Tag Archives: RAD

Demolition Derby!

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Adopting two boys with a history of early childhood abuse and trauma has had a profound effect on all aspects of our life. It has changed the way we see and navigate our world. It has made me question truths that were once embedded in me and flipped any parenting strategies that were tried and true with my older children, on their head. Parenting a child from trauma requires me to pause, consider how I instinctually would respond to the situation, and then do the complete opposite.

It is like living every day as “Backwards Day.” One area where this is particularly true is how I respond to emotional escalation. When my children were little and they would start to escalate or spin out of control, my instinctual response was to channel my internal “Mr. Rogers,” lower my voice, speak softly and calmly, and decrease the energy level of the situation.

When parenting a child that comes from trauma, this approach is not only ineffective but can have the opposite effect that you are seeking. For children who come from abusive homes calm, quiet, and soft voices are unfamiliar and scary. They are so foreign to these kids that were raised in an environment of chaos and heightened fear. I have discovered that when children from hard places are feeling emotionally out of control often what they are most in need of is external chaos. By increasing the energy level, by bringing an unexpected and crazy response to meet their chaos, their internal anxiety lowers.

I know it sounds so counterproductive to those of us who come from healthy homes, but for children who have lived their entire life in a state of heightened adrenaline, calm is unknown and uncomfortable.

It has taken me a long time to reprogram my approach. It takes presence of mind to walk into one of the boys’ meltdowns and rather than talking calmly and trying to diffuse the escalation, amp up the energy with a pillow fight, a Three Stooges comedy routine, or an impromptu Nerf battle.

I knew Friday was going to be rough. Ozzie was returning home and with his return came heightened emotions on everyone’s part. I knew the situation was a ticking time bomb.

Ozzie was angry and blaming me for his time at the hospital.

Tyler was fearful of Ozzie’s return home.

And everyone else was emotionally on edge.

I knew it was time to pull out the big guns and amp up the energy and chaos is a big way, so as to avoid a crisis. I had to choose a parent driven, fun, healthy form of chaos before the boys tried to meet their own need for chaos in an unhealthy and destructive way.

Friday evening Toby and I just had the two little boys with us. Molly was at work. Rusty was on a white-water rafting adventure with his Boy Scout troop, and Grace was recovering from wisdom teeth surgery (more on those adventures in a future blog) so we made plans to have some one on one time with Tyler and Ozzie. We knew it needed to be high energy and adrenaline filled, given the emotionally instability of everyone with Ozzie’s return home. We were also looking for an activity that would bond and connect Tyler and Ozzie in a healthy way, with the hope some shared fun would dispel the fears Tyler was having of Ozzie’s return home.

So, what did we do??

We headed to the Butler Farm Show for some messy, muddy, noisy fun at the Demolition Derby!

I knew it was the PERFECT activity for the boys.

We arrived at the Butler Farm Show just as the Demolition Derby was beginning. Despite the rain, the crowds were high.

We parked in an outer field and took the tractor-pulled wagon to the front gate.

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At the front gate, we purchased tickets and headed in.

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The sun was just starting to lower in the sky and the neon lights of the rides and booths lit up the fair grounds.

We walked past the buildings that held all the 4-H farm animals.

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We stepped into the arena where the demolition derby was being held and the place was buzzing with excitement.

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We missed the first heat but saw the after effects of the destruction which just fueled the boys’ excitement for what was coming.

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As we sought out seats in the already packed stands we ran across friends and stopped for a quick chat.

We eventually settled ourselves near the top of the stands…seats that allowed us a sweeping view of all the action without any of the flying mud that accompanied the lower seats.

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The next round of cars drove out and lined up for the next heat.

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The competitors drove junk cars that had been dolled up and personalized with paint and props, which was as cosmetically effective as putting lipstick on a pig,

But the results were comical. There was much creativity put into the designs.

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Then the countdown began…

5, 4, 3, 2, 1…

And the destruction began.

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Much like an adult version of bumper cars, the vehicles rammed, crashed, and collided into each other.

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The thrill level increased as tires flew off, bumpers crumpled, and engines caught on fire.

