adoption, family

Cocaine Donut Mom

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I wanted to be the homemade chocolate chip cookie mom. Before the children were placed with us I practiced. I tried all different recipes. I used different ingredients. Organic flour, cake flour, semi-sweet chocolate chips and dark chocolate chips.

I practiced making cookies from scratch like it was my job. Then I brought batches of cookies to my actual job. I let everyone weigh in on the best kind. You see, I believed that having perfect homemade cookie skills was essential to being a good mom.

I wanted to be a cookie-ninja mom. I wanted to welcome my kids home with the smell of fresh cookies baking in the oven. I wanted to mix dough with my children and teach them to measure ingredients. We would wile away the long New England winters in our cozy kitchen, just baking away. Chocolate chip cookies. The ultimate comfort food. I wanted to be THAT mom.

How naive was that? I held on to that cookie dream until the kids came home. Acquiring three/sometimes four children at once is a bit like getting hit by a truck. Mary only slept for 45 minutes at a time. She and Sean both woke up screaming from nightmares all night long. Carl raged whenever I was out of his sight. He would scream and throw his food at me during every single dinner. The dinnertime meltdowns cost me many-a-meal. I lost close to 20 pounds in those first months! Carl would hoard croutons in his room to eat later. “I want my REAL mom to make me food,” he’d say.

I never slept. On the off night the house was quiet I would jolt awake terrified something had happened to the kids. I was so used to their nightmares I didn’t know how to sleep without them. Going to the bathroom started meltdowns galore. I couldn’t even pee, let alone utilize my cookie ninja skills.

At some point I gave up. It was a Saturday morning and I was dragging my weary carcass around on autopilot. We must have been out of coffee. With dark circles under my eyes, I shuffled the children into the nearest Dunkin Donuts. I figured everyone could have a donut. It wasn’t homemade comfort food, but it was something.

And then I did the bad thing. I ordered a powdered jelly donut. Gasp. Somewhere a trauma-trigger alarm sounded, unbeknownst to me. Carl looked askance at me and bellowed, “Don’t do it, mom! Don’t eat the cocaine donut! Cocaine makes you crazy!!!”

Record. Scratch. I blinked a few times. Then I glanced around at the shocked patrons all staring at me. I looked down at my disheveled clothes hanging loosely from my skeletal frame. I did indeed look the part. Cocaine Donut Mom. So I ordered a different donut.

And right then and there I gave up the dream. I gave up the fantasy. No, I wasn’t the cookie ninja mom. This definitely was not the parenting journey I expected. It didn’t matter what the white-haired ladies at the corner table thought about me. It mattered to me that Carl felt safe. Thus began my foray into chocolate glazed donuts. Which, by the way, I got to actually eat without anything being thrown at me.

Sitting in the coffee shop, eating my donut in uninterrupted bliss, I found my comfort food. Maybe we didn’t spend hours happily baking together as a family. But we did get eat our donuts (in their entirety!) without a single meltdown. It was something. It was a start. Being the Cocaine Donut Mom wasn’t the worst thing, after all.

Over the years we finally joined together on several family baking endeavors. Some were great, like our Christmas cookies. Some were a blackened mess of would-be snickerdoodles that stuck to the cookie sheet. I never again made the perfect chocolate chip cookie. But we made memories.

Yes, this is a different kind of parenting. It’s different from the path I thought adoption would lead us down. Accepting an alternative parenting journey has made all the difference. Plus, I have great stories to tell, like the time I was a cocaine donut mom!


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

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PTSD

All the Pretty Stars: My Trauma

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My heart is pounding so fast I think it will explode. My head is throbbing and I’m seeing black spots at the edge of my vision. Rage. I am feeling pure unadulterated rage. As if from somewhere outside my body, I hear my own voice screaming, “F*CK YOU!!! You will NEVER EVER touch me! No more destroying property. Don’t you dare make a fist at dad. You are an ANIMAL Only an animal hits people and attacks them. It’s OVER!!! NEVER AGAIN, DO YOU HEAR ME?!?!

My son is inches from my face, screaming at me, and I’m clutching his shoulders screaming at him. Yeah, not at all productive.

“You’re choking me!” he yells, “You said you’d never hit me no matter what! You LIED.”

I’m not choking him or hitting him. What I am doing is scaring him. This is something unprecedented. I have never done this before. I’m screaming back.

“You think you can hurt ME a grown adult?! You want to scream and yell and try to scare me?! How do you like it?! I deal with this all the f*cking time!” These words are coming out of my mouth.

His words are hurtful (they always are when he rages) and now so are mine. The out-of-body me is shocked and horrified that I am screaming in my son’s face. I can barely breathe for all the pent up fury I am spewing out.

“Do you think it’s OK to hit me because I’m nice and I don’t hurt you? Do you think you can KEEP GOD***N HITTING ME?!?!? F*CK YOU!!!!!THIS IS OVER!!!! I WILL NOT LIVE LIKE THIS!!! You are NOT stronger! You will NEVER F*cking touch me EVER again. You think it feels good to hit people? Too bad! NO MORE! Normal people don’t act like this. I am DONE.”

As if to punctuate my statement I angle myself to lean my weight on something while I take a swing at the door. With my cane. There is a loud crack and a hole appears in the door.  In the 4 years we’ve had our children they have attacked the doors many, many times. The bedroom doors have never broken.

All the closet doors were ripped off years ago. The children have punctured the walls and ripped apart the furniture. They have broken windows, and most of our screens are missing. This house has been under child attack for quite some time. Our bedroom and hallway closets hang on by a rickety rigging system. But the bedroom doors? They bend under assault but they have never, ever broken. Until now.

In that instant I can see that I am broken, too. I shuffle into my room with my cane and shut the door. He wasn’t actually trying to hit me. Carl was trying to punch dad. He didn’t actually come for me he was just screaming obscenities. I gasp for breath and curl up in a ball on the floor.

I don’t want to be the strongest. I don’t want to be the loudest. And I don’t want to try and be a better mom to the very people that want me dead. My 11-year-old son is shouting that he will leave and find another mom. He will never come home from school. A few weeks ago our daughter planned to kill us.

I don’t even care. I just curl up and try to breathe. I am still seeing stars. I don’t even recognize myself anymore. Even Luke is a bit fearful to approach me. He eventually gets Carl into bed and offers a quiet, “You ok?” along with an ice water. I cannot answer because I cannot breathe. All three of us are shocked. Mom never loses it.

I recently started EMDR therapy for myself. It’s supposed to be very effective but its bringing up a lot of triggers in the process. I understand triggers now. I can see it from Carl and Mary’s perspective, at least a bit. I startle when people talk loudly. I hate being touched unawares. I can’t even have the kitties snuggle me for long. Sleep is ever-elusive and my hair has started falling out in clumps. I see my doctor immediately after the incident, and she prescribes Ativan to help me through the panic attacks. She encourages me to continue EMDR.

I am like the bedroom door. I’ve bent for years, accommodating the trauma of my children. Parenting therapeutically. Writing safety plans. Downplaying holidays like Christmas and Mother’s day. Being hypervigilant to signs that they are hungry, having a sensory need, or simply tired. Bobbing and parrying and darting out of the line of attack. I have de-escalated more tantrums in my lifetime than I care to count. And I’ve always named the feeling. Practiced the do-overs. Practiced rephrasing messages. I’ve done it all. There have been improvements over the years. I think Carl is better, even if he can’t always control his rage. I don’t blame him. Apparently neither can I.

Now I have my own trauma. I have trauma that my children inflicted on me because they once experienced it. Mary is getting treatment in RTC now, but I still sleep with the deadbolt locked. It’s not because of some mysterious childhood trauma that’s come up. No, it’s the fact that every rage one of them goes into reminds me of all the years worth of rages. Sort of like Chinese water torture. It doesn’t matter that I’m not being physically hurt anymore. I remember being hurt. Drip, drip, drip. Every insult or obscenity reminds me of another, older one. Drip, drip, drip.

My neurosurgeon tells me I will likely  never be “asymptomatic” again. My ongoing work injury is just another part of the torture. Drip, drip, drip. We will have to wait until a year after surgery to know if the nerve damage is permanent. He avoids my eyes when I ask about the use of my right leg. He won’t answer me if I will ever drive again or walk without a cane. All he says is that we have to wait. Who am I? Who have I become?

When I later sit down with Carl I sincerely and thoroughly apologize. I explain to him that it’s never OK for me to grab him. I should never scream at him especially close to his face. That behavior is verbal abuse, and from now on Daddy will handle the upsetting situations while mom works hard in therapy. And also, I’m really really glad he didn’t just punch me when we were that close. That would have ended differently even a year ago. He was able to maintain more control than I was.

Carl says he thinks I am very strong and has decided not to throw things at me and smash them in my presence. He is sorry he ever hit me (even though its been a long while since) and he hugs me. To him screaming is nothing. It scared him because his typically-quiet mom screamed, but that’s about it. He moves on.

I cannot move on. I cannot be the broken door anymore. I need to live life as mom, not a hostage. Or a monster. So a few days later, I sneak into Carl’s room and gently wake him. I tell him to put on his shoes. His grin is instantaneous. “Where are we going? Is it a surprise?” It is.

This day happens to be summer solstice. My son and I creep outside to watch the sunset at 9:30 PM. We look for fireflies in the forest while waiting for the night stars to appear. This moment is just for us, just mom and kid time. Eventually, the longest day of the year is over. The sky is full black and filled with a sense of magic. I snuggle up with my boy and finally we count all the stars.

 

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

 

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adoption

Parenting With Puke: and Other Food Issues

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Our children have some pretty significant food issues. It’s fairly common for children who come from an environment where they often went unfed. To this day we have to explain to doctors why Mary doesn’t know how to drink a beverage. She will hold a bottle or cup to her lips and chug until the entire thing is gone. Then she gasps for air and clutches her stomach, feeling sick. We have to portion out water or give her straws to encourage sipping. Because of the way she attacks drinking, Mary hates liquid and assumes it will make her sick. It’s like pulling teeth to keep her hydrated on a hot day.

When Marcus and Sean lived here they each had to know they had their own food available. For Marcus, we bought him a huge package of Clif bars at Costco. He kept it under his bed and never touched it. It was helpful just to know it was there. Sean, on the other hand, had a mountain of perishable food items under his bed. He had half eaten tubs of frosting, boxes of crackers, uncooked pasta that he ate raw. We found a molding tub of cream cheese with a spoon cemented to the middle. Sean could, and did, throw up at will. He was always eating or holding food in his hand. We never knew how severe the problem was until we cleaned out his room and found the food. Having a box of non-perishables did not make him feel safe.

For Carl, the issue is a bit different. He scarfs food down like a baby velociraptor. He shoves bite after bite into his mouth without stopping to chew or even swallow. His cheeks are puffed out to the max and he eats everything within a few minutes. If you aren’t careful he will try to move on to your plate next! When he is upset it’s impossible to slow him down or stop him. Carl will eat 5 helpings if we let him, and then promptly get sick. And then eat some more.

This is how Carl ended up with a tear in the lining of his stomach. It caused him to vomit everything, even ice chips. We took him to the pediatrician, and later the hospital for tests. I won’t lie, it was really scary. At first we just thought it was his trauma-eating. As it turns out, over time, this kind of eating can do some serious stomach damage. We try to give him small portions a little at a time. We space out snacks, meal courses, etc so he has time to digest. We make a big deal to count his “chews” and encourage him to chew really well. It’s very difficult to re-teach the eating habits a child learns in the first 5 years of life.

So I was home with the little guy all of last week. He’s 11 now, but when he’s sick his emotional age is somewhere around toddler. Because of this he was extra sweet and snuggly. He could only eat soup, jello, tea and other clear fluids. I made him tiny meals and gave him medication throughout the day. The poor guy missed field day, but no way could he go.

Call me a terrible mom, but I loved it. I got the opportunity to take care of my little guy. I wasn’t just providing care, I was providing care that was working! I can’t tell you how good that made me feel, especially with what’s going on with Mary right now. I felt like I was being a good mom. I could see my efforts pay off. And best of all? Carl and I got to hang out stress-free, and without physical danger. I’m not happy Mary is at RTC but I am happy that Carl seems so much more at ease. That’s right. Vomit is not as scary as murder.

Even with all of the vomit, Carl and I had super fun! We played CLUE, and Beat the Parents and Monopoly Deal. Papa came for a playdate and taught Carl to play Yahtzee! We read books and watched the Harry Potter movies. I rubbed his back and kept him hydrated. He is such a neat kid to spend time with. Although I love and miss our daughter, I am truly grateful for this one-on-one time with Carl. I hate the fact that it took puke to get me some individual parenting time with him.

As he grows up he will want to spend more and more time with his friends. But while we are on the cusp of adolescence? I’ll take all the parent-time I can get.

Not even puke could keep me away!!

 

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

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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, 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. 

 

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

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adoption, PTSD

A Safe Place to Land

Everyone seems to know how to live this life better. This complex and confusing life of parenting children with severe developmental trauma. The life where your kids may have extreme behaviors, and/or mental health diagnosis. This life. This is a life that others are afraid to live. 

The part that most don’t understand is how this particular life could be one that I love. One that I have chosen. This life is fulfilling and joyful for me. I can be a hard person to buy material gifts for because I honestly just don’t care. I already have everything I could ever want.

Sometimes, though, I am scared. How will I continue to handle aggressive rages and outbursts? After almost 3 years of physical safety from my daughter it is hard to go back to that place. The place where her most common expression is one of anger. Her reactions to the slightest disappointment become violent outbursts. She is 10 now, and much taller and stronger than when she was barely 7.  I wonder how we got back to this place?! 

Loving my daughter is never the question. Sometimes, when I am in my deepest, darkest place, surviving her becomes the question. No matter how much love we put in or how many resources we find, the trauma continues to plague us all. This past week I’ve woken up several times in terror, covered in a cold sweat. I feel as though danger is imminent and I cannot catch my breathe. Since when do I have such a  visceral response to basic nightmares? Probably since Mary started raging again. 

There could never be an expiration on my love for her. There could never be an expiration on my commitment to her. Is it possible there could be an expiration on my ability to handle her violence? 

How did this happen? I naively thought we had conquered the worst parts. We still battle past traumas alongside our children. They still go to therapy. But I thought the days of her physical attacks were long gone. Perhaps that is why my reaction is one of panic. We left this place so far behind. Can we get through it all over again? 

I understand that professionals have a different perspective. In fact, they often lack perspective entirely. This life that I have chosen is actually quite rare. Not many “older children” get adopted from foster care. In essence, there is less chance of a doctor coming across a case like ours. The goal seems to always be to change their behavior. Change my behavior. To fix it. To fix her. How ridiculous.

I cannot fix what is already beautiful. All I can hope for is a bit of healing mixed with trust. I can love until forever. And I can hope for a safe place to land. For all of us. 

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

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adoption

Emotions: Mine or Hers?

I forgot that I had feelings. No, I’m not being sarcastic. I actually forgot! Who does that? Am I some sort of automaton? I really and truly have been-hyper focused on my daughter’s current emotional upheaval. Keeping an eye out for my own safety has caused me to lost track of my own emotional barometer. In the epitome of irony, this is what happens to kids from hard places. They become so stuck in survival mode that they cannot interpret their own feelings without support.

Therapeutic mom-me is on hyper-alert lookout. I check for dysregulation. I help identify feelings and provide my children with the voice they need to share said feelings. I offer do-overs. I engage playfully with a sort of perma-smile that I didn’t even realize I was wearing. Don’t misunderstand, I do have fun and smile with my children. It’s just that recently, I’ve been hyper vigilant for signs of danger with Mary. Is my 10-year-old hearing voices? Is she disassociating? Is she about to attack or become violent?

I orchestrate her world so carefully in order to provide her with a chance for success. I allow her to stay suffocatingly close to me at almost all times. She has been craving me and panicking when she is more than a few inches away. Her fear of losing me is so acute that I, in turn, begin to fear an imminent psychiatric hospital stay for her (in the end, my fears were realized.) The tighter she clutches me in, the more violently she will push me away when her emotions turn.

And then come the outsiders. People who just aren’t in our family and/or don’t practice therapeutic parenting. Professionals who have never heard of the work of Dr. Siegal or Dr. Karyn Purvis. It’s hard for me to comprehend there are those who’ve never read The Connected Child, because it has been a game changer for us.

They don’t understand the value of connection as opposed to compliance. I’m not raising automatons, I’m raising emotionally intelligent human beings. I am providing them with the tools they need to regulate their feelings. I am the external modem helping them to sort information and identify what their body is feeling and how to get their needs met. The only way our children will learn to emotionally regulate is through practice, practice, practice. Sort of like a sports player needs to practice in order to improve. Our kids are in survival mode. They are learning to feel safe. I work so hard to disarm their fear. But in the process, have I become the automaton?

No one ever suggests that sleep deprived mothers of newborns should “return their horrible creatures to the hospital.” No one ever says, “Well this one is up all night. Why don’t you get another one. A good one. A baby that is better than this screaming thing.” But for adoptive facilities different. I’ve heard similar sentiments many times.

“Well, you knew what you were getting into. This is what ‘those’ children are like”

“Kids in the system are damaged goods. They won’t ever be normal. Why would you want a kid like that in your house?”

“I could NEVER do what you’re doing. I just couldn’t put up with it!” (By the way, yeah, I know. You definitely couldn’t do what I do. You’re just not mom enough!)

“Do you ever think about just quitting? After all, they weren’t born to you. It’s not like they are your real children.” (This one came from a primary care physician of mine. FORMER, obviously.)

“He/she is so defiant. You need to spank them to teach some respect. If they don’t work out, can’t you just trade them?”

My all time favorite comes from a social worker. She said, “Well how much is too much? At what point do you feel you’ve had enough? At what point do you decide this isn’t the right fit? At what point do you give up?” Of course I asked her the same question about her biological son. She was stumped.

It creates this defensive wall inside of me. A wall that shows other people my optimism that our children are healing. That we can find solutions. That we are so happy to be parents to these amazing kids. All of these things are true. It just isn’t the whole picture. I don’t tell about the sleepless nights. I don’t talk about the bruises. I just don’t. I can’t stand to have people judge our daughter.

She’s my precious girl. She isn’t “bad” she is hurting. And we are fighting together, as a family, against trauma. So, no, I never let those other feelings show. My perma-smile conveys only the wonderful parts of adopting children from hard places.

Today a psychologist held a mirror up to my face. It was the Doctor assigned to our daughter’s case during her inpatient stay at the psychiatric hospital. She asked me how I felt and how I was dealing with the stress. The question confused me. This is our normal, it’s not new and scary for me. I mean, right? I’m healing from my second major back injury. I’m exhausted. My father died this summer. And now my daughter hears voices that tell her to kill mommy. She tantrums frequently. Her brother isn’t sleeping through the night. He stays up to scream at us for being stupid idiots that he hates. I’m lucky to get to bed at midnight! For him, I have a firm voice and firm boundaries. For everyone else?  I am wearing my, “We can do this!” mom-smile. All. The. Time.

“So how does this feel to you? Take off your therapeutic mom hat. Let the clinicians handle the therapy. What is your emotion about this?” She hypothesized that part of the reason my daughter is so mad at me is because I am always analyzing her. I’m always reading her emotional cues and adjusting accordingly. I’m being a therapist more than I’m being just a mom. I am out of touch with my own feelings.

Still, I feel that TBRI is important. It’s second nature to me. I hated her ideas about using a token system to help Mary stop attacking me. How on earth would a token system keep her from hearing voices? I will never give up therapeutic parenting. I listened to the doctor, but then I expected her to listen to me. So I sent her a copy of The Connected Child in the mail.

She had a point about my feelings. She was way off-base with the stupid token system. She also misunderstood that trauma is fear, not defiance. I’ve spent so much time focused on TBRI and keeping our daughter out of the hospital that I lost track. I am asking her to check her “engine” to see how it’s running. When I am I checking my own? I expect her to share her feelings, but do I share mine? Nope. I’m always the strong mom. Firm, nurturing, forgiving, and never out-of-control.

When did this happen? It wasn’t on purpose. I just sort of forgot about my own feelings. I spent so much time advocating for Mary and convincing others that she isn’t a bad kid, that I forgot. I spent so much time researching the work of Dr. Siegel, Dr. Karyn Purvis, Deborah D. Gray and Bryan Post, that I forgot!

I spend so much time explaining the hurt and fear behind Mary’s behaviors, that I forget my own feelings. I feel like I should be reading more, researching more, and finding more therapeutic resources. I spend so much time educating other professionals (my own PCP, pediatricians, ER staff, intern clinicians, emergency response teams) about the effects of trauma that I forgot about my own. I, too, have been traumatized.

Mary’s psychologist made it clear that I should share my real feelings with Mary. It took me a few minutes to see that I’d been so defensive I couldn’t admit that I was scared and sad. My children have taken the domestic violence they experienced in their childhoods, and have turned it on me. Their “safe” person. The one who will love them, no matter what. Except now I am in the domestically abusive situation scratching my head and wondering how I got here. The doctor asked me to share these feelings honestly with my daughter. So I did.

Mary came into the session and I was already crying. With tears streaming down my face I told her how much I missed her at home. I told her I missed her fuzzy cat slippers. I missed her little chicken noises in the morning. I missed the creative off-key songs she invented in the shower. I told Mary that I loved her. I also told her that I was scared about her coming home. I was really scared that she would hurt me someday. Both of us would have a hard time recovering from that. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to help her. And love. I love her so damn much.

I cried. I sobbed. I am by no means a pretty crier. I have streaming tears and booger-bubbles. My eyes get red and puffy. I sob until I hiccup, and my mascara runs raccoon-style, all over my face. It’s a rather alarming sight and I try to do it as little as possible. I braced myself for Mary’s reaction.

Then, she did the most profound thing. She took a tissue and wiped away my raccoon makeup. She took a swipe at my puffy eyes and my bubbling boogers. She looked into my eyes and told me how much she wanted to come home. She told me how much she wanted to be safe. This doesn’t mean she will be. Some things are beyond her control. But, it was a moment of deep connection. And I didn’t even have to create it. I just shared my truth.

We are bringing her home tomorrow. It was hard to say goodnight and leave her there. I stumbled home and finally got off of my walker and into my bed. My body felt too spent to do much beyond quiet reading. I looked at the new book on trauma and physiology I’m reading. Then I looked at my new horror novel with creepy houses and severed heads.

You know what? I went with the severed heads.  The only therapeutic thing I’ll be doing tonight is grabbing a glass of wine to drink while I read this trashy paperback. I’m off duty. Tonight I’m just getting reacquainted with a very important person. Me.

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

**To learn more about TBRI (Trust Based Relational Intervention) go to http://www.empoweredtoconnect.com

 

 

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