This is a true story.
The names of the participants have been changed for reasons of confidentiality
By-line: Ellen Kreshover, LCSW-volunteer
She appears to have stepped right out of a Margaret Keane painting being a slender reed of a girl with huge, soulful brown eyes. She expresses herself using a wonderful vocabulary and wisdom that far exceeds a mere 9 years. Kayla represents herself well.
We are sitting together with her mother, Michele, meeting for the first time. I have the privilege of sharing her personal story as it relates to Horses Healing Hearts, USA.
Kayla has survived a substance addicted father, with whom she has not had contact for quite a while. He is currently in jail for multiple counts of theft, related to drug and alcohol abuse. These crimes were compounded by a violation of probation. When Kayla speaks about her memories of him, they are riddled with angry, violent actions.
She talks about witnessing him kicking her dog, banging doors, and banging walls. Her eyes fill with tears as she shares a story about her caged ferret being attacked by a neighbor’s dog. Her recall and imagery consists of seeing the animal bleeding profusely, fearing her pet will die, with little empathy or help from her father. When the last resort was to take the animal into a pet store, her father chose to steal an exotic frog while the manager was helping Kayla and her mother.
As often occurs in children who suffer recurring trauma, Kayla proudly admits to having developed a protective hypervigilance around her father. She has acquired acute observational skills to determine the ‘safety level’ of his moods. In doing so, she is able to anticipate his actions and attempts to be emotionally prepared. She also acknowledges feeling responsible for his poor conduct. Her belief is that she missed knowing the right thing to do to help her father; that there must have been something she could have done to create change. It is not uncommon for children to take on the burden of adult responsibility when there is parental turmoil.
Kayla’s mother has worked hard to provide her with as much stability as possible. She divorced her husband after 8 years of marriage, the last two being untenable. Instead of remaining in their house, Kayla and her mother moved in with Michele’s parents. Michele indicates that she had a positive home life growing up, and the behaviors experienced during her marriage were alien to her. She works full-time as a Medical Assistant in a Women’s Care Center, and Kayla is her only child. During our conversation, her love and concern for Kayla was palpable. At times the tears would well up in her eyes when Kayla would speak. Asked if she could put thoughts to her tears, Michele would say it was so important to know that Kayla was going to be all right. She just “wants her to be all right.”
Michele mentioned that Kayla had been in traditional counseling, but it seemed ineffective. Kayla expressed feeling uncomfortable sharing her family circumstances at the school guidance office, as she did not want her family to be “judged.” My ears hear the word, “judged,” verbalized by this very impressive nine year old, and suddenly it is like conversing with a young girl who has an old soul. The thoughts and the words are coming straight from Kayla as she details her experience with a certain maturity that feels a little seismic. She is protective of her family. As we speak, she watches her mother’s facial expressions, and it is clear that her powers of observation will always act as a personal sensor to the emotions of those around her.
The most fortuitous act that Kayla’s father did was bringing home a brochure from Horses Healing Hearts that he saw in a store. He acted interested in connecting Kayla with HHH, but continuously fabricated excuses about not being able to make contact. It was Michele who followed through on contacting Liz. She was able to reach Liz on her first phone call.
Their conversation had a very positive impact on Michele. There were not only youngsters at HHH going through similar incidents as Kayla, but the Founder of HHH had actually lived through such events during her own childhood. At HHH, Kayla feels a unique bond with her peers. It is an unspoken understanding with an added dimension that cannot be found elsewhere. Her work with the horses and in the group activities has, in her own words, made a difference.
Kayla and Michele now have a strong support system that includes family life and Horses Healing Hearts, USA. Michele can not only feel a sense of accomplishment in having established a secure environment for the two of them, but can also feel the additional support provided by HHH.
Comment from Liz O.
Unfortunately, Kayla’s father has chosen to remain unavailable for contact with her, and although incarcerated, has not made any effort to communicate.
We teach HHH participants that they cannot control what people in their lives do; their parents or anyone else for that matter. The only thing they can control is their own thoughts and actions; but by owning and controlling these two things they can control/design/impact their lives for the present and the future. It’s not about what you’re given in life, it’s what you do with what you’re given in life.
The support from the team members of HHH gladly partner with the healthy family members in Kayla’s life in assisting her over these hurdles. There is no doubt that she is a shining star who will light up her path with extraordinary sensitivity, intelligence and positive energy.