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It was everything a little boy loves: cars, mud, noise and destruction.

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Not only did they love it, but they enjoyed it together. It was a shared thrill, a connecting experience, one step closer to bonding.

As chaos ensued below us I watched as the boys found peace with the thoughts in their head.

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They were still. They were calm. They were happy.

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By feeding their need for chaos with a fun, healthy, high adrenaline experience we found some peace.

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Oh, the irony!

I have a feeling there will be more demolition derbies in our future.

 

A Safe Circle

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On Thursday morning we received news of Ozzie’s discharge date. After three weeks in Mercy’s DAS program for acute stabilization they deemed him safe to return home.

This was good news as we have missed Ozzie being home with his family where he belongs, but I’d be lying if I said that the news didn’t stir up hard emotions in the other children. Ozzie’s absence has been a time of respite for us all. Prior to being admitted things had escalated to a level we had never experienced before, and the effect on everyone was heartbreaking. His heightened level on aggression and rage left the other children fearful of what might happen next.

This has been especially true for Tyler whose trauma background makes him especially susceptible to that fight, flight or freeze response when Ozzie starts escalating. It is a hard, heartbreaking situation to be in as a mom. By meeting the emotional needs of one child I am triggering the memories of trauma and destroying the feelings of safety in another. It is an impossible position to be in and requires a constant, concerted effort to meet everyone’s needs and keep everyone stable.

The news that Ozzie was returning home brought mixed feelings of happiness but also worry and concern and perhaps a bit of dread, knowing what home life was like last time he was home. The emotions of the older kids were evident only to this Momma’s well trained eyes as I saw an increase in sensitivity, irritability and tears over trivial things. I could see that they were struggling with worries about the storm that could be brewing on the horizon, but it was Tyler that most concerned me. The absence of violence and aggression these last few weeks transformed Tyler into a child whose was “lighter.” The absence of fear was apparent in the way he laughed more easily, interacted more joyfully, and engaged more readily. He was a different child.

The news of Ozzie’s discharge date brought back all those old fears of not feeling safe. Memories of the chaos and abuse in his unsafe birth home tend to bubble to the surface when there is emotional chaos and escalation at home.

I didn’t know how desperately he was seeking and begging for safety until the morning of Ozzie’s discharge when I found him outside. He was coloring with chalk on the sidewalk. I sat down beside him and asked him what he was drawing.

“A Safe Circle,” he replied.

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I had never heard him use that term before so I asked him what a safe circle was.

He answered, “It is a place where no one can hurt me.

Now this is not a term or a strategy that has ever come up in therapy. It was a coping tool Tyler created on his own, which is a huge step forward from the emotional “freezes” he has been having lately. Here he felt unsafe and came up with a strategy to bring that feeling of felt safety he was in need of.

I asked him to tell me about his safe circle.

He explained that as long as he sat in his circle Ozzie couldn’t hurt him.

I asked who was allowed in his safe circle and he began to draw.

He drew Toby and I. He drew Grace, Molly and Rusty. He drew the dogs, and then he drew himself.

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It is hard to describe the flood of mixed emotions that crashed over me as I sat on the sidewalk with that broken little boy.

I grieved for the pain he has felt in his short life that makes him so afraid.

I grieved for the pain Ozzie has felt at the hands of his biological parents that make him so angry.

I grieved for the profound loss of what our family once was, a loss that is deeply felt by my older children.

I grieved for all the children that are still living in their own personal hells that haven’t been rescued.

I grieved for those children who may never get a chance at love and a healthy family.

I grieved for the families that are also in the trenches fighting the hard fight to save their children from their past,

I grieved, but I also found myself buoyed up by gratitude…

Gratitude for a testimony of a God greater than earthly heartbreak,

Grateful for His hand in leading us to the people and services that support and help us in this journey,

Grateful for second chances, do-overs, and the unfailing hope that things will get better.

It broke my heart to see the artistic manifestation of Tyler’s deepest fears crudely drawn out at my feet, by it also brought forth a bubble of gratitude and hopefulness. He did it. He faced his dark demons and rather than cower under their power he used his voice to name the fear and then came up with a strategy to face that fear.

