adoption, family, parenting, PTSD

Smashing the iPod: Adventures in Accepting My Own PTSD

   ptsd2

My first thought is “Oh god, it finally happened. Someone’s been stabbed.” It was around 3 AM and Sean was standing over my bed with his arms stretched wide. A thick liquid was pooled on his head and dripping down his face. His arms and hands were covered in the stuff. I didn’t even hear what he was saying to me. My heart raced in terror and panic. I just began to scream and grab at Luke, my husband.

Glue. It was only glue. Sean had apparently woken up in the middle of the night and attempted an ill-fated art project that ended with the explosion of a bottle of Elmer’s. After crying hysterically and cowering into my husband, I realized what was happening. Just glue. I got out of bed and helped clean off my perplexed teenager. “It’s OK, mom. It’s not like this happened at a frat party or something,” he said. Not at all reassuring but, OK.

The thing that got to me was my reaction. I actually believed that Marcus may have stabbed Sean or Sean may have stabbed someone. It was my first thought. Waking up to children standing silently over the bed is nothing new. They do it all the time. They wake up and want to make sure they still have parents. It’s never scared me before. It’s slightly creepy to have someone watch you sleeping, but I understand why they do it. My reaction is new. I’ve been doing that a lot lately. I’m jumpy at loud noises. If I hear the kids yelling I often dread that it’s a fight or a tantrum. Usually it isn’t. But that feeling in the pit of my stomach? That’s new.

It started when Marcus finally moved in. It wasn’t his fault, certainly. I was afraid of him, though. I loved him but I was scared. As he began to chafe against family life, his anger was directed at me. He walked around with barely concealed rage just at the sight of me giving hugs to the littles or offering him snack. Sometimes he lashed out and punched his punching bag or the wall. The day he left he assaulted me by kicking me and throwing his phone at me. At the time I remained calm, yet firm. We are a house of no hurts and he would need to use a coping skill and take some space. He honestly didn’t leave a mark on me. It wasn’t until the next day that I realized how jumpy and nervous I was becoming. I haven’t slept well at all since then.

All of our kids have expressed aggression at one time or another. Little Mary used to have severe and prolonged violent episodes due to her trauma history. It wasn’t her fault and it was just as hard on her as it was on the rest of us. There were months in the beginning of bringing our children home where she would scream and attack me and rage for literally 5 or more hours. Living at home and walking through that with her was like living in a war zone. I was relieved to go back to work because no one was hitting me there. I spent the months of August and September sweating in long sleeves and long pants to cover all of my bruises. But all of that is long in the past. Our children still rage from time to time but the daily prolonged violence is gone. So, it’s all over, right? Then why don’t I feel safe in my home?

Sean has had a few outbursts but not many. Normally he is sweet and affectionate and loving. He is the child who is filled with hugs and snuggles. He is also the child who is over 200 lbs and is physically intimidating. Sean lost it last week. That’s not the worst part for me. The worst part is that I lost it last week. 

Sean had been upset for a few days about “having to be in a family.” He didn’t earn his electronics privileges over breaking some rules, and refused to hand over his iPod. He grabbed his things and started packing up to leave. I snapped. I yelled at him. I don’t often raise my voice at all but I yelled that if he wanted to leave, fine, take it up with the social worker. Then I snatched the iPod right out of his pocket. He shoved me and hit me and broke a window. Sean tackled me to the ground and I cut my leg on part of his bed. Little Carl started punching me and then Sean punched him and then Carl and Sean were fighting. Luke came in to break it up. He blocked Sean from chasing me. Mary ran and hid in her room with the door locked. I scrambled away and locked myself in the bathroom.

That’s not the worst thing by far. I was upstairs with the stupid iPod just shaking with rage. I was furious at being the “target.” I was mad at the fact that I felt weak and helpless and preyed upon. Why did I always get the bruises and the blood? Why? None of our kids target Luke presumably because he is larger and stronger than I am. I was furious with Sean but mostly furious at feeling so weak and vulnerable.

