As I am reflecting on the progress I am now making, however slowly, I often look back at all the years that I spent in health care before. At all the years during which I went nowhere and the only thing I ever got was worse. So much that by the time I was chosen for family care I had been put on several psychiatric drugs, secretly self-medicated with benzodiazepines and alcohol, self-harmed almost daily and felt like my life was empty and basically over anyway.
I had been receiving therapy and mental health care for eight years by that point. I had lost track of how many therapists, case workers, social workers, counselors and doctors I had seen. Lost track of how many times I had failed. At everything. At life.
Looking back the turning point was my family care placement. Not because of the family care itself, I believe. It was a pilot study, and two others girls who I saw in group for a year hated their experience in the whole thing, one even dropped out. I believe the study has since been discontinued altogether. It doesn’t matter. It was not the thing itself that helped me.
So what was it that helped me? That I went off meds? That I went through a several-months-long benzo withdrawal and eventually came out okay at the other side? That I received therapy? Individual therapy? Group therapy? That my mom is a shrink who knows her stuff?
I suppose all those things contributed. Some more, like being clean now, that mom knows her stuff and that I finally found a good therapist. Some less, like group therapy or the previous therapists. But in themselves, I don’t think they are what made the crucial difference.
I believe that what made that difference for me was that my family committed to me. I don’t know what drove them to commit to a crazy person, but they are a good kind of crazy themselves, so maybe that’s why they did it. And what a difference it made.
What IS commitment, you might ask. It’s actually quite simple. It just means being dedicated to something (or someone). Like, truly dedicated.
I was not used to anyone ever committing to me. In the world as I knew it, bad people abused me or played games with me, good people tried to help me, but in the end good and bad people alike would move on. I provoked it, too. Abandonment issues and all that. I behaved in ways that were sure to annoy or hurt or alienate others. I played games with them when I could, played people off against one another when I could, or was just plain nasty. Anything that forced them to show their “true colors”, that they were going to abandon me, just like everyone had done before.
Contrary to everyone else before, the family that I got matched with was different. I behaved like I always did. I tried to push them away, tried to alienate them. I hated them and tried to force them into hating me. Into abandoning me. But all that I met was them sticking to me. Like super-glue. With sticky tendrils. The more I kicked, the more they stuck to me.
I hated it.
And at the same time I loved it.
I can still hear my mom’s voice in my head like it was yesterday, forever saying: “I can see it’s hard. I can tell you are not fond of me at the moment. I’m not fond of your behavior either. We are having a bad time. But we’re in it together and we’re going through it together.”
And they didn’t just say it. They meant it. I acted up so much they had to hospitalize me. But they stuck with me. I turned into 60 inches of unpleasantness. But they stuck with me. I ran away from them. But they claimed me back. And stuck with me.
Not in a self-sacrificing, guilt-inducing martyr way, but just in the hands-on ‘we-chose-this, and we’re sticking with through the hard parts, too’ way. And as time went by, I stopped testing their commitment so much and started to have some trust in our relationship. Me, who never trusted anyone.
That was the turning point for me. I started to feel like how I did actually mattered to someone. That they truly cared about having me in their life. That they are not giving up on me. That they put their faith in me and refuse to accept that I can’t do better. And that they care enough to patiently show me how to really DO better.
Mind you, I still have lots of moments where I hate them and doubt them and hate myself and doubt me and feel like they are going to want to get rid of me for sure. But so far each and every one of those moments has been one that eventually only reinforced that they will stick to me, for better or worse.
- They place my emotional needs over their convenience.
- They spend time with me when they could spend it on other things as well.
- They listen to me.
- They take me seriously.
- They include me.
- They don’t shove the responsibility for my behavior away from themselves, but teach me how to improve.
- They are patient and catch me when I slip.
- The stuff that I can’t yet do alone, they do for me.
- They draw closer when the going gets rough.
That’s what commitment is. That’s what made all the difference. I started to commit to them to. And to myself. And my recovery.