A Safe Circle may seem silly and ineffective in facing all that we face in our home but this was the emotional equivalent of Tyler donning his armor for self protection, which is a HUGE step forward in his therapeutic journey towards overcoming his past.

The next step is healing the brokenness of the relationships under our own roof and part of that is helping Ozzie and Tyler connect again with the absence of Fear and Anger getting in their way.

We began healing the past destruction by inviting a different form of chaos and destruction on Friday night with a visit to the demolition derby. Stay tuned for the recap of our muddy, messy, noisy adventure!

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I Love my TRIBE

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Many may be surprised to know this about me..

Those who know me well will not,

but at core of who I am

lies a tried and true introvert.

When I say this to people I often get the response, “No you’re not. You are so outgoing.”

I will correct them and answer, “I fake it. I was raised by a mom who is people lover and extrovert through and through so my survival technique in social settings is to channel the spirit of my mother, ask myself, ‘What would mom do?,’ and conform in the most socially appropriate way until I can escape to the sanctuary of my own company.

I think that is why I love to blog and write letters. Both are activities that allow me that rare duel opportunity of both socializing/conversing while also being alone with my own thoughts and company.

I know this might be completely altering your perception of me and maybe even lowering your opinion of me,  🙂

but I always strive to be honest, and the truth is:

“My name is Katie and I find small talk tedious, talking to strangers burdensome, and being social engaging overwhelming and exhausting.”

I wish I had a bit more of my mother in me. I wish I eagerly sought out new faces with the same driven desire to hear their life story. I wish I cared deeply enough and was emotionally invested enough to remember everyone’s children’s hobbies and interests and birthdays. I wish I could be that person that looks at a room of new strangers with a thrill of anticipation of the possibility of making 200 new friends. I wish my stomach didn’t drop when an invitation comes in the mail or when the phone rings. I wish a night out with a group of ladies held as much appeal as a night at home with a book and a cup of peppermint tea.

Ok…now I really sound bad.

Its not that I don’t love people. It is not that I am anti social. It is not that I am a friend snob. I am just an introvert at the center of my soul.

What does that mean?

This sums it up well:

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And while the introverted side of me struggles with large groups, the strength of an introvert is their loyalty and complete devotion to their closest friends…that small group of safe friends that they deem their “tribe.”

People in general drain me. No, that is not quite right…

It is more like social expectations drain me.

And the more emotionally tapped out I am by stress at home (like the stress we have been consumed with the last 6 months) the more I find myself avoiding social situations that will drain me even more. Others may perceive it as me isolating or pulling away when in reality it is just self preservation. In the midst of the chaos happening at home I am desperately searching for quiet, peace, and alone time to recenter my thoughts and refill my bucket.

 My bucket fills with those closely guarded moments of solitude. The exception to that rule is my tribe.

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My tribe consists of my family and closest friends. Those people I can share my heart with safely. Those are the people that fill my emotional bucket as opposed to draining it. I am not one to have many, many friends, but rather I tend to draw close to a handful of ladies that I shower all of my energy and effort into connecting with. My tribe is my safe place, my happy place, my stabilizing force, my council and my joy. I am grateful for my tribe. I don’t know how I would navigate this heartbreakingly hard season of life without them. I draw from their strength and their friendship.

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This week I had two opportunities for “tribe time.” One came in the form of a Relief Society garden party and the other in the form of a co-op ladies night out. Both filled my bucket. It was so nice to connect with friends I haven’t seen all summer. The show of concern, the words of encouragement, and the opportunity to laugh and be light, free of responsibilities and worries for a few hours was a lovely gift.

I am grateful for my tribe.

 

I hate Blogging

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Blogging is therapeutic for me,

But sometimes I hate it…

Because by recording our journey with words, the heartbreak and pain of this journey become all the more real.

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When I decided to begin making a recording of our adoption journey I made a promise to myself that my recordings would be real and honest. That I would be brave enough to be authentic, with the hope that others might be strengthened in their own hard journeys, knowing that they aren’t alone in the struggle of mortality.

