Tag Archives: emotions

A different sort of Mother’s Day

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I recently revisited a book I first picked up in high school. It is funny how two decades and a boatload of life experiences can alter a piece of literature. The words on the page may remain static and unchanging, but the interpretation and affect of those words are as varied as the hands that pick it up to read it.

The book I am reading is called, “A Child Called IT,” by Dave Pelzer. I don’t remember which friend first recommended it, but I remember the first time I read it. I was enthralled and horrified, as well as a bit skeptical. Surely, there is a sprinkling of fiction in this author’s recounting of a childhood riddled with the most horrific of abuse, I thought to myself.  Surely it wasn’t as bad as he recounts on paper. I thought there must have been some level of sensationalism added to sell the book. I couldn’t fathom the idea that a mother would hurt a child…so horrifically…so intentionally.

Last Saturday, while spending the day in Wooster with my mother for Mother’s Day, we stopped in her local bookstore and I saw this same book sitting on the shelf. I picked it up and found myself adding it to my pile of books to purchase. I felt compelled to revisit the story again. I began reading it two days later and devoured it in a day.

I still find the story of abuse horrifying, but far more believable than I did at age 17. What’s more, I found myself reading the account through new eyes. Not only did I believe its truth, but I found myself paralleling the story of young David with the stories of my boys and their own journey through neglect and abuse on their road to safety. As the author spoke the thoughts, worries, and reasons for his behaviors through the mindset of a little boy in survival mode, I felt like I was listening into the thoughts of my own adopted sons, who while now in a safe and secure home, still live with a survival mindset and struggle with survival behaviors.

When we chose to adopt our lives were changed forever. There is not one aspect of our lives that has remain the same. God has used this journey to mold all of us into beings far different than who we were five years ago. It has been the hardest journey of our lives but by far the most affecting. God has expanded our hearts, revealed our flaws, given us a depth of character and capacity for compassion that can only come from Him and His work.

I have learned so many life lessons along the way. Too many to count…too many to name. But one of the greatest lessons I have learned about myself is how naïve I was about the reality of life for so many, and how easy it is to judge the path of those who chose differently than us because of life circumstances far darker than any I’ve ever had to navigate.

When I was little and we would hear the story of another’s struggle or burden or misguided choice, my mother would wisely pull us away from the path of judgement and lead us towards the path of compassion with a single phrase:

“There but for the grace of God, go I.”

Oh, the power in that simple phrase.

It is a humbling reminder that all that I am, all that I have, all that I have accomplished, is because of God’s good grace.

Who is to say how my life would have played out had I been dealt a different set of cards.

I recognize that a huge part of my blessings come from having been blessed with a good mother and father…healthy parents, who learned from generations of good, healthy, capable, loving parents before them. I used to take this blessing for granted. A loving mother was all I have ever known and I assumed all were blessed in the same way. My perception changed when we began reading the files of children in foster care and we got a small peek into what reality looks like for millions of children. It humbled me and made me realize that all that I am, and all that is good in my life, is not because of anything I did or didn’t do. I didn’t make the right choice because I am awesome. I was able to make healthy life choices because it had been modeled for me my loving parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

We are currently fully immersed in the TBRI world of Karyn Purvis, as we relearn how to parent children from hard places. Our journey began a little over a month ago with the Empowered to Connect conference we attended. Oh, how it has changed our world, and our perception of our boys and their stories. It has made me realize the great, intrinsic value the relationship between mother and child has on every aspect of a child, from their brain chemistry, to their relationships with others, to how they perceive their world. What it takes to grow a healthy human being begins with the simplest ritual of holding a baby when it cries and meeting a baby’s most basic needs. The result of that not occurring as it should is horrific and heart breaking and life affecting for that child and everyone that attempts to attach to them. I am better understanding the great, divine role of mothers in God’s plan and how a disruption in God’s plan causes chaos and destruction. I also now better understand that a mother’s inability to meet these most basic needs in her child is usually a result of a history of unhealthy relationships perpetuating over time. A “bad” mother isn’t made, she is taught.

