adoption, Attachment

What Are We Fighting For?

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You can’t fight a war on all fronts. Or so I’m told. Lately we’ve been fighting that way, though. Everywhere I turn there is something else to confront, another battle to win.

On the one hand, I don’t want to die. I don’t want Carl to die. And I most certainly don’t want to see that haunted look on his face ever again, where he says, “She sounds just like Mom G. (Bio-mom)” Carl is referring to Mary. After her 8th acute psychiatric hospital stay since 2017 began, we installed cameras all over our house. With motion sensors and night vision. We find a dog to be trained as a PTSD service dog. We find a trainor. We spend thousands, thinking “this has to work!”

After the 8th hospitalization, Mary came home with a murder plan. She’d written it down with pictures and words while inpatient. Despite our best efforts to monitor and keep our cupboards locked, she found a weapon. And she planned to find it, planned to use it, all around her father’s work schedule. When Luke wouldn’t be here to protect us. She wasn’t out-of-control. She was casually discussing getting rid of the people who cause her the most emotions. Because love hurts Mary. She fears it. She hates it.

We need more help, we tell providers. We need more help we tell her insurance company. We need more help we tell the Department of Children and Families Voluntary Services program. We need more help we tell the state Office of the Child Advocate. (That last one actually worked.)

We can’t take her home yet, we say to the Emergency Department. She’s too dangerous. We have another child in the home.  Luke cannot work because he stays home to protect the family when she is there. Carl doesn’t sleep. We’ve been putting the service dog in with him at night. “Her violent rages are increasing,” we say. That isn’t the scariest part. The part that terrifies us is when she is smiling and happy, but you find her with a knife.

We fight to get her services. She will be going to a short-term residential treatment facility. (Thank you, child advocate!) The director tells us that they are trauma-informed. They’ve worked on cases of RAD before. I’ve heard that before from providers with little to no experience. “But,”he says, “we can’t cure your daughter. Once we’ve exhausted all of our treatment options, you have to agree to take her home.” Huh?

“She’s not a renovation project,” I find myself defending her, “She’s a traumatized little girl. And, no, you can’t keep her.” But it’s said over and over again. “In cases like this we have to insist that the family agree to take the child home. If not, you may be charged with child abandonment.” What?!

“Do you know how hard we fought to adopt her in the first place? Why is this even a conversation?” So I’m battling again. To show others the good inside of her. To show them that we love her. She’s not a “bad kid.” She’s not a mistake. She’s just very, very dangerous right now. But she’s our daughter, so hands-off!

We fight to show the intensity of our struggle at the same time we fight to show the validity of our family. We fight for services. We’ve had trauma focused, in-home, and partial hospitalization programs galore. She isn’t getting any better. She’s having more intense periods of mania. No more SSRIs. We are fighting about med changes.

In the end we are fighting for her not to return/but then to return home. “What outcome would you like?” says the Residential Center director.

“Less homicidal,” we say, “less dangerous.”

If we can be safe we can handle the rest. I think. At least, we’ve managed so far. It’s probably too much to hope the girl I knew will be coming back anytime soon.

And I’m fighting with Luke. We hardly ever argue. Sure, we get upset sometimes but after a decade together, we work it out. Luke has always been my safe place. It’s just that I can’t seem to conceptualize “safe” anymore. Instead , I’m irrationally fearful. I still want to sleep with the deadbolt on, even while Mary is away. I walk Carl across the road in an empty parking lot. I’m irritable. I don’t like it when she calls Luke from the hospital to calmly argue her points on all of the reasons I should die and that “It was only a little knife.” Why even take the phone calls? So Luke stops taking calls until we can meet with a clinician. They are just too disturbing. And he is too much of a good man to listen if it hurts me.

I feel as though I’m fighting for my life. All the time. I’m fighting for Carl’s life. The hospital thinks we should live apart. Carl and I should take up a separate residence. Luke should stay with Mary and keep her safe. “You’ll have to agree to take her home” they repeat. Why do they keep saying that? Now Luke is fighting.

“I live with my wife! I live with my family!” He is fighting for me. He is fighting for Carl. He loves us. He will not have us separated.

I am fighting to muddle my way through EMDR therapy. It’s supposed to help my stress levels. Help me to cope. “But if I’m still in the same stressful situation, can it really be helped?” I ask the therapist. She has no answer.

Instead she asks, “what would you like the outcome to be? How would you like to respond to these incidents?”

“How would you respond?” I ask, “If someone was planning your death?” The therapist just shakes her head. She doesn’t know. Nobody knows how to do this.

And I’m still fighting back pain. My injury has nothing to do with Mary. It happened at work. And yet, it has everything to do with Mary. She cannot be near me so Luke always has to be home when she is. For safety. The neurosurgeon tells me that I will “probably never be asymptomatic” because my “reaction is very rare.” We won’t know for months. Mary worries that I will die. It’s better if she can control when that happens. That way her grief can’t surprise her like it did with Mom G. So Luke has to fight to keep Mary away from me. We literally can never be alone together. So even if I’m not dying, I’m slipping away from her. This only feeds her fear.

At the same time I fight to help Mary, I’m fighting to regain my own balance. I’m fighting to remember that I’m a good mom, a good wife. Mary is still mad at that other mom. The first one. Her biological mother who hurt her so much. It’s just that, well, why do I always have to pay the price? Why does Carl? Because she assumes I love him more. Because I talk to him and this makes her panic. Therefore I should watch him get hurt. To pay for all the hurts Mom G doled out to Mary.

So I’m fighting. We are all fighting a war. But the question is, what are we really fighting for?

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved. 

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adoption, adoption disruption, Attachment, Attachment Disorders, family, parenting

The War Against RAD: An Open Letter to Rosie O’Donnell

Behind closed doors: Rosie O'Donnell's adopted daughter says her mom is a ' phony' in public who would put on a happy face, but then ignore her kids at home

Dear Rosie,

I am sorry for your loss. You have lost the most precious thing to any mother. You have lost a child. My hope for you is that Chelsea will eventually realize what her actions have done. In the meantime, be strong, Mama. From one adoptive mother to another, I feel for you. In the midst of everything I am sure that your biggest concern is for your child. Isn’t that always the way? We put them first. We are mothers.

I am sure I’m not the only Trauma Mama out there with a strong suspicion that your daughter may suffer from an attachment disorder of some sort. Of course it’s not my business, nor is it the public’s business. However, when it’s out in the media, I just hope people consider all sides. We never talk about RAD in public, do we? Mental illness is considered to be private, a family secret to be concealed. I wonder why? Adoption is wonderful, but adoption is also hard.

It’s curious to me that at 17, she had a 25-year-old boyfriend with a history of drug involvement. I can see where any parent would try to circumvent this kind of unhealthy relationship. I can also see where a mother might distance the family from a birth parent making public accusations. I believe that in this case the mother even admitted to being on heroin at the time of pregnancy and the birth of Chelsea. I am sorry for your daughter that the start of her life was so traumatic.

I have seen Reactive Attachment Disorder up close and it does terrible things to a child. An attachment challenged child will push away the very people they love the most. They will view love, affection, and nurturing as the enemy. Reactive Attachment Disorder is the driving force that causes our children to seek relationship after relationship with friends, family, and romantic partners, only to sabotage them purposefully. Reactive Attachment Disorder whispers in the ear of our children that they will never be safe, never be loved. It tells them to make claims to the rest of the world that they are happy and well-adjusted. Then it traps them in permanent loneliness, causing them to lash out against all who try to love them. it is a war we fight against the disorder.

There has been a lot of media around the “different side” of you that Chelsea saw at home. She has “exposed” the fact that you liked arts and crafts and that you presented a happier face to the world. Don’t all of us present a happy face to the general public? Especially in times of strife or turmoil at home? I know I do. I love all of my children and I wouldn’t change a thing. That is the truth and it is what I tell others who ask me about adoption. The truth that I don’t tell, that I hide from the public, is that sometimes it is really, really hard. I may blog about it, but I can’t share within my immediate circle. At home, we battle against RAD.

