My journey is most easily told by numbers. But behind each number lies, oh, so much more. There are stories within stories, lessons within lessons, like the layers of an onion, ranging from surface layers of life management with a child with severe special needs to deeper core levels of universal spiritual principles. What stories you want to hear, which lessons you wish to contemplate, depends on where you are upon your own journey. Upon which level would you like to hear my story?
My story starts with the number one
One frail, tiny baby girl, lying helplessly in a crib in a Russian orphanage, waiting for my husband and me to rescue her. She would be our daughter, to love and to cherish, and together, with our 4-year-old twin boys, would complete our family. We would be a wonderful, typical, all-American family of five.
Now enters a rash of numbers. 12 years. 23 well-intentioned doctors and therapists. 10 different psychological and neurological diagnoses. Over 800 doctor and therapist appointments. 13 types of therapies and programs, not counting educational interventions. Thousands of emails, phone calls, and meetings with the school. 13 different psychotropic medications (currently she is on zero.) Over 500 attachment therapy holdings, during which I cuddled my daughter’s big, pre-teen body as I would an infant’s. Almost all of the above, coordinated and managed by me.
My personal odyssey
Behind those numbers lies my personal odyssey. Initial optimism, supreme self-confidence in my abilities, and unyielding determination gradually, almost imperceptibly, gave way to ever-increasing uncertainty, which in turn, slowly yielded to a sense of desperation, which, then, ultimately, led to feelings of hopelessness.
The effects of trauma suffered by my daughter in her earliest months of life branched out like the tentacles of an octopus, strangling each member of the rest of our family in a trauma of our own. Individually and collectively, we began falling apart, spiraling downward out of control, despite herculean efforts to the contrary. Finally, desperately, there was nothing left for me to do, except surrender. Accept and surrender: to God and the Universe. Little by little, a sense of peace, blessed peace, descended over me, even though nothing had changed upon those surface layers of the circumstances of my life.
From Puzzle to Cohesive Picture
Soon after, another number one appeared. One caring, talented psychologist who was able to assemble the disparate, confusing pieces of the puzzle into a cohesive picture. Then came a really big number. One-thousand six-hundred and twenty-two: 1,622 miles from our home to the highly-specialized treatment center where my daughter went to live, for an indefinite time, to a place that offered hope for an end to the downward spiral, a place that offered hope for a higher quality for the rest of my daughter’s life, a place that offered opportunity for the rest of us to regroup and begin to heal.
My daughter’s departure caused in me a grief that was just as intense as if she had physically died. So did the divorce that followed 20 months later. But the spiritual lessons I had learned upon my journey carried me through: lessons about faith, love, gratitude, forgiveness, happiness.
This story does not end here, not by a long shot.
Almost 8 years have passed since my daughter left home for treatment. She has received 11 more diagnoses (really, a number that is more reflective of the mental health system, rather than anything related to her). There have now been 3 residential treatment centers in 2 states, plus 1 young adult program in a third state. Through it all, 1 extraordinarily talented and dedicated education consultant—a true gift and godsend—has provided continuity of care and staunch advocacy for my daughter.
As a young adult, my daughter now lives a more self-directed, happier, and more independent life than ever. She lives in a 2-bedroom apartment with a roommate, works 20–30 hours per week serving meals to and interacting with seniors, something at which she enjoys and excels. She buys her own groceries and prepares her own meals.
There were years when I and others would have said that such a vision for her was highly improbable, if not impossible. I have learned there is always hope, and the grace of the Universe always provides solutions, even when our minds cannot possibly fathom how.
Our stories continue to unfold. More numbers will appear in the future. But no matter what, I know with certainty the number one will be the most prominent number throughout the rest of the story. One Universe. One God. The universal truths that lie deep within the core are the important ones, the ones that are most real. Despite the rougher and imperfect layers upon the surface, these truths allow me—all of us, really—to live life filled with purpose, filled with joy, filled with vitality. I learned these truths because of the challenges with my daughter, and for that I am eternally grateful to her.
Updated March 2018