Parent of New Haven Alumni - 2006 Donelyn
"our biggest success is that we have a living, growing relationship with the daughter whom we love so dearly and who now readily acknowledges the love she has for us."
Where is your daughter now?
Our daughter left New Haven when she was 18 and she is now 32 years old so many years have passed since her transition. She remained in Utah post New Haven for about 3 years which was very rocky. She held jobs at various places and was involved in some destructive relationships. However, she remained alive and vertical which would not have been the case had she not spent time at New Haven. Shortly after her transition I began attending family weekends and provided parent support. I also co-founded, along with my husband and another couple, a support group for parents of at-risk children. Also, during this time I was part of the original group of parents and youth which served as members on the newly formed National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs Alumni Counsel. Our daughter was very supportive of my involvement and would occasionally come to family weekends with me--something that both the girls and parents were appreciative of.
"New Haven took hold of our lives when we thought there was no hope; they held our child when we couldn’t. They were instrumental in rebuilding our damaged relationships, bit by painful bit. They gave us, and our daughter, the gifts of life and hope."
Our daughter moved back to Seattle after about 3 years, but only lived with us for a few months before moving into her own apartment. She continued to struggle with relationships and risky behavior, however, our relationship with her grew stronger, more honest, and more trustworthy--all things we had worked on at New Haven. For the last 7 years she has been in a steady and healthy relationship with a great guy whom we love and are very grateful for. He has been a rock for her and has stuck with her through some pretty tough times.
She is now working at a job she loves and has become more and more responsible and honest with us and to herself. Emotionally, psychologically, relation-ally she has grown substantially. Our relationships with her are now rock solid and we are very close.
Our daughter, who had given up on school and was not even considering a GED, received her high school diploma from New Haven. Her graduation ceremony was the most personal and meaningful of any we’ve attended. Our experience of joy and gratitude for her achievement was overwhelming.
That lesson is not being learned without struggle but we are now confident that she is capable of taking care of herself, of making decisions--if she so chooses--which will bring fulfillment and purpose to her life. Our lives are no longer held hostage by paralyzing fear. While there are still times that are hard and sometimes painful for us, we have the relational resources and tools and emotional wherewithal to work through whatever arises. And though we don’t always like hearing what we’re asked to hear, we are grateful beyond words that she is alive to tell us and so we embrace the courage it sometimes takes to receive it. But our biggest success is that we have a living, growing relationship with the daughter whom we love so dearly and who now readily acknowledges the love she has for us.
What part of New Haven was most helpful?
We were all involved with the healing process. New Haven recognized that it had to be a family effort and that our daughter was not the labeled "problem"--there were systemic issues and behaviors that we each had to recognize and deal with and we all had to work hard examining and taking responsibility for the part we had each played in creating a broken family dynamic. We grew not only as individuals, but also grew as a family, recovering and strengthening our relationships with one another.
New Haven took hold of our lives when we thought there was no hope; they held our child when we couldn’t. They told us we could do this work, when few, least of all ourselves, thought we could survive what we needed and were asked to do. They were instrumental in rebuilding our damaged relationships, bit by painful bit. They gave us, and our daughter, the gifts of life and hope.
How would you describe your family relationships now?
Our relationship with our daughter is very strong. There have been a lot of rocks in the road since New Haven, but because of all the work we did there, we're much more willing and able to take the bull by the horns and work it out. Since we all know what each other's "stuff" was as well as our own, we can listen and HEAR what each of us wants or needs to discuss. After all this time, those "I feel...." statements still guides how we approach that discussion.
The emotional work at New Haven was exhausting, painful, and very often wrenching. No one in the family was exempt. The notion that our daughter was going to be “fixed” and then return home was swiftly dealt with—we each had a starring role in the family dynamic and each was to be taken apart, looked at, talked about and rewritten. For there to be real change in her, we all had to be vulnerable and willing to work through our own blind spots and embrace change in ourselves. The result was a level of honest communication, acceptance of our own accountability and responsibility in the part we each played in our family and holding each other accountable for their part without rescuing, caretaking, excusing or minimizing, and doing this work together.
We had individual and family therapy, intense family weekends at New Haven, and home passes for our daughter which provided opportunities to evaluate where each of us were in the journey. These were always challenging and difficult but we still considered them a success as we each saw where we were in the process and what needed working on. The process brought hope, healing, and reconciliation into our lives and provided the means to bring redemption for that time spent in despair, panic, and with wounded and broken spirits.
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"I could go on for days about where I am now compared to where I was then! It seems like a completely different life.. New Haven helped me so much, and I love being able to give the gift back!"