Monday, January 27, 2014

Being Depressed

I realized today that it has been a week since I have written anything. Part of my promise to myself when I started blogging, was that I would keep it up, no matter what. I have learned that with certain things in life, follow through is most important when it is least enjoyable. For example; in my years as a substance abuse counselor,  one piece of advice I fervently offered to those in recovery was "Those times when you don't feel like going to a meeting is when you really need to get there." As a member of Al-Anon, I have found that premise to be true there as well (fodder for a story some other time). So today of all days is not the time I want to write, but probably exactly when I NEED to do so.

You all know about my daughter,  Paige. She is child #3 of 5 in our family.  She and her two older brothers are products of my first marriage.  When Paige was approximately 18 months old, I made the leap to leave an abusive marriage and start over with my kids, aged 4, 3 and 18 mos at the time. I quit my job, filed for divorce and enrolled in college all in the same month. Looking back, I'm not sure if I was really brave or really crazy.

Flash ahead about six years and you will find me remarried, with a master's degree,  living in a nice house which my husband and I owned, two more children, and the happiest life anyone could ever imagine.  Seriously.  All we lacked was a picket fence. Having five children at home was a daily challenge,  especially since my husband and I both worked outside the home. Challenges back then included things like a flat tire, siblings fighting, finding something for supper, a sick baby, etc. Perfection in every way.

Which brings me to today. Big house: gone. Foreclosure. Nice vehicles: gone. Repossession. Credit: destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical debt, living at my mom's, falling apart. How does one go from there to here in a matter if about six years? Well, turns out it wasn't too difficult.

In January,  2008, my healthy, fit husband had a heart attack.  What a blow. It rocked our family to the core. He was no longer invincible and no longer himself. I don't intend to take his inventory for him here, so I will stick to my facts as I remember them. After the initial heart attack,  there came more and more health issues and he eventually lost his job. My husband never missed a day of work. That job was a large part of his identity, and it was gone. Having our income cut in half, other things had to go also. Cars, leisure activities,  peace of mind, ability to financially and physically balance life, we lost all of it. My house that I loved was gone soon as well. With the house went my front porch swing where I napped,  my flowers, garden and the tree I planted when I got my Master's degree.

Bruised and bloodied,  we moved into a rental house to try to pick up the pieces. My oldest son went to live with my mother because we were out of room and out of patience with one another.  Sparing the gory details,  we continued to lose so much mote. Our marriage was barely hanging by a thread, the kids were struggling, we were financial disasters, and work was difficult for me to balance with all of the stress at home. I had just started a new, better job when the infamous night in January came into being. Add to the balance now an emotional train wreck. I would call it a perfect storm. I had nobody to make sure I was taking care of myself or shoulder the majority of the burdens.

Now would be a good time to tell you that everything worked out. But that would be a lie.

I'm writing today on my phone which is due for shut off, while sitting st my mom's.  My oldest two children are adults and on their own mostly. I am unemployed due mostly to my inability to care for myself emotionally while holding everyone else together. I lost my job the day Paige and I returned from New York for the 20/20 interview.

I'm a mental health "professional. " I violated the cardinal rule of my profession: take care of yourself so you can take care of others. I have been in this field of work for ten years. I specialized, ironically, in trauma therapy. I have heard stories that would make a normal person lock themselves in a closet and never come out. Day after day after day. I had no idea the toll it was taking on me and it ultimately cost me my job and my professional integrity. I spent a few days in the mental health unit where I used to work, under the care of a psychiatrist who was also a colleague. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and PTSD. My family is in shambles and I am not quite sure where to start the process of recovery.  I know it must start with me.

I have a tattoo on my arm with a picture of a weeping fairy. It has a paraphrase from Dante's Inferno around the picture. It reads, "True sorrow is recalling in misery a time when you were happy." More true words were never spoken.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Remembering Paige

I stated in my first blog entry that I was not going to focus solely on my daughter,  Paige, and I intend to move on at some point. Today, however, I feel the need to get some things out of my head, in the hopes of helping other parents who, God forbid, have or will be in my situation.

I have said a thousand times, nobody writes a manual about dealing with the sexual assault of one of your children. As a mom, I'm kinda winging it here. Never during the first 13 years of my daughter's life, did I ever imagine the phone call in the wee hours of the morning that would signal the ending of a chapter in our lives, and the beginning of another. I have another daughter, Victoria, who is 7. I refuse to even entertain the idea that she would have to face the realities which have so viciously torn at Paige in the past two years.

I want to relate a couple of explanations prior to indulging myself in the cathartic process of recounting my experience.  Firstly, I wish to never say or do anything which would be disrespectful of Paige, her experience,  or her feelings. The thoughts, memories, and reactions related here are my own. Secondly,  I want to be sure to let those reading this or following the publicity circus to know that I made the decision to allow Paige to come out in public about what happened to her, with much thought and concern. I have taken some heat from people who believe that allowing my daughter to come out in the media with her story is harmful to her and a bad decision. Maybe those people are correct. However, I was always taught that decisions made when parenting should be made with your child's maturity level, personality and needs as guides. And that is what I did. And I don't regret it.

