adoption, family

Are You My Mother?

What is it like to love someone who doesn’t love you back? Or maybe the better question is what is it like to love someone who isn’t capable of loving you in a reciprocal way? I ponder this all the time because I live it. Loving my daughter with attachment difficulties is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

I’m her mom. To me, nurturing her comes second nature. I want her to be happy. I want her to do well. I so desperately want to help her after all she has been through.

For Mary the word “love” has an entirely different meaning. Nurturing in her experience means having a female figure who helps her to survive. The woman must give her attention at all times because even a glance away can mean death. Mary can remember what severe, chronic neglect feels like.  A woman who yells at her or hits her is still providing the attention Mary feels is necessary to survival. It no longer even matters who the woman is.

The “woman” is interchangeable. It could be anyone. Mary isn’t able to tell the difference between a healthy bond and an unhealthy bond. A woman who has just met her has the same value as one who provides food, shelter and affection. There is no standard here. The only burning need Mary must have fulfilled is that there is another woman and then another and another one waiting somewhere after that. This way Mary can never run out. This way she feels as if she can survive.

I do my best to meet the challenge of parenting a child like this. I always fall short when it comes to giving her enough attention. Having anyone else in my life is too much for her. My going to the bathroom is too much for her. When I watch the road while driving the lack of attention drives her into a panic. No one human person can provide enough for Mary to feel safe.

She will throw herself into my arms and snuggle and play and be happy for a time. I will feel like we are making progress. Maybe she is feeling safe. Then I will find secret letters she has written to strangers with nice jewelry. They will say, “I think you should be my mother now. My parents don’t want me. Maybe you can adopt me and we can wear necklaces.”

It sucks. I mean it is heartbreaking and sad. I know that the minute she can no longer see me I am forgotten to her. She’s moved on to another way of getting her needs met. She is a survivor and she will love the one she’s with.  I really hate this part of an attachment disorder. I understand it in a logical way. I just hate it.

Trying to explain attachment disorders to the staff at her last psychiatric facility (PRTF) is akin to nailing jell-o to a tree. “Please keep reassuring her that Family is forever. She has a biological family and an adoptive family that love her. We will always be here.” That facility let her call some of the staff “mom” and “dad.” A lot of them meant well, but were ill-informed.

They told her that her command hallucinations were “the devil,” and that she should keep him out. Don’t ask me how a psychoiatric facility has staff that aren’t familiar with auditory hallucinations, complex trauma or attachment disorders. They were the only PRTF for a child her age. Insurance gave us this or nothing. Mental health care (or lack thereof) in our country is a whole different story…

I found that some PRTF staff members had made secret pacts with our almost-11-year-old. They’ve told her they can call each other from Mary’s new RTC program. They told Mary it was alright not to mention it to us. They will find each other someday. They have known Mary for all of 7 months.

We moved her into the new residential treatment center (RTC) a few days ago. They specialize in complex trauma and use reserch-based treatment methods. I am pretty sure they don’t beleive the devil is causing her to hallucinate, or that she is collaborating with him etc. Instead, they greeted us with “Welcome Mary!” signs everywhere. They remembered everything from the information we provided. They kindly but firmly stated that staff are referred to by name and that only famililies have titles like “mom” or “dad.” Every staff member on the beautiful campus greeted her by name immediatley.

This is  a 45 day diagnostic placement to determine if she needs a residential setting to keep her (and us) safe while accessing her right to education. Keep your fingers crossed for us. We were beyond lucky to get her this placement  through an IEP with her school district. It’s almost impossible to do. Almost.

Impossible isn’t a word we use in this family. Nothing is impossible. Not even love.

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

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adoption, family, mental illness

At Least She is Safe

The holiday season is the WORST for our daughter. It always has been. This is when Mary is typically hospitalized. This year is no different, except that she is safe in a psychiatric treatment facility. When Mary is with others outside the PRTF or the home, she is happy and pleasant. When she is with her attachment figures, it can flip in an instant.

Mary’s already had multiple violent outbursts this month. Earlier this week, she threw herself backwards down the stairs during a meltdown. Now she is covered in bruises. She’s been running away from school.  Yesterday, at her PRTF, she threw a weight directly into plaster wall, leaving a hole.

