Never Underestimate the Importance of Communication

Never Underestimate the Importance of Communication

…continued from yesterday.

“I think I’m ready to get help.” Sarah’s discouraged voice over the phone line seemed like a beacon of hope. Maybe we had made the right decision to take her to the crisis center after all.

She needed some toiletries and a change of clothing so on Saturday I drove back to Flagstaff to visit and deliver what she needed. We spent a couple of hours together, and she chatted easily about the other patients—she had made friends with a few of them. She showed me some pages that she had colored for entertainment. The fact that she had colored something made me happy—ever since she had returned home she had had no interest in her art.

The interior of the crisis center did not meet the cozy standards of the reception area. Some patients shuffled around in hospital gowns, while others wore their street clothes, minus shoes. “I had to wear a hospital gown for the first 24 hours,” she explained, “and they took the string out of my hoodie before they gave it back to me.” I nodded, as if it all made sense.

It didn’t, at first. Suddenly, I realized that strings, shoelaces and street clothes could serve a more sinister purpose. The thought sobered me.

Sarah gave permission for me to talk to the psychiatrist, and I tried my best to chronicle all that had gone on so far—the anorexia in her early teen years, the binge eating and bulimia and then the long fall into depression. The doctor nodded and asked a few questions. He decided that perhaps her prescription for Zoloft needed increasing. If only he had probed more.

On Monday after school I drove back to Flagstaff and picked Sarah up. She would have a follow-up appointment with a psychiatrist in two weeks. The follow-up care seemed rather anticlimactic.

Pedro and I had once again failed to spend any quality time formulating a plan before Sarah returned. We had forgotten the importance of communication. When we arrived home and we all sat down to talk, Sarah burst into tears. Pedro and I looked at each other with satisfaction—finally! It had been a long time since Sarah displayed any type of emotion, and we saw this as a healing step.

For the next hour and a half the tree of us talked—I mostly kept quiet because I wanted to show Pedro that I respected his views and wasn’t trying to step in and do everything on my own. During the course of our conversation, Sarah revealed that she had gotten drunk once in high school (she brought home some liquor she found in a hotel room and proceeded to experiment—drinking and writing in her journal after each drink until she had emptied the bottle), and that she had gotten drunk on New Year’s Eve in Argentina.

To make matters worse, I knew about these incidents and had urged Sarah to confess to Pedro, but I had not told Pedro about them. I had assumed that since Pedro had allowed the girls to taste wine once at a cancer fundraiser, that if one of the girls experimented with alcohol it would not be a hill to die on.

Pedro and I were both raised teetotalers, and we figured that through our example and openly talking with our daughters about the dangers of alcohol, they would follow our example and embrace our family value. I chalked up Sarah’s two encounters with alcohol as minor incidents. But I should have told Pedro.

Part of me felt frustrated by how busy Pedro had become in his new job—how he relied on me for news and information about our daughters and didn’t seem to have time to connect with them on his own. I felt a measure of selfish satisfaction that Sarah, who always had a closer bond with Pedro, had confided in me first. In retrospect, I realize how petty I had become.

When our conversation finally ended, Pedro gave an ultimatum—Sarah could either choose to get well or move out. The thought of Sarah living in her car terrified me. On the one hand, I understood Pedro’s point of view. Things had to change. On the other hand, his idea of tough love felt unreasonable (not to mention that we hadn’t talked about it beforehand).

After Sarah went to bed, Pedro and I had another quiet, intense argument. I apologized for not sharing information with him (although I’m not sure how sincere I sounded). As his anger cooled, my self-righteous indignation grew.

Confrontations leave me frustrated and sad, because I freeze up and cannot formulate responses in the heat of the moment. I usually retreat and stew afterwards—pouring all of my angst and anger into the pages of my journal. All of my insecurities about parenting flitted around my head and I questioned every decision I had ever made.  Everything Pedro said seemed like an insult and a confirmation that I was a horrible parent and thus a horrible person.

I ended my journaling tirade by praying for Pedro and for our marriage—the problem seemed too hopeless for me to fix on my own. Only divine intervention could soothe our anger and help us work together to save our daughter. In retrospect, I realize that the devil delights in discord—and he did the happy dance that night.

The devil delights in discord. Choose not to take offense in moments of crisis. Click To Tweet

The next morning, nothing seemed resolved. Sarah didn’t want to go to work because she had eaten too much at breakfast and felt worthless. I steamed. Pedro and I decided to give her the keys to her car (the mornings had gotten chilly) so she could choose to move out if she wanted to or sit in her car all day—at least she wouldn’t mope in comfort.

Around noon, I noticed that her car had left the driveway. Three hours later, when I returned from work, she hadn’t returned. She didn’t answer her phone or the texts that I sent her. Now a new dread threatened—where had she gone and what decision had she come to?

…to be continued.

Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a ‘recovering cancer caregiver’ who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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