adoption, Attachment Disorders

If I Die Before I Wake

I pray the lord my soul to take. I wish these were just the words of a bedtime prayer. In my case, these words are real. If you’ve been following my blog, you know that our children have experienced an intense level of unspeakable trauma. Luke and I know this. We know how to parent therapeutically. We know how to get as many services as possible for our daughter. It doesn’t matter. She is a real danger to me and to her brother right now.

Our daughter has learned to survive. Her current diagnosis are PTSD-dissociative subtype and Reactive Attachment Disorder, with periods of psychosis. There is a lot of chatter about the RAD diagnosis, which I won’t get into here. Because I don’t care. Whether it be Developmental Trauma Disorder  (DTD, which never made it into the DSM-V) or RAD or PTSD or DMDD or any other diagnosis she’s had, it doesn’t matter. She still wants to kill me. A mother’s love is something she craves so badly that it hurts her. It twists her happy feelings into anger and possessiveness.

It all started the month we needed to buy her bras. She’s only 10 but here comes puberty. And so it began. In with the bras. Out with the effectiveness of her medication. She began hearing voices. SHe started to journal about my death. She began to tantrum and scream and fight invisible foes that only she could see. Oh, my dear little Mary, how I wish I could fight them for you.

Her love for me is desperate and all consuming. She needs me every second of every day. If I take a shower, she tantrums, if I leave the room, she explodes in a fit of rage. If I ask an innocuous question such as, “Do you like your new shorts?” She hears, “I hate you. I no longer love you. I am abandoning you.” When I turn to her brother for a momentary comment, she attacks. She will circle me and chase me with her little fists flying. She is trying to hit me in the spine. She will cripple me before allowing me to speak to Carl. So far, it hasn’t worked.

“If I can’t have you, ” she tells me, “no one can. I will stab us both.” In the night or early morning, she will loom over the bed, watching me sleep. “Mama?” she whispers, “Do you love me?” Of course I do. But I can never show her enough to quell her fear of losing me. She will make comments on my facial expressions. Why did my eyebrow twitch? Why did I move my top lip? Am I trying to get away? Have I stopped loving her?!The last 3 years of Trust Based Relational Intervention made all the difference, until now. TF-CBT made all the difference. Until now. Her anti-psychotic medication made all the difference. Until now.

The worst part is that it becomes unpredictable. We play mirroring games, and we snuggle, and I giver her all of my attention. Our time is spent connecting. As close as I stay to her, and as much love as I provide? I can never guess when a momentary glance at another person or thing will invoke her uncontrollable rage. We keep our knives and “sharps” locked up. You need the combination for a screwdriver in this house. Only, she finds other things. She shows me a bottle opener I’ve overlooked.

“You know this is sharp enough?” she casually quips, “I could stab you with this.”

The part that gets to me is how she discusses my murder without any observable emotion at all. Her brother tells me that earlier that she’s tried to figure out the combination for the lock on the knife cupboard. We only use plastic silverware in our house now.

As far as I can tell, nothing has changed. Nothing except the onset of puberty. Her intense violent rages happen every day. She injures herself most frequently.  She rips out her hair or punches herself in the face. She screams about murder. And blood. And the death of everyone on this planet who has ever hurt her. The bio-mother who abandoned her and hurt her. The mother she has now who sometimes needs to shower.

She is being released from the inpatient psychiatric hospital for the 5th or 6th time tomorrow. I’ve lost track. We have in-home services. We have an amazing trauma therapist who has worked with her for 3 years. We have a parent therapist for Luke and I. We have a partial hospitalization program set up that she has used more than I could even count over the last 3 years. There aren’t anymore services, unless the state agrees to help. Her medication no longer works. Today the inpatient hospital program told us they are releasing her tomorrow because there isn’t anything more they can do for her on the unit. Ever.

We’ve called a meeting with all of her providers for safety planning. We have PHP, Trauma team, And IICAPS (Intensive In-home Adolescent and Psychiatric Services) all concerned for safety is she is home. I miss my girl. I want her home. I’d just like to remain alive for her childhood. She hasn’t managed to truly hurt me yet, beyond a few arm and leg bruises. She hasn’t hurt Carl yet. It isn’t for lack of trying. It’s because Carl and I are too quick. We lock ourselves away and call for help.

