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The most important thing I've learned

When I look back now at what I wish I'd known then, I can hear the words so clearly: "He can't help it. He has a mental illness." It took a long time for my husband and I to accept that idea - that he couldn't help it. To us, throwing furniture, calling us names, kicking in doors, just looked like out-of-control bad behavior. And we wanted to respond to it by threatening consequences, physical restraint, and an equal level of shouting. It took a long time (and lots of therapy) for us to understand that what our son needed was just the opposite. We learned that he was just as frightened by his own behavior as we were and that he didn't want to be a bad kid. In fact, he was just as horrified by the aftermath as we were, which is what triggered the self harm.

I remember asking him once, "what does it feel like during a rage?" He thought for a moment, then said, "It feels like the devil takes over my brain and makes me do bad things I don't want to do." This was the pivotal moment for us. The moment when we realized that what we needed to do during a rage was show him love and support. And most important, do it all in a calm voice. I would like to say that we did it all perfectly from day one, but no. Not at all. It's hard to stay calm when someone is screaming at you. It's hard not to get angry when things get broken. We struggled with this new role for a long time, using each other for strength. When I would start yelling, my husband would remind me, "He can't help it. He has a mental illness." Then later, when I saw my son getting under my husband's skin, I would say the same to him, "He can't help it." We practiced it over and over, even when it seemed ludicrous. I remember my son calling me all kinds of ugly names, threatening to harm me, saying he hated me. All the while, I kept repeating in a calm, gentle voice, "It's ok honey, I know you don't mean that. I'm here, I'm going to keep you safe." I won't say that it worked, it didn't calm him down or de-escalate anything. Honestly, I think the rages just need to run their course. But what it did do was calm me down and put me in a place where mentally I could detach myself emotionally from his behavior

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