-worthy parties or launching an at-home business, or, you know, mopping the floor. And I'm not giving up. My #12 was "tenacious," because I've learned now that, no matter what life throws at me, I have the strength and skills and tenacity to overcome. Booyah.

At any rate, it was an emotional day for all of us. And since I was given a Red Robin gift card for my birthday (hello, bottomless steak fries!), we decided to skip the hassle of making dinner and instead celebrate our graduations by going out with the whole family. Yum! 

So here's to the grads of 2014! Have a great summer! Keep in touch!


  1. Stay cool. (I got a lot of that one. I think I may have even written it in a yearbook or two). Keep writing about it, Em. I love your insights. Awesome.

  2. I'm so glad to read about your learning experiences - both yours and Elizabeth's. Your school has been really tough, but so worth it. Congratulations for working so hard and achieving lots of "aha!" revelations. Love you, Emily, and your whole family too. I'm proud to say I know ya.