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September 23rd, 2020

Moving Forward with Self-Compassion: A Q&A with Alumni Parent Tessa

Open Sky Alumni Parent

Tessa’s young adult son was enrolled in Open Sky from November 2019, to February 2020. Through this experience and the time since, Tessa and her family have found new ways of practicing self-compassion and supporting each other through communication, emotional awareness, and living in the present moment. Below, Tessa shares what it was like for her as the parent of a child in crisis, describes the most impactful aspects of their Open Sky experience, and shares her hopes for both herself and her family.

 

Q: What were some of the challenges that led your family to Open Sky?

A: My son was struggling with depression and anxiety and had used marijuana to self-medicate for years. And then he was hit by a series of very emotional impacts. He lost his job, his grandmother passed away after a very short but dramatic illness, and his girlfriend broke up with him. Then he started to have suicidal ideation, which is when it became clear that we couldn’t give him the help he needed at home.

I don’t know that there is a word that can completely and accurately describe the despair and hopelessness you feel for your child in this situation. It was devastating to recognize our inability to help him. Now, after all of this therapy, I have realized I was a “rescuer” parent. So, for me, it was that much harder because I couldn’t fix it.

We found Open Sky and knew it would be the right fit for our son and family.

 

Q: What was it like for you while your son was enrolled? What kind of family work did you participate in?

Alumni father and son support each other and practice self-compassion.

A: Initially, we were like deer in the headlights. It was a really crazy time because it was over the holidays—he was at Open Sky for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. My younger son was off to college, so it was just my husband and me. And I travel a lot for work, so we weren’t always together to deal with this. It took some time to figure out how to best communicate what we needed as parents because we are not good self-advocates. Open Sky’s Family Services helped us learn about ourselves and our family in order to dive into this work.

I believe we participated as much as a family can at Open Sky. We did Wellness Weekend, a mid-stay Family Quest, Parent Coaching, and graduation. My husband and I both continue to work with our Parent Coach post-Open Sky.

One of the biggest things all of this taught us as a family and as individuals was how to be self-aware, recognize what’s going on internally, and practice self-compassion. Our family’s way is to always take care of everybody else, neglecting to care for ourselves. About two years prior to Open Sky, I had started a personal meditation practice. Over time, it had fallen by the wayside. Coming back to the importance of self-care and self-awareness, especially as parents, was huge for us.

Another benefit of participating in family programming was building a vocabulary of common language and a bank of common skills. These are phrases and practices that bond us with our son and made (and continue to make) him feel like we’re in this together. They allow us to better understand him and his experience. I have even integrated some of the skills and language into my workplace. They can benefit any area of life.

 

Q: What did you value most about your time with Open Sky?

A: What I value most was the container in which we were allowed to experience and share our feelings safely—on phone calls, during Family Quest, across the board. That’s very unusual in the world and it was very special.

For instance, at Wellness Weekend, it was such a relief to not have to explain to anyone why you’re there. There isn’t awkwardness around what you’re going through and why your child is in treatment. Everyone knows that no matter how you look on the outside, you are struggling internally. And everybody understands. This is so powerful, as sometimes it can feel so isolating to go through this as parents.

And Family Quest…what a gift to meet your child where they are and experience what it’s been like for them. What a gift to have that safe container in which to say your deepest regrets and most heartfelt respects. And then hear the same from your child in return. What a gift to feel the raw feelings of hurt and love all at once, in order to grow closer to each other.

 

Q: What has it been like since your son graduated Open Sky?

Tessa and her family practice more self-compassion and support each other.

A: Since leaving Open Sky, my son is now living and working as a fly fishing guide in Montana. We spoke recently and he told me he really missed how good the food was!

It’s hard to say how well someone is doing until you see them in the midst of a challenge. There was one night recently when he was feeling really badly. We were on the phone and it was wonderful to hear him link those feelings to what he was experiencing, rather than to his own identity. This was a huge milestone for him. He now has the ability to unpack his feelings, recognize the false narratives he’s creating around his challenges, and be truer to himself.

For me, personally, I’ve continued growing as well since our Open Sky experience. I’m committed to showing up better for myself, my family, and my employees. I am so much more comfortable speaking what I believe is my truth when I need to speak it. I’m more present. I acknowledge I cannot step into the past to change it. I’m just moving forward. I am more aware of my own emotions and in control of how I deal with them. I bring this attitude into my work as well. I think my employees are all catching on that I’m not the same; that something else is going on here. I hope to have a positive impact by really implementing the skills and practices I’ve learned.

As a family, we’re a lot kinder to each other because we know what each of us is going through. Before, this really wasn’t something we talked about; you didn’t know how upset the other person was or what was going on in their head because we didn’t share any of that. We also practice much more self-compassion, which we haven’t done before. We’re learning that it’s ok to give ourselves a break and realize we’re not going to be perfect today; but that we did the best we could in that moment.

One of the biggest things for us is that we are able to feel heard. For instance, my younger son and I now have a whole different way of communicating. He was experiencing nervousness going back to college. We practiced a three-fold breath, we checked in with our physical senses, and then we started talking about how he was feeling and where he was experiencing these feelings of nervousness in his body. This type of practice and communication is something we would have never thought to do before. But it allowed him to connect to his body, be aware of his thoughts and emotions, and be in the present moment

 

Q: What is your hope for the future—for yourself, your son, and your family?

A: I’ll answer this in an “I Feel” statement:

I feel hopeful and positive when I think about moving forward in life.

I imagine I feel this way because Open Sky showed us the possibilities of living life to our word and our values.

My intention for myself is to continue my personal work and embrace my family with that.

My request for my family would be to practice our self-compassion and recognize that perfection is elusive. Just keep moving forward.

September 23rd, 2020

Open Sky Alumni Parent