But it sometimes is hard and disheartening to have to follow a good news blog with a sad news blog…

But this is the heartbreaking reality of raising a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder. Emotionally they can escalate from joyful to enraged at a speed of 0 to 60, especially when faced with a positive, happy, family bonding experience like the vacation we just arrived home from and the trip to my brother’s wedding we are leaving on in a few days.

I won’t go into the specifics of all that has transpired over the last five days, suffice it to say, it had been heartbreaking. Ozzie is in a very dark place and confirmed his struggles at therapy on Tuesday when he told his therapist that he didn’t feel safe with himself. He shared the dark thoughts and fantasies he had been having, as well as the heartbreaking flashbacks that were consuming him. It was decided at once that he had to be hospitalized again.

He wasn’t safe to travel to Texas for the wedding.

Tina was fearful for his life and said he needed to be placed under suicide watch immediately.

Once stabilized he will spend the next 4 weeks at Mercy Hospital’s DAS program where he will undergo more intensive inpatient trauma therapy to help him process the flashbacks of past abuse that are the source of his emotionally instability right now.

My heart is breaking.

This isn’t how I pictured my brother’s wedding.

This isn’t how I pictured our adoption journey.

This isn’t how I pictured my life.

I mourn for all that has been lost.

I mourn for what could have been.

But I especially mourn for this hurting, broken boy who feels so unworthy of life.

This isn’t the blog I wanted to write.

I’d like to end with a note of hope,

But I am empty.

This is me being courageously real and authentic.

Please pray for us.

 

 

Crossing the Grand Canyon

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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.

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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…

Lies like:

“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.

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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.

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Moments of Summer

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I was going through my photos the other day and realized how many captured moments of our life have been missed as I blog the big events. It was time for another “catch up” recording of the little moments that make up the molecules of this beautiful life we are living.

Grace is a seminary graduate! In our church the high school students have the opportunity to participate in a daily scripture study course that takes place for an hour, before school each day. This is a huge commitment for the students that choose to participate, but also a magnificent blessing in the lives of these youth. Grace, Molly and Rusty were all seminary students this past year, and Grace completed her fourth and final year. We were attending her high school graduation on the weekend of her seminary graduation so we were unable to attend but she received her diploma and congratulatory poster after arriving back home. Congratulations, Grace! We are so proud of you!

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Around here we have been anxiously engaged in preparing for Trek. Next week my three oldest kids will be joining other youth from our area on a three day adventure in Virginia. Dressed in pioneer clothing they will have the chance to experience the joys and hardships of our pioneer ancestors as they trek across the rolling hills of the Marriott Ranch, pulling handcarts. Grace had the opportunity to participate in Trek 4 years ago and can’t wait to go again. This time the three oldest kids get to share the experience.

In preparation for their days of hiking and handcart pulling, we have been conditioning with daily walks.

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We have also been getting their pioneer clothing ready. The girls opted to sew their skirts and aprons and spent this last week completing their outfits. They can’t wait. It promises to be a life changing experience and a grand adventure!

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In between appointments and extra therapy sessions we have managed to fit in some visits to the pool. We are members of Ellwood City pool and have begun packing a lunch and spending the afternoons there following our daily trek-prep walks on non-therapy/tutoring days.

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It has been lovely to lay out in the sun, read a book, and swim in the pool…fully embracing the lazy days of summer.

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A few nights ago we had an unexpected power outage, following a summer storm. Luckily it happened just as I finished dishing up dinner so we enjoyed a romantic supper and family game night by candlelight. The kids found it to be a fun adventure.

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This summer’s primary focus has been on doing attachment and therapy work with both boys. Summer offers the perfect opportunity to really invest ourselves in a way that can be more challenging during the school year when schoolwork fills our schedules.

One way we have incorporated more intentional therapy efforts is through daily one on one sessions with the two little boys. We have always done weekly one on one sessions with the kids since my big kids were little. During their weekly one on one time they pick an activity they want to do with mom while the other kids play in their rooms. It has been a heart connecting and relationship strengthening tool that has greatly blessed me in my relationship with my kids.

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Tyler playing with edible Play-Doh that we made during his one on one time.

With the three oldest I am still doing a weekly one hour date (like this one with Grace when we made chocolate dipped frozen bananas this week,)

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But with the little boys we have started having shorter, daily one on one times. This comes from education we received at the Empowered to Connect conference this past spring. One of the three principles of Trust Based Relational Intervention is Connecting,

And one of the strategies for connecting in a very structured way is through daily 15 minute one on one time sessions with your child…a strategy I have been using this summer with Tyler and Ozzie. Much of what I was doing with the older kids was exactly what I needed to be doing with the boys, my engagement just needed to be tweaked a bit. Here are the guidelines (from TBRI principles) that I have been following as we have our daily one on one time.

  1. Start the time together by connecting. We do this through touch (taking their hands) and making eye contact.
  2. Use your voice to regulate them. If their energy is extra high use softer voice and slower cadence to bring down the energy level. If they are lethargic use a high energy voice to bring them up.
  3. Play together. This isn’t a time to instruct, teach, or question them. Just play.
  4. Copy or follow what they are doing. If you are painting together and they paint a tree, follow their lead and paint the same thing. This tells them that their ideas are worthwhile, building esteem and attachment.
  5. Praise their character. (Not what they do.) Tell them what a good kid they are, how much you love them, etc.
  6. Be close enough to touch. You want to sit in close enough proximity that you can reach out and pat their back or squeeze their arm as you praise them.
  7. At the end of your play time connect again with touch and eye contact. “Thanks for playing with me today. I love spending time with you!”

It has proven to be a powerful and effective tool to foster greater connection and stronger attachment between me and my boys.

During one of their “special times” this week each boy asked if we could print out pictures of sports cars from the computer and sketch/color our versions of them.

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It was a lot of fun and it was neat to see them both so engaged in such creative pursuits.

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Tyler even went one step further and asked me to print out a photo of him that he could cut out and glue into the drivers seat. The completed picture now hangs on his door. 🙂

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Moments like these are my greatest blessings!

 

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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Longing to heal him

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I never really experienced pain until I was a mother.

As a teen I certainly thought that my level of anguish over what seemed catastrophic to my teen self was beyond any pain anyone else, living or dead, ever experienced…

Oh, to be 16 and stupidly self-focused again.

But I had no idea what real pain and deep heartache felt like until I cared more for another than myself.

For me, this transfer of focus and newly honed empathy came with the birth of my first child when my heart first began walking around outside my body.

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With the addition of every child, biological or adopted, I lost more and more of my heart protection and experienced real, raw, heart wrenching heartache as I had to stand by powerless to protect or free my children from their pains.

This feeling of powerlessness is all the more intense when the hurts they are dealing with are not ones that I can simply “love away.” These “boo boos” are far too deep and festering to simply kiss and make better.

This weekend I spent 12 hours on Friday night at the Emergency Room, sitting by the bedside of one of my children who was in incredible pain.

As we watched the hours pass on the clock above the bed,

waiting for relief from the pain,

while listening to the incessant beep of a monitor,

completely helpless in my ability to take away the pain,

I wanted to weep.

I have never known pain as deep, and raw, and aching as the pain I feel watching my son suffer.

The last few months have been heartbreakingly hard for one of our adopted sons. This child is being consumed with newly developed flashbacks of abuse that he had blocked out. Abuse far worse than any that were reported when he was taken from his birth family. Abuse memories that cause him to curl up in a ball, squeeze his eyes shut, and cover his ears, as he tries to “turn off” the movie playing in his head.

These memories of abuse are so painful that he expressed a need to do whatever he had to, to make them go away.

He yelled, and then cried, and then whispered in defeat, exhausted by the constant torment of the past …”I think it would be better to just die. Please, just let me die.”

So there we were, at 4:30 in the morning, waiting for the ambulance to take him from the ER to a place where he could be monitored, and stabilized, and get more help than could be offered in outpatient therapy.

And it was one of the hardest nights of my life.

You know, I once thought I knew what pain felt like.

But I didn’t…not really.

Watching your son, who has lived his entire life fighting for a chance to be loved and longing to feel worthy of love, drown under the nightmares of the past…

Nightmares so horrid that death seems preferable…

That is pain.

