A parent should never assume that when your child goes into a treatment program that they will come out of it, never making a mistake again. In fact, it is almost a guarantee that they will make mistakes and, more importantly, do things on purpose that they want to do that you think are mistakes.
In March of 2019, my daughter and I went to visit family in another state. She was about eight months out of her program and around three-months past her formal graduation from the program. Things had been on a great track; as a family, we were comfortable and happy. None of the behaviors that we all went through pre-program were in any way prevalent.
A few days into our trip, we were at the kitchen table, all playing a card game and laughing about something I cannot even remember. I happened to turn my head slightly to the left to look at my daughter as she was sitting next to me, and I saw a glint of something in her nose. It was shiny and definitely was not supposed to be there.
So there we are, with the family that helped us so extensively through the program — emotionally, financially, etc. — as I discover that my dear, sweet, rehabilitated child has a septum ring. I froze (but I didn’t yell, real improvement there). I turned to my daughter and, in a stable, stern voice, said “other room. now.” My other family sitting at the table had no idea what was going on, but knew I was serious. They went on about their business as I took her into the other room, closed the door, and proceeded down a conversation I thought we were long past having to have.
The conversation went like this:
Me: “Take it out and let me see.”
Her: “What do you mean?”
Me: “The nose ring.”
Her: “Oh.” As she does whatever she does to make the septum ring actually show.
Me: “When did you do that?”
Her: “At school, in the bathroom with a friend a few weeks ago.”
Sigh. In my mind, here was so much wrong with this. I immediately went back to a place two-years prior and felt everything I felt before the start of her program. She was lying. She did something she blatantly hid. I thought it looked hideous — my girl who had come so far destroyed her face. The trust we had, we never really had. All of these were things going through my head.
Before our treatment program, I would have lost it. Yelled, blamed, cried, etc. In this case, though, I knew that none of those things would help the situation we were in at that moment. All of that said, I couldn’t handle it by myself.
After talking to her, I called her dad. Who was in an Uber with colleagues on a work trip. We have worked with many of the same people over time, so he was naturally comfortable answering it and putting me on speakerphone. That conversation went like this:
Me: “Talk to your daughter.”
Him: Turns off speaker phone.
I held her accountable for her actions. It wasn’t my job to tell her dad; it was hers. She told him what was going on, and we all agreed to talk about it later in the day. Everyone needed to calm down and figure out the next steps and how we were going to handle this. Not as just parents. Not as just a teenager. But as a collective unit.
As time progressed, a few things happened:
- After the initial shock wore off, we took her to a local tattoo & piercing place to make sure that she hadn’t damaged anything and that it was healing. My favorite part was when the owner yelled, on our way out the door, “stop piercing things yourself!”
- When we sat down and talked about why she did what she did, she explained it was because it made her feel pretty. For a very long time, it was difficult for me to put this as upfront in our conversation as it should have been.
- We argued for months back and forth mandating she take it out, and we’d catch it back in. Finally, we gave up. She still has it in, and I still catch the glint from time to time, but she doesn’t wear it out around us.
Why do I tell this story?
There is a lot we learned from this event, in large part, because so much time had passed between the time we thought we were ‘done’ with the program and the time we first saw the septum ring.
The first thing we were reminded of was that mistakes and ‘bad’ decisions never stop. Just because we were formally done with the program, and even though we knew that this was life, we still allowed our brains to think we’d never run into trials again.
Next, we had to lean way back into understanding, patience, and holding us all accountable for the choices we make; her included. I remind myself regularly that while I have the life experience to see down a road, these decisions are her own. Whether I see them as mistakes or not, it doesn’t matter.
From there, I should have put her feelings ahead of my own. The above statement about the things we do and what we see as mistakes and what we don’t is true. We make decisions because we feel and have emotions. When she was telling me why she did what she did, I should have heard her words and worried less about me. Still something I’m trying to be mindful of every day.
Lastly, some things just aren’t worth the time worrying about. Do I love the septum ring? No, I hate it. Can I do anything about it? No, I can’t. At some point, as parents, we have to step back and look hard at what we want to hang our hats on and what we want them to learn themselves. This is one of those things for us.
While it was painful upfront (literally and figuratively), when all is said and done, I do love and appreciate every day that we finally have the relationship with our daughter, where she respects us enough to hide it for now. It was a tough road to get there, but it is a beautiful road to continue traveling on.