HOW?

School shootings, overdose, suicide, and crime and that’s just this week.

HOW? How did something like this happen?  Suicide, overdose, school shootings, relapse, crime, and that has just been THIS week.  Unfortunately, it is EVERY week.  It takes a lot to catch our attention because it’s just too much.  We are NUMB.  This week a 1st grader shot a teacher in Virginia about an hour from where I live.  As someone who was the Crisis Coordinator in an elementary school for about 10 years, I ran the active shooter drills where we practiced for a gunman in a school. I comforted crying children when they were scared by the thought of someone hurting them. I imagined the scenario and it made me sick when I let my heart and mind go there. To think of my friends and school family and the “what if “ it ever happened in our school.  Every time I saw a school shooting on the news, I imaged my students, teachers, and administrators.  This week it was a 6 y.o. that posed the threat.  HOW?

We are losing young people at an alarming rate.  How?  As someone who has spent the better part of 28 years in the mental health system in schools and in the community, I have a few thoughts and observations about “the how”.  There is no easy answer but here’s my 2 cents:

I did not get it for a very long time, because like many others I was marinating in a culture of “never enough”, of “do more” and I bought it lock, stock, and barrel.  I got on the treadmill and was pretty good at staying on it, until I wasn’t.   We are seeing an alarming number of people, young and old that are just not okay.  We say it’s okay to not be okay, but then don’t teach people what to do when they are not okay.  We fail them when they are not okay.  We are losing them at alarming rates. 

I am tired of hearing schools need to do more.  It’s crap.  If my kids never brush their teeth and drink mountain dew for the first five years of their life, when they go to the dentist with their teeth rotting out of their heads, NO ONE BLAMES THE DENTIST.  Not ever!! Yet, people who have never stepped foot in a classroom, other than as a student have the answer. Their answer has been to micromanage and tell teachers, who actually know how to do their jobs, they need to do more.  Teachers marinade in the never enough culture, so they try. They do more.  I watched them do more and leave in tears many a day. They have long owned things that do not belong to them.  It’s so bad we are seeing a mass exodus of amazingly talented, loving teachers and professionals.  If you have a pulse, schools are so understaffed and desperate we will hire you.  This is like watching a train barrel down the tracks, and the crash is coming.  It’s honestly painful to watch.

In the 12 years that I worked in mental health in schools, let me tell you what I saw teachers/schools inherit at the beginning of a school year:  kids who have never been told no, who are placated with iPhones, computers and iPads, they have never had family meals or eaten with utensils, everyone gets a trophy, parents who are on their own devices and not plugged in, they are all too happy to ask what educators are doing.  My kids can’t read, what are you doing about it?  Do you do homework with them? No. Do you read to them each night? No. Do you make sure they are ready for school the next day? No. But teachers, why can’t you fix it?  Simply, because it is not yours to fix. Teachers and administrators are being screamed at, spit on, hit, having their classrooms/offices destroyed, and dealing with tantrums the likes of which you cannot imagine.   We are putting children in classrooms whose behaviors would be more appropriate for residential treatment centers and trying to tell teachers and counselors to do more.  Well guess what, they aren’t the ones who need to do more.  Schools don’t need to do more. We need a hotline for teachers, counselors, and administrators to report what they deal with every day.  It’s easier for us to BLAME schools because then we don’t have to look at our part.  It’s US, it’s the marinade that we aren’t acknowledging it.

It’s the us or them mentality that we buy into.  If we don’t all own this, we are in big trouble.

Many of our young people are LOST.  Do you know what they need?

 They need SAFE CONNECTION.  They need their parent’s TIME and ATTENTION.  They need parents who aren’t in survival mode.  They need to understand that THEY ARE NOT their achievements or material things.  We have young people who are looking to us for answers and what we reflect is YOU are enough if……. (grades, sports, achievements, college you get into…etc..). 

We are all too busy pretending we aren’t in survival mode.  I think most of the world is in survival mode.  We are living in nervous systems that are literally on fire and we are running 100 m.p.h. and it has become NORMAL.  The gas pedal is floored and when people are wrecked, we blame or act shocked.  We ask HOW?

Think of your body and nervous system like a bucket.  The bucket is FULL and when that happens there is no room for the daily stress or normal things that are part of life.  When we are at the top of the bucket, we are in SURVIVAL MODE (Fight (anger, tantrums, aggression), Flight (anxiety, overachieving and over-functioning, avoidance), Freeze (depression, apathy, disconnect)).  Behaviors are our best attempts to regulate or find balance.  We focus on behaviors and are using band aids and it’s not enough for the gaping wounds we are walking around with.    We have got to DO LESS and SLOW DOWN.  Our young people need to learn to sit with uncomfortable and understand that they ARE ENOUGH regardless of their grades, how popular they are, how cool their friends are, or the number of likes they get.  WE are the MIRRORs for children to see their reflections. We need to slow down so it’s not a blur.  We must model bouncing back, rising when the world is unfair, showing them how to sit with uncomfortable feelings and emotions.   Far too many of us use what I call false taps.  A false tap is a quick fix, it feels good and gives us the illusion that we are emptying the bucket but really we are just adding to it.  Examples of false taps:  drugs, busyitis, gambling, porn, sex, working all the time, eating, over functioning, under functioning, sleeping too much or too little, avoiding, fighting, yelling, blaming, overthinking, intellectualizing, shopping, and technology.  These are the quick fixes that are adding to our distress. 

Your nervous system wants balance.  It wants calm, rest and repair.  Yet many of us don’t know what that feels like.  What are some tools/real taps that empty the bucket:  Meditation, Nature, Tapping, Yoga, Exercise, Art, Music, Writing, Stillness, Laughter, Safe Connection, and Havening.

Your diet is more than what you eat.  It is the music you listen to, the people you surround yourself with, the tv you watch, the books you read, the video games you play, and how you spend your time.  It is what you put into your body physically, emotionally, and spiritually. 

I have had kindergarten students who want to be “Chucky” for Halloween, who were singing in class, 1, 2, Freddy’s coming for you (Nightmare on Elm Street), who are watching porn, and playing video games where they are killing people and bathing in violence and crime.  We are allowing technology to wire in the opposite of what we want and then sit back and ask HOW?  This is HOW.

All of this is HOW.  If we want to right the ship, we need to stop pointing fingers and blaming each other and look in the mirror.  I think our young people reflect “US” and the culture we are all marinating in.  That “Marinade” is something I consciously try to get out of each day.  Some days I do a better job than others.  I am more aware of how full my bucket is than ever before.  Losing Taylor stopped me cold and really made me look at my life as I started to put myself back together.  I was part of the problem. 

Mental health is about the nervous system, “the bucket”.  The tools that regulate the bucket need to be in everyone’s toolbox.  You want kids to learn in schools then you need them in their brains in a calm and safe way.  In survival mode, you don’t have the learning and memory parts of the brain turned on.  You can have the best teacher in the world in front of them and they will not learn or hold the information because they are not in that part of their brain.  They are in the part of their brains that says, “danger”. They are running from “the bear” and the bear is always chasing them.   

The How? I believe isn’t not as complicated as we make it.  The How?   The marinade and the nervous system.  If we can educate everyone about the marinade, we are all floating in and stop buying it and then real tools to find calm in our bodies/nervous systems we will have made a dent in some of this. 

This threatening finger pointing is getting us nowhere.  We better start being brave enough to own our part of the HOW or this will continue to get worse.  I have HOPE that together we can be part of the solution, but it won’t be because we all started doing MORE.  Quite the opposite actually.  The answer lies in LESS.  It lies in slowing down so that we can all take a collective breath, reset and find ways to safely connect to the best in each of us.  That doesn’t happen in the “marinade” at the top of “the BUCKET”.  The HOW is; we are already ENOUGH and our WORTH is not dependent on things outside of us.  Our worth is an inside job.  Slow down and look in the mirror.  You are worth it; our kids are worth it. 

Published by Kerri Rhodes

I am a licensed professional counselor (LPC) and licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) with twenty-eight years experience in the mental health field. None of my experience, prepared me for my own son's struggles with addiction and the journey it would take our family on. This site focuses on my journey, grief, addiction, and mental illness. It is for anyone who struggles with addiction, loves someone who struggles with mental illness or substance use disorder and those who live with grief. There is the grief of loving someone who is standing right in front of you that you no longer recognize and the grief of losing someone you love. I lost my beautiful son, Taylor when he was 20 years old to an accidental overdose. It was a moment I will remember for the rest of my life. In that moment, as I fell to my knees my heart breaking into a millions pieces I was unable to think, breathe, or speak. The next day in the early hours, I began to write and it was like someone undammed a river. It would become a huge part of my healing in that first year. Taylor's was a light in this world and this blog is a tribute to that light. When we share our broken pieces we begin to bring light to the darkness. This site will be a place I share my grief, my brokeness and my healing in the hope that it might help someone else. It will be a place to share the things that are hard to watch and even harder to live.

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