Luke and I are doing the only things we can do. We are installing security cameras in all of the common areas of the house. Everywhere except for bedrooms and bathrooms. We need to objectively see what is happening. It’s entirely possible that we are unwittingly triggering her in some way. It is entirely true she doesn’t want anyone to see the things she does in the privacy of our home.

It is also highly probable that she’s spent a lot of time talking to “Josie” the “ghost” who orders my death (and possibly that of her brother.) The therapists in our home see her mood fluctuation and dangerous actions. So does her long term trauma therapist. But to most other clinicians? She is the sweetest most charming girl of all. She has always had to be this way, in order to survive her biological home. My Mary is a fighter. A survivor. For this, I am proud. I only wish she didn’t feel the driving need to survive being loved. 

Mary flipped out and began to yell at us and her inpatient therapist in the hospital today. She doesn’t like the cameras. She doesn’t want others to see her violence and destruction. She doesn’t want anyone to see her try to hurt Carl or try to attack me. When we don’t make progress with her on-call crisis team, we call 9-1-1. She will scream at the police and yell at the EMTs, but they never hear her plan my murder. Once we get to the psychiatric ward she is completely calm. Perhaps the video will help us to show what happens. After all, she only threatens or attacks those she loves the most. This kind of deep attachment-related trauma won’t be seen on a psychiatric ward. She simply does not require or crave deep relationships with revolving staff.

What she really needs from me is proof of my unconditional love. I try to give this as much as I can. Is it enough? It never is. What she is getting is 24/7 surveillance. Just in case. Because our daughter is trying to literally love me to death.

So if I never blog another post? Well then, I guess you’ll know why. 

 

yletter3

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

Advertisements
Standard
adoption

It’s Time to Hit Your Children

sandwichhug

My daughter is screaming “F**k you! I don’t F**king care anymore! I’m a bad kid and I guess I’ll just stay in my room!” She’s 10. She’s mad. She slams the door and we hear some small pounding. Things are either getting stomped on or thrown around in her room. She alternates between this and then and then crying for me and tearfully begging me to forgive her. I wasn’t even all that bothered. I just asked her to pick up a few toys.

She screams, “I’ll do anything for you guys! I love you!” followed by “You’ll never make me clean up my toys!” After she finally calms down a bit, she cleans her two toys with help from dad. He is with her the whole time. I’m not, just in case she escalates into violence (I have a back injury.)  the screaming and crying part lasts for hours. Finally, she is ready bed.

As she showers, she screams at us that the water is “too hot.” It isn’t, but it is on one temperature setting since she ripped out the nozzle, years ago, during a tantrum of sheer terror. (she used to be terrified of bathing) We sort of pushed the nozzle back on, but it can’t move well to adjust the temperature now. So we are all stuck with warm showers until we can get a new one installed. Soon, the warm shower will calm her and we can talk. She isn’t quite ready to listen yet

Carl got in trouble at school this week. He got angry about losing a privilege, so he went into the hall and started violently beating the lockers with his lunch box. His  vice principal escorted him to the bus during dismissal, for safety reasons. We met Carl’s behaviors with firm boundaries. We met his emotions with love and understanding. It’s OK to get frustrated when you lose a privilege. It isn’t OK to lash out and start beating lockers.

It never ceases to amaze me the unsolicited advice strangers are willing to offer about other people’s parenting. In the grocery store, at sporting events, and even from friends. Suddenly everyone’s an expert. Except, those “experts” didn’t grow up in foster care. They were never hurt the way our children were hurt by the very people they were supposed to trust. So these ignorant oblivious strangers continue to offer their “expertise.”

“Who do they think they are? Don’t let them disrespect you. Spank those kids!”

“Someone should teach them some discipline. Back in my day I would have gotten a spanking for that!”

“Don’t let her/him get away with that. If he were my child, I would slap him a good one on the butt.” 

Ooooookkk.  Thank you helpful strangers, but I think I’ll take it from here.

When Carl got home after getting in trouble, that he had a full-on panic attack. He started crying and blaming the teacher right away. He was crying so hard he couldn’t breathe. He needed his asthma inhaler. Then he threw up all the way to therapy in a bag I supplied. Why? Fear.

It’s pretty simple simple. Sometimes, children who have suffered from the effects of physical abuse will act out when they feel threatened. Even the smallest correction, or perceived rejection, can set them off. Traumatized children are hyper-alert for any potential danger even when they appear calm. It can be confusing for others to watch them go from zero to sixty at the drop of a dime. What we don’t see outwardly is that they are always running around fifty.

They may be acting defiant and violent and scary. But that’s all it is. It’s an ACT. Our sweet, loving, kids are acting out in angry ways because deep down, they are really afraid. They are afraid they won’t get their needs met. They are afraid of being the victim again. They are hitting because they are afraid they will get hit. Sure, they will act tough, and scary. They aren’t. They are scared.

So, no thank you, strangers. I will not hit my already-traumatized children. I will not teach them with fear or intimidation. I will let them have “do-overs” and “time-ins.” We will practice coping skills and problem solve together. We will allow them to have natural consequences for their actions. We try our best to meet them with love even when all they want to do is argue with us. We will demand respect, and model it through our own actions.

Most, importantly, we will prove to them that we are not like their abusers. We will help them practice kindness and obedience. We are firm with their limits, but we are also nurturing. Parents shouldn’t be scary to children who have come from scary parents. Instead, we should be teaching them about working together, and building family through love.

Let me say again that we will not hit our children. Under any circumstances. We will not meet violence with violence. We will not teach them that aggression is necessary to get what you want. Nope. It is not time to hit our children. That time is long past in their lives. And it will never, ever happen again.

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

 

FTTWR

 

Standard
mental illness, parenting

In-Patient For the Holiday

hospital

I was so prepared this year. I was ready for anything. My husband and I had every therapeutic parenting technique we could think of at our disposal. Coping skills, body checks, sensory diet, check-ins, time-ins, you name it. We had our game faces on. Why? Because it was Christmas time. The worst time of year for many children from foster care. The worst time of year for our daughter.

We were so determined.We had it all figured out. We were on fire with new and wonderful connected parenting skills. I was even feeling a bit cocky, and posting things like, “Looking forward to our first Christmas with no in-patient stays!” on my parenting group. I was so very prepared this year. I was so very wrong.

Here is the hard truth about raising children with trauma and mental health concerns. Sometimes, it all goes wrong. Sometimes bad things happen anyway.  For several months we were working closely with Mary’s trauma team to adjust/change medications, increase therapy sessions, work on therapeutic techniques, etc.

Mary would be laughing one minute, then crying, then screaming. She claimed to hear what other people were thinking. She was lying more often, which is a pretty strong indicator of feeling deep anxiety and fear. Her emotions were spinning around faster than a tilt-a-whirl at the carnival.  She began telling us that she “felt like she was in a different world” at school. She heard voices that told her to hurt me and she didn’t want to. Welcome to the Christmas season.

Luke and I had contingency plans. We kept to a very regimented schedule, with no huge changes in the day to day routines. In order to alleviate anxiety we lightened the mood by having theme nights. One day the children came home and did their homework in a parisian cafe, while drinking “coffee” (mocha-flavored hot cocoa.) We all spoke in french accents while doing math.

Another night, our son yelled, “I wish everyone would stop talking to me.” So we did. We all sang our feelings rock-opera style. For an entire night. He had an air guitar solo, which he totally rocked, and Mary added some dance moves. I couldn’t talk the next day but he had gone from shouting to singing and laughing hysterically. We were having fun.

When Mary came home crying hysterically and told us she didn’t know where her sad feeling was coming from, we rolled with it. We set her up with sensory coping skills in her safe place. I stayed close until she was calm. Then my husband and I snuck into the kitchen to apply fake mustaches, turn on Frank Sinatra, and invite the children to a pasta dinner in our “Italian Bistro.” With accents, of course!

