Release Control... Let Go!
I'm writing a book on happy habits and how to integrate them into you day in a way that is most effective for each unique person. I write a bit each day on topics that I have studied like beliefs, changing habits, judgments and true self. I tell you this because even a self proclaimed happiness expert isn't exempt from the universe sending little reminders that you have to practice to keep the new happy habits you have adopted. That every once in awhile the universe sucker punches me and I get the opportunity to test my strength.
Today I paused from my writing to get an email from my ex husband about our daughter's weekend. Here are a couple of excerpts to give you an idea ...When staff picked Kilee up from the Main House, they were informed that Kilee had been administered one dose of Ativan when she woke up agitated after yesterday's violence. While on her way to the Beach House (her private home where she spends days doing crafts, baking, and practicing self-regulation skills), Kilee had several single strand hair pulls.(this means she is pulling her own hair- usually a sign that she is escalating into a tantrum) Once at the Beach House, Kilee began working on a card for her dad’s birthday. Kilee finished the card, then continued doing crafts by drawing and cutting out her drawings. Kilee then had a high pitched scream. Staff asked Kilee what she needed, but Kilee did not respond. As staff was waiting for Kilee to respond, Kilee poured out an entire bottle of glue on the paper in front of her. Staff asked Kilee again what she needed. Kilee asked to go to the bathroom, but as Kilee got up, she ran into the kitchen and pulled a toaster out of a cupboard, followed by a bag of oats. Staff immediately intervened, trying to removed the bag from Kilee’s hands. Kilee flopped onto the floor with it, where staff was able to remove it from her hands.
Approximately 15 minutes later, Kilee appeared calmer, however, she re-escalated and again attempted to unlatch the door and grab at staff while having many high-pitched emissions, Self Injurious Behaviors, screaming, kicking, and crying. Kilee attempted to defecate on the floor, and also urinated. Soon after she again aggressed towards staff and got the door by the stairs completely open, where Kilee fell down
This is a small sample of three pages of Kilee hurting herself, hurting others, screaming, crying and being unable to communicate successfully whatever it is she is trying to.
As a mom, I feel the air suck out of my chest and my throat constrict with a scream of my own that life for Kilee is this difficult. It's as though the entire weight of her unsettled emotion has landed on my rib cage making it harder to inhale and impossible to exhale. My most sincere wish for my first born daughter is that she feel peace, she feel love and she knows we are all doing our best to support her.
A little backstory; Kilee is autistic. Currently Kilee lives with her father full time. When Kilee was thirteen she became strong and violent. There was a two year period where Kilee was at a wonderful school in a small special classroom but Kilee wasn't having success in this environment and after being called in to pick her up at least three out of every five days I finally hit the wall. At home she was urinating and defecating on the floor of her room most nights. She needed adult supervision 100% of her waking hours for her own safety.
Prior to this I had home-schooled her with an intense program from age 3 to 11 before spending two years in a transitional school setting with three teachers for five children. Kilee was a mystery. Unlike most special needs kids, there was no identifiable antecedent to her tantrums. It has always been as though she sees or hears or smells or feels something that the rest of us just don't and this sets her off.
When she became dangerous to her siblings, I sat down with her father and requested either a full time caregiver in my home or that he have her live with him. I honestly never thought he would offer to have her live with him.
He was excited for the chance to be her full time parent. Releasing control seems to be a lesson that the universe really wanted me to get. First I am gifted with a daughter whose ability to interact and learn was directly dependent on living in an environment that was extremely controlled. Her diet was strictly enforced. Her sensory intake was monitored. Her ability to partake in outings like shopping for groceries or swimming in a public pool or a family dinner were extremely limited. It was clear to me that her needs were in control and I wasn't.
Giving her care over to her Dad meant giving him control of what happened in her ongoing therapeutic program. It meant he was in charge of her medical decisions and it meant I had to step into a new role where my key job was to love Kilee.
I knew many people would judge my decision. I could have fought for full custody and probably won. The challenge with a kid like Kilee is that full custody means no breaks and it would also mean that I was responsible financially for her long term care. I love Kilee enough to recognize that her father is better able to provide for her long term living expenses and despite the fact that his choices for her are very different than mine would be, I know he makes his decisions because he loves her and he feels his choices are best for her.
How hard is it then to get an email when Kilee is nineteen saying she can't see me because she is having bad week? How hard is it when I hear blame from both Kilee's father and her workers as they tell me "she screams mommy when she is tantruming"? How hard is it to know that no one understands the choice I have made so that my other children have their turn at having my attention?
It is only as hard as I make it. Most days I am really good at not thinking about what other people think a good mom "should" do or not do. Most days I am strong in my belief that Kilee feels my love every time she sees me. Some days, like today, I have to work really hard to apply the lessons I teach other people about releasing a need to control to my own life.
What do you do when the lesson is back again whispering in your ear that you still have areas to work on?
I thought I was being a kind a caring person. When a friend got a crappy haircut and asked me if I liked it, I said yes. When my mother baked chicken until it was so dry it tasted like sandpaper, I gagged it down and said it wasn’t that bad. When my best friend got engaged to a total jerk, I congratulated her and kept quiet.
I was being polite. I had grown up believing that this was the way I was supposed to behave. I was a country club kid who knew which fork to use and when to stop wearing white. I heard the message “big girls don’t cry” loud and clear, so I didn’t cry, even when I felt like crying. I thought my opinion would “hurt people’s feelings” and I wouldn’t want to be rude so instead I said nothing. The misconception here was that I had the power over other people and their thoughts. It also implied a polite person wouldn’t speak their mind.
The problem with squashing down your feelings and not speaking your mind is that eventually your brain stops recognizing the signals that the body is sending. The neural pathways need to be used. The more times we use them, the stronger our connection to them. When over a period of months and eventually years we stop acknowledging our feelings we lose the ability to feel our emotions at all.
Where did I regain mine?
When my daughter was diagnosed with autism at age 2 1/2, I decided to home-school her with the help of a program called SonRise. Part of this program is getting really comfortable with whatever your autistic child is doing in order to share moments of connection with them. We talked about what the autistic behaviors were that my daughter displayed and how I felt about them. It was quite quickly apparent that not only could I not recognize my feelings, but when I did feel them, I didn’t have the language to talk about them. I was given an emotional cheat sheet to help me out. Diagrams of little emoticons with their emotion listed beside them. When someone asked me how I felt, I would choose the face and say the word that labelled it.
Check out this much fancier version called a Feeling Wheel.
As I began encouraging my emotions by celebrating even the slightest emotional sensation and then really sitting with it, I was able to slowly rewire the connections between body and brain. It felt like I was rewiring a computer without a manual.
Every once in a while I would feel a new connection happen. I would know what I wanted to order in a restaurant. I would have a strong opinion about what type of vehicle I wanted. I would feel an inner voice telling me to do something that was outside my norm and I would listen.
After I could feel my feelings the next step was to examine their source. As Victor Frankel said "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power” What is this power? It is the choice to examine the belief between stimulus and response and see if it’s working for you. What is a belief? It’s something we take as fact. These facts can come from reliable sources or they can come from not so reliable sources.
We take on the beliefs of our parents, our peers, our culture and our religion. Quite often these beliefs remain unexamined for a lifetime.
One example of this from my own life is my beliefs around being late. I used to work in the television and film industry. During the audition process you are given an audition time booked for you by your agent. If you are late, there is rarely a second chance. The casting agent has to choose from hundreds of people with your looks and your skills so picking someone who isn’t on time would not make much sense to them. Because of this I adopted the habit of being very early. When friends were late to meet me, I used to get really angry. When I examined my beliefs I discovered that I thought their lateness indicated that they didn’t value my time. Why was I getting angry then? If they didn’t value my time what was I accomplishing by being in a funk when they arrived? Instead I replaced that belief with the thoughts “maybe there’s traffic” or “perhaps they need better time management skills”. Replacing limiting beliefs with ones that serve you is a big part of being happy.
Here are a few quick steps to help you find your happy thought or to change the ones that aren’t working for you.