This is the second of a series of articles where I hope to tell my own story of getting away from emotional and spiritual abuse using Sara’s songs as my backdrop (check out the Spotify playlist for women healing from abuse). Through her music, Sara Bareilles held my hand and walked me all the way through.
When You’re the Mom of a Child with Borderline Personality Disorder
Someone Who Loves You From the Ground
Have you ever loved someone you can’t reach? Someone who hurts you and pushes you away, but you know they desperately need your love?
Sometimes we have to love them from the ground.
I can’t read the words of this song or hear this song without feeling a howl of grief fill every cell of my body.
Sara, why do you have to break me to pieces?
This one’s for the lonely child
This was written for the one to blame
For the one who believes they are the cause of chaos in everything
You may find yourself in the dead of night
Lost somewhere out there in the great big beautiful sky
We’re all just perfect little satellites
Spinning round and round this broken earthly life
This is so you know the sound
Of someone who loves you from the ground
Tonight you’re not alone at all
This is me sending out my satellite call
This is so you’ll know the soundSource: LyricFind Songwriters: Sara Bareilles
Of someone who loves you
From the ground
Tonight you’re not alone at all
This is me sending out my
Satellite Call lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
Chaos in Everything
The screaming was piercing and relentless, lasting for hour after hellish hour. On an almost daily basis. For years. And years.
And more years.
Along with the screaming came hitting, kicking, biting, and scratching. I have pictures of broken walls, doors, and chairs.
Call me naive, but I was completely unaware that this kind of behavior existed in the world. It was the most jarring-to-the-senses experience I could imagine. And it never stopped.
As a child, I wasn’t allowed to cry out loud. It was “rude and rebellious,” and there were consequences if I broke that rule. I still did it – but I tried my darndest to muffle my cries in my pillow.
Not this child. There was no muffling going on here. Not that I didn’t try my mom’s parenting techniques. I did.
They didn’t work.
It wasn’t like I was a new mom. Or a bad mom. I was a pretty normal mom, and I had a bunch of other garden-variety children with varying degrees of normal kid-style cooperation.
But I couldn’t crack the code on this one.
Birth of a Beautiful Satellite
On the day of her birth I enjoyed watching a spectacular sunrise from my hospital bed, and I felt that all was right with the world. I loved babies. We had just moved into a new home the week before, and it felt like a new beginning for our marriage which had been limping along for 11 years.
She was tiny. Only six pounds, six ounces. I had been stressed during my pregnancy due to the move and all the drama of our marriage. Her low birth weight was a consequence.
She was tiny, but she was strong. Like, CRAZY strong. I took her to a photographer, hoping to get a picture of her all curled up in that newborn position against a black backdrop.
At one-week-old she arched her back and refused to hold still, her spindled arms and legs pushing against the world with a will that was unsettling. I remember thinking something was very different about this baby. She was her own person, and nothing was going to stop her from doing what she wanted to do, when she wanted to do it.
She was always a little slip of a girl. Her babyhood was uneventful. I nursed her the longest of any of my other babies – until she was about 15 months old. She was a happy baby who ate well and slept well.
When she was one-year-old, she got Scarlet fever and had a lengthy febrile seizure. I thought she had died in my arms. She was blue and lifeless. But by the time the ambulance arrived, she was pinking up and moving slightly.
I’ve always wondered if something shifted in her little body at that point in time.
She entered into her toddler years and gave new meaning to “The Terrible Twos.” I had been through this four times before. It was TOTALLY going to be okay. We just had to get through it.
I knew nothing about child psychology or development other than what I learned from Growing Kids God’s Way by the Ezzos. And spanking was involved. It felt normal to me because I had been raised the same way, and it “worked” for my four oldest kids.
If I had stopped at four kids, I would be an arrogant, judgmental asshole today.
But I didn’t. And I’ve eaten copious amounts of humble pie.
We were a homeschooling family, and back in the day (maybe it’s still a thing today?) homeschoolers were programmed to be terrified by the thought of the government stealing our kids and our freedoms away.
If I had known that child protective services regularly allows fathers to abuse their kids and calls it “bad parenting,” I could have spared myself all the extra stress.
Rabbit Trail (No, this isn’t in the song.)
My friends, the government doesn’t want your kids. Even when you WANT them to take a couple of them off your hands for a while. They literally have no place to put them.
Spinning Round and Round This Broken Earthly Life
Anyway, in my fear of losing the kids to the evil government – and in my belief that if I could just find the right method to help my daughter, all would eventually turn around, and there could be peace on earth – I failed to get the help she needed when she was little.
I could do this on my own, by the grace of God!
But by the time she hit her early elementary years, I could not do it anymore. Homeschooling was a hopeless cause. I had to figure out something else, and that meant leaving my cult cocoon and going out into the wicked world to get outside help.
It was around this same time that I began to realize I wasn’t going to survive being in my marriage the way it was. I was hitting my head against a wall – sometimes literally – on two important fronts with two people I loved with all my heart. It wasn’t sustainable.
But even so, I doubled down. Did I have a choice? I didn’t think so.
I often wondered if dying would be better than living like this. The stress was astronomical. Deafening. It felt like I would be crushed alive under the weight of it.
And the screaming. Oh. The screaming.
I felt guilty. I must have done something wrong. Maybe I broke her.
