My second son is almost 16, and much the most sensitive of my children. He’s kind, quite thoughtful (for an adolescent boy), and passionate about social and political issues. Hes articulate and personable when he wants to be, and he’s creative. He plays the guitar (self taught) and thinks deeply about personal and social issues.
He is also extremely anxious, very negative (I’m waiting for an assessment for depression /anxiety disorder), unmotivated, and rather lost. I have struggled at times with his relentless negativity (“I don’t know what it is to feel happy”) and complete refusal to engage with any self help stuff.
And I have really tried.
I have bought books for teenagers with anxiety and low mood, I have bought a CBT based programme for teens and tried to work through it with him, I took him to a hypnotherapist for a couple of sessions, I found him a psychotherapist – at his request – and then another when the first wasn’t the ‘right fit’. I have offered gym membership, boxing classes, to walk the dog with him every day now that the evenings are lighter, I have procured Maths tuition to support him and arranged for him to attend a residential revision course next week. I take him in to school for early booster classes when I can get him out of bed in time…
At times he is angry, blaming and hostile. The onslaught of his furious frustration and anger that has lead him to smash cupboard doors is almost as hard to deal with as his vomiting every morning, shaking and physical stress response to attending school.
Last night when I got home from my AA meeting he was obviously ‘not ok’. The kids are on Easter holiday from school but he had attended a Science revision session organised by his teachers during the day. I thought he was quiet before I went out, but I was a bit pre-occupied with my stuff and anxiety about attending AA.
I returned home to sulks and sighs. He was mooching around obviously stressed and unhappy but completely unwilling to engage in conversation, mindless occupation or anything else. He refused to tell me what was bothering him, got cross when I asked open questions, got angry when I just sat in silence…Any questions were answered angrily with ‘you just don’t understand’ My attempts to connect with that, by sharing my on experiences – that non addicts simply don’t ‘get’ how I feel (unless i explain it – but I didn’t add the last) and that this was a difficult position to be in. I agreed that I might not intuitively understand, but that I was willing to listen and try. I asked a variety of open questions, such as ‘ do you feel physically unwell?’ and ‘what might I be able to do to help?’ I offered some emotions for him to pick from to see if we could identify how he was feeling – I know it can sometimes be difficult to pick out exactly what is IS that bothering you when you just feel ‘meh’. For example, angry? afraid? anxious? frustrated? etc. All were met with a grunt or an angry “NO”
Then I tried empathetic silence. That made him really cross. ” Why do you keep staring at me ?” ( I wasn’t). I suggested a mindless distracting occupation such as watching a TV show. This was not acceptable.
So you know what, I just said to him that I love him, and I’m here and i happy to listen or talk or just be, but I won’t be shouted at and berated for things I cannot alter ( we had run out of milk; considering I had been at work all day and the kids are at home for the Easter break, and the shop is 200m away, they could have got milk themselves or even texted me to let me know we had run out). I said that I am not a mind reader, but I do have experience of feeling very agitated and I am willing to share my experiences if he would like.
I was extremely calm, and extremely unrattled .. and it felt bloody good. I felt like a fucking adult and a parent. A-Maze-Ing.
The chair at last nights meeting had shared something of her parenting struggles. Ironically she has less sober time than I and when we talked after the meeting I was able to just say to her that i understood how hard it was for her, but that just by being sober, she was helping to create order out of the chaos. She smiled and suggested we meet for a coffee before this evenings Women’s meeting. It made ME feel better about my chaos and struggles to know that a) others have this too b) I can offer support as well as receive it.
The boundaried calmness of my responses last night (refusing to be shouted at) is EXACTLY how i want to be, exactly the role model I want to provide. To be there, to be kind, to be open and honest, but maintaining my boundaries (no shouting at me) This is a million miles away from the chaotic, emotional, un-manageability of some of our previous interactions. I think he felt “contained” by that security and clear guidance – that he could feel shit and be angry, but that I was an adult who could manage it and respond with love… within my clearly stated limits.
This is a big new chapter for me. and the possibilities are suddenly opening up. I have seen that I could make huge strides now to becoming who I have always wanted to be. An adult woman with love compassion and empathy, who knows her limits and knows how to take care of herself an thus take care of others ….