Tag Archives: Child Trauma

Hope and Worry

I’ve been parenting for about 1,140 days. I am a babe in the woods. I have triumphed, and I have fallen down repeatedly.

Lately, I question everything I’ve learned these couple of years, and I’m scared.

I love my daughter, Hope. I have done my very best to help her heal, to help her grow, to help her catch up. I have tried to protect her from the world that has been brutal towards her. I’ve tried to protect her from herself when she has been unkind. I have prayed for and with her; I’ve wished for her. I’ve poured myself into her healing.

And for all the improvement we’ve made together, it’s still only 1,140 days, and I feel like we are in a bit of a free fall right now. It feels like I can never do enough. As a natural fixer, I am feeling woefully inadequate right now.

Something is wrong, very wrong. I know that Hope is struggling more than usual. I started paying close attention to moods, to behavioral patterns, to details that I had let go of a while ago. There are so many clues that something is wrong. I’ve seen them; I’ve started ramping all the support systems up again. I reached out to the therapists. I’ve scheduled appointments. I’ve been steeling myself to get back to the state of hypervigilance I used to maintain. But, I’m feeling my age now, remembering how exhausting the constant need for awareness can be. I’m wondering can I really maintain that level of being for an extended period of time, now. I’m also wondering what happens if I can’t.

I’m also wrestling with my own guilt. How and why did I get lax? Was I really lax? How come I didn’t know we had started spiraling? Why didn’t I just maintain everything? How did I let it get like this? Is this even something I can fix? How hard will this get before it gets better?

Is this free fall my fault?

I know intellectually that it’s not my fault but that fact really doesn’t matter, does it?

I see my daughter struggling. It seems she’s struggling with everything right now. School is hard. Social stuff is hard. Home is probably hard too. Emotions are thick; memories are vivid and on some kind of repeating loop. There are constant stomach aches and nausea and headaches and stress induced rashes. There are binges. There are hard core study times that swing to complete immersion into escapist fantasies. There is exhaustion, that’s really depression that swings from days of insomnia to sleeping for 18 hours.

I see it, but I can’t fix it. I gather those long arms and legs up and occasionally cradle Hope. I try to cook her yummy food. I try to be home as much as I can. I try to give her space, but I also try to smother her with attention. I try to give her lots of opportunities to thrive and to experience as much or as little as possible. I am strict but not inflexible. I’m compassionate. I try to meet her where she is, but I also walk away sometimes wondering if I did the right thing.

I want to heal her. I want her to be able to shrug off the effects of her trauma so that we can deal with the social challenges of blackness and womanhood. The reality is that we rarely get to wrestle with those because we are stuck in the quicksand of trauma. Her trauma suffocates us both. I fight with myself trying to just be ok with her life performance and trying not to worry that every bad grade will prevent her from a bright future.

I’m constantly forcing myself to abandon everything I conceptualized and believed about success. Our success is different. I know that, but it’s hard to believe that conventionalism is completely inappropriate in helping Hope navigate. So many of my firmly held, deeply etched values about life are constantly challenged and it is discomforting, disorienting, and dismaying. My prayers lately have been distilled to, “Lord just let us get through this day with no drama.”

And I still feel like we’re failing.

So, right now, Hope is struggling, and I’m worried. I’m not panicked by I’m really worried about the future, and by future, I mean next week and the week after.

I’m leaning back into my strengths: looking for possible solutions, marshalling resources and leveraging connections. I have no idea what happens next—long term is now just next month. I do think my daughter knows I’m trying; I don’t know what she really thinks about my efforts, but I know she thinks I’m trying to help her. I’m hopeful that she will continue to see me as helpful, reliable and safe. I’m hopeful I can continue to be that for her.

Hope and worry are sitting side by side for me these days.


There is No Magic

A few days ago Hope and I were in the car listening to a podcast. We were chuckling about the show, and then it ended and we listened to some of the commercials before the next podcast started. One of the commercials was about a new podcast on the magic of childhood.

I was only halfheartedly listening to the commercials. I caught the thought and let it slip through my mind.

But Hope was listening.

“There is no magic in childhood. None.”

She immediately had my attention. I didn’t know what to say.  All I could manage to say was, “Huh?”

“Magic? What’s magical about childhood? Nothing,”

We sat quietly at a light.

I quickly thought about all of her young years and the things she endured. I felt her trauma in my soul.

She didn’t say anything else, and I wasn’t sure what to say next. So, I didn’t say anything at all. It was one of the few times during our time together when I was completely stunned to silence. Usually, I can come up with something, but I had nothing. And I was just overwhelmed by the absence of magic in my daughter’s childhood.

I understand how she concluded that the magic of childhood was nothing but a farce. It breaks my heart. I have these fond memories of growing up. I remember my parents love. I remember birthday cakes and playing in the street with neighborhood kids. I remember when they took me and my sisters to Disney World and numerous other family trips. I remember feeling safe and loved. I remember so many little details that are clear to me know but seemed magical then.

I know that there are some memories that Hope has with her first family that are happy memories, but the number of those moment to moment memories are dwarfed by memories of instability, fear, and profound grief. The latter so crushing that she can barely see the good stuff in her mind. And she can’t separate those memories and just erase the bad ones. She has figured out how to reconcile the bad stuff; she can’t partition it to try to create some magic.

The magic of childhood is lost to her.

I wish I could change it all for her. I can’t, but I wish to hell like I could.

I have spent a lot of time and resources on helping Hope heal. I didn’t realize that I was also trying to create some magic in the waning years of Hope’s adolescence. I try to give her big and small experiences that will stick with her. I’m hoping they are special, magical, but knowing that she doesn’t think there’s any magic in childhood just makes me feel so sad.

I wonder will she still feel this way years from now when she has her own child? Did my silence, my failure to offer some wisdom about childhood magic, just reaffirm her grief? What can I do to make magic for her? Can I still create some magic for her?

I honestly don’t know what was I supposed to say in that moment that would validate her but offer a different narrative. I still don’t know what I was supposed to say to that declaration. I just don’t know what to say about there being no magic in childhood.


Thoughts on Discipline

I’ve been writing about how I’m trying to let natural consequences rule the day when it comes to discipline around these parts. In some ways it’s working; in others, not so much.

As I write this Hope is about to miss the bus again and make her way down to the bus stop. Of this three-day school week, she’s clocking two late days. It’s time for me to look and see if she will eventually get detention for her tardiness; maybe that will make a difference. I don’t know.

I am still struggling with letting it go and not intervening too much. The instinct is to protect one’s kid from consequences. You don’t want them to suffer or hurt, but they also need to understand that life requires some discipline.

I think my strengths are better applied to responding to clear rule breaking.  Recently Hope broke a pretty significant house rule. The funny thing is I wouldn’t have known about it if she didn’t insist on snitching on herself. Seriously, she is a leaky bucket when it comes to keeping a secret.

Anyhoo, I had to sit down after our initial calm confrontation and think about what to do. Over time I’ve come up with a bunch of questions that I ask myself as I think through discipline.

Ok, so, there is a broken rule.

Does this really require a response?

Am I angry?

Is there any humor in this situation?

Do I understand why she did it?

Is this a trauma thing?

Is this a dumb teen thing?

Is this an adoption thing?

Will certain kinds of discipline trigger more undesirable behaviors?

If yes, is it really worth it?

Is safety a concern?

Can I have a glass of wine?

How can I end this unpleasant experience with a relaxing glass of vino?

I’ve created a Venn diagram of my decision tree.

venndiagram

All decisions end with “Drink Wine.”

I try to be consistent, but I also try to be sure to avoid triggers. I also need to make sure that we stay connected throughout the experience; I don’t want to push her away.

I often think about how when I was punished as a kid I was sent to my room or grounded. I was restricted. With Hope…I can’t do that. I need to find ways of applying a consequence while still drawing her close to me to continue to foster attachment.

It’s confusing, especially when I am annoyed. I don’t want to be close when I’m pissy.

I’ve had to learn how to let things go and let them go quickly. That’s not my nature, but I have to for Hope’s sake.

The evening of our leaky bucket conversation, I sat her down and told her what she was going to have to do because she broke the rules.