As I celebrated Mother’s Day this year my heart was in a different place. It meant something different this year. It meant something more. It was less about my role as a mother and more about reflecting on how blessed I have been to learn from the best. I come from a long line of women who have been loved and nurtured and as result have loved and nurtured me. This is a gift I don’t know that I fully acknowledged before. Toby comes from a long line of women who were loved and nurtured, and thus were capable of loving and nurturing him. The result is being able to raise healthy, happy, stable, loved children. And we can take no credit for their goodness, for who knows who we would be and what our life would look like had we been dealt different cards.

“There but for the Grace of God, go I.”

I also find myself remembering the women who gave birth to my adopted sons. I am grateful for their gift of life to two of the most important people in my life. Women who parented the only way they knew how. My connection with them is complicated and wrought with mixed emotions. I hate the hurt they inflicted on my boys, and I hate the hurt that they must have endured to make the choices they did.

“There but for the Grace of God, go I”

Mother’s Day is a hard holiday in my home. My boys struggle through that day dedicated to the celebration of the role of mothers and all the emotional baggage and great feelings of loss that brings it with it, but that said, this was the healthiest and happiest Mother’s Day we have had in the last 4 years, due in part to the TBRI principles we are applying and a lot of upfront prevention we invested in the day.

To begin we went into the holiday with a new approach. I began by putting myself in a good place emotionally. Past Mother’s Days have been hard. Ozzie struggles with such anger and feelings of hurt towards his biological mother that Mother’s Day has been a day full of sabotage and hurts directed at me. Prior to the Empowered to Connect conference I struggled with understanding the complex, over-the-top emotions that drive his behaviors on special holidays, and as a result didn’t approach the day with the level of compassion I should have.

I have learned better and now can do better.

This year I hedged my bets for having a more loving and compassionate response to his sabotage efforts by celebrating Mother’s Day on Saturday with my own Mom. I drove out to Ohio to spend the day, one-on-one, with my own mommy and by doing so filled her love tank and had mine filled in return. We shopped, had a fun lunch, and celebrated motherhood together.

And in doing so was able to return home Saturday night filled with love and peaceful acceptance for however Sunday would play out. I met my own emotional needs so that I could better meet Ozzie’s emotional needs.

While I was gone, the big kids and Toby hedged their bets too. They wanted me to have a special day, but knew all too well how most holidays play out in our home, so they were proactive and invested a huge amount of love and time into surprising me Saturday night with a beautiful yard.

While I was gone they went shopping at Home Depot, bought mulch and flowers, and mowed, trimmed, weeded, and planted their love into my heart. They spoke to me in my love language of service, and made me feel so loved and valued for Mother’s Day.

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I am so grateful for my kids and their big hearts!

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Tyler made my Mother’s Day sign.

 

The scope of Gracie’s love acts spread even further when she took Tyler shopping for ingredients for my Mother’s Day dinner. She had the lovely idea of buying a dozen roses and then letting Tyler hand them out, a rose at a time, while they grocery shopped, to mothers with children.

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I felt like this was a gift to me too, as she (with her own sacrifice of time and money) taught the valuable lesson of “love of service to Tyler” and showed him that the greatest joy in life comes from giving to others.

We were also proactive this year in choosing to not attend church for Mother’s Day, but worship at home. I knew Ozzie was unstable with all the emotions connected to Mother’s Day and I recognized that the kindest, healthiest way to help him through the day would be to hibernate at home, away from the Mother’s Day talks and lessons about loving mothers and gratitude for mothers, all which tear new wounds into an already fragile soul. I knew we needed to just lock the doors, and connect as a family, without external stimuli, so that is what we did.

And the love of God permeated our home.

The kids gave me their gifts of love and heartfelt, homemade cards, and we just hugged, loved, and prayed our way through the most difficult day of the year.

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Gracie gifted me with a manicure date with her and Molly this coming Friday. I was so touched!

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Fancy Bath and Body Works hand soaps from Molly.

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Molly’s words of love.

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A new paper towel holder from Rusty.

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And the cutest cookie jar ever from Tyler!!

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Tyler made his card all by himself this year. The portrait of the two of us melts my heart. He loves my eyes! 🙂

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Candles from Ozzie.

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Oh, those words. ❤

 

That day we felt the strengthening love of God as we celebrated mothers…The birth mothers that bore them, the foster mothers who raised them, and this mother who tries daily to live worthy of calling them her forever sons.

God is here.

God is healing.

God is Good!

An “Emotional” Halloween

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Last year we switched things up.

Normally everyone comes up with their own costume idea that they would like to bring to life on Halloween night. The talking, and planning, and preparations often begin a month or two in advance as Halloween is a favorite holiday in our family. The costumes chosen are quite often reflective of the phase they are currently in with game characters, movies characters, or book characters being popular themes.

Last year they decided they wanted our family to try a group costume and we decided on the theme of “Toy Story.”

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Everyone enjoyed having a themed family costume so much that this year the kids decided to go for a group costume once again. Starting in August discussion began on possible group costumes with consideration given to the number of characters available, the sex of those characters, and whether that theme was compatible with the make up of our family unit.

We knew Toby would be away for Halloween so we were looking for a group costume comprised of 3 male characters and 3 female characters.

Our visit to Disneyland focused our desire on a Disney movie theme for the group costume and we eventually came up with the idea of “Inside Out” as our costume theme.

For those unfamiliar with the movie “Inside Out” here is a synopsis:

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Growing up can be a bumpy road, and it’s no exception for Riley, who is uprooted from her Midwest life when her father starts a new job in San Francisco. Like all of us, Riley is guided by her emotions – Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness. The emotions live in Headquarters, the control center inside Riley’s mind, where they help advise her through everyday life. As Riley and her emotions struggle to adjust to a new life in San Francisco, turmoil ensues in Headquarters. Although Joy, Riley’s main and most important emotion, tries to keep things positive, the emotions conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house and school.”

“Inside Out” is a movie that is quite familiar to the children in our house, not only because of frequent viewings but also because we have used that movie as an effective therapy tool for the boys in the journey to help them better understand their emotions and the important role emotions play in their lives and in their healing.

In the movie there are six main characters in addition to Riley, the little girl. These characters are Sadness, Joy, Fear, Disgust and Anger…the emotions that run the control center in her brain. There is also Bing Bong, Riley’s childhood imaginary friend. These are the characters we decide to dress up as for Halloween.

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It was a fun theme that we embraced with enthusiasm! The characters chosen by each family member proved to be incredibly fitting, both in looks and temperament. 😉

Here is a peek at our finished costumes:

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Molly as “Joy”

 

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Tyler as “Anger”

 

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Grace as “Disgust”

 

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Ozzie as “Fear”

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Rusty as “Bing Bong”

And I dressed as “Sadness”

It was a Halloween full of emotions!

A Happy Halloween from our family to yours!

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Helping Tyler Heal…Helping Tyler FLY!

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“There are wounds that never show on the body, that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.”  -Laurel K. Hamilton

Here is the question I lay awake at night pondering:

Am I willing to sacrifice today’s comfort for the promise of life long peace.

The answer seems simple, right?

What if I present it this way…

Knowing that your child will battle a threatening, painful, chronic disease 20 years from now would you be willing to remove an infected limb today. Would you be willing to allow pain, discomfort and loss today for the hopes of a more promising future tomorrow?

That one is a little bit harder. Isn’t it.

As parents our lives are driven by this instinctual, basic need to protect our children. We would jump in front of a train for them. We would fight off a Grizzly to protect them. So when faced with the knowledge that to protect their future you must allow them to feel pain and discomfort today…well that is a hard pill to swallow.

This is the reality we are living. We are choosing to allow our son to feel horrible/ heart breaking pain today with hopes that it will save him from a lifetime of heartache in the future. But you can believe I would shoulder that pain in a minute, and save him from one more minute of hurt, if I could.

*sigh*

The walls are falling down.

Miss Tina, Tyler’s therapist, is doing amazing work.

Tyler is doing amazing work.

God is performing miracles.

After years of firmly cemented walls circling Tyler’s memories we find ourselves watching the bricks begin to fall. It all began with Tyler creating a road of his life in therapy. On a large piece of paper we have mapped out a road. Along the road we have drawn in milestones of his life. He is choosing the memories to add to his road. We are working to help him remember his life before us.

And now that we have chipped open a crack in that wall, the memories and emotions are flooding out. And Tyler is drowning in the waves. The result: paralyzing fears, terrifying nightmares, scary images in his head, triggers, tantrums, and tears…so many tears. This past week I have found him hidden and crying many times, trying so hard not to be caught in his “weakness.”

It breaks my heart but also causes my heart to sing praises, because tears mean trust. Tears mean attachment. Tears mean felt and shared emotions, and ultimately tears mean healing.

This week I found him crying in the bathroom. I sat down beside him on the cold, hardwood floor as he squeezed his hands to the sides of his head.

“Can you name your emotion?” I asked.

He shook his head, “No.”

Then he tentatively suggested, “But maybe I could color my feelings.”

Praise God!

I was singing the Hallelujah chorus inside as I gathered markers and paper. He took the art supplies, crawled under the dining room table and began releasing the feelings locked inside in frantic scribbles of black, red, purple and blue.

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As he colored he informed me that black= fear, blue= sad, purple= really sad, and red= mad sad.

He asked me to sit at the table as he worked.

As I sat at the table listening to the sounds of scribbles beneath me Tyler began to talk. In the same manner that he was coloring, the words tumbled out of him at a frantic speed, as though he couldn’t hold them in any longer.

The questions were powerful and profound and heartbreaking. They came from the deepest recesses of his soul and poured out as the flood of memories washed over him.

He began with, “I’m sad my brothers can’t live with me.”

Then asked, “Why did our birth parents not keep us?”

And then, “Was it because we were so bad?”

As I paused to consider my answers, I prayed, “Help me, Lord. Give me the words…Your words.”

I answered what I could and made notes for Tina on the things he said.

The words kept tumbling out.

The questions kept coming, not only that night but all week long…

“Why did my birth mom not love me?”

“Why could no one handle all us kids?

“Why couldn’t Michael just take care of us?”

“Every family always got rid of me. It is because I am so bad?”

“I want to remember what my birth parents looked like.”

“Why did God take all my memories of my mom away?”

“If I remember, will that turn me into a bad dad like my birth dad?”

Oh, my heart broke and my eyes leaked as his heart and greatest fears were laid bare on the floor before him.

And then he climbed from under the table, his paper in hand, to show me his work. It may not be worthy of a place in the Louvre, but I must say it is probably the most moving piece of art I’ve ever seen.

It is my son’s heart.

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“I feel better now, Momma,” he declared with a quick hug and a bounce.

“I think Miss Tina is going to be proud of me.”

I know she will be. We all are, Tyler! ❤

As a Momma I’d give all that that I have, all that I am, to take away the hurts and heal the hidden wounds. I wish there was some way I could save him from the painful journey that lies before him. I wish healing could come from sealing off the hurts and cauterizing the wounds, but that is never a lasting fix. The only way those deep down, infected, throbbing wounds heal is by opening them up and releasing the infection within.

These sort of hurts must heal from the inside out, which means opening wounds that have long been scabbed over. It is heartbreaking, as a parent, to know you must purposely rip off scabs and open hurts that have been sealed off, and allow for short term pain, all with the loving hope that the long term result will be feeling… and then healing….

And then my son will fly.

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And as a result of his powerful example

we will learn to soar too!

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Embracing Anger

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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.

Why?

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…

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“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!

There is no such thing as a “BAD” emotion.

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“Emotions are neutral. They are neither good or bad. They are simply emotions.”

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This was our lesson this week in therapy.

