On Thanksgiving, people count their good fortune for many things—small and big. You snagged the last package of fresh sage for your stuffing. The lump proved benign. Your family will make it through the blizzard and be together feasting on turkey and all the scrumptious side dishes.
Kathy has a different reason to be thankful. But let her tell it.
This story doesn’t start out with the warm and fuzzies. It starts with pain, tears, anger, worry, and frustration. It starts with a mom and a daughter on opposite sides of a deep chasm. I was convinced we’d never reach each other, and frankly, I was already giving up. I was in a place of pain. And whenever pain takes up residence in your heart, you carry it like a curse. I couldn’t figure out how we got so far apart, so fast. I felt as if I were screaming into a void.
The MST program was first suggested to me by my daughter’s middle-school counselor, but I was sure it was a lot of hype and would be of very little help. There was nothing they could tell me to do that I hadn’t already tried. How were these people going to make anything happen? And if they thought they were going criticize me, if they thought they were going to judge me, they had another thing coming. No one was going to tell me I was a bad parent. And that was that.
Meanwhile, that chasm was growing wider and wider. My daughter seemed so unreachable. It was as if I had never known her. It was heartbreaking, devastating, and hopeless. I was losing myself in the absolute sadness of it all. I cannot describe the ache that was centered in my chest. Sleepless nights. The nights I did sleep, I had nightmares. My daughter was lost in the darkness and cried for me. Me searching for her, trying to find her, waking up with tears on my cheeks. I felt like a failure as a mother. That is a gut-wrenching battle that never gets easier.
I saw my precious little girl drifting further and further away—and then, the fear set in. Crippling anxiety-ridden fear. Scared to death I’d lose her and very aware that I’d begun to lose myself. I cannot express adequately what that feels like other than to say it’s like standing on a cliff beginning to give way. You feel the ground beneath you crumbling, and there’s nothing to grab onto. You know it’s only a matter of time before you lose your balance and fall. It’s terrifying, and constantly living in that state takes a toll on every single reserve of strength you may have. And my strength was fading fast. I had had surgery. My father died. I was struggling with depression.
In desperation, I agreed to the MST program and decided the only way to truly benefit from it was to throw myself into the program and get rid of any preconceived notions I may have had. I needed to be 100 percent committed and willing to do whatever it took to be successful. I had to open the door and face whatever was on the other side.
And thank God, it was Brenda, the MST therapist. Thank God it was someone who not only came armed and ready to fight but someone who invested herself into this painful and scary world in which my daughter and I were dwelling. Brenda never hesitated for a second. She just jumped right into the middle of that chasm. Taking my hand, she looked me in the eye and said, “You are not alone, you are not a failure, and I am going to help you get your daughter back.” And I am very thankful that she didn’t take one look and run screaming for the way out.
Was it easy? No, it was not. It was hard work. But the miraculous thing I discovered was my motivation to keep going. The very person, me, who was convinced it wouldn’t work was beginning to see that I was the vehicle to make it work. I was in the driver’s seat, and Brenda was riding shotgun on the passenger’s side, encouraging me, pointing out roadblocks, guiding me through detours, navigating the journey with me—and giving me the tools I needed to build a bridge to my daughter. If I got discouraged, she’d gently steer me back onto the road, reminding me that the work I was doing was important and critical to my relationship with my daughter, who was naturally going to resist the changes that I was incorporating.
You see, it’s not so much the kid that gets the attention in this program, it’s the parents. We learn first how to gain confidence. Through trial and error, we learn what works best. Then we apply what we’ve learned directly to the wounds that exist so that the healing process can begin. It’s difficult work—to be sure. You are taking away a world in which the child is firmly in charge and replacing it with one that has the parent in control.
Just like it took some time for your situation to get out of control (after all, it’s not like the kid woke up one day and said, “Gee I think I’m gonna turn into a complete and total nightmare!”), it takes time to mend the damage. That’s largely the reason why MST is so successful. Your therapist sticks with you during the most difficult transitions and keeps you grounded and committed throughout the process. Ours didn’t give up and wouldn’t allow us to give up.
You cannot stand over a flower and scream “GROW!” It needs nurturing, constant tending, sunshine, and yes, some rain, to bloom into its glorious self. The MST program helps parents till the soil and prepare it for new growth. We become gardeners of change. And sometimes, growth can be painful. MST gives you direct access to the possibility of change, real, true, lasting change.
Most importantly, MST gave me back hope, hope that the bridge across the chasm is strong, solid, and able to keep me connected.
The other thing MST gave back to me? My daughter. When I think of where we were, compared to where we are now, I am overwhelmed with gratefulness and thanks. This program not only assists parents, it rebuilds families. It is absolutely important, vital, and necessary for parents who desperately want to reach their children before it’s too late, before they become a statistic, before they are lost forever.
This grateful mother will be forever in the debt of the MST . . . and this mother thanks the heavens above that such a program exists.
This letter was sent to Catholic Charities in Buffalo New York. The therapist is Brenda Ludwig.
To learn more about the cost-effectiveness of Multisystem Therapy, download this report.