I hadn’t thought I would die today…

At Toughlove we are taught to tell our story in 60 seconds or less so here is mine…

One afternoon as I did the dishes, my 12yr old son asked for a sandwich – it was half an hour till dinner, so I said he could wait. I looked up into the window in front of me to see his reflection standing behind me with our rather large butcher knife…. He just stood there – so much anger in his face. I remember thinking ‘I hadn’t thought I would die today’… I bowed my head and continued with the dishes – what else could I do? He was bigger and stronger. I heard a loud clatter and then a slammed door. My God! Was this what my life had come to?

That was my turning point as a parent, but in reality the downward spiral had begun much earlier than this. No war just happens one day – they always begin small and if truth be told, could be headed off when they begin if people would only open their eyes. My eyes were firmly shut. I was so far in denial that I should have been the queen of Egypt!

Ours was a blended family, with me having a son prior, and then we had two children together. I was overprotective and irrational when it came to my son. No–one understood him as I did. Right from the start ‘other people’ had it in for him. He was a little different (which years later we were to discover was asperges), however he could do know wrong. This, combined with his intelligence was a nightmare for us all. Within a few years I had decided that the schooling system had it in for him, and tried to homeschool him – epic failure. He was diagnosed with depression, ADD, ADHD and all kinds of learning behaviours. Still my eyes remained firmly closed.

Couple arguingIt wasn’t until my marriage was in tatters, my house full of holes from his outbursts, my other children cowering from constant fear of him, and then the threat of violence to me, that I woke up and smelt the coffee. This couldn’t go on… but I had tried all kinds of courses and none were of any use (though in all honesty, I probably didn’t follow them very well).

I don’t remember how or where I learnt of Toughlove, but with my lovely in–laws coming to mind the children, my husband and I ventured out to our first meeting. Fear, humiliation, embarrassment, failure, hurt and anger were very close to the surface as we arrived. I knew I would be judged and found wanting.

I have the strongest memory of laughter and light, smiles and chatter. After checking we were in the right place, we were gently guided into the room – we must have looked like deer in headlights. We weren’t the only new people that night – six of us sat in the back room together separate from the regulars. The rest of the night is a bit of a blur. I know that I used up many tissues and that the person talking with me shared their story – not too unlike mine!

Holding my husband’s hand (probably the first time in a long time), we left there that night with a sense of hope and wonder. We seemed to have found a group of people who understood our feelings. They each seemed to have different issues, but that didn’t matter because it wasn’t about same – actually it was the opposite – it was about us as individuals. The other exciting memory was that someone was going to phone me! I had a goal that week and they were going to phone me and see how I was going. They also gave me their number in case things got really bad. What a difference. We hadn’t had this kind of support before.

Over the next weeks and months, as we set small goals and achieved them, our home life began to change. It wasn’t always positive, as our young man got really confused about what was going on. “What do you mean you want to ask Dad first?” “What do you mean if I want an answer now it will be no?”.

What we hadn’t understood on joining Toughlove was that our boy wasn’t broken, nor did he need fixing. What needed to change in our home was us. We needed to become consistent, caring, and on the same page. In all honesty, this was along the lines of what my husband had been trying to tell me for some time. It wasn’t rocket science, but with the support of the other parents and Reps, we started to make changes – day by day (sometimes hour by hour!).

Hardest thing to doBack then, I was 100% certain that our son was headed for prison. Not for robberies or drugs etc, but for the violent outbursts and dysfunction. I am now the proud mother of a 28yr old who is a productive member of society. He understands the value of hard work and works hard. He respects his family and is always available to help out at our home should we need it. He is now in a stable relationship with a lovely lady who has a young daughter whom he dearly loves. We are blessed.

Without a word of a lie, Toughlove has saved our marriage, our son, and our sanity. I continue to be involved in the programme because I have seen no other programme that supports parents as this programme does. Toughlove offers active, selective and confrontive support. They are there for you (both in meetings and at the end of the phone), they will only support things that they feel morally right to support (e.g. don’t ask for support to hit your child), and they will challenge you if they feel that you need to try different things or that maybe you haven’t been trying to achieve your goal. My family, having grown up with the programme, also use Toughlove in their lives. By attending the programme we have created a generation of young people who are contributing members of society and believe in making personal change. We are proud to be a Toughlove family. I tell my story today so that others may have hope.