Hope was angry. She raised her voice. I kept mine even. I explained my reasoning.

And then I dropped it.

I’d like to think I got it right, because she proceeded to spend the next two hours hanging out with me, being goofy. We laughed. We fixed dinner.

I finally had to send her off to finish her homework.

This isn’t how I was disciplined. I don’t remember wanting to hang out after getting a consequence. I don’t think my parents did anything wrong. But this is super different than what I understood it to be. It feels foreign, but not bad.

Hey, I did get my glass of wine at the end of the evening!

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Sport Parenting

As a parent, I’ve learned a lot, but one of the many things with which I still struggle is the parent vs. parent struggle.

It’s the comparison game.

It’s funny because I thought I had a hard time responding to stuff like, “How’s your daughter doing in school?  “Joe” was honor roll last quarter!”

I did, I mean, I do still have a hard time responding to this kind of inquiry.

But that’s not it. I feel like what I’m struggling with is at the other end of the continuum.

I feel like I’m competing against other parents who are parenting children who have experienced trauma.

The good news is that I’m losing, or winning, depending on how you measure things.

I checked in with a number of adoptive parent friends recently and other parents online who are parenting children like Hope.

They’re struggles seem so much worse than mine.

Hope doesn’t have the same kind of tantrums.

She doesn’t really rage.

She doesn’t really lie much.

She doesn’t sneak out.

She doesn’t act out physically.

She’s got emotional issues, but they don’t trigger some of the dramatic behaviors I’ve heard about.

Comparatively speaking, I come away from some of these interactions thinking, what exactly is it that’s hard about raising Hope? I mean, why do I get upset? Hope is not doing any of those things.

Maybe I’m making mountains out of molehills.

I find myself minimizing the things Hope and I do struggle with.

So many kids have ADHD!

All teenagers pushback and go through phases where they don’t do what they are told.

Some kids are just so immature for their ages.

I began to think that in the game of therapeutic parenting I’m totally disqualified because we haven’t got the same problems as other parents. How dare I think our problems are comparable to other parents who are struggling to parent kids with profound grief and trauma!

Gosh this is silly, right?

Of course, sometimes I torture myself by thinking I’m lucky that Hope doesn’t act out the way other kids do. How great is it that we haven’t had to go through some of that stuff! Then I feel guilty because it minimizes what I know goes on in Hope’s head and heart, and how that affects us each and every day of our lives together.

In sport parenting, I don’t win or lose, and frankly, I’m not sure which one is which. The other things I often find myself wondering is: Why the devil am I trying to compare our experiences to that of other families anyway?

We’ve all got our own drama, and we all tend to have a lot of it.  Why would it all look the same?

And apparently, how I feel about what Hope and I endure seems to be similar to that of other parents…people tell me so. There’s an emotional similarity there. Even if the drama appears different the emotional upheaval is the same.

So, why do I still pull out a yard stick to assess how we’re doing compared to other families? Is this even natural behavior? Is sport parenting really a thing?

Are we always assessing how we measure up in our own parenting fantasy?

I don’t know.

I do know that I’m going to try to quit sport parenting in 2017.


Triggers, Triggers Everywhere

Hope’s life is a filled with trigger land mines. I’ve learned where most of them are; every now and then a new one will pop up. I make a mental note and try to just push on.

giphy1

It’s hard though because sometimes I feel like I have to give up some aspect of my life in order to avoid triggering her.

Sure, parenting is full of sacrifices. There’s always something, right? I try to remember that someday I’ll get to live fully again, but the reality is that I know that this parenting thing is life altering. Once some things are gone, they are just gone. I won’t go back to them. There are simple luxuries that I miss, like not having the same sad story told a million times because we stumbled over a trigger.

I mean, yes, I get it. Yes, I try to appropriately respond; yes, I know that it’s a good sign that Hope feels comfortable enough to tell me and share things over and over again.

All of that is true, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t grate on my nerves. #realtalk

So, of course the end of the year holidays are a trigger-fest.

Trigger, here!

Trigger, there!

Trigger, trigger everywhere!

It’s exhausting.

So, Christmas Eve, Hope and I open presents (or rather I open my 1 present, she opens her 25 presidents). This kid has a vendetta against headphones. She breaks every pair that she take possession of, even the borrowed ones. After buying her what feels like 872 pairs this year, I ponied up and bought her a decent pair of over the ear headphones. They have bells and whistles and were reasonably priced at Ross.

Cool. She oohh and ahhh’d.  And then it came….

“I used to have a pair of blue Skull Candy headphones, but a foster parent took them from me. I got them at a giveaway and she really liked them so she just took them.” Hope frowned as she was looking at the box of new headphones.

I’ve heard this story many times. It’s one of the reasons I went with over ear headphones rather than more earbuds. I guess I knew it would trigger her, but I thought maybe she might  have moved a little bit forward. #nope

She hadn’t. So I prompted her to, “Yes, sweetie, I know that was hard for you. Someone took your stuff and that wasn’t right. Now you have a new pair of headphones that are really nice. I won’t take them from you. They are yours forever.”

“I know…but…she…” “No, Hope, look forward, you’re missing out on opening that box and checking out the ones in your hand, right now. They are yours. This is real.”

It took her 2 days before she opened the box to really take a look at them.

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Sister M has a new dog, a gorgeous, 6 month old pit bull puppy who is goofy as all get out.

Trigger alert.

wrappers

“I had a red nosed pit bull puppy once. She was pretty. She was supposed to be mine. But they gave him to my dad’s girlfriend’s son. He was supposed to be mine.”

I’ve heard this story what feels like 1000s of times.

“Yes, Hope. I know that was rough. You lost so much stuff along the way. I’m sure the puppy was special to you. I know that she can’t really be replaced, but remember that you have a family now and Yappy is a part of our family. Aunt M’s dog is a part of the family too. We will go visit him and one day, when you’re grown you can get your very own puppy.”

“I know but that puppy…she was mine.”

sigh

“Yes, I know sweetie.”

At the jewelry show…”I want a watch like my dad’s.” We visited 10 watch booths. None had an exact replica of her father’s watch, which she seems to have trouble describing.

I was pleased to see that this year she didn’t cry when we didn’t find the watch.

Could we find a watch “kinda” like it? Was this one close enough?

Nope. It needed to be exactly like her father’s watch.

sigh

After three years, I’ve gotten much better at being compassionate and empathetic during these moments, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t also trigger a place in my own brain that screams, “Oh God when will we be able to move past this?????”

Of course, it’s only been three years after how many difficult one’s she had? Um, yeah, more than 3, quite a few more than 3, so I guess I had better get over myself.

But the repetition, the triggers, they always make me feel like we aren’t making progress. I know that’s not true, but it’s hard. You push through to some new stuff and you feel like your kid is doing the dang thing and whoops, you trip over a rock and out comes the story you’ve heard a million times complete with all the emotion that was there the first time you heard it.

It’s a bit demoralizing.

More than anything I want Hope to heal from her trauma. I know that this is part of getting there. But I’m impatient, easily annoyed and occasionally, really selfish.

The truth is that in many ways these three years feel like I’ve lived a whole lifetime because there’s been so much upheaval. I’ve got a lot more gray hair. I’m carrying another 20 15lbs or so. I’m tired. I’m on more antidepressants. I have more crinkles around my eyes. I feel like 10 years have passed.

On the other end of the spectrum, this time has flown by. I struggle to remember how many Christmas’ we’ve been a family. It’s hard to believe that The Furry One has been gone nearly 2 ½ years and that Yappy has been with us for all of our Christmas’s. I’m shocked that it seems just yesterday I was enrolling Hope in 7th grade and now she’s in 10th.

The journey has my sense of time all jumbled up, which also makes my expectations of Hope’s healing speed a bit messy as well. Why isn’t she healing from the trauma as quickly as it feels like I’m aging while trying to help her heal from the trauma????

The upside in all of this is that I know what most of the triggers are, and now, Hope is stronger and can talk to me about her triggers. That’s progress. Actually, that’s a lot of progress.

While I can see and acknowledge all this progress; It’s still true that side stepping Hope’s land mines is hard, exhausting work. Both things are true. