Grace of a Girl - Part 2: Journey's Beginning

Part 1. [Author's note: Geez! Sorry it's taken so long to get this up. Once I finally had all the pieces I needed (the original hold-up), I didn't have any free time to get to my computer and hash it out.]

My sister was in trouble. She was making dangerous choices that were not just detrimental to herself, but to others as well. She needed help and my parents didn't know how. They were afraid she was going to attempt suicide. For my mom, such things were incredibly scary to comes to term with - because it meant acknowledging she was unable to do her number one job as a parent: protect her child.

My sister was sent to the University Behavioral Center and put in lockdown twice. But the Center didn't really know what it was doing, or how to help. Their idea of a group session was to put on a video called "intervention." The first time my sister went she was in lockdown for about 6 days, then spent 10 days on their day program (which my mom says is a joke). The second time it was for 4 days. My parents battled with the therapist to get him to listen; he had his own agenda of what she needed and how he would help. His concerns were far more important than any my parents could proffer. So my parents pulled her. But now what? My parents both felt that her increasing self-harm was a desperate cry for help, and that's what they wanted to do for her. But how?

My mother turned to online forums, to her friends on various international adoption listservs. One of the moms wrote back and told about my mom about this school called CALO. My mom went to the site to find out more - anything that could help at this point had to be explored. The moment my mom read about them using dogs in their therapy, she started crying. Because she knew that's where my sister needed to go.

My mom picked up the phone to find out more. The call made stark the reality that she didn't have the money for even one day, let alone for an extended stay, and discouragement set in again. Still the feeling remained that this was right; this was where my sister would find help.

My mom went to my dad and said, "This is right. We need to figure out how to do this." So the call went out to extended family to get ideas. One of my uncles called back and said his brother had tapped into retirement funds in a time of extreme need. So my dad went to his retirement savings and figured out how to get access to the funds there.

My parents were able to put together the start-up funds, and they decided she would go, not even knowing how they would ever hope to finance the rest. But they were resolved because of my sisters backgrounds. Both of my adopted sisters had been leaps of faith for our family. If my parents had waited to adopt until they could actually afford it, I wouldn't have any sisters.

So she could be enrolled, but then where did we come up with thousands and thousands of dollars to pay tuition? My sister's old therapist suggested a trust fund, so my parents investigated. They petitioned family for help. And miracles started happening. My mom said with a smile, "You add 2 and 2, and then you get 6." Once those avenues were exhausted, we turned to friends for help.

Over Christmas break when my sister was not in school, and had plenty of time to herself, my sister-in-law was critical in helping keep her safe. My mom presented the school. "I heard about this place... what if I told you it was a center where you go to school half day, then play with dogs the rest? Would you like to know more?" She said yes. My mom didn't have alot of information. She said it would likely be far away. My sister argued it could be close. My mom said no, because she'd have heard about it sooner. They waited for the informational packet to come in the mail. The idea of going away from my parents had always appealed to my sister, so she was actually engaged in the idea, rather than be oppositional to it. She thought it sounded easy, a place to "chillax," and just breeze through. My sister was sold on how easy such a place sounded.

My sister arrived at CALO on December 31st, 2009. When she realized that what my mom has said wasn't true (though my mom maintains she didn't know any better), my sister felt completely deceived and lied to. She was outraged at my parents. Both my mom and dad agreed that leaving her was really, really hard. My sister thanked them for leaving her in HELL. At some point before she went, my sister knew how long the projected stay would be. She complained she couldn't believe she was being sent away for two years. But she said, "It's okay, I'll have my revenge on you - I'm bringing home my dog!" Which was funny, because my parents are not dog people. So in a way she was right.


CALO is a very regimented treatment facility. The students are separated into four groups: hawks and falcons (boys), doves and sparrows (girls). The Doves (my sister's group) usually had 5 or 6 people, the Sparrows had 12 (my sister said this was attributed to the therapist you had when you joined, which seemed odd to me... it's a little unbalanced).

The typical day started at 6:45am (though my sister never got up before 7:15am). The day began with feeding and pottying the dogs, then chores (vacuum, window cleaning, mopping and sweeping). No one in the group was allowed to do anything else unless all chores were done; which more than once was a source of conflict for people not pulling their weight. Once chores were done, the students could have breakfast (which was disgusting 75% of the time according to my sister) After breakfast, they cleaned their rooms (make beds, clean mirrors, vacuum, tidy).

Then the schedule depended on the day, though there were some consistencies, like school and taking care of the dogs.

Monday - DS duty (clean/take care of dogs); Caseload (get with therapist in group); School; Lunch; Campuswork (whatever needs done - you do this to earn credit to go on weekend outings); DS duty; Library (reading time); Ropes course (just what it sounds like); DS duty; Dinner; Loft time (video games or board games); Team group; Showers; Rooms and 30 minutes to lights out.

Tuesday - "K9 Inventory" (cleaning dog kennels/cages).

Wednesday - Seminar (all calo students together and they have a speaker; Mood regulation group or Attachment group (therapist assigns); my sister's group had dish duty Wednesday night.

Thursday - Recreational therapy (swimming in the lake, dodgeball... any physical activity), this lasted four hours; Leisure ed (downtime for reading or games).

Friday - Interdependence (all students together, two therapists come and talk about whatever topics need addressed at the school, e.g., hygiene).

Saturday - Dog training class; Creative arts (one unit involved a field trip to a radio station where they did commercials or talk shows); P.E.; Community outing (movies, ice skating, laser tag. Or they'd save money for a few months and do something expensive like attend a professional soccer game).

Sunday - Mainly personal time; Set weekly goals (then you'd discuss did you achieve it or not, and set new goals for the coming week); "Spiritual" time (they'd have a non-denominational preacher come and give sermons (though according to my sister he liked his bible way too much to be truly non-denominational); Movie time (students would vote on a movie and watch it (if it wasn't a good movie, my sister would go to her room and sleep)); Sunday dinner was homemade pizza - some weeks it was really good, some weeks it was gross (bbq sauce instead of pizza sauce?? EW).

Anytime a student did not wish to participate in a scheduled activity, they were put on "regroup," which is basically for an hour you do whatever needs done at that time on campus, from cleaning carpets to picking up dog poop.

The campus was a closed campus, so anytime you left you had to do a strip search when you got back to make sure you weren't smuggling anything into campus. This procedure was in place to prevent drugs, weapons, etc., from entering campus.

Likewise, they had pretty strict discipline. Anyone who acted out was put on "white shirt." Which meant the student couldn't go more than 6 feet away, and must go everywhere with a staff member. (Those not on white shirt had a 1-4 staff-student ratio). When they went to the bathroom, white-shirt students had to count out loud so staff could be sure they were not self-harming.

Anytime you were a danger to yourself or others, staff was authorized to employ various disciplinary techniques. "Escort": where a staff cranks your wrist (apparently this sort of wrist-bending is painful, but ultimately harmless as you can bend the wrist any amount without spraining or breaking...[Author's note: I don't vouch for the veracity of these claims.]) on both sides. If the escort is not effective, they proceed to the "Hold", which involves the same bending of the wrist, but flat on your stomach with legs crossed.


As a result of her perceived deception on the part of my parents, my sister spiraled deeper into depression and pain for the first months she was at CALO. All she did was sleep. Students generally have 2 or 3 hours of personal time, where they hang out, play games, play video games, read, etc. All my sister did was sleep. Any time there wasn't a structured activity, my sister was in bed.

She wouldn't let anyone touch her either; she was completely detached from physical contact. The owner of CALO would often come up to her and try and rub her shoulders and my sister would cringe away. For the first who-knows-how-many-weeks, my sister's weekly goal was to initiate - Staff was trying to engage her and she would just mumble that she was fine. She wasn't vulnerable, she wasn't open, and she trusted no one. She saw no reason to interact on more than a surface level with anyone.

Sometime near the end of her first month, my sister found a way to self-harm again and carved the words "Hate" " Blood" and "Death" into her upper thigh.

The situation was still looking bleak. Was this place truly the answer my sister needed? Doubt was creeping back in.

Then something changed. Everything. Around the beginning of her third month, my sister decided she was interested in adopting a canine.

Stay Tuned for Part 3: Breakthrough and Steps to Healing


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