I saw them, the cuts on my daughter’s arms. When I asked her about them she told me a story – a story I believed. Was it a believable story? Not really. But I didn’t want to see the truth.
Time goes by and a year later I see more, more cuts on my daughter’s arms. This time I ask more questions and believe less lies. I poke and prod and eventually she admits she intentionally cut herself. When we talk about why she tells me another story. And I believe it, again. It seems like it was something that happened once and wouldn’t happen again.
Time goes by, she goes off to college and when she’s home for vacation she has a panic attack. So we talk. But this time I don’t believe the stories. I sit and listen. I encourage her to open up and really talk. And when I don’t freak out she is surprised and she tells me more. We sit and she talks, and talks. And I listen. I don’t say much other than to encourage her to share more. Mostly I just listen.
During that break I also discovered she’d been cutting more but, because we’d started talking, she continued to open up.
We sent her back up to school feeling better knowing she’d be seeing one of the school’s counselors but still feeling worried and a little lost. This is something our family never dealt with before and it was scary to realize that our daughter wasn’t alright. At first I thought of it as her facing such severe stress that she didn’t know how to handle it but later I realized that, while this was true, it was because she didn’t have strong coping skills to start with.
When she came home for the summer we realized she was depressed and she needed more help. So we found a therapist and our daughter has been meeting with her for a while.
So now we are moving forward. She’s getting professional counseling and making choices to do things differently in her life. Me, I alternate between beating myself up for not opening my eyes sooner and being grateful. I am grateful, so incredibly grateful that she is not permanently harmed, that she was open to getting help—that she felt she could talk to us at some point.
I shared our story because there are so many parents out there who would never suspect their children weren’t okay. They’re “good kids”. They do well in school, don’t get into trouble. Maybe they’re even the kids that other kids aspire to be. But they may also be in trouble. They may be hurting or scared or stressed and not know how to handle it. And when they don’t know how to handle it in a healthy way they turn to cutting, binge eating, drugs, alcohol and other detrimental coping strategies. It’s up to us, the parents, to be willing to open our eyes, to take off our blinders and start looking for the warning signs that our children need help. And then get them the help they need. But opening our eyes is scary and I just want to say that opening them early means getting your child help earlier, and the earlier they get help the easier it will be.
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