Sometimes, Reactive Attachment Disorder wins. Our children leave us either physically or emotionally. Then we are left wondering if they will be alright. I have to believe they will be. The hardest part is letting go and seeing where they land. Chelsea went to her birth mother and then back to her boyfriend. She is probably in the windstorm of Reactive Attachment DIsorder. I’m sure she will be tossed around from place to place, never finding enough to fill the void inside. Eventually, I believe she will come home. To you and to your family. I believe this because I want to believe I will see my boys again. I must believe that they can heal.  I wish only safety and healing for you and your family. Sometimes, Reactive Attachment Disorder wins. I hope it loses this time.

Love,

Another RAD Soldier

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adoption, Attachment, Attachment Disorders, family, fostercare, parenting

Will Our Teen Bury Me in the Backyard?: Adventures in Attachment Challenges

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We often hear how charming our newest teenager is. How sweet and hard-working he is. “He is SUCH a good kid” or “I wish my teen would behave that way.” And it’s true…in public.

Attachment challenges are the hardest type of challenges to explain to anyone outside the home. Attachment-challenged children can’t handle the intensity of love. They depend only on themselves and push others away out of fear and discomfort. Our kids often show a very different face to the outside world. Lying, stealing, manipulation, and aggression towards caregivers are just a few common characteristics in the home.  Our little chickens went through stages of physical aggression with us as well. With Marcus we see mostly manipulation, threats and control issues.

Here’s the tough part; these behaviors are only revealed to primary caregivers. Outside of our home Marcus can engage strangers in lovely conversations and generally charm anyone. He is funny and lighthearted. He laughs easily and cracks jokes. He can then display his utter disdain for his caregivers.

Well to be fair, mostly to me. He loves Luke and wishes to have my husband all to himself. Marcus claims that if only he didn’t have me, he and Luke could run the house together. He fantasizes about one day getting to fight with Luke, or going to a bar with Luke. He talks about all of the trouble they could get in together. He doesn’t have a concept of what a father’s role is. The idea that Luke would never do any of these things is beyond comprehension for Marcus. Why wouldn’t a father-figure drink with him and leave the rest of the family?  He cannot understand what my husband sees in having a wife or why he doesn’t leave me.

He will “parent shop” often. Marcus has only been home since June but he already has plans to try to live with his riding instructor. Or one of his old teachers. He spends most days telling me that they can cook better or that they would love to have him live with them. Unfortunately, Marcus doesn’t understand relationship boundaries. He either loves or hates with equal ferocity. He doesn’t understand that teaching horseback riding and adopting a teenager are two very different things. He is checking out his options.

He will hug ex-foster parents, old PO officers, social workers. Basically all people who he proclaimed to hate a few months ago. He used to tell us these people were out to get him. They purposefully wanted to see him fail. Now he passes out hugs like party favors.  For me he flinches away and threatens to hit me if I touch him.

Marcus has a big problem right now with his younger siblings. He cannot take the emotional intensity of our loving relationships with them. He hates watching hugs and compliments. He can’t stand it when we won’t hit them and often threatens to do so himself.

Violence is the only intimate act he knows. He uses it to intimidate them and trigger their fears of being physically abused. He mocks their emotions, laughs at their fear and shuts out their love. Violence is all he is familiar with in the family. When our daughter kisses my head he stomps into the basement and slams the door.

Where is the boy who once called me “mom?” Where is the kid who cried over the phone and asked me to move “home” with us because he wanted to “Have a mom and dad who cared?” Where is the boy who fixed Carl’s bike and played dress-up in footy-pajamas with Mary?

He is gone. His fear of love shows itself as anger. Rage, aggression and control are his survival skills. He cannot let his family get too close. After all, close connections can hurt if they are broken. Now that Marcus is here he fills outsiders with tales of our evil ways (dinner as a family?! The horror!!) and petitions for a better option somewhere else.

Some of the things he says or does to hurt me are beyond cruel. And why? Because of my audacity to love him. I love him in spite of the horrible things he says to me or says about me. I cannot change my unconditional love for him. I cannot change the way I show love to my husband and my other chickens. And I cannot change his mind.

Marcus will turn 18 in October. Although we see some minor improvements, I think it is very likely that he will leave. Are we hurting him more than helping him by forcing him to watch his younger siblings enjoy a childhood so different from the one he experienced? If he leaves, will he stay in contact? Will he visit? Will he have everything he needs? I cannot predict this. I cannot see our future right now. I cannot reach him. Not yet.

All I can do is hope for the chance of “someday.”

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**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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