Tonight the staff called me to help “support.” I am not sure if I was supporting Mary or the staff there. She had been in a protective hold twice for attacking the staff. She went after her primary caretaker there. When I asked why my daughter said, “She deserved it. I don’t care.”

But Mary DOES care. That’s why she goes after the mother figure closest to her. It comes down to triggers specifically about the shower and the holidays. Also, having a mother-figure is a huge trigger, in addition to being something she craves. Mary’s longtime trauma therapist says there may be some kind of pre-verbal trauma Little Girl doesn’t even remember. We may never know what it is. But somehow we must learn to deal with it.

I can’t eliminate shower/bathtime. I can’t eliminate Christmas. I can’t eliminate moms. And I can’t do the therapeutic work for her. EMDR, play therapy, IOP, PHP, TF-CBT, attachment therapy, psychiatric service dog and in-home services are just a few that we’ve done over the last 4 years. And we won’t stop trying…it’s just…well…

I hate to say this but I’m glad she is safe at her PRTF. I’m glad we are all safe here at home. Mary needs residential. It’s so sad to admit that. We’ve tried everything possible to keep her safe here. We cannot meet these needs in a home setting. Now she will be transitioning to a new program. We start with a 45 day evaluation and then see if Mary qualifies for the program. It’s a prestigious school that specializes in complex developmental trauma and relational problems. It was not easy to get her there.

Now we have to hope that her new therapeutic residential school helps. She will start there sometime this month. And, yes, I have to tell this story. Because who else will? This is what parenting through mental illness and developmental trauma looks like. If you are a parent out there struggling to help your child, you aren’t alone. If you are the praying kind then please pray for us.

 

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

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adoption, family

While She is Gone

So many things happen while she is gone. There are birthdays, holidays, and family outings. There is so much lost time. And yet, I ask myself: what really happens while she is gone?

Mary has been at a psychiatric residential treatment facility (PRTF) for 5 months. People will ask me, “Do you get to see her?” Yes, of course we get to see her. She isn’t in jail. We have visits and day trips and we’ve even made it up to almost 8 hours at home on a handful of occasions. Ok, maybe just 2 occasions, but we are working on it. It’s just not enough.

Luke and I travel the hour drive one-way to see her about 3 times a week. Once is for a day-trip visit. once is for a family therapy session at the PRTF. The third is for an attachment-focused therapy session “off-grounds” with a psychologist. This last one is the ONLY therapy session in which she will participate. I’m almost certain the psychologist is part wizard.

In the PRTF session she mostly screams at the clinician, Mrs. T. Mary runs away, laughs uncontrollably and then smashes things during Mrs. T’s sessions. Afterwards she asks me to take her to lunch as if nothing has happened. Instead, I’ve begun to call in for the PRTF sessions because nothing beneficial is happening during that time.

Mrs. T has decided that whatever happens in therapy will be Mary’s choice but if she won’t go to session her “level” will drop. So Mary goes and sits in the room. She screams and slams things. Mrs. T assures her they will only talk about what Mary wants to talk about. They will only do what Mary wants to do. Not being a therapist herself, Mary makes some interesting choices. She chooses a lot of yelling and foul language at said clinician. Eventually she colors some pictures about why she hates therapy. Mrs. T praises Mary and sends her on her way.

I know they care about Mary at the PRTF. Mrs. T wants her to do well. Everyone wants Mary to improve. Everyone except Mary. Maybe she is too scared to try. So all of us keep trying while she is away. Mrs. T acquiesces and cajoles to no effect.

Not so with Dr. P, the off-grounds psychologist. He calls Mary out for her avoidance tactics. He lets her know that mom and dad will go to lunch and she will stay behind if she won’t participate. After all, it’s her session. She has to finish it but we do not. Oddly, she isn’t upset by this. Instead, she responds fully. He somehow magically draws her out of her shell. She would never scream at him. So Luke and I attend this weekly session together, every week. Dr. P has Mary sit in between us to “feel the love all around her.”

Dr. P has many insights into why it’s so hard for Mary to share Mom. He is very, very good. I still spend so much time wondering: what is really happening with her? How much progress is really taking place while she is there? While she is gone, we are all safe. Are we really accomplishing anything else?

Because life is happening while she is gone. Our family is healing while she is gone. The world continues while she is gone.

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

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