Typically, our daughter’s intense feelings can be acknowledged, named, and coped with. Mindfulness techniques and sensory tools work well for her. Then, as we lighten the mood and get playful, she can come back from the edge and her emotion will flip. It just isn’t always enough.

She began to rage on the evening of the 23rd and continued into the next morning. She claimed she could see people from her past that no one else could see. She screamed, she kicked, she beat her door. She writhed on the floor and yelled at us. She spoke to people that only she could hear. She lifted up her queen-sized bed and dumped it. She smashed everything in her room, or threw it.

All that work, all those skills, and she still had to go in-patient to be kept safe. She went into the psychiatric hospital the 24th and came home on the 26th. We are now referred back to a partial hospitalization program and Intensive In-home Psychiatric Child Services for her. We’ve done these a million times, rinse-repeat. It seems like starting over.

In the end I realize one thing. Our daughter isn’t a renovation project. We will never “fix” her or “cure” her. Mary is perfect because she is Mary. We want to help her heal but we also just want to be her parents.

When she grows up she won’t look back and remember magical parents that swooped in with all the answers and saved her. She will remember parents who cared. Parents who did the one thing that I believe really helped her. Parents that stayed with her. And if I’m being honest, I really hope she remembers the mustaches.

mustache

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Standard
family

The Great Homework Heist

I am pretty sure that our daughter just pulled off the greatest homework heist of all time. Don’t get me wrong. I hate homework, too. I am an elementary school teacher and I’ve seen the research behind it. Basically, it has no effect on learning. It’s useless. It’s also a part of life and something that my reluctant daughter must learn to do, no matter how stringently she protests.

She’s hidden her assignment sheets. She’s “lost” important papers in her backpack. She has feigned absolute ignorance as to knowing what an assignment sheet is even for. She tells us that her teacher refuses to let her take her homework home from school. She tells her teacher that her parents refuse to let her complete her homework. Somehow, none of this is her fault.

Our daughter is a very bright girl, and it didn’t take long for her to figure out that we email back and forth with her teacher. So the homework tug-of-war continued. I found that if I sat close to her and prompted her with questions, she calmed a bit. I think doing any kind of independent work triggers a feeling of abandonment or a feeling of simply not being smart enough. I felt like we were getting a pretty good system down.

Then, last night, she came home insisting she had to go to the chorus concert that was starting in 30 minutes. It’s true, there was a school concert. The only trouble is, she hadn’t joined chorus at the beginning of the school year. In the elementary school, students can choose to give up their Wednesday recess for choir practice. They don’t need a permission slip to join, they just sign themselves up. I vaguely remember her saying at the beginning of the school year that she wasn’t going to do it because she didn’t want to give up recess.

Last night my husband and I looked at each other in confusion. The concert was right there on the calendar. Mary seemed astonished and a little hurt that we had “forgotten” she was a part of the chorus. Needless to say, we felt awful. The family rushed through dinner and I fished out her fanciest dress and did her hair. She went to the concert, alright.

The problem was, she wasn’t part of the group. Her name wasn’t on the program. The choral teacher let her up onstage but professed that Mary had never joined chorus or been to practice. To our daughter’s credit she sang in the concert. She performed songs she had never practiced and she looked competent doing it.

This kind of lying is not at all uncommon in kids with traumatic backgrounds. When any kind of fear response is triggered, they launch into activities they believe will protect them or keep them safe. I have to give her credit for this one. It took some serious planning. She is a smart girl. Of course, we had to work on her homework the next day before school.

So is homework completion the thing we are working the hardest on? Not at all. Is it honesty? Again, not at all. It’s safety. We want her to feel safe. My husband and I spoke to her teacher about alternate ways for her to complete her homework. We discussed options to help us communicate better. And we included our daughter in the conversation. After all, she is the one with the fear.

But can I tell you all a secret? I sort of wished I could give her a high-five.  I could never have pulled this one off!

 

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

Standard
parenting

Anger at Biological Parents: Adventures in My Own Humanity

carlosmeltdown

Carl facedown on his “fainting couch”

I’m not even sure where the anger comes from. All I can see is red in this moment. I’m not proud of it.  I am tired, I am frustrated, and I am DONE with this whole conversation.

It’s early in the morning. The children are getting ready for school. Carl wakes up angry, as he so often does. He is arguing with me from the moment he opens his eyes.

“Carl, please get off of the floor. Your sister needs to walk through there.”

“I’m NOT on the floor, Mommy!!” He yells from the floor. Then he heaves himself up with an elaborate sigh and an eye-roll. I can hear him muttering “stupid” under his breathe. To Carl’s credit this is a far cry from the “stupid b*tch,” he might’ve muttered at one time. He also used to threaten me with a fist or with a suggestion that he would physically show me or teach me a lesson. He no longer does these things. In fact, I should be saying to myself, “Progress! Look how far we’ve come!” Instead, I am stumbling to the coffeemaker with a murderous feeling blossoming in my tummy.

After my husband distributes meds, Carl flops down on the couch and feigns sleep. (As a side-note, he is an excellent flopper. Usually face down, in the middle of the floor, or on his “fainting couch” as we have now dubbed the oversized ottoman in the living room.)

“Carl, get up. You need to get ready for school.”

“I AM up! And it’s 6:22! I don’t HAVE TO be up now!!!” he yells from his prone position.

The fact that his alarm goes off at 6:25 is a moot point. Those 3 minutes are black and white to him. After I have banished him to the bathroom to brush his teeth he continues with a mix of yelling at me, saying nasty things to me and his sister, or singing and dancing. I give him reminders to brush his teeth. Mary needs to get in there, too. I remind him at 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, and then 15.

“I AM brushing them!” Carl shouts through a mouth unobstructed by toothpaste or toothbrush.

As I begin a final countdown for him to exit the bathroom he screams, “But I haven’t even brushed my teeth yet! You are the WORST!!” and slams a few things around. Then he shoves his sister in the hallway and I send him into his room. When he is this angry it is better to take a few minutes before having him come in close to me in order to practice respect towards family and emotional regulation. His engine is revving too high at this moment.

Once in his room, he slams things around, slams the door (Flexible particle-board doors never break. I swear! Always buy the cheap ones!) He screams at me the whole time. Part of his issue is that we will have a high of 32 degrees today. That means he must wear his coat and his gloves. He absolutely hates dressing for winter. Part of it is a control issue. Unfortunately for Carl, it’s a battle he cannot win. When he was small, in his biological home, at some point he suffered frostbite on his hands. That means he has 2 fingers on each hand that are extremely sensitive to cold.

Carl is different from other kids in the sense that he feels physical sensation differently. He is highly sensitive to sticky or wet substances. It takes a great deal of pressure or force to make him feel hard physical impact. For example, breaking his foot wasn’t nearly as bad as having tree sap stuck on his fingers. Many children from hard places have a smattering of sensory processing issues due to their past trauma.

In his biological home, he was beaten so badly, so many times, that physical impact doesn’t phase him. I believe he honestly doesn’t even feel the New England chill until it is too late. Until he comes inside screaming in abject pain and holding bright red, naked hands, out to me. They hurt him so much but he refuses help to keep them warm. It’s much easier to argue with mom.

Today, Carl yells at me from his room this morning that I will have to make his lunch because he can’t make it from his room. I sip my coffee and tell him that he can easily dip into his money jar and bring his own money to buy a school lunch. No worries.

I am mad at Carl this morning. Really, really angry. He is screaming and shouting horrible things at me. He shoved his sister. He sometimes reverts back to whatever mentality in his bio- home that taught him women were meant to be beaten, controlled, and dominated. He isn’t often like this anymore. He’s not physical with me but it sounds like his bunk bed is taking a solid beating.

It occurs to me that I might not be completely mad at Carl. I am mad that we have to worry about his frostbite because his first mom left him alone outside in the snow, under the age of 5. I am mad that no one bundled up my little boy and met his needs. I am mad that he was beaten so badly, and so often, that sensations rarely register with him. After all, nothing will ever hurt him as badly as his biological parents did. I’m mad. He’s my baby now and I wish I could have met those needs. But I wasn’t there. I am here now and instead of letting my pre-teen boy have a healthy parental rebellion, I’m stuck attempting to further protect him from damage that she has already done.

Realizing this softens me towards him. He hugs me and apologizes on his way out the door.Of course I squeeze him tight and wave good-bye.  I am left to wrestle with this anger I have towards her. I try to be understanding. I try to be forgiving. But I am only human. At this point in the day I am a very disheveled, under-caffeinated human. I guess grace and forgiveness will have to wait until I’ve at least had a good long shower.

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

Standard
family

Changing the Adoption Fairy Tale

I still believe in happily-ever-after. I’ll be the first to encourage people to take the next step in considering fostering or adopting children from foster care. I’ll also be the first to admit that it doesn’t always work out. It isn’t for everyone. It isn’t easy. I still believe in happy endings but my story is my own. I had to shift the narrative. I had to change my expectations. Yes, I’m living my happily-ever-after, it’s just that my fairy tale is different. It’s messy and heart-wrenching and wonderful and it is REAL. 

In the beginning we were attempting to adopt a sibling group of 4 children. Two disrupted and two were adopted. The oldest disrupted, aged out of care, and now keeps in touch with us. I guess our final success rate is two-and-a-half?

Marcus is the oldest. He disrupted from our house almost a year ago. I was worried sick about him ever since. He is 18 now, and living with a girlfriend. He signed himself out of care. He’s been in touch more and more frequently over the last several months. He sent me a text message the other day. It said, “Ya I know I never said it but I really care about you guys. And ya, I love you too.”

I thought he’d get arrested on his own. I worried that he might drop out of school. I worried there wouldn’t be anyone to love him. Did we fail him? He didn’t want to live in our house and take our last name. Was this a “failed” adoption attempt?

He’s still in school. He’s in a credit recovery program and getting good grades. He has a job. So far he hasn’t  had any episodes with the law. In all honesty he is probably drinking and engaging in risky behaviors. Overall, though, I’m impressed he’s done so well for himself. Recently, my husband and step-father traveled the 2 hours to where he lives and took him out to lunch. I sent along a care-package like my mother used to send to me in college. He isn’t in college. He isn’t technically “ours,” but I love him just the same. Did we have a fairy tale adoption story with him? No. I believe we have something equally as valuable. We have a relationship. It’s not a typical family relationship but it’s as close as he is comfortable with. I take pride in his successes. I also take pride in what I’ve been able to  give of myself as a parent. I take pride in teaching him to drive, holding his hand when he was shaking with fever, and rubbing his back when he cried about a relationship. Those moments were all real for me. Regardless of what our non traditional parent-child relationship looks like now.  No matter how he fares in life, I am glad I could do these things.

Mary and Carl have their ups and downs. They have trauma reactions, and fears and meltdowns. But they are also real little people. They have creative ideas and hilarious antics. I’m surprised and amazed by my children every day. They love us and have attached to us. That is success. We earned our family bonds through blood, sweat and tears. I mean that in the literal sense. One child drew my blood by stabbing me with a pencil during a dissociative episode. I’ve spent a sweaty hour in a car at a rest stop holding my daughter safe while she raged on a 100 degree day. I’ve cried tears of joy and triumph to hear them say, “I love you mom.” This is better than your run-of-the-mill fairy tale. This is 3 dimensional life. And it is amazing. What more could I ask for? These triumphs over trauma, attachment struggles and pain? These triumphs are the happy endings. This family is the happiest of endings.

A few months ago our daughter Mary was filling out a questionnaire in her little “All About Me” journal. It asked her to list her family members in one section and then write how they are related to you. She wrote “Carl–brother” and “Mommy and Daddy–love.”She was right. We aren’t related by blood, we are related by love. And so we live happily, messily, crazily ever-after.

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

Standard