Tonight You’re Not Alone At All
When I found out my youngest had Autism, I began to learn a bunch of new things about child development, and this was the motivation I needed to let go of my fears and get that outside help we desperately needed. (What was worse than the hell I was living in? When you get to that point, your fear shifts a bit in a different direction.)
I took her to a place that offered education and help for special needs kids, and she was evaluated for various mental health issues. After being diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, ADHD, and a few other things, she began weekly treatment. After her treatment, she and I would go out for lunch and talk. Those were the little breaks in the hurricane where I could see a bit of sunshine and hold onto hope that maybe things could be better one day.
I begged God to make them better. I wanted to love her well. I wanted to reach her and connect with her heart.
I didn’t want to be scared of her anymore.
Things didn’t get better.
Unable to homeschool under those conditions, I focused on my son’s in home ABA therapy and put my kids in a small private school paid for with money I earned making and selling soap.
The relief I had during the day when she was at school was incredible. I could breathe. I could think. I could relax.
I dreaded the summers. I held my breath every hour of every summer day. By this time my husband had moved out, and I was single parenting except when he would come and get them for an overnight on the weekend. I spent hours locked in my bathroom or in a room downstairs with my heart leaping out of my chest as she banged and bashed the door, often getting in somehow to grab my body and rage in my face.
I still can’t think about that time without feeling nauseous. I was later diagnosed with C-PTSD.
My other kids were all suffering in the same way. They were getting bit, hit, kicked, and scratched as well.
It felt like a bottomless pit of dark hopelessness. I couldn’t get help from my church because they thought I was a wicked wife who had abandoned her hard working husband and left him to rot in a camper.
That was the story.
But while the stories swirled, I took our child to two different psychologists, and she was put on all kinds of different medications. I took her to weekly therapy. And after a few years of stumbling forward, I was able to get her into a day treatment center for troubled teens. She was younger than everyone else, but she seemed to thrive there.
She was there longer than most kids, but eventually she was released and put back into the small private neighborhood school.
By this time I had been divorced, excommunicated from my church, and remarried. Tom was the voice of sanity in my totally insane cult-like life. We moved into his home and began a new life.
We’re All Just Perfect Little Satellites
So many parts of our new life were healing and full of peace. Nobody was telling us we were making things up in our heads. Nobody was telling us were were rebellious worms deserving of hellfire. All those voices had been eliminated, and the silence was incredible.
I could hear the voice of Jesus again.
But I could also hear my daughter. She was getting bigger, stronger, and more violent. She was doing more dangerous activities and engaging in risky behavior that put her life in danger.
We were calling the police regularly. I knew some of them on a first name basis. She had been taken to the hospital one night which opened up the door for us to get her help through the county. Shortly after that she was arrested for bruising my arm.
One morning I will never forget. She had been terrorizing me for a couple of hours, and I was locked in my bathroom in my bathrobe sobbing (my husband was at work). I was rocking and shaking and totally out of my mind while she relentlessly screamed and banged on the door. Eventually I screamed out, “I JUST WANT TO KILL MYSELF!!!!”
I don’t know why. I guess because in that insane moment, all I wanted was relief. I just wanted to be gone from that place. I just wanted the screaming to stop. The years and years of screaming. Please, dear God. Please make it stop.
And maybe I thought if I said that, she might stop.
I stopped crying and waited, still shaking with anxiety and fear. After a while I got up and looked in the mirror at my swollen face.
And suddenly it hit me. She called the police.
She did. They came. They knocked on the door of my bathroom and asked if I was okay. I let them in and began crying uncontrollably. I told them what happened and that I was so sorry to bother them again – and that I had no idea she would actually call the police.
I felt so stupid. What was my problem? I’m a 50-year-old woman in the fetal position over a screaming teenager? I hated myself.
They listened, they believed me, and they told me they see this a lot, actually.
I wasn’t weird or crazy.
She had a full psych work-up and was diagnosed with emerging BPD.
And so it went, until one night she begged to leave, and I told her she could. I couldn’t do it anymore, and I thought she would just go to a friend’s house. She had done that before. My brain was shutting down. The four younger kids lived their lives hiding behind locked doors. They couldn’t sleep at night because she would spend hours screaming outside our doors until after midnight.
So I told her she could leave. I even told her I wanted her to leave. And she left.
That night I made a decision.
When she came home in the morning we told her to pack her things. I decided to take her to her dad’s house to live. I let him know that unless we could get in-home therapy, she would not be able to live with me anymore.
I loved my daughter with all my heart. But I loved my other kids too. I had started to realize that all my thought, my time, my emotional energy, my creativity, my physical presence – all of it – was going to one child.
Four other younger children desperately needed me now, and I needed them.
Of course my ex husband made this mean that I had abandoned my child and was a hateful, uninvolved wretch of a woman. And at first, the two of them colluded with one another in the story they created to alleviate their own personal shame and pain.
While I got therapy.
My ex cut off mental health services through the county for our daughter.
And I had to let go.
I had to let go
At the time of this writing it’s been over a year since she left. We regularly get together in person as well as via phone. Our relationship is healing bit by bit. There are moments of beauty. There are still moments of pain. I will always wish things could be different. I will always mourn the dream of a family that stayed together and loved well. It was what I always wanted. But sometimes loving well means just getting up every day and doing the best you can.
This is so you’ll know the sound
Of someone who loves you
From the ground
Tonight you’re not alone at all
This is me sending out my
For all the mothers who never stop loving, even when it hurts like hell.