Tag Archives: attachment

A Sweet End to a Bitter Beginning

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Sometimes I feel as though my life has “Multiple Personality Disorder,” with multiple lifetimes occurring at the same time under the umbrella of one life.  

(Let me reiterate: My LIFE,  not my child)

Much like made for TV character that transforms from controlled to chaotic, kind to cruel, joyful to drowning in despair, our life has evolved into a hair raising, out of control ride…

Stable one minute,

 completely derailed the next.

We find ourselves living in a constant state of hyper alert watchfulness.

We spend the minutes of our day always assessing, monitoring, and anticipating what sight, smell, sound, thought or memories will transform our life from calm, controlled and happy, to raging, fearful and hopeless.

It is a hard way to live, and the effect of past traumas on my already struggling son, can result in a whole family in crisis.

The last 24 hours have been surreal, and as I sat down to record the reality of our life  I debated breaking the happenings of the last day between two blogs, one reporting the good and the other reporting the struggles, but I stopped myself. Our life can not and will not be compartmentalized. As much as I crave the order and control of defining my days in the black and white categories of “good days or bad days,”  the reality of our life is that most days are a messy mix of trauma driven struggles and merciful moments of goodness and joy.

This particular pocket of time began Friday night with heartache.

We are all living out the effects of the early childhood trauma that has reduced my once happy boy into a child filled with despair and hopelessness.

At the root of Ozzie’s hurt is a deep-seated belief, a belief that was planted in his tender soul by abusive parents from the time he was small, that he deserves the abuse he endured, that he is not worthy of anything better, and  as a result he has decided he will sentence himself to a life of hurt and abuse if no one else will meet that request.

“What won’t you just punch me?” he will yell in desperation,

“I just need someone to hurt me!”


When those desperate requests are answered with tokens of love, nurturing acts, and additional support, he lashes out in desperation, hurting the very people who are offering him a safe harbor from the pain.

His behaviors have escalated.  

His desperation has increased.

He is determined to hurt.

He is terrified of being loved and will do anything to keep the thing he fears most, attachment to his adoptive family, at bay.

He is drowning in new flashbacks of horrific acts of abuse and is desperate to quiet the voices in his head.

 All he wants is a way out.

All I want is to keep him safe.

So my life has become a 24/7 vigil, as I work to protect him from himself. Every possible threat has been locked up, and cameras have been installed around the home, allowing for extra eyes of protection on him at all times. I don’t walk away. I don’t take a break. I am on guard. Fighting for this child who can’t fight for himself.

Things escalated to a new level last Friday when he wrote out a plan of how he was going to take his life.

Back to the Emergency Room we went.

Back to be assessed and monitored.

Back to inpatient care for another stay and another shot at stabilization.

By the time the ambulance arrived to take him back to the juvenile mental hospital that he was discharged from just weeks ago, my heart was heavy… heavier than it has ever been. There I stood, staying goodbye to my child who looks and acts more like a ten-year-old than a 13-year-old, in the hallway of the ER at 4:30 in the morning, weary.

So weary of the fight.

So weary of the battles.

So weary of the constant vigilance.

So weary of trying to hold onto hope in the midst of hopelessness.

So weary of trying to keep my family intact in the midst of constant battles against the trauma of Ozzie’s past.

So weary of smiling through the tears and finding the good in an absurdly bad situation.

So weary of being the Mom…the one who must remain hopeful, positive, optimistic and strong. The one who must help everyone else ride the waves of RAD and help the other children process the secondary PTSD occurring in the home. Being the one who must help create normalcy for the rest of the family in a situation that is anything but normal.

But weary or not, we go on.

I climbed into the car, exhausted down to the tips of my toes, drove home and crawled into bed to get a few hours of sleep before a new day began. It was going to be a full day of packing for Girls’ Camp (where I will be serving as a level leader over the 7th year girls) and then our annual strawberry picking, because despite how crazy the night was the dawn will come and the show must go on. There are other people in my family who need me, so I wake up day after day, and keep on keeping on…

Praying for strength.

Praying for grace.

Praying for hope.

Praying for wisdom.

Praying for the capacity to forgive…

And praying that there was a caffeinated Diet Coke in the fridge to fuel my efforts. 😉

From suicide watch to strawberry picking in a 12 hour stretch…

because that’s how we roll.

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Did I mention my life has Multiple Personality Disorder?

Over the last 7 or 8 years we have enjoyed the annual tradition of going strawberry picking as a family. It always seems to fall on the Saturday before Father’s Day, resulting in many strawberry themed treats for the day.

When we moved into this house we were introduced to Catalpa Farms by friends, when they invited us to go pea picking with them one year.

