Tag Archives: reactive attachment disorder

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.

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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.”

 

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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“Empowered to Connect”

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On April 7th and 8th I had the opportunity to attend an “Empowered to Connect” seminar, offered as a simulcast through a church in Beaver. It was 16 hours of education and insight into the effects of trauma on kids and how to parent kids from hard places.

I attended with hope that I would glean even a crumb of knowledge that would help me parent my adopted sons. We have been in crisis mode for the last six months and it has taken its toll on our family. I went, desperate for help, hoping for the missing key…and I got it.

It is not an exaggeration to say it was life changing.

And for the first time in a long time I felt HOPE.

It has been a dark, long, lonely winter and it was as though I had caught sight of the first frail crocus pressing up through the snow with promises of spring on its petals.

I felt the hope of “what could be” course through my veins as I drank in the answers to all the “whys” and hows” that have consumed me for so long.

I felt God calling.

I finally had the map to this foreign land I have been wandering through for the last four years. The key is in the trauma and how we address the trauma, rather than focusing on the behaviors which are the external manifestation to the trauma.

It was my Oprah Winfrey “ah ha” moment.

We had some pieces of the puzzle. Some of these things we were doing instinctually, some were tips we had read, and much of our wisdom came in the form of puzzle pieces given to us by our therapist, Miss Tina , but this experience was as though someone finally showed us the lid to the puzzle box. I finally understood what all those pieces were meant to look like when put together and it gave me an end vision of what we were working toward. It finally all made sense.

Now that we have answers we jump into this new way of parenting. It will be hard. It will require commitment. It will be a long, tiring, ever evolving road. But we now understand where that road began and where we are headed, and so we will begin again, better prepared for the journey!

I now give “an out” to all of you who follow and support us but perhaps aren’t in the trenches yourself from having to finish reading the second half of this blog in which I share a small sprinkling of this amazing therapeutic parenting strategy,

But if you are one of my fellow RADish families, or you are a friend or family member of someone who is struggling, perhaps you will find a nugget of wisdom that will help ease some of the weight you carry or someone you love is carrying.

For local friends: If you read this and feel so called to learn more there will be a rebroadcast of this incredible seminar, “Empowered to Connect”

“Pathway Church will be hosting the rebroadcast of the Empowered to Connect conference on Friday and Saturday, April 28th and 29th from 10:00am.-6:00pm. The program was developed by the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, a child development expert. Since its a rebroadcast, it will be a free event however childcare and lunch will not be provided. If you would like more information about the event, please contact Michelle Smith at milomiche410@gmail.com

(What you will get from the conference far exceeds what little information you can glean from my notes!)

Here is a smidgen of what I learned:

Understanding the science behind the effectiveness of TBRI:

The trauma our kids have experienced have had a neurological effect on how their brains function. Kids from hard places tend to have an underdeveloped “upstairs brain,” the part of the brain that allows us to think, reason, learn, remember and regulate our emotions. They also have a hypersensitive “downstairs brain,” that is responsible for survival responses. This means kids who have been traumatized react in extreme ways and take more time to regulate and calm down. They may even perceive non-threatening situations as threatening.

Trauma is a wounding. It overwhelms the ordinary adaptations to life. Trauma can create PTSD.   This is not just an emotional response to troubling events; it’s the expression of a persistent deregulation of body and brain chemistry.   Brain is assaulted by neurotransmitters — brain chemistry can be altered for decades.  With this change, arousing events can trigger flashbacks.

Trauma creates chaos in our brain.   The amygdala is a small, almond-shaped portion of the brain.  It’s the emotional part. It’s the primitive part of the brain.  It interprets messages that there’s danger or it’s safe.  It knows nothing about reasoning or cognitive functions. It deals with feelings and emotions. It controls emotional reactions such as fear & anger.

(Amygdala) It’s the alarm portion of the brain. It becomes highly active during and while remembering a traumatic incident.  It controls our behavior. When you’ve been in trauma it’s hypersensitive–overreacts to normal stimuli.

 Trauma freezes thinking.

Traumatized people have alterations in their brain. Memory is affected by lapses–there are deficits in verbal recall.

The frontal cortex ability is decreased. Less ability to do left-brain functions–it can’t distinguish a real threat from a false threat.  Intense stress or trauma is accompanied by the release of hormones.   A nerve running out of the brain to the adrenal glands triggers adrenaline and noradrenaline secretions.   Adrenaline and noradrenaline surge through the blood stream causing the heart to beat faster and prime the body for an emergency.

Then these hormones activate receptors on the vagus nerve running back to the brain. This causes the heart to continue to beat faster, but also signals various parts of the brain to supercharge that intense emotional memory.   These hormones assist the individual to mobilize in the event of emergency. They also sweep through the body, return to the brain, and trigger the release of more equally powerful hormones (cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine, oxytocin, vasopressin and opioids).

This flood of hormones produces the “fight-flight” response in most people.  When a trauma hits up to 70% of your brain-bound oxygen is diverted into your muscles to propel you somewhere else.

(This will read as bad behavior in our kids…hitting, breaking, biting, bolting)

But for a few individuals, it produces a “freeze” mode. In this instance, all those hormones are rushing through the body and have no appropriate physical response.  The stress has paralyzed the victim.

(This can read as defiance in our kids)

The behaviors can’t be fixed through consequences or bribes because what we are dealing with isn’t a “I won’t” issue. It is a “I can’t” issue. The response is a deep seeded physiological response to a perceived threat.

Every behavior has a function so we must ask ourselves, “What is the need behind the behavior?” In other words, “The behavior is the smoke. The need is the fire. We must train ourselves to look past the smoke to see the fire.”

When parenting kids from hard places we must see the trauma behind the behavior if we are to respond in a healthy healing way.

 

“If we attack behavior without compassionate insight as to why a behavior exists, then we never generate true lasting healing for our children.” -Karyn Purvis

What does that mean in a practical sense?

Step 1: Recognize what is happening in that moment by practicing mindfulness in our parenting. We must think “trauma” not “behaviors” when we see our children losing control (ie: fight, flight, or freeze mode.)

Step 2: Once we are in the trauma mindset we must step in to help our children regulate. We do this by approaching our children calmly and connecting by getting on their level, making eye contact, through touch, behavioral matching and playful interaction.  “Connection must come before correction.”

Step 3: Ask our child two key questions:

  1. Do you need help regulating? (We need to serve as our child’s external modem until they learn to self-regulate)
  2. Then ask, “What do you need?”

Step 4:  As you engage with your child apply strategies that empower our kids to succeed.

  1. Consider their physiological state. Are we addressing their cognitive well-being by meeting their physical needs? (i.e.: sleep needs, managing hydration, managing blood sugar, regular physical activity, etc.)
  2. Apply ecological strategies. The ecological strategies help us design our schedule and environment so that we can avoid common breakdowns through the day. We do this by:
  3. Managing transitions. Transitions are hard for our kids (even good transitions) because they represent change and the unknown. Consider our children’s life experiences and what transitions they have lived through and we suddenly become more empathetic with the heightened emotional response we get when a daily or life transition takes place for our kids. We can help them manage by giving them reminders, announcing upcoming transitions, and giving five minute warnings.
  4. Develop regular rituals (routines that foster connection) to anchor parts of your day which will increase feeling of security in kids that come from hard places (i.e.: prayer times, bedtime stories, playtimes)

Step 5: Give our children the tools needed to self-regulate. Help them discover a tool box of self-regulation tools that help them regulate when they go into fight, flight or freeze mode. Some ideas include: the use of a weighted blanket, chewing gum, physical activity, or calming activities.

Step 6: Respond in an IDEAL way.

Immediately. We should be addressing behaviors within 3 seconds.

Directly. Go to them, make eye contact, use an authoritative voice, use appropriate touch and playful interaction.

Efficiently. Our level of response needs to meet the level of the behavior. “Don’t use an elephant gun to kill a fly.”

            Levels of escalation:

Level 1: (Playful Engagement) Low level of escalation, sassy tones,  interrupting.    Parent response: playful engagement, “re-dos,” actively learning.

Level 2: (Structured Engagement) Higher level but there is no physical threat. No one is in danger. Parent response: Be firmer, try to get them to express their needs verbally through negotiation rather than using behaviors to express their frustration.

Level 3: (Calming Engagement) Situation has escalated to the point where a child needs help regulating and calming themselves. Parent response: help the child regulate.

Level 4: (Protective Engagement) Active threat of danger and harm.  Parent response: Provide safety for all involved.

(If engaging in an IDEAL way the situation should never escalate to a level 4.)

 

Action Based. Resolution should be action based, allowing our kids to make amends through their actions.

Leveled at the Behavior. We never attack the child’s character. That only feeds into feelings of self-loathing and shame. Correction should ALWAYS be leveled at the behavior not the child. Making it clear that while their behavior is not o.k. they are still deeply loved. Children who come from a trauma background have a very powerful shame core. Our interactions with our children should never feed into that internal shame. “These children bled before they came to us. They shouldn’t bleed in our care.”

Step 7: Powerful response tools to help our children and the situation from escalating:

  1. “Are you asking me or telling me?” (level 1)
  2. “Try that again with respect.” (level 1)
  3. “Do you need a re-do?” (level 1)
  4. “No hurts. Please try that again.” (level 1)
  5. Give two choices. “Which one do you choose?” (level 2)
  6. “Do you need a compromise?” (level 2)
  7. “It looks like you are having a hard time regulating. What do you need right now?” (level 3)

Step 8:  After the interaction everyone involved should leave the experience feeling calm, connected, and content. That is successful engagement.

Step 9: Other strategies that build trust and foster attachment:

–         Say “yes.” For every “no” you give your child you should be seeking seven opportunities in the day to say, “yes.”

–         Use Time-in rather than Time-outs.

–         When things are hard bring the child closer rather than sending them away.

–         Parent with resolutions rather than consequences.

–         Have daily planned one on one time daily to connect with each child. This time (10 minutes) should begin with connection (eye contact and touch), should be child led play. During this time the parent should not teach, parent, or question. Let the child lead the play. Match their behavior, praise their character and engage in healthy touch. Daily one-on-one time fosters attachment.

–          Create purposeful learning activities to teach life skills during non-escalated times. During a meltdown is not the time to teach the importance of saying, “please.” Instead these important life skills should be taught through playful engagement. (ie: playing “Mother may I “PLEASE” take three steps?”)

So how will you know if TBRI is working? Karyn Purvis’s answer:

“You will know it is working when joy and laughter return to your home.”

“Equipped with deep understanding of attachment, sensory processing, brain chemistry of fear, the impact of my history, and strategies to connect, we can bring deep healing to our children.” – Karyn Purvis

 

Welcome Home, Ozzie!

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A potholder Ozzie made me in art therapy.

Ozzie is back home.
And it is a blessing.
This last month ended up being a true gift from God and we witnessed God’s hand in the entire experience from start to finish. I am grateful for Tina’s nudge to consider the 28 day program because the experience was life changing for all involved.
It gave my other children a month of respite to heal from secondary trauma, as well as get some therapeutic help to address the hurts and fears that come with living with a loved one who has Reactive Attachment Disorder.
It also gave Toby and I an opportunity to regroup, be still, and make adjustments to our home life and parenting techniques, changes that are hard to give thought to in the midst of a crisis. We were able to do some family triage and assess the condition of our other children and address their hurts and needs during this period that Ozzie was at Mercy Hospital. We were able to move from a stance of reactive parenting to proactive parenting, considering the needs of all five of our children and putting plans and programs in place during this quiet time of rest.
And I was able to do this without any worry or guilt, knowing that God was the driving force behind this experience and that Ozzie was in a good, safe, therapeutic place getting the help he needed while we were preparing for his return home.
The 28 day treatment program he was in was through Mercy Hospital. When pushed to consider sending Ozzie away for more intensive, in-treatment therapy I was a nervous wreck. I hated the idea of one of my kids being away and I worried that the experience would expose Ozzie to worse influences as he interacted and lived with other traumatized children. I worried that he would take his hospitalization as rejection or abandonment and that would lead to a bigger setback in our attachment work. I worried that in our effort to help him heal the experience would only lead to more hurt, but God was merciful and His hand was in every step of the process, and I was given peace about this needed step, and Ozzie agreed that he needed more help than Tina could offer in outpatient therapy, so five weeks ago today we drove him down, checked him in, and said, “We love you,” as Ozzie was led back into the hospital by staff members.
It was a hard day.
But that day was the beginning of huge breakthroughs for Ozzie.
You see, as incredible as Tina is, as an outpatient therapist she only sees Ozzie once a week for an hour, and as much amazing work as she has been able to do with both my boys in their therapy sessions, at the end of that hour, despite what breakthrough we might be on the cusp of, we must end the session and pick it up again in a week. This is the greatest blessing of an in-treatment program. The breakthrough happens and then there are staff with Ozzie 24/7 that can immediately help him process the experience, and that rolls right into an individual therapy session the next hour, and then group therapy two hours after that, etc. There is a momentum that is gained through therapy session after therapy session that results in huge leaps that simply can’t be gained in outpatient therapy.
Ozzie’s experience at Mercy was incredible and I have nothing but accolades to share about the program. I appreciated how incredible the staff was. They work with highly traumatized kids, many with a diagnoses of Reactive Attachment Disorder, so they get our journey in a way that many other medical professionals don’t, and are incredibly proficient at addressing the needs of these kids. On many visits to the unit I watched as they dealt with tantrums and meltdowns and did so in a kind, but effective way, quickly establishing control over the situation.
I loved how structured the program was. This is a necessity when dealing when a floor full of kids with special needs but was especially effective for Ozzie who, as a child on the Autism Spectrum, responds well to routine, schedules, and predictability.Each day followed the same format with mealtimes, school, individual therapy, group therapy, art therapy,  gym time, and quiet time in rooms for journaling.
I love that the system for addressing behaviors is a reward based system, which I find (when dealing with traumatized children) far more effective and healthy than a consequence driven system. This tends to be the case for children who have been abused because, honestly, what consequence can one even come up with that will have any impact given the horrors they have already experienced in their young lives. This makes these kids unaffected by most consequences for their behaviors, so here they use a point system in which kids can earn points for good behavior and good choices. Their earned points give them a level ranking that determines their privileges. For example a child on level one gets to stay up an hour later than a child on level three. For snack time they can have cookies or chips while the child on level one gets to pick from the fruit bowl. A child on level one earns a longer phone call home or the privilege of picking the movie for movie night, etc. and if they stay at level one all week then on Saturday they get to pick a prize from a prize box that contains new toys like stuffed animals, books, puzzles and other fun treats.
I appreciated how strong the communication between staff and family was here. I never worried for Ozzie’s safety because everything that happened was so well documented. At our weekly update we would be read the staff’s notes for the week that would explain everything that happened that week from how many servings he had at each meal, to every good and poor choice he made in his interactions with staff and peers, as well as how staff addressed each of these incidents.
Communication with family was a high priority, as was improving family relationships. We had a family therapy session weekly, phone calls with Ozzie twice a day, and home visits weekly where he could spend up to 12 hours at home before returning to Mercy. This was an important piece of his treatment plan. First it ensured a continued, strong connection with family, dispelling any of Ozzie’s worries that his new family was leaving him, but also gave the therapist a better idea of his behaviors, as we were able to report about his interactions at home and they could talk in therapy about behaviors that maybe don’t reveal themselves in the hospital setting.
Another huge benefit of hospitalization is the fact that you have doctors and nurses on staff 24/7 which allow for drastic medication adjustments that couldn’t happen in an outpatient setting at the quick rate they can be adjusted when being monitored by medical staff. This was a key component in his treatment as we had to reduce his extreme anxiety that was at the root of many of his behaviors.
It was a month of breakthroughs for Ozzie as he delved into the past trauma and abuse at the hands of his biological parents. In one group therapy session he was asked to color a mask, reflective of his past trauma. The results were heartbreaking as he held up to his face a paper mask covered in black and blue bruises and red cuts. Following that session he was struggling so a male staff member took him for a walk to help him process the emotions he was feeling following the therapy session. He suggested another therapeutic tool and told Ozzie to imagine that he was Seth or Trista and say to his birth parents what seven year old Ozzie wished he could have said when he was being hurt by them.
Ozzie did.
He shouted and swore and released years of anger, hurt, and heartbreak that he never felt safe enough to express before…
and it was life-changing.
It was the first step in a series of major breakthroughs this past month.
Ozzie is now home, but no he is not “healed.”
The experiences he lived through will take decades to work through and process.
I don’t know that one ever completely “heals” after living through childhood abuse.
But he is feeling safer, more stable, and so much better than he was a month ago. He was very brave these past 28 days, facing some horrific demons in therapy, and making great strides which we will continue moving forward with in outpatient therapy. He is happy to be home and we are happy to have our little family back together again.
God is Good!

Healing Deep Hurts

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Adoption is supposed to be forever.

Dissolving or terminating an adoption is the biggest “no no” in the adoption handbook.

All the classes, training, and hoop-jumping that a family goes through in the year or years leading up to adoption day are obstacles designed to weed out those who don’t have staying power.

Terminating an adoption carries with it a stigma.

It is a sticky subject and one I feel uncomfortable with because of the strong feelings of judgement I find myself engulfed in when I think about it.

Like so many of the parenting judgements I had when we began the adoption journey I couldn’t believe that anyone would be so cruel, so week, so lacking as to give up on a child they adopted into their forever home, but over the last few years I have had my eyes opened to the heartbreaking reality of the darker side of adoption. Where there once was only judgement there is now added empathy.

Most cases of dissolved adoptions don’t happen because a family gets bored or lazy or decides they’ve changed their mind. No, to dissolve an adoption is far too heartbreaking to pursue over something so trivial. No, usually a family’s decision to dissolve an adoption comes as a result of a family being at the end of their rope, seeing no other solutions, being fearful for their lives or the lives of their other children, feeling as though they are ill equipped to parent trauma as significant and scary as their child’s.

Let me be quite clear, saying goodbye to an adopted child is as heartbreaking and devastating as the thought of having to terminate your relationship with your birth child.

This is why this adoption taboo is rarely talked about. It is the hush hush, dark closet shame thrust upon families in crisis. And most often this controversy revolves around a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder. There is not a family on earth who can successfully parent a child with RAD and have everyone live to tell the tale without a powerful support system and a mighty God. For many families even that is not enough.

In my interactions with other RAD families I have heard the horror stories that would lead  most people to terminate an adoption. Stories like their RAD kid killing the family cat and leaving it by the front door for Mom to find…a family narrowly avoiding being poisoned by their RAD child after noticing dinner tasted a bit “off.”…fire starting, sexually deviant behavior, risk taking choices like climbing in a car with a stranger. These haven’t been our experiences with our two boys who have a diagnoses of RAD, but this is the reality of people in this community who have adopted children with severe early childhood trauma.

So while I don’t believe termination is ever the answer (there are other solutions to removing an unsafe child from a home and other solutions for stabilization) I do get it. I understand what it means to be a family in crisis. I understand having to parent hurts so deep and dark that no light can get in. I understand the walk of trying to love a child that is TERRIFIED of attachment and will do everything in his power to be unlovable so as to push you away. I understand the hurt, the fear, and the hopelessness of RAD, and I am less quick to judge those who feel they must give up.

We are being personally affected by another’s decision to terminate their adoption. The biological sibling of one of my boys now is back in foster care after that family has made the decision that they can’t parent that child anymore.

My heart has been aching for that child and also for that family.

The result of their decision has also profoundly affected our family. For the last month we have been a family in crisis. The news of a adoption termination with one of their bio siblings has destroyed any stability, trust and attachment that we have built. For the last few years we have, through word and action, worked to prove to our boys that families are forever, that adoption is forever, that we are going nowhere. My mantra repeated over and over again to the boys while they are raging is, ” I love you. There is nothing you can do that will make me stop loving you. You are not going anywhere.”

Because the root of RAD is fear.

These kids learned from an early age that adults can not be trusted. Adults hurt you. And connecting with and bonding with adults makes you vulnerable to more hurt. So they will do anything to keep you at arms length. It begins with subtle, passive aggressive behaviors and if that doesn’t scare you away they up the ante with harder and scarier behaviors until the moment of reckoning when that family gives up on them or they finally believe that there truly is nothing they can do that will make you leave. Every behavior is a test of your sticking power. So while they are raging and seem to be yelling, “I hate you! You’re not my mom! If you don’t let me go to a new home you’ll be sorry!” they are really crying out, “How about this? Will this scare you away? Will you love me still? Can I trust you?” And the trick is to look past the hate and see the fear that drives the behaviors.

This is what has been happening in our home this last month with Ozzie. Any security that has been built over the last few years has been shattered with that single bit of news. He now has it in his head that he is headed for foster care and is doing everything in his power to speed up his exit. It is heartbreaking to watch and has made for a month of violent, scary, and disruptive behaviors…behaviors that have resulted in Ozzie needing additional therapeutic help that exceeds what we are able to provide him with in outpatient treatment.

We share this mainly for the benefit of our other children who we would like to shield from the inquiries of where Ozzie is. They have suffered greatly this last month and we don’t want the added responsibility of having to explain Ozzie’s absence from church and other activities to rest on their shoulders.

Ozzie is in a special in treatment program for children with Reactive Attachment Disorder, getting 24/7 therapeutic care to stabilize him so that he can return home and continue forward with his outpatient therapy.

We have explained the necessity of inpatient therapy to Ozzie and the other kids by likening his emotional struggles to a person with a physical sickness. We discussed the treatment plan for a stomachache and compared it to someone’s emotional struggles. Initially a stomachache could be addressed at home with Mom. She might lay you on the couch, give you ginger ale and crackers and medication, and that might be enough to get better. If not the next stop would be a trip to MedExpress to see a doctor with more expertise who could dig a little deeper, trying to figure out the cause of the stomach ache, and give you new techniques or medication to try. This is comparable to outpatient therapy with Miss Tina. If you still were not feeling any better then the next step would be to go to the hospital where doctors with specialized diagnostic tools, and 24/7 care would be available, while they worked to figure out what was causing the stomachache and then stabilize you so that you can return home feeling better.

This is where Ozzie is at.

He is getting the help he needs to stabilize and the family is using this period of respite to regroup, to address the wounds inflicted on the other children, to reconnect as a family, and to rest and work on reconnecting as a couple. We will work on healing and stabilizing our home while Ozzie works on stabilizing himself.

He needed care beyond what could be offered at home or with Miss Tina. She made a case for why inpatient care was necessary and after prayer and many late night discussions we agreed, so Ozzie is working with the best to get the care he needs so he can return home,

and he can start believing we are in this for the long haul…

we are not going anywhere…

He is ours forever.

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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The Courage to Feel

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Our therapist, Tina, is exceptional. She is a fount of endless wisdom and support as she walks this road of healing with the boys and I. She is incredibly perceptive and intuitive, able to assess and discern needs and struggles hidden beneath a façade of distracting behaviors, and see the emotional hurts driving those behaviors.

Both of my boys struggle with naming, feeling and expressing hard emotions. Strong feelings ( either “good” or “bad”) are overwhelming and threatening given their history of abuse and neglect, so they stuff them deep. But stuffing down emotions isn’t a sustainable solution. You see, the more you stuff them the bigger they grow until they eventually explode out of us in an unhealthy way (ie: tantrums, self injury, manipulation, etc.) So one of our primary goals in therapy and at home is to get both boys more comfortable with emotions.

This journey began with simply giving them a vocabulary base so that they could name what they were feeling. This was key, especially for Tyler, who struggled to differentiate between angry, disappointed, hurt, jealous, sad which he lumped  all together under the umbrella of “Mad.” When he couldn’t find a word for what he was feeling he would call it “Bored.” As his Momma, I could assess the situation and his body language and see the truth behind his statement, “I’m just bored.” I could see that he was anxious, or sad, or scared, but he couldn’t. So step one was to simply expose him to the world of emotions, the words and their meanings, so that he had a reference to draw from.

We did this by vocalizing our emotions daily in his presence. This was an entire family effort and required a lot of mindfulness as a family to voice statements we would normally just be thinking in our heads like, “Ahh, eating soup on a cold day makes me feel so happy and cared for,” or ” I feel so angry when someone honks at me when I am driving.” It felt uncomfortable but it was an essential step to helping Tyler understand the vast array of emotions, the situations that cause us to feel those emotions, and the understanding that everyone feels emotions, and it is not scary to feel them.

Once that foundation was in place we then began working with Tyler on being able to discern emotions in others. Once again this was addressed in therapy by looking at pictures of people’s faces and photos of different situations, and trying to read the emotion by looking at facial features and body language. This is a skill we all use daily and don’t really give much thought to so it was bizarre to look at this skill in such an scientific and analytic way. We would literally map the face of the person in the photo noting the similarities of what the muscles of all of our faces do with different emotions (ie: the tensing of the jaw, narrowing of the eye, and creasing of the brow when we feel anger.)

Once this skill was learned in therapy the real work was done at home as we practiced this skill out in public. As we walked through the grocery store I would point out a person and ask Tyler, “What emotion do you think she is feeling?” We began with obvious situations like a person crying or yelling and eventually worked toward evaluating more subtle emotional clues.

From there we moved into the dark scary world of analyzing and naming our own emotions…a skill that would have shut Tyler down when we began this journey. As he was feeling an emotion, especially a strong emotion like anger, excitement, disappointment, or fear, he would be incapable of facing it, feeling it, and naming it in that moment. So we began by working on naming emotions that were felt during an experience that had long passed, therefore no longer emotionally vulnerable. I would say something like, “Remember the day we drove into Pittsburgh for the court hearing. What were you feeling that day?” It was still a hard challenge for him to express the emotions, but he was far more capable of expressing those emotions than trying to express the emotions he was feeling in that moment, a request that made him feel vulnerable and unsafe.

For the last 18 months this is the work we have been doing. It is all about emotions. Helping him understand the variety of emotions a human can feel, understand that everyone feels emotions, that there is no such thing as a bad emotion, that it is ok to feel emotions, and important to name what you are feeling so they don’t grow too big within you.

And all this work is simply the needed foundation for the real therapy work ahead when we began facing the memories of abuse.

He has made incredible progress. He has evolved from a child who was emotionally shut off and incapable of naming his emotions outside of the safety net of the emotion “bored,” to a child who can name emotions, read emotions and express emotions. When I see him cry I see a victory of epic proportions. When he can look at me, stomp his feet, and say, “Momma, you are making me so angry!” I jump for joy. We have reached the point where he is able to pull from a vocabulary of 20+ emotions and name what he was feeling (after he shuts down) within a few hours after that incident. This is huge.

The next step is to get him comfortable and capable of voicing how he is feeling in that moment, something he is unable to do at this time.

One of the therapy tools Tina is using to help with this is a wonderful book called, How Simon Left his Shell: The Courage to Feel for Young People by Andrew Seubert.

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She used this book last year with Ozzie. We would read a couple chapters in therapy each week and then be given emotions homework to do at home.

Here is another therapist’s review of the book:

“This book is about the adventure of the hero, Simon the turtle, and his mouse companion, Ronald, “Socrates of the swamp”. Together they embark on an adventure that uniquely delves inward more than outward: into the emotional landscape of vulnerability, anxiety, guilt, fear, as well as attachment, joy, love, forgiveness, and creativity.

The charm of his characters are able to carry on credible dialogue, illustrating the value of a mindful witnessing of emotional awareness, without shrinking away from the experiential complexity of dysregulation. His story normalizes emotional overwhelm, anxiety and depression in a ‘child accessible’ way while illustrating the journey of healing and self-discovery.

With gentility and charm it makes the case for being present with even the toughest feelings and riding out the storm to reap the benefits of transformation.”

This book had a powerful impact on Ozzie and I am finding Tyler too is connecting with the characters. Just this past week Ronald shared that when he was hurting he used to keep really busy caring for the other animals in the swamp, running from house to house, trying to be helpful. He kept busy so he didn’t have to feel. He shared with Simon that we can’t “busy” our emotions away. To get through the hard feelings we must feel the hard feelings which requires stillness and presence and the willingness to feel them. Then in feeling them, really being present in the emotion, we realize that sadness and fear don’t kill us. We can feel them and live to tell the tale, and what’s more, by feeling them we move through them and get to the other side of them.

This resonated with Tyler. He spoke up, interrupting the story after Ronald said he likes to keep moving so that he doesn’t have to feel stuff, saying, “Hey, that is like me!”

This week we read about Simon’s big step of facing his fear and leaving his shell. This step of faith, moving into the unknown, left him feeling scared and vulnerable. So in the story Ronald gives Simon a t-shirt that says, “Big Guy” on it to help him feel brave. When we reach this part in the story Tina has the kids decorate their own t-shirt that they can wear to make them feel brave when facing scary emotions and hard therapy.

She asks the kids to draw and picture and pick a mantra to write on the shirt…a statement of truth they can lean on when overwhelmed with the work. For Ozzie that mantra, or truth, that he needed to be reminded of to be brave was:

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“I am a Good Kid”

For months he wore that shirt every week to do therapy with Miss Tina, saying the shirt was like a super hero cape and made him feel brave.

For his shirt Tyler chose to draw a picture of himself with Toby…who truly is his emotional lifeline and security…with the mantra:

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“I Love Dad and Daddy Loves Me!”

Clothed in this symbolic armor of safety and protection we will continue forward in our journey with Simon the turtle, Ronald the mouse, and Tyler the brave, as we face and feel our emotions courageously and fight for healing.

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Icy Roads Ahead

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Winter has finally hit Western Pennsylvania and from the sounds of predictions being whispered in the produce aisle of the grocery store this winter promises to be colder and snowier than the last few years.

Last winter we lucked out with milder temperatures and minimal snowfall…both a blessing from the perspective of Momma chauffer…. Which doesn’t mean I love a good snowfall. There is nothing I fantasize more about during the winter months than a snowfall epic enough to shut down the state and  allow us to hibernate at home for a week or two. Unfortunately epic snowfalls like that rarely come about and instead we are faced with cold, ice, and snow minimal enough that life marches on, but significant enough to make life more challenging.

For our family that challenge comes as a result of a full size van that performs poorly in the ice and snow, and a steep driveway that is accessible during the winter months only to 4WD vehicles. This means that when snow coats our gravel driveway we have to park at the bottom of the driveway and hike 1/2 mile in to get to our home.

We have become accustomed to this winter tradition, always leaving the house dressed for a winter hike on the off chance we won’t be able to make it back up the driveway, and often carrying a sled or two in the back of the van to help transport groceries and gear up the long driveway if the van won’t make it.

The challenge, however, is often simply making it TO the driveway. Living in the country means our roads are often the last ones in the area to be cleared, so it is always with a prayer and an adventurous spirit we venture out after a snowfall.

Today was no exception.

It seemed the weather was reflective of the last 24 hours at home…a bit icy and dicey.

Here is the reality:

I always struggle with writing about the darker side of adoption and the hard days at our home. And by hard days I’m not talking about sass and spilled milk. I’m talking about epic tantrums that last for 12 hours.

I struggle with sharing for multiple reasons.

I struggle with the challenge of simply vocalizing the reality of this journey. It is a crazy ride of ups and downs with an ever consuming barrage of emotions that are so hard to comprehend by someone who hasn’t lived it that I often feel it is not worth trying to verbalize. And that feeling of defeat can often be seen in the longer stretches of silence on the blog. When things are unbearably hard I am too worn down to type.

I struggle with finding the balance between honoring the stories of my children and their individual struggles, while being real and honest and raw about our life, because it is a life full of blessings even though those blessings aren’t always neat and tidy and may seem unconventional to others.

But I write.

I  write to educate others and share the things that have worked or been an epic fail for us on this journey in the hopes that someone else might find answers that they are searching for.

I share to encourage. Our message is never intended to gain accolades or sympathy or promote judgement about our children. We share our story of struggle so that you might find strength in your own story of struggle, knowing that you are not the only one struggling day to day to find direction, hope, joy or simply a moment of sanity in the midst of the darkness you find yourself lost in.

I share with the hope that the truth of our journey might lead you to be more empathetic towards people in your life that are walking a similar road. Raising children with special needs, whether yours biologically or  those who have come to you through foster care or adoption, is exhausting and hard, and if by sharing our story you feel inspired to reach out and lighten the load another family that is struggling as a result of an understanding you have found in our story, than the time spent and the vulnerability that comes from opening our life to others is worth every word.

I share to bring awareness to epidemic of neglect and abuse that destroys the lives of thousands of children daily. I share my boys’ struggles to bring awareness to the devastating affect anger, substance abuse, pornography, hatred and basic neglect cause. The sins of the parents not only destroy families and hurt children, they change children. I watch my boys try to navigate life with the same devastating diagnoses of PTSD that a soldier, a grown man exposed to war, shoulders. A life with Reactive Attachment Disorder, a disorder that changes the very brain function of children whose most basic need for love was not met in infancy, and is, according to our therapist, “The most challenging mental disorder to work with and heal.”

I share to bring a voice to my boys and all the children who struggle and are judged by their behaviors by those who can’t or are unwilling to dig beneath the surface of the “bad kid” label and consider the hurts and emotions driving those behaviors.

I share to end the silence, because as far as I’m concerned there is too much uncomfortable silence surrounding this important topic.

Which brings me to my point.

Today, on the way home from church, as we neared home we found ourselves stuck halfway up an icy hill not too far from home. This road was not only icy but also narrow, with sharp curves and steep drop offs. We were a quarter way up the hill when I began to panic that we would not make it. I hadn’t realized how steep the grade was until we were climbing. Halfway up the hill our tires began to spin, and 100 feet later we came to a stop. The van wouldn’t climb any further. The road was too narrow to turn around. So we began creeping our way backwards, down the hill, in reverse. It was a painstakingly slow process as we worked to keep the van in the middle of the curving road and away from the drop-off alongside the road. Every turn was a blind corner. We knew that we were at risk of being hit from above or below by a car taking that corner too quickly. We prayed and creeped along. The journey down the icy road became a familiar analogy of our adoption journey with close calls, frequent corrections and adjustments, and a white knuckle grip on the steering wheel.

Along the way we encountered a few vehicles. All saw us before tragedy struck but even those encounters were familiar and comparable to our adoption journey, with some drivers honking in frustration at the inconvenience our struggle was for them, while others simply drove by, eyes focused straight ahead, unaware of the breakdown happening just feet away from them.

Then there were the good Samaritans…those that noticed our struggle, stopped to check on us, and offered their assistance to help us get back home safely and in tact. After a extremely challenging Saturday  I couldn’t help but draw a comparison to those in our life that “honk,” those that simply drive by not noticing, and those who stop and ask, ” What can I do to help?”

I am so grateful for those good Samaritans that stopped me today and asked, “What can I do to help?”

You know who you are.

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And while there is often nothing that can be done to help, like by the fellow drivers that stopped us on that icy road,

the inquiry, the love, the words of encouragement, and the concern shown by others can be just the boost needed to keep crawling forward.

During this Christmas season, as we celebrate the hard journey taken by a faithful young man and his wife heavy with child, let us all take notice of those around us traveling lonely, hard roads. Let us be more like the humble shepherds who chose to look up and then show up.

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Let us judge less and love more.

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Let us love as Christ loved.