It was a lesson Ozzie needed to hear, but also a lesson I needed to hear.

The therapy session began, as it always does, with a review of our previous week…

our struggles…our victories….our growth.

We were able to celebrate another successful week. This summer has been wonderfully easy and smooth. Such a difference from last summer when every day was a struggle. It is lovely to be in that season of calm that comes after the storms, and before the next trial. I am grateful for the calm seasons of life. I appreciate them all the more when they follow a particularly trying time. This summer has been the reward for a challenging 18 months. 🙂

This is the season of renewal and reward.

The season of reaping.

The season of rest.

The season of reconnecting.

This is the season of rebuilding and preparing for the next hard season.

This week in therapy we discussed Ozzie’s latest homework assignment:

A few weeks ago I shared with Tina a pattern I was seeing with Ozzie. We would have a couple weeks of near perfect behavior and then over something small and insignificant we would have a nuclear sized explosion. The explosion in relation to the trigger was out of proportion. I didn’t understand. It was then that Tina explained what she thought was happening.

She explained that she felt that Ozzie was trying so hard to be good that he was internalizing all the emotions he felt were “bad.” Every feeling of worry, sadness, anger, and jealousy was stuffed deep down where it couldn’t be seen by others. The problem with stuffing feelings, however, is that at some point you are filled to capacity…

no more feelings can be stuffed down,

and so we explode.

She suggested that what we needed was a safety valve, a tool/ activity that allows for the safe and healthy release of emotions. She suggested we use the organ. Ozzie was given the task of “pounding” the organ keys while shouting out his feelings.

“I am so mad when I have to share my toys!”

“I hate that I can’t live with my sister!”

“I am scared I will be sent away!”

She explained that by giving him a daily outlet to safely release the emotions that are festering within there won’t be the build up and explosions we are occasionally seeing.

We have begun implementing this therapy tool in our daily routines. I have seen it be a blessing and a help but Ozzie struggles with the activity. He hates doing it. So at therapy I asked Tina if we could address his aversion to this therapy tool.

When asked about it Ozzie explained that it made him uncomfortable. He felt “Bad” when he said those things. He didn’t want to admit that he felt angry or jealous because he doesn’t want to be like his dad…

the man who lashed out in anger and abusiveness.

Wow.

I felt like another layer had been peeled away and I better understood my son. He was so afraid of becoming his biological father that he fears feeling any emotion he perceives as “Bad.”

Tina then made two columns on the whiteboard of her office. She labeled them “Good emotions” and “Bad emotions.” We began making a list. I would call out an emotion, Ozzie would say whether it was good or bad, and Tina would write it in the appropriate column. It was a fascinating exercise.

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When we were done we discussed some of the different emotions. Tina used “scared” for an example. She asked why Ozzie felt “scared” was a bad emotion.

“Because we shouldn’t be afraid, we should be happy,” he explained.

She then proceeded to show how fear could be a good emotion:

“Ozzie, let’s pretend a tiger just walked into my office. You would probably feel afraid, right? And that fear would make your heart pump and make you breathe hard. You heart is pumping hard to send blood to your legs so that the muscles in your legs have the blood they need to run away. You are breathing hard to give your lungs the oxygen needed to run to safety. If you saw that tiger and just felt happy then you wouldn’t be physically prepared to run to safety. You would probably get hurt. That is an example where fear would be a “good” emotion.”

She continued down the list of “good” and “bad” emotions explaining situations where that emotion could easily fit in the opposite category.

“The truth, Ozzie, is that no emotion is good or bad. All emotions are neutral. They are just emotions. The only thing that is good or bad is how you choose to act on that emotion.”

Emotions are simply a point on a map to show you where you are.

They need to be felt.

They need to be acknowledged.

They must be validated…

then expressed in a healthy, appropriate way.

This lesson was an important one,

for Ozzie to hear

and for me.

This week we may both be pounding out our emotions on the keys of the organ.

I have some long suppressed emotions that are begging for release. 🙂

“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.”

It is time to make some music!