Well, we made it through a week of Toby’s absence…
Boy, was it a long week!
It is funny how the absence of one or two family members affects the climate of the entire household. This week that feeling was particularly pronounced with the duel absence of Toby in Michigan and Rusty at Scout camp. The absence of older male energy had a profound affect on the home, but the effect was most greatly felt by Tyler.
The result of that climate change was noticed almost immediately. The absence of testosterone in our home resulted in feelings of powerlessness and insecurity for Tyler…
although it took me a few days to figure out those were the emotions behind the behaviors.
The behaviors were explosive. Ozzie’s fears and insecurities bubble up to the surface in the form of manipulation and hurtful words. Tyler’s fears and insecurities bubbles forth in the form of physical destruction. Walls were punched, glass was shattered, books were ripped, and every shirt he wore this week had a hole chewed through the collar by the end of the day as a result of fearful energy needing a release.
He was in constant motion and I didn’t stop moving either. Whether that energy was happy or angry I moved with him through the day, constantly supervising and assisting, much like the mom of a toddler.
The build-up came to a head on Wednesday when, after a destructive rant, Tyler broke down. I heard his breakdown before I saw it. Following the sound of muffled sobs I found him in his closet. He was buried under every blanket he owns lying curled in a fetal position at the bottom of his closet crying…and by crying I don’t mean little boy tears. I am talking about soul-wrenching wails. Wails of mourning and of grief. The type of wailing that breaks forth from deeply buried hurts and can’t be soothed.
He wouldn’t talk…couldn’t talk. But I knew how to read the clues. The biggest clue as to the source of his breakdown was the location of the breakdown. He put himself back in a closet…the very place he was kept as a small child. There in a closet he was locked away by his birth parents and only set free when they needed to hurt him or his siblings.
I sat on the floor outside his closet and was overcome with such anger toward his abusers. The fact that any child should have to carry the sort of pain that my boys carry on their little shoulders angers me. I sat on the floor and all I felt was rage and helplessness.
Tyler slowly began to deflate and was able to find his words through the sobs. He still wouldn’t leave the closet but he threw the blankets off himself. Under the mounds of blankets I found a sweat drenched 9-year-old boy curled as tightly into himself as he could shrink himself to be. His eyes were tightly shut and he was pressing his hands to either side of his head trying to gain control over the thoughts that were consuming him.
“I just keep seeing it,” he said.
“I can’t make it go away,” he sobbed.
“She is trying to kill me,” he wept.
Finally I found out the driving force behind the behaviors. His constant motion was a tool to keep from thinking. The destruction was the frustration over the thoughts that would break through his wall of defense. The lack of sleep was a calculated choice to avoid the nightmares that haunted him.
The reason behind it all:
Tyler thought his birth mom was going to come and kill him and Toby wasn’t here to protect him.
He didn’t feel safe.
Consumed by fear and anxiety he coped in the way that was most familiar to him.
Our therapy session with Tina on Thursday confirmed all my suspicions and conclusions. He is drowning under the waves of suppressed memories that are now crashing forth…and it breaks my heart.
While parenting a traumatized adopted child I have learned may things…so many things.
But the biggest lesson I have learned is that when assessing a situation and considering what parenting tools to pull from the toolbox the key is to pick the tools completely opposite of our natural inclination.
Its like being trapped in a 24/7 version of the childhood game: “opposite day.”
When you want to raise your voice you must whisper.
When you want to punish by sending them to time-out for isolation, it is essential you remain close by.
When you are tempted to shame, you must encourage.
When they are pushing you away with their words and actions you must pull in closer.
When they are shouting, “I hate you” they are actually pleading, “Can you love me? Even when I’m like this?” And you must show them you can.
When you want to de-escalate a situation by decreasing the energy in the room sometimes the best way to do that is by escalating it.
And that has been a tough one for me to learn.
My natural inclination, when a situation is escalating, is to try to let some air out of the balloon. When my oldest three were little I called this my “Mr. Roger’s mojo.” I would soften my voice, slow my movements, look them in the eye, and speak calmly and the energy in the room would lower. My “Mr. Roger’s mojo” is completely ineffective on Tyler…especially when he is escalated. This is common with traumatized children. For a child who came from a noisy, loud, angry, chaotic environment “Mr. Roger’s energy” is unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and threatening. To make them comfortable you need to bring the energy and chaos they are craving, just in a healthier way.
You don’t escalate the energy with the screaming and throwing and hitting they are begging for, but rather with “happy chaos.” You have a pillow fight, you chase them around the room, you have a foot race, jump on the trampoline or
GO ON AN ADVENTURE!
Which was just what we did on Friday. Tyler was struggling and while my natural inclination was to batten down the hatches and brace for the storm that was coming I knew I must do the opposite. I had to meet his energy and raise it a notch. So we jumped in the car and left on an adventure.
We drove two hours away to Lake Erie for a day of fun in the sun. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous about heading two hours away, without Toby, after the week we had, but I was following my gut and following God and knew this was what we needed, so I put on my brave Momma face and we went.
It turned out to be an amazing blessing. It was just what we all needed. We needed to get away from the house, away from triggers, away from responsibility, and just play as a family. The kids swam for hours and the result was a little boy who fell asleep at the end of the day. After a week of sleepless nights and high adrenaline tension Tyler finally found the release his body was calling for.
The key to finding that relief was not found in letting air out of the balloon, but instead by blowing up that balloon up until it popped. Only then did my little boy find relief from the weight of anxiety that he had been shouldering all week.
Here is a peak into our wonderful day at Presque Isle State Park on Lake Erie: