No one but Maricel knows exactly what happened during the two years she lived abroad with her mother after her parents divorced. What Maricel’s father, teachers and counselors do know is that when she came back to the U.S., this little girl was deeply troubled.
A spiraling series of events left Maricel’s family overwhelmed and desperate for help: running away at age six, frequent anxiety and fearful crying at age seven, severe depression at age eight, her first attempt to hurt herself leading to hospitalization at age nine and additional suicide attempts and hospitalization stays after that.
But now, at age 14, Maricel has a bright and promising future that includes college, a career as a teacher, and a loving, supportive relationship with her dad and other family members.
The dramatic turnaround started during sixth grade when, after an attempt to hang herself with a belt in the school restroom, Maricel was admitted into the residential treatment program run by Uplift Family Services. After a period of intense therapeutic services to get her stabilized, Maricel returned home and went back to school, but this time with the help of a skilled team from Uplift Family Services who worked closely with her within the public school environment.
The team developed an individualized plan for Maricel to get her up to speed on school work in small structured classes, plus individual and group therapy sessions several times each week to deal with her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety and depression. Therapists stayed in constant contact with Maricel’s dad and stepmother, sending home daily reports and meeting frequently with the family.
“The structure and consistency were extremely important for Maricel,” said Rita Barone, one of her Uplift Family Services therapists. “What we have pieced together of Maricel’s time with her mother were stories of being left alone for six or seven hours at a time – unfed, unbathed and unsupervised – when she was just four and five years old. So much neglect and so many broken promises are traumatic for a young child and led to self-destructive feelings that she would be better off dead.”
“Maricel has been able to redirect her anger of what she experienced away from herself,” Rita said. “She’s realized that her mother’s addictions and behavior were not appropriate for a parent and that she herself was not the cause of them. Maricel has forgiven herself and is working on forgiving her mom.”
Maricel’s mother’s whereabouts are unknown. Her father has sole custody and a restraining order, which ended the mother’s sporadic and unsettling visits while Maricel continues to process the trauma of her early years.
This school year, Maricel is entirely on her own without help from Uplift Family Services. She uses a journal and art to help her continue to sort out her feelings and overcome remaining anxieties and fears. Attendance at a recent weekend conference on empowerment for young women also gave her a positive, reaffirming experience.