Everything I’d been holding in just hit me at once. I did the most illogical thing I could think of. I smashed the iPod. Then I dumped it into the tank behind the toilet and sat down in the floor and sobbed. Luke handled the whole thing like a pro. He was calm and assertive and let me hide in the bathroom while he handled things. I am so thankful that this man is the other half of my equation.

The police came. The ambulance came. Sean went to the hospital psychiatric in-patient unit. He has been there for a few days now and he is insisting that he won’t return home. Without Marcus and Sean in the house there really isn’t anyone to hurt me physically anymore. I still jump when a door slams. If the perceived threat is gone then why am I still scared??

I decided to see a therapist that I know and trust because I can’t seem shake this fear. I’m ashamed, really. I haven’t lived through even an iota of what they have lived through. I am a strong and stable adult. I should always be the calming influence in their lives. I shouldn’t yell and smash iPods. I most definitely shouldn’t be losing children. Losing Marcus was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. If we lose Sean? How do I even come back from that?

My therapist listened to my story and my symptoms. She told me I have PTSD from suffering my own trauma with our children. She told me I was a good mother, and I so needed to hear that. She told me that it was OK to be human and have reactions. She told me that it was OK to grieve for losing Marcus. She told me it was OK to grieve for Sean. Most of all she gave me permission to feel my feelings. I can’t and shouldn’t just “let it go,” because I love my boys. I will always be their mother. A part of me will always hold out hope, no matter what the boys say right now. The therapist says that I will still feel “jumpy” like this for a while and it may take time. I’m going to continue to see her because even though I haven’t been through what our children have, I know that I am affected by this. I need help, too.

The best thing happened with Little Mary, though. She saw me crying about Sean and she came over and snuggled up. She began to rub my back in broad circles, as I have done so many times for her. I heard her parrot my own words back to me, “It’s going to be OK. You are safe. I will stay with you until you feel safe. Here, have my blankie as a coping skill.” I was so proud of her. I think I might even be a little proud of myself this week. I’m not proud at all for losing it. But PTSD? I can acknowledge and accept the effects that this kind of intensive parenting have had on me. I can acknowledge that intensive therapeutic parenting has had a huge impact on little Mary, in a miraculous way. I am flawed and I am tired. But I am mom, and I will survive this, too.

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21 thoughts on “Smashing the iPod: Adventures in Accepting My Own PTSD

  1. skinnyhobbit says:

    I’ve been following your blog and I just want to say that it’s ok that you need support too! You have to be “therapeutic” for those children 24/7 , and it’s such a tall order. You can use a safe space like the therapy office to process how you feel, be encouraged that you’re doing great, and meltdown from the stress. Super Mum needs time for herself too! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for sharing this story. We just “lost” our first foster placement, a boy who had become violent several times. He went to the hospital for a week. Things went completely haywire at discharge, and he is at a group home awaiting another placement. I hate having him gone, I hate the feeling of frustration that I didn’t understand the system, and now he’s gone. But worst of all–because there is a “no contact” order in place, he doesn’t know we love him and wish he were here. He’s still waiting, and we want him back, but that isn’t going to happen. Will we do this again? I hope so. I know, though, that my heart isnt going to take this too often.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh my! Thank you for sharing this story. Why on earth is there a “no contact” order in place??? I would think that the foster agency would want him back with the people he is familiar with after RTC. A new placement will only exacerbate his attachment issues! Thank you for loving him despite his responses. There need to be more foster parents like you out there. I sure hope you do it again.

      Liked by 1 person

      • While he was in RTC he decided to be “good” so he could come back to our home. However, at discharge, his violence problem had not been addressed, because he had been “good.” When he was told he wasn’t coming back, he blew up. The hospital recommended that we have no contact with him, because he became so violent when he was given that news. So trauma was added upon trauma. We have ours, he has his.

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  3. Pam says:

    Can I just ask you a question?? (You have been on my mind most of the last few days…)

    I happen to think you are an amazing person, amazing to have taken in and to love children in these circumstances, but my question is does your therapist, knowing these children, feel as though there is an alternative way for these children to process their anger and are these children even capable of utilizing an alternative way of coping with their anger? It seems each one is capable of violence in varying degrees and will they resort to that even when they become adults and get into hard places (as normal adults do get into difficult times/places).

    I have a friend that said there are just some children who are broken and can never be “fixed.” She refuses to foster parent these “types” of kids believing that there are just some kids who you have to just give up on. I didn’t believe it, because all of my broken children have been loved and we have worked through most of their difficulties and they lead relatively normal lives. Are there children that just can’t overcome the past??

    Finally – one more question – and forgive me if you have mentioned this in your past blogs and I missed it – but how does God factor into your family? Do you believe God can make a difference in these children (not just yours but children in general)?

    I hope I haven’t offended you in any way. Please, please forgive me if my questions are totally inappropriate or hurtful. I’m not meaning at all to be hurtful or careless. I’m trying to understand better.

    You are so incredibly brave, and your heart is is so beautiful to be filled with so much love.

    I am truly praying for your family.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pam, you can ask me anything. No worries. I began this blog because there wasn’t a lot of information out there that told the real story of foster care adoption. Let me see if I can answer your questions.
      The therapist I see personally actually trained the therapist who works on Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with the littles. She even worked with our littles in their partial hospitalization placements before she opened her practice. Both therapists are wonderful and dedicated to our family. They see the ways in which are children are healing every day. We are fighting to break a cycle. Luke and I are determined that our children are not destined to live the life their mother led. Yes, they can heal. I believe that. I HAVE to believe that. As far as “fixing” them? They are wonderful, magnificent human beings the way they are. The scars of their past may shape them but it doesn’t have to consume them. Does that make sense? I guess the “type” of child your friend is avoiding would be an attachment-challenged child. This type needs love more than any other (in my opinion) but they are afraid of it they need people to love them and pray for them. Just think of the success of your kids!
      We are a church going family and I appreciate prayers. I don’t blog about it because I just want to focus on the fost/adopt journey.
      Finally I just want people to know that our kids are the brave ones. Opening their hearts and trying to love a “mom” and a “dad” after knowing fear and harm at the hands of these people? Wow, they are brave. They may act out violently but it’s because they literally believe they are fighting for their lives at times. Love can be so painful that it terrifies them to get close. They are amazing and I am lucky to be their mamma. Thank you for your kind words and prayers. I hope I answered your questions. May I ask, how did you find my blog? Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Pam says:

        I found your blog on foster2forever.com. I have about 15 or more blogs that I read so I can gain all the help I can get for my plan to become a foster parent. I have raised five children; my oldest I took in when I was 18 years old and he was five – his bio mom had died and his father didn’t want him and signed him over to me (back in the 70s). I am now raising his two children (my grandchildren who call me “mom”) for the last 15 years because he and his wife couldn’t take care of them. I have a step daughter who came to me when she was 12 along with her daddy whom I married. Together we had one daughter. My husband passed away after only seven beautiful, fantastic years when he was 39 and I was 34. In addition, I had done daycare for about 10 years and it is surprising how many moms need a break. I raised one sibling group for three months while their parents got it together, another little girl for eight months and the list continues upwards of eight children including my niece who lived with me during some rough teen years for over two years. Besides all of that, I have taken in families when they have fallen on rough times or needed a place. Usually for no more than six months at a time, but that list exceeds 15 families. I’m saying this only to say I do have some experience with some children from tough places but not like some of what I’ve been reading.

        Now in my 50s and with my two teens (19 and 15) we have decided to become an “official” foster family and I am retaking the PRIDE classes.

        I want you to know that you inspire me so much. So many of the blogs I read are of such courageous people, and even more courageous children. I only pray that our family can help with some of these hurting souls.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you so much for sharing. I have had foster kids attack me and this year alone my oldest decided to try to take me on. Fortunately I am a trained martial artist and skilled in hand to hand combat (retired military) so it turned out worse for her. Vicarious traumatization happens, you are a good. You care and you can get through it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. me says:

    Awesome read…awesome lady…awesome mama!
    Here’s my opinion (and they’re just that) on a couple things…
    I haven’t fostered…but I’ve worked in a Residential Institute…kiddy lockup I call it…with kids that are wild, feral, shattered and broken. We had kids come in, that had to be taught not to hide their food in their pockets, or their socks, or down their pants…that when they got up in the morning, there’d be breakfast…and at lunch time, there’d be more food. It always took about 2 weeks or regular routine for them to start to relax. Residential care is not what I’d call therapeutic, but the kids thrived on routine. And because of what we were, when they ‘acted out’ or became violent, there were consequences we could impose…as well as routine, extra charges laid etc. After a couple of years of this I got to understand that what they needed was the continuity…they needed us to do what we said we would do…they needed to know that today would be like tomorrow…and they needed time…and time is what we couldn’t give them. Fostering…on whatever level…for how ever long…is something that’ll change, shape and heal them…in some way. But you need to keep you safe…not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. Its alright to have meltdowns I reckon…theyre normal…and ‘these’ kids especially, need to see that have a meltdown, or being angry or hurt or upset, is normal…and your normal and the next day your back and your stronger.
    …my oldest daughter was diagnosed (loosely) with ODD and was a massively angry for years…and I found it hard dealing with her because I felt guilty for being an ‘inadequate’ mother for years…I figured these were the repercussions. Until…she came at me with a steel bar one day. She was raging…screaming and swearing…she picked up this steel pole thing and started running down the hall towards me with it…I felt myself cower slightly and saw her energy surge in that moment…which pissed me off…I kind of rose up, picked up the closest thing to me (which was a guitar lol) and headed for her in quick pace with guitar raised…I raised my tone, not to a scream but just a bit louder than hers…and challenged her…not usually recommended in the parenting handbook, but I said to her…’come on then, you’ve got one shot, but if you miss, Ill knock you the f#*k out!’. It freaked her slightly, cos she knew we were an ‘anti violence’ family lol…but she freaked enough to gather herself, step back, drop the bar and stomp off to her room. She was grounded forever after that lol. But it worked…it reminds me of that pissing up the pole competition that dogs do…see who can get the highest, is the winner…and that’s what needed to happen with her that day…she knew I was in charge not her, and she relaxed. My point is…you have to do what works…trust your instincts.
    Kids need people like you 🙂 (sorry for the long story..just realised how much Ive written lol)…love and light to you and yours

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s a tough place – to know what is best for our kids, and have them not accept our efforts. But oh the joy and relief, when they do begin to accept our love, and even mimic our actions as little Mary has done. Hang in there, Mama. You are doing your best, and you are doing a good job.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you for sharing your stories. We need to get people to understand that children with trauma need help, lots of help. Adopting them isn’t going to fix their problems. Needing therapy for yourself isn’t anything to be ashamed of, in fact my therapist told me it is the strong folks who ask for help. God bless!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve also got this secondary PTSD thing going. It’s AWFUL! It’s helped my empathy with the kids a bit, because now I REALLY understand not being able to control my responses to triggers. I mean, I always “got it,” but I’d never experienced it before.

    Little tried to kill me three times in the car, so now when he acts the slightest bit perturbed in the car, my heart races and I pull over to the side of the road… “ARE WE GOING TO HAVE TO CALL DAD TO GET YOU OUT OF THE CAR?!”

    Then I spend the next several days angry and snappy whenever he tries to interact with me. It’s not fair to him, I know, so I try to avoid him. But avoiding him isn’t really very fair, either, is it? He’s SIX! He needs a mom! A mom who doesn’t avoid him when he’s angry.

    But he’s tried to kill me and he’s hurt me several times (last time he kicked one of my discs out of place and I had trouble moving for about five days). So how am I supposed to interact with him when he’s got this history of violence against me?

    It’s so hard to navigate trauma parenting! You’re doing an awesome job.

    Like

    • Hey, you’re doing a great job, too. I would argue that you are dealing with first-hand PTSD. Even though your little guy is 6, he has put you into a domestic violence situation. No, it’s not his fault. Yes, he needs a mom. But the trauma for you is real. Respect that you will need your own boundaries and space as you heal from this. Avoiding a trigger situation is better than going into a rage against him. He is only just learning about love and normal family roles. That intense anger he gives you? He expects it in return. Even by avoiding these conflicts, you are breaking the cycle. You are doing good work!

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