Sometimes I feel like I am drowning under the weight of the trauma that has hijacked our lives.
Not just the trauma playing out in our own home at the hands of hurt children who are the products of past hurt,
But under the enormity of how deep their wounds run, how affecting their past stories are, and how hugely overwhelming the work ahead of us is.
I sometimes feel as though I am standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon with no ropes, no harness, and no mule, and I must figure out how to get myself (and my family) across this chasm safely.
It is enough to make me sit down and cry.
The task seems so impossible.
The work is so overwhelming.
This is the life that comes with adopting children who come from hard places. This is the impossible task I wake up to daily. And just when I think we have found the path that leads to the other side we turn a corner and find ourselves at the edge of another cliff.
I suppose this is an accurate analogy for parenting in general, and certainly relatable for any mother who is raising a child with special needs or unique challenges,
But it is especially true for raising children who have a history of trauma, a past filled with abuse, a diagnosis of PTSD or Reactive Attachment Disorder, or any child with attachment issues.
Each step forward is paved with uncertainty and unpredictability.
I step, never knowing if the ground beneath me will hold or if it will crumble.
A happy moment or a fun experience can turn to heartbreak in an instance as unseen triggers force the primitive fear part of the boys’ brains into fight, flight or freeze mode…
Instantly shutting them down and putting a halt to everything until we can work through it.
Minute by minute I am combatting every traumatic experience, every memory of untrustworthy adults, every failed attachment, every spoken lie that has cemented itself in my boys’ brains…all while working to help them feel safe.
It is a full-time job…and by full time I mean I am on duty 24/7, constantly assessing, watching for triggers, helping them to regulate and pulling them away from the edge of the abyss, all while trying to meet the needs of everyone else in my life.
It can be exhausting,
And I often go to bed feeling like a failure.
I haven’t been the sister, daughter, friend, wife, etc. that I want to be. I am in the trenches. I am trying to save two lives, and unfortunately that effort comes at the expense of other things I want to be doing for the other people in my life that I love.
What makes it doubly hard is the fact that the trauma driven behaviors of one boy will then trigger the trauma driven behaviors of the other, as we have been seeing the last few weeks.
Tyler’s trauma behaviors are very fear based. He acts up or shuts down because of debilitating fears. These fears continue to grow as he has begun remembering more about the abuse that happened in his birth home. Over the last year his fear reaction has evolved from fight mode (the body’s adrenaline-driven response to perceived threats) to the more primitive fear reaction of freeze mode.
Now when he gets anxious or fearful he just shuts down. He literally freezes. He won’t make eye contact or speak or move. He curls up or slouches down, covers his face, and is unable to respond.
It is then up to Toby or I to help “thaw” him, or regulate him, to the point where he can process, reason, and express what he is fearful of.
It is heartbreaking to watch and literally slams the breaks on any plans we have when this happens, because we can’t move forward or do anything until I can help him out of his frozen state.
This process can take minutes or hours to work through.
The added challenge in our home, currently, is the fact that Ozzie is inducing these fear responses in Tyler.
While Tyler’s trauma behaviors tend to be fear driven, Ozzie’s tend to be anger driven.
He is so enraged about the injustice of all he has endured that his behaviors lately have been very angry and aggressive, and when Ozzie lashes out in angry tantrums, Tyler shuts down in fear.
Both are prisoners of their past abuse.
Both are in crisis.
Both need help regulating.
Both of their behaviors are trauma driven.
Both need me.
So, my life has become an exhausting dance of jumping from one boy to another…both in crisis, both in need of my help.
Ozzie’s biggest struggle right now is combatting and challenging the lies in his head. He has expressed that he deserved to be abused by his birth parents, and he is mad that we won’t hurt him as well. The more love and affection we show, the angrier he gets. When we don’t engage in the abusive acts he is begging for he engages in self harming behaviors and suicidal fantasies.
In therapy we are working with him to challenge those thoughts, but it is hard to reprogram the lies that were drilled into his head and heart for so long…
“This is all your fault.”
“If you were a good boy I wouldn’t have to hurt you.”
“This is for your own good.”
“You aren’t worthy to be my son.”
“I am ashamed of you.”
Because that is what he believes.
He doesn’t believe he is worthy of love.
He feels the abuse was completely his fault.
It breaks my heart.
As part of the process to help him understand and believe that a child NEVER deserves to be abused, we are working with baby dolls. This came as a result of a comment he made that babies deserve to be hit if they are bad and cry a lot…a lie he truly believes to be true. We are challenging that thought process by examining the relationship between babies and their parents and talking about what babies can and can’t do for themselves at various ages and what loving moms and dads do to care for their baby.
He is so very uncomfortable with the work.
He gets angry when he sees the baby dolls come out.
He is struggling with feelings of anger and resentment over what should have been his childhood, verses what was his childhood.
As part of the journey to model appropriate parent/child interactions our therapist asked us to pull out the girls’ old baby dolls and when we are sitting as a family, like during our evening devotionals, and for the older children, Toby, and I to all “care” for a baby in Ozzie’s presence. She felt it especially important that Ozzie see Toby and Rusty lovingly handling their baby dolls so that he can witness what a loving and nurturing father looks like.
And despite the unorthodox approach and slightly uncomfortable assignment thrust upon my men, they have risen to the task beautifully.
Ozzie is still very uncomfortable with the work. He gets angry when he sees us holding the baby dolls and has expressed the fact that he always feels angry inside when he sees moms holding their babies…a sure sign that Miss Tina is emotionally probing in just the right area…but progress is being made and the more he is exposed, the less volatile his anger about the babies seems to be.
It is slow, laborious work healing broken hearts,
But I hold on to hope and lean on faith, trusting that our Heavenly Father, the ultimate example of a loving, caring, nurturing father, is performing a miraculous work in us all…
Healing our hearts,
Mending our hurts,
And molding our lives into something greater than our past.
It can be exhausting, discouraging, heart breaking work, especially if I look beyond today at wide expanse of open canyon that lies ahead.
That is when I get discouraged.
That is when I get fearful.
That is when I lose hope and my faith falters.
When I look too far ahead I am consumed with fear.
When I spend too much time looking back I get lost in sadness,
But when I keep my eyes focused on the next step in front of me, I am at peace.
“An accomplished Ironman triathlete once shared the secret of his success. ‘You last the long race by running the short ones.’ Don’t swim 2.4 miles; just swim to the next buoy. Rather than bike 112 miles, ride 10, take a break and bike 10 more. Never tackle more than the challenge ahead. You last the long race by running the short ones.”
This journey is not about the next 10 years, but rather the next 10 minutes.
There are days that I am overwhelmed by the task in front of me. The ravine I stand before is so wide, so deep, and oh, so daunting…
But I know that I am not traveling alone. God placed me at the edge of this cliff, which means He has already laid a path through it.
So, I will take the hands of these two boys that He has placed in my care, and we will cross this canyon together…one small step at a time.