Holidays are sometimes hard at our house. This is one of the realities of the adoption walk. Celebrations are reminders. They are triggers. And with every joyful, exciting, out of the norm celebration comes hard behaviors. This is just my reality. I share this not out of bitterness but in an effort to be transparent. Holidays which used to be the moments to look forward to are now approached with cautious steps. It is the “boring” predictable days that are usually the easiest when raising the hurt child…
Holidays…well, they are a walk through a mine field.
Things have gotten easier in this area. The explosions that do occur as we walk through those holiday mine fields aren’t quite as destructive as they were in the early days. The rest of the family is “less” affected but the struggle that is still there for my littles.
This was evident on Rusty’s birthday.
What should have been a fun, no-stress, celebration day became a day filled with testing, manipulation and many lies told by one of my hurting little boys. Crazy lying like, “Rusty, we have to go up to the fourth floor first. They are giving away free Lego sets!” Lying meant to cause excitement, chaos, and draw attention away from the birthday boy. I knew we were dealing with jealousy and sadness over life losses but I didn’t fully understand the emotions of the day until we met with Miss Tina, our therapist, later that week.
She spoke to my little man (after I filled her in on our extra hard day) and asked what he was feeling that day. He struggled to admit he was feeling anything other than excitement for Rusty. She told him that she had no doubt that he did indeed feel happiness and excitement for Rusty,
“But,” she said, “I bet you were feeling some other emotions too.”
It was a slow, painful process, but over the course of that hour we worked at pulling out the thoughts and emotions of that day including: sadness, jealousy, and fear. He spoke of how memories of his birth home kept casting a shadow (my words, not his) on Rusty’s birthday celebration. He finally was able to express (in words) why Rusty’s birthday was so hard for him after Tina asked him what birthdays were like in his birth home…
“They were regular days,” he said, “There was no presents or cake. It was just a normal day”
“That must have been hard,” she responded.
She then turned to me and asked me what I would have done, let’s say, for Ozzie’s 5th birthday. I began to cry, overwhelmed by the sadness I felt for my child. Ozzie crawled into my lap and I explained how I would have made his day a celebration of his life and a celebration of his special place in our family.
I can’t go back and undo any of the past hurts or abuse from either boys’ early years… as much as I long to.
I can only promise that each birthday from here on out, for the rest of his life, will be remembered, celebrated, and valued,
valued because it is the day of his birth,
the start of his mortal journey on earth,
the beginning of an amazing life that will touch others and make a difference in the world.
And although I will work to make sure he never feels forgotten on his birthday again,
I don’t know if my efforts will ever be enough to make up for those early losses.
Birthdays…and holidays in general…may always be hard.
After this emotional breakthrough Tina brought us back to the emotions connected to that memory.
Ozzie is still struggling to name anger as an emotion he feels. He can say that he is happy, scared, sad, and jealous, but he can’t say he is angry.
Because that is the label he has placed on the father who abused him and he refuses to be that man. He refuses to grow up and abuse his children. And no matter how much Tina and I tell him that he is NOT his birth father and he will never be his birth father, Ozzie fears opening the door to that possibility by admitting he feels anger.
It is going to be a long road to heal those thoughts, but we have begun the process by demonstrating what anger looks like within the walls of our own home. We are doing this in an effort to show Ozzie that anger doesn’t have to look like screaming voices, broken dishes and flying fists.
I have tried to make a more conscious effort to express my anger when I am feeling it. This requires me to be more aware of my own emotions and more vocal about how I’m feeling.
It has been wonderfully therapeutic to be forced to say, “I feel angry because…”
Ozzie can then see that anger looks different on me, and Grace, and Rusty, and Tyler then it did on his dad. We all feel anger but anger doesn’t mean abusive.
I have also been working at home with the little boys on some emotion awareness activities using the movie InsideOut. I will share more about our emotion awareness activities in an upcoming post, but while searching for some visuals from the movie InsideOut I came across a stuffed toy for the emotion anger. I knew as soon as I saw it that I needed to pick it up for Ozzie. I want him to learn to embrace his anger, and how better to begin than with a stuffed toy he can squeeze. We have already had the opportunity to put it into use by having him practice expressing his anger by using the doll as a puppet to speak on his behalf…
“I am angry because Tyler took my car.”
Because it is the doll speaking and not him, he feels more comfortable about expressing those uncomfortable emotions.
It is just one more small step toward healing, but with each baby step comes feeling of immense gratitude for the work God is doing in all of our lives.
God is good!