Making a Difficult Journey with My Daughter

By Adrianne W.

My daughter, Chloe, probably started self-harming at age 10. She was falling out of trees on purpose, and running into the corners of walls really hard. She was an agile child, so this seemed odd. But I knew nothing about self-harming. I figured she was trying to make us laugh, or going through an awkward period.

We moved from Ohio to Florida and Chloe started 8th grade. I soon learned that Chloe was cutting – splitting her thigh with a shaving razor. I learned in a chilling way. Casually looking at Chloe’s iPad, I saw an 800 number sent by her pediatrician. When I called the number, a man answered with the words, “Suicide Hotline.”

I had no idea my daughter was in such pain. I immediately called her pediatrician to find out why she gave my daughter this number. I had a hunch Chloe might be cutting. I’d seen gashes on her legs that required stitches. But she always claimed she’d gotten them stacking wood at her dad’s house.

You see, my daughter had been this ball of light and energy as a child. And I still saw that little girl. So when I asked the pediatrician’s nurse pointedly about cutting, her words stunned me: “Yes, I see a history of cutting.”

I jumped on the computer to get information on self-harming. But a lot of the information either didn’t make sense, or the studies contradicted each other. One site advised parents: “Don’t take away their razor blades…it’s a ritual for them…”

My thoughts screamed:  Don’t take away their razor blades? She has razor blades?

One piece of advice was consistent: Start the conversation and be calm.

When Chloe got home from school, I told her what I’d found out, and how. I said I’d do everything to help her. But despite seeing a series of therapists, Chloe continued cutting. In her room – yes, I was searching it regularly – I found stashes of razor blades. Some blades were dirty. I found X-Acto knives from the school art room. I found pencil sharpeners taken apart.

Half-healed gashes and angry red scars covered my daughter’s body. She’d started on her wrists, then progressed to her hips, shoulders, upper thighs, and calves. When she was in great pain, she cut her wrists lengthwise, deliberately slicing along arteries.

I felt helpless. I’d say, “I’m going to stand in the bathroom while you’re showering.” But she’d cut at two in the morning while I slept. There’s only so much you can do…I repeatedly threw out her stashes, and let her know.

Chloe kept saying, “I need tools.” She felt sad and numb. Then I learned about her trauma. Between the ages of six and seven, Chloe was repeated molested by someone our family trusted. She felt guilt and shame. She felt violated.

Chloe was Baker Acted after making a severe lengthwise cut on her arm – deep, long, bleeding. The doctor who admitted her to David Lawrence Center’s Children’s Crisis Stabilization Unit did so not for self-harm, but for being suicidal. I learned that Chloe had tried to overdose on Tylenol. I’d never suspected. You don’t think your daughter will try to kill herself.

When Chloe came home, I didn’t know what to do. She was on antidepressants. I was told to keep safety-checking her room. And she had weekly counseling. But it wasn’t enough. She self-harmed in the middle of the night. It wasn’t until a month later, when we entered the Community Action Team (CAT) program at DLC that we started receiving the services we both needed.

Since then, Chloe has been using an arsenal of skills she learned there and in ongoing outpatient services at DLC. She has individual therapy and we’re both in family group therapy that uses Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. Now she has ways to deal with her feelings of shame, anger and sadness.

Thanks to family therapy at DLC, Chloe and I have a common language: “Mom, I’m going to use my ‘stop’ skill,” she’ll say. Or, “Mom, I need validation.”

We’re blessed to have David Lawrence Centers here in Naples.  The therapists are so invested in Chloe. When the therapist comes to our house and knocks on the door, I say, “You don’t have to knock. You’re part of our family.”

Chloe, now 15 and a high school freshman, has dreams:  Writing is a passion. So is music.

I know that whatever my daughter does is going to be outside-the-box and amazing. She will change lives. Perhaps by retelling her journey and helping people through this difficult path.

Click here to learn more about DLC’s #StandUp campaign, which is raising awareness about the importance of youth mental health.

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