But while suffering through the shared pain of hate and abuse, I have also discovered the redeeming power of LOVE.

Maybe I can’t “love” the pain away from my suffering son, but I know someone who can.

Because He also suffered such pain. He chose it and bore it so that He could say to each of us,

“You are not alone.”

That is the pain of Gethsemane.

That is the suffering of Christ,

From our pain,

brokenness,

hopelessness

and suffering

blooms redemption.

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Please pray for my son.

holland

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.”

 

Angels Come in all Shapes and Sizes

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BOB

He was a big man. Standing 6’5″, he towered over Ozzie. Like Oz, he was nervous and unsettled, unsure of this unorthodox meeting. His hands were worn and calloused, and I could feel the effects of hard living on his hands as he stood to greet me with a hand shake.

He was broken.

Like, Ozzie, he carried the weight of a horrific past on his shoulders, bent by the burden and misplaced shame of an abused child.

But when he finally looked up I could see his soul shinning out of his pale blue eyes. Under that mountain of grief, pain, and survival behaviors, lay a heart so big and so vast.

He was a kind man.

While his speech and demeanor were tough and rough, it didn’t take long to see the gentle kindness that was at the heart of this goliath.

I didn’t know what to expect. I approached the meeting with prayers and fasting, certain this was orchestrated by God, but fearful of well-intended plans derailing, causing even more hurt to the two souls who we were trying to help heal.

When Tina approached me a month or two ago with a therapy idea so off the books and unorthodox, I was surprised. In a world of privacy laws and HIPPA regulations, what she was proposing was unheard of. She had never done anything like it before and all she could say to justify this unusual therapy approach is, “God has been laying this idea on my heart for 8 months. What do you think?”

My surprise turned to hope as she further explained her idea. She wasn’t even done explaining her thought process when the Spirit confirmed that this was God-orchestrated. Tina was simply the faithful messenger.

She explained that she has another patient she works with. He is a 6’5″, mid-forty year old man, who is seeking therapy for the first time to address childhood abuse he suffered at the hands of his father. She explained she had been working with him for the last two years and every time she meets with him, she sees Ozzie 30 years in the future.

Their stories are eerily similar. Their abuse, almost identical. Their self hatred and guilt and belief that they should have been able to fix it or stop it, equally misplaced. They both struggle with the same self hate, the same anger, and the same intense anxiety and depression, as a result of being abused as innocents, and Tina felt that perhaps, in a world of feeling so alone, they might finally find understanding and healing in each other.

This week they met for the first time, with Tina, Toby and I there to offer support.

As this gentle giant shared his story of abuse with Ozzie, Ozzie stared in awe, interrupting with, “Me too!”

As this grown man listened to Ozzie share the atrocities he experienced at the hand of his birth parents, we watched as this grown man wept, perhaps seeing himself as a child in Ozzie’s small stature.

They bonded over a shared past and the same current struggles.

The compared coping strategies, confided current worries, and expressed the struggles they have now in trusting people and allowing others to love them.

It was divinely therapeutic.

This grown man was able to look at Ozzie and say to Oz what his childhood self most needed to hear.

And Ozzie was able to listen to “B’s” story, and the poor choices he made in adulthood because of misplaced anger, and realize that he has a choice in what he does with his abuse story moving forward. Ozzie can choose to take that anger and hurt others, or work through that anger and choose better than his birth parents.

From this man came words of encouragement,

 As well as  words of admonishment, “Ozzie, we NEVER hurt women. It doesn’t matter how angry a man feels inside, he never takes that anger out on his mother.”

“B” cheered Ozzie’s talents, listened to his stories, wept for his pain, praised his courage as a survivor, and connected with him over their shared past.

For the first time, in perhaps both of their lives, neither felt alone in their pain.

It was an odd matching…this tall, shy, blue-collared man and this small, precocious, four-eyed boy. Who would have thought, in a world filled with 7.5 billion people, they would find their greatest support in each other…

Only a Great, Almighty, Heavenly Father…

One who looks down on both of them and sees precious, broken, greatly loved sons!

God is good. Always good!

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