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When Graduation is Bittersweet

Graduating from Red Mountain marks a time of celebration for the student and his or her family. RMS challenges participants, because the program demands that they take full responsibility for themselves and their actions. As one recent graduate said, “Red Mountain was tougher… and better.”
For many of our students, Red Mountain can seem daunting. However, for those who stay with the program and learn how to be mindful, meditate, manage their nutrition, and confront the issues that have been giving them problems, the moment of departure is a joyful affirmation.

This time of transition can also be stressful for parents and siblings. Parents certainly welcome the financial relief that comes with graduation, but at the same time, the security of knowing their child is part of a program evaporates with their departure from Red Mountain.

We often say the person most at risk for relapse at this time is the parent(s). They have the greatest temptation in the early days to say, “Oh, I will just help with this one thing.” It may be providing money,or doing something for their child that they can do for themselves. Parents may find themselves interfering, meddling, obsessing, over-communicating, or setting poor boundaries.

Siblings experience a lot of the same concerns. Loyalty issues similar to those that existed before Red Mountain may also resurface. They want to support their sibling, but how?They have to make decisions about what to share with mom and/or dad and what to keep to themselves. They may feel that they are returning to being stuck in the middle.
Parents naturally focus most of their attention on the child who is having the hardest time in life, but our graduates’siblings have oftenfound it hard to cope with the family stress caused by their brother’s or sister’s issues.

It is very important to remember that every child, from the most well adjusted to those who are having serious problems, wants and deserves attention from their parents. When you are deeply concerned about John, it’s all too easy to assume that Jane is just fine and will understand that you must focus on her brother. Intellectually, Jane may understand that, but emotionally, she may feel left out and angry.

Allof these old uncertainties will likely surface even more powerfully at graduation time, for several reasons. First, there will be even more attention given to the graduate and their success, and even less to the rest of the family. Second, for the siblings, the time that their brother or sister spent at Red Mountain may have been a period of stability for the family. John is being cared for, his parents are getting back to something like normal,and Jane is once again getting the attention she needs. While it may be exciting for the family to be reunited, there are no guarantees. Will it work this time; will everything really be all right now?
Finally, change is always difficult, regardless of the circumstances. The family had to adjust to Johnbeing at RMS, and now they have to readjust to having him home or somewhere else, on his own.

What can parents do to resolve the dilemma? The most important step is realizing that successfully enrolling your child in Red Mountain and then having him or her graduate is one step in a continuing journey. Tempting as it may be to focus all of your attention on the troubled family member, it is best not take it for granted that this will be acceptable to everyone else. In the tradition of Red Mountain, the simple solution is mindfulness.
Just remind yourself now and then that you might need to take a little special time with your other kids, acknowledge them for their accomplishments, and support them in their endeavors.

The same goes for the graduation event. Even though you certainly should show your pride in the graduate, try to think of ways to support your other children through this transition. Acknowledge them for the ways in which they have helped their brother or sister to come through a difficult challenge. It is also useful to look ahead, not behind, making plans for a successful move back into everyday life that involves every family member.

We have found that the optimum solution is to create a plan before graduation with the graduate and their therapist about how to handle these concerns. This plan should include specific language that will be used when boundaries are being tested or getting blurred. Everyone needs to continue to practice self–care, including nutrition, sleep, exercise, therapy, coaching, and support groups. Graduation doesn’t mean these things aren’t needed anymore. Often, they are needed evenmore than before.

Red Mountain graduation time may be somewhat bittersweet, but with the right attitude, it can also be a triumph for all concerned.