I decided to Google my daughter's name today. I was shocked by what I found. Her pictures all over the internet,  most of them related to the word "rape." The reality of that drove a nail through my heart. Let me tell you about Paige,  or Princess, as she is known at our house. Paige is my third child. She has two older brothers and two younger siblings.  She was the baby in our family for seven years. She is tiny. She has always been tiny. She walked at the age of 7 months and looked like a two month old baby walking around. Paige sings. All the time. She used to sing the alphabet in her best opera-inspired voice during class in kindergarten. Paige's first word was "no" and then she skipped immediately into speaking in full sentences. She has always had one of the most powerful personalities I have ever seen. The woman who helped raise my mother used to call my mom to hear "Paige stories," as there was a new one almost daily. She played in the dirt while wearing dresses, socialized during tee-ball games, and made pets out of earthworms. She called them her "lovelies." Those are the things you will never read about when you Google her name. And that is sad.

Out of respect for Paige,  and any legal loose ends, I will not go into specifics about that early morning in January,  2012. You wouldn't want to hear them anyway.  Once something is heard, it cannot be unheard. I don't say that for the dramatic effect. It truly was horrific.  After that day, Paige used to drag her mattress off her bed, into her brother's room so she could have him there while she slept. She screamed in her sleep. She panicked in public. School was no longer an option.  No more cheerleading. Instead her days became filled with darkness, depression,  suicidal thoughts and eventually hospitalization. That is not where the story ends, however.

As difficult as it was, as a mother, to see Paige struggle with something I could only marginally understand, I also witnessed her growth on a phenomenal scale.  When things were darkest, she always brought me hope. Once while having familial turmoil, paige said, "Mom, if you want to give the babies (her youngest siblings) something you couldn't give us (my oldest three children), give them a happy mom." Heavy words for a barely teenage girl. I have seen her absolutely metamorphosize under the media scrutiny.  She has come out of her shell, has gotten angry, cried, and laughed, like she hadn't for two years. I witnessed her answering questions about what happened to her that night, over and over again. I told her that when she was finished with the media, we would stop talking to reporters. On the plane ride home from doing 20/20 in New York, she quietly said, "Mom, this is my last interview." I said, "Ok."

She is now back in school and doing well. She has a boyfriend who has been extraordinarily  supportive. She has her cats, four of them. She is a fantastic aunt to my grandson.  We call her Aunt Meanie. I suppose the point of this story is that I am in awe of Paige.  As a mother,I have made so many mistakes.  I look at her now and know that somewhere, something went right. I hope that mothers or fathers who struggle through these trials with their children can come to this point as well. I hope they know that our kids are resilient and capable far beyond what we realize. A tragic event like this does not mean a life of darkness.  It simply means you have to stand together with your child and lead one another toward the light.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Being Paige's Mom

This is my first blog, but. A lifetime in the making. I started out wanting to name this blog "Being Paige's Mom," but decided that I am, and will be, more than that. But for today, I'm writing as Paige's Mom.

Most strangers know my daughter, Paige, as the "other girl" in the Daisy Coleman rape case which is getting national attention.  Paige was sexually assaulted at a party with her best friend,  Daisy, January 8, 2012.  The case has been highly publicized due to the politics involved in the case. Few people know the story of what happened that night. The only people who really know for sure are the girls.

I am not writing this to capitalize on the events of that night. I want to write, for now, about being the mother of a young woman who was sexually assaulted.

I was thinking today as I spoke with a friend of mine, about the reality of the world in which we live. A world where two young women, girls at the time, could leave a house with boys they considered friends, to be assaulted in the basement of the home of one of the boys then dumped in the cold like trash. The world which subsequently turned on the girls, blaming them for doing nothing but being teenage girls.  Now their every action is subject to critique and judgment.  The way they dress, talk, and act is under public scrutiny as people try to place blame on the girls for what happened.

Having once, long ago, been a teenage girl myself, I remember having put myself in the same position the girls were in that night: drunk, at a party, looking for the attention of boys. The difference between myself and the girls is this: I was with teenage boys who had respect for me and themselves. If the difference between the situations lies in the character of the boys present,  how can we place blame on the girls?

Here's how. If this horrible thing happened to these intelligent,  independent, beautiful young women,  it could happen to anyone. To anyone's daughter or sister. That is a scary prospect for anyone to understand.  Especially me. Paige knew the dangers of drinking, strangers, dark alleys and unfamiliar territory.  She was not prepared to deal with an attack by a friend.  By young, small-town, all-american boys. This is why it is so easy to blame the girls. We don't want to address the fact that the "bad guy" isn't always a stranger. He isn't always ugly or mean. Sometimes he looks just like your brother's trusted friends. How can we prepare to defend our children against that? How do you warn your child about the dangers that you, yourself, do not wish to confront? Until we accept that rape is caused by rapists and not clothing, and accept the fact that rapists live in our own neighborhoods or homes, we solve nothing.

I have racked my brain today, thinking of why my boys would be different than those boys who raped the girls. Honestly,  I can't come up with any tangible answer. I hope I have raised my sons to have respect for women. Hopefully their senses of right and wrong are well developed.  Hopefully they don't feel entitled to treat people as non-human. I think that is where intervention should lie. Instead of blaming the victim and teaching our daughters to grow up and be afraid, we need to teach our sons as well.