Since then Catalpa’s has been our go-to “you pick” farm in the area.

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Saturday was chaos (understatement of the year!) and really not the ideal day to go berry picking, but knowing the unavailability of free Saturdays for the next two weeks, and knowing how short-lived strawberry season is, it was now or never.

So, after a hard, traumatic previous 12 hours, we rallied as only the McCleerys can, gathered our strawberry boxes, and headed to Ohio.

Grace had spent the day working, while Molly and I packed and prepped for Girls’ Camp. At the end of Gracie’s shift, we drove over, picked her up, and drove out to Catalpa’s for some strawberry picking.

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Since we arrived at 4:00 in the afternoon, there was no one left in the field (pickers or field bosses) so we had free reign to pick anywhere we wanted in rows 1 and 2.

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We are accustomed to arriving early in the morning with dozens of other families and being given a small stretch of field to strip clean. It was kind of fun to be able to roam freely and have the farm to ourselves.

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Since Ozzie was back at the hospital, it was just the six of us picking. We knew we only had an hour until closing so we made quick work of berry picking.

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The job moved at a much quicker clip than usual, with the freedom of being able to move around the field, searching for untouched patches thick with strawberries.

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What a beautiful crop they had this year. The strawberries were large and sweet…a rare combination.

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One of the many reasons we love this “you pick” farm is because of their encouragement to “eat as you pick.” The kids love biting into sun-warmed, just-off-the-vine berries. It becomes a “one for me, one for the basket” dance of indulgence as the strawberry cartons slowly fill.

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We did well. In our hour, we managed to fill 24 quarts to overflowing…

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And I felt my heart lightening and my soul healing a bit under the rays of the afternoon sun.

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We finished at 5:00pm and headed back to the front to pay and treat ourselves to our traditional berry picking reward for our hard work: homemade strawberry slushies.

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Made from crushed ice and their home-grown strawberries, this sweet nectar of the gods is incredible…a perfect way to end our strawberry picking fun at Catalpa Farms!

Then it was back home for hours and hours of cleaning, hulling, chopping and canning of strawberry treats for us to enjoy in the upcoming year.

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From heartbreak to happy moment,

The tides turn as quick as that…

All within 24 hours.

A sweet end to a bitter beginning.

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Therapeutic Thursdays: The Power of “Yes”

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For this weeks installment of Therapeutic Thursday I want to begin with one of the three cornerstones of Trust-based Relational Intervention (TBRI), developed by the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, for parents raising children from hard places. The three cornerstones of TBRI are Empowering, Connecting, and Correcting. I thought I’d begin with one particular tool we have been applying to promote Connection with our two adopted sons.

There is an unrealistic expectation I have seen when it comes to adoption, that love is enough to solve any problem or issue that arises after adoption. That is an unfair expectation place on the adopted child and on parents raising kids who come from a life of early childhood trauma, neglect, or abuse, because those early life experiences taught them that “love” is scary, unpredictable, untrustworthy, and even painful. These kids have a very different set of experiences with love then you might have  which can result in a “Clash of the Titans” showdowns.

This is especially true when you have adopted a child with attachment issues or a diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder.

When the first behaviors arise, there is an arrogant ideology that you can love the pain away. With that unrealistic expectation comes feelings of resentment when that child rejects your love and responds to each effort to get closer with behaviors designed to push you away. The more you try to love their past out of them the more they rebel in word and action.

Over time this takes its toll on a family. You morn the loss of the family you thought you’d be after adoption and the loss of who you once were. You find yourself evolving from loving mother to a Marine Drill Sergeant. Since loving acts are reciprocated with destroyed property, physical aggression. and hurtful manipulation we desperately find ourselves moving into the camp of stricter consequences and the tactic of,  “punish the behavior out of them.”

We soon discover this to be an equally ineffective tool as these behaviors are not defiance behaviors, rather they are survival behaviors. These hurt kids can no more accept our love or be moved by our consequences than I can fly to the moon. They are prisoners of their past trauma and are driven solely by the fight, flight, or freeze response of their brains.

Much like a cornered dog who has spent years chained up and kicked, these kids from hard places don’t “growl” out of aggression, but out of fear and a need to survive.

They are terrified by the love we offer. They have been burned before by the very adults that were supposed to love, nurture, and meet their most basic needs, and as a result learned early on that adults are untrustworthy, attachment results in pain, and that they can only depend on themselves to get their needs met.

This survival mindset is the foundation for the most difficult behaviors associated with RAD kids.

So, while our instinct might be to first address the behaviors that are causing havoc in our homes, we must first address the cornerstone of connection, because as Dr. Karyn Purvis always said,

“Connection must come before correction.”

So, for the next few weeks I will be talking about some of the strategies we are using in our home to foster connection.

In an effort at transparency I will admit this is by far the most challenging aspect of the program for me. Connection is easy with people who treat you kindly, but requires intentional, Christ-like effort when trying to connect with someone who wakes up daily with the sole goal of hurting you and pushing you away with their behaviors.

Loving a child from trauma can be likened to hugging a porcupine, the closer you pull them to you the more you get poked.

It requires consciously and deliberately letting go of years of hurt and the mountain of resentment and say, “I am stepping back into the minefield, for the sake of my child’s heart and healing.” It requires humility. It requires the ability to forgive (and forget) 20 times a day. It requires looking at your child through the eyes of trauma and seeing those hurtful behaviors as survival behaviors. And it requires getting closer, when all you want to do is step away. It is an exhausting test of devotion. And it starts with Connecting…reaching out and reacquainting yourself with the child you have been holding at arm’s length as a means of self-preservation.

And it isn’t easy,

But it works.

For the next few weeks I am going to share some of the strategies I have been applying in an effort to connect with my adopted son. And the first strategy I’d like to introduce is giving your child the gift of “Yes.”

This one seems so backwards and counterproductive when viewed through the lens of parenting a child who hasn’t experienced trauma. In fact it goes against everything I did as a parent to my older kids. In an effort to raise humble, grateful children that didn’t carry the “entitled child” stigma of their peers, we made every effort to say “No” more than “Yes.” I saw the effect of too much indulgence in the children of friends who parented differently than we did and was determined to not have our kids grow up believing the world owed them something. We consciously made an effort to say “No” more often than “Yes”, so that the yesses were appreciated more and so our children saw every small blessing as the gift it was.

This idea of intentionally saying “Yes” more than “No” goes against everything I believe. But this is what I needed to understand about the difference in my older children’s upbringing and my two little boys’ upbringing. The older three were given a million “yesses” in their early years, while the two younger boys were told “no” time and time again…and I am not talking about verbally “yesses” to what they wanted at Dollar Tree. I am talking about every “Yes” I gave them as infants when I came to their cry. I am talking about every feeding and changing, and snuggle I said “yes” to when I met their most basic needs. I am talking about the thousands of times I said “yes” to their need for comfort after a nightmare, or “yes” to their request for help when they couldn’t do something on their own. I think about the millions of “yesses” they received for every time they were hungry and asked for food, or thirsty and received a drink. When reflecting back on my bio kids early years, I would not consider myself a permissive parent, but when I consider the many ways they were told “yes” by simply nurturing and caring for their basic physical and emotional needs I can see clearly the millions of “yes” answers that were invested into their trust bank which is what they are healthy, attached children.

I wish I could say the same for Ozzie and Tyler, but their starts were much different and those basic needs were not met regularly or consistently. Their parents said “No” to their requests when they didn’t meet their most basic needs as infants and toddlers. Because of that they learned quickly that adults won’t take care of you and can’t be trusted. They became their own keepers and continue to apply those survival strategies today.

Our goal is to balance those early years filled with “No” with an abundance of “Yes.” They more we can say “Yes” and meet their needs they more they will trust us to meet those needs, thus feeling safe enough to abandon those survival strategies they depend on.

Saying “yes” builds trust.

Saying “yes” leads to attachment.

Here is a great video about the power of “yes” from a TBRI parent:

http://empoweredtoconnect.org/building-trust-by-saying-yes/

I urge you to pick a day and give it a try. When your child asks for something, bite back the impulse to answer with the automatic “NO,” and consider whether this is a request you can say “yes” to. See how many “yeses” you can log in a day, and watch your relationship with your child transform and you feed his/her trust tank with each yes…

And with each met need.

That is how connections grow.

This is how our children heal.

This is how attachment forms.

Next week we will delve into another connection strategy we have had tremendous success with: “One on One Time.”

 

Beautiful Brokenness

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(It is with a great deal of prayer that I share these words. This is the hardest blog I have ever written, but the most important message I’ve ever felt compelled to share. Warning: the writing is honest, raw, and may make you feel uncomfortable, but it is a message I feel the Lord calling me to speak. Please be merciful in your judgement  of my children and our family.)

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Our road toward adoption began with an adoption survey.

Physicals were needed, financial statements were gathered. There were child abuse clearances and home safety checks. There was mounds of other paperwork that had to be submitted, but reality really hit when we sat down for the first time with our social worker and filled out the questionnaire that determined what background, struggles and disabilities we would be willing to accept into our home and into our lives.

The questionnaire is extensive. It is pages were long and listed hundreds of possible scenarios to which we had to answer: would accept, would not accept, or would consider. The intensity and severity of the situations increased as we worked our way from question one to the end of the form; beginning with simple, shallow questions like, “Would you accept a boy,” or “Would you accept a child who has acne?”

It then progressed to questions regarding levels of disability and what we thought our family could handle from disabilities as silly as, “Would you accept a child who wears glasses,” to situations as challenging as, “Would you accept a child with a feeding tube,” or “Would you accept a child that is HIV+?”

From there the questionnaire moved into presented behaviors, moving from the easy to address, “typical” childhood behaviors, into a list of extreme behaviors that can be seen in children with Reactive Attachment Disorder… Behaviors like: fire starting, hurting animals, false allegations of sexual abuse against previous foster parents, sexually acting out with other children, running away, stealing, compulsive lying.

As we moved toward the end of the questionnaire the scenarios became more and more intimidating and the reality of what we could be stepping into, as we considered adopting from foster care, hit us. But we knew God was calling us to walk down this unfamiliar and somewhat frightening road. We had to trust that He knew what our family could handle, and what children were meant to be ours, and most importantly I had to trust that he would protect my children who were already in the home and preserve our family through whatever challenges would come with this decision.

Toby and I didn’t enter adoption with the intention of finding a “perfectly unflawed” child that would be a beautiful and easy addition to our family. No, we weren’t THAT naïve. We had read enough books and attended enough training classes to know it wasn’t going to be all sunshine and roses, we just didn’t realize how very trying it would be. We took a step of faith and trusted that God had a plan for us, and for the child we were opening our home to, and walked toward that calling.

On that questionnaire we said yes to every scenario except 3 of them. We felt that God could not work His miracles if we put parameters on His work. So we said “Yes” to a lot of scenarios that made us uncomfortable. There were only three scenarios we felt were beyond our capability to handle as a family, so out of a list of hundreds of “Yes, we will accept,” there were 3 “No, we won’t” answers.

Then we stepped back and waited on the Lord to work.

During the waiting process families are presented with potential matches. In these emails you can read through that child’s file that lays out their history and past trauma, reveals medical history and behaviors, and often contains a photo. After reading the file you can respond back to the agency whether you are interested or not. If you are then your family’s profile is added to the stack of other interested families that the social worker will read through, interview, and pick from.  The survey filled out at the beginning of the adoption journey plays a role in what children’s profiles get sent your way. Because we said “Yes” to so many scenarios, we were sent many child profiles to consider.

The interesting and miraculous part of our story is that Tyler and Ozzie’s profiles should have never been sent to us. There were only 3 things we felt ill-equipped to deal with and our two boys’ profiles both  contained those three non-negotiables. They were “broken” in a way that we felt ill-equipped to “fix.”

This was an important part of the journey. Heavenly Father was teaching us about trust, faith and surrender. He was teaching us about His power to heal. If He had sent us a child whose struggles were manageable with our own skill sets and strength then we would have missed out on this amazing journey of growth, and trust, and dependence on Him.

One of those non-negotiables that terrified us was RAD. We had attended the classes. We knew the symptoms. We had heard the horror stories. And nothing short of God calling would have convinced us to say, “Yes.” But we did, because we were called to.

Reactive Attachment Disorder is a brokenness unlike any other.

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And living with a RAD child can often feel like Hell. It is a journey no one in their right mind would sign up for willingly. This journey can only be survived if propelled by a force far greater than a “desire to grow your family,” a “desire be a mom,” or a “desire to save a child.” It is a journey that must be led by a living God if one is to keep moving forward. There are some days that the only force keeping me from running away and not returning is the undeniable knowledge that this is my child, that God is driving this ship, and that He has the power to heal…the power to heal Ozzie’s wounds that were inflicted by the abuse of his birth parents, but also the wounds caused by the abuse inflicted on this family at the hands of Ozzie.

There is a brokenness in our home that comes with adopting a child with RAD…a reality that I never thought would be my life. I never thought I’d have to call the police to come and restrain my child so as to protect the other children in my home. I never thought I’d be walking the streets at 10:00 at night searching for my child who has run away for the second time this week. I never thought I’d be feeling the spit hit my face as that child screams “F*** You,” as he stand nose to nose with me. I never thought I’d live in a home where knives have to be locked up for everyone’s safety. I never thought I’d have a child maliciously threaten to make up false allegations of abuse if I didn’t let him quit school for the day.  My life is spent dodging flying plates, holding my child down until he is done raging, and locking the dogs in my bedroom because that child keeps hurting them.

This is the dark world RAD families live in.

This hell is a reality hidden from family and friends who can’t fathom the idea that our “polite, respectful, calm and obedient” son could ever cause a bit of trouble. Instead of support and empathy I all to often hear from unknowledgeable acquaintances , “Maybe you are just too hard on him. Maybe you just need to be more patient.”

If only….*sigh*

This is reality for RAD families. We suffer in darkness, putting on a show of stability and fulfillment for our neighbors, family members, friends and strangers, while being held captive by a pint size abuser in our own home.

And the greatest heartbreak in this whole thing is that these broken kids are only acting this way because of horrors and atrocities that have happened to them at the hands of the people that should have loved and protected them: their birth parents.

They learned from an early age that “love” hurts, and “love” leaves scars, and “love” is terrifying. The thing they fear more than anything else in the world is attaching to a family, and they will do EVERYTHING in their power to drive you away and keep you from loving them.

I have never fully articulated the reality of our life here on the blog but feel compelled to bring the reality of RAD into the light. You see, RAD’s power perpetuates and grows in the darkness. The power to manipulate and control only works when the reality is kept hidden. Like with many mental health disorders, there is a shame associated with the struggle. I think perhaps the additional stigma connected to adoption, and the scrutiny adoptive families are under, add to the struggle.

Being a family struggling to survive while being held hostage by Reactive Attachment Disorder is an isolating and lonely life.

I am tired of trying to sugar coat the struggle. I know too many families that have been destroyed by RAD, to many marriages that fell apart at the hands of RAD, to many adoptions dissolved by RAD, that I can’t keep quiet any longer.

There is no brokenness more devastating than RAD brokenness. One might look at the scattered, shattered pieces and think,

“This is hopeless.”

“This child is too far gone.”

“The damage done by the abusive birth parents is unfixable.”

It is easy to feel that way. I certainly have. But when I start to head down that road of thought I am reminded by my God who is bigger than any brokenness, that His power to heal exceeds the destruction. He raised men from the dead, and He can raise this family from the grave as well.

In Japan there is ancient art form that celebrates brokenness. This art form is called Kintsugi.

Kintsugi is said to have originated in the 15th century when a Japanese shogun broke a favorite tea bowl and sent it back to China to be fixed. But the repair job, which was done with metal staples – being the standard for repair at that time – detracted from the beauty of the bowl. Disappointed, the shogun enlisted a Japanese craftsmen to come up with a more aesthetically pleasing solution, and kintsugi was born.

Most people would like damages to their broken items to be concealed and hidden by repair making the object look like new. But the Japanese art of Kintsugi follows a different philosophy. Rather than disguising the breakage, kintsugi restores the broken item incorporating the damage into the aesthetic of the restored item, making it part of the object’s history. Kintsugi uses lacquer resin mixed with powdered gold, silver, platinum, copper or bronze, resulting into something more beautiful than the original.

My friend, Tauni, recently gifted me with a stone that had been broken into pieces and repaired using Kintsugi. The small smooth stone’s beauty is highlighted by veins of gold.

The stone was wrapped in a  beautiful card that that shared the history of this art form, that I had never heard of before, and also included her words of encouragement. Her words touched my heart, and the lesson to be found in this ancient art form, moved me.

Through this especially hard week I find myself carrying that stone around in my pocket, rubbing it between my fingers as a form of mindless meditation, and pulling it out of my pocket to examine the veins of gold and ponder on the message found there.

So often when confronted with brokenness in our life it seems that the solution comes down to one of two options: Either the broken object is disposed of, or the brokenness is hidden. With powerful super glue we piece the broken parts together, praying no one looks too closely and sees the flaws. The art of Kintsugi offers an interesting alternative to the brokenness of our lives. What if instead of discarding those things, people, and relationships that are broken,

Or instead of trying to hide the cracks or brokenness,

We instead, reveal them.

We bring them into the light.

We offer them as a living sacrifice to an Almighty Artist and allow  Him to mend the brokenness in a beautiful way.

What if we use them to showcase God’s ability to mend and heal…

For His healing of our brokenness is far more beautiful than an untouched, unmarred, perfect life.

Real Beauty,

Deep Beauty,

Substantial Beauty,

Lasting Beauty

Only comes from brokenness.

And it is by bringing those broken pieces into the light, and humbly offering them to the Master Potter, that healing happens and the real beauty of this life is revealed.

We are a hurting family, a suffering family, a broken family. We are shards of glass scattered across the floor, but that is not where we will remain. My Heavenly Father has shown me what he will create with our brokenness.

He is a master potter,

The MASTER Kintsugi artist,

And through our brokenness He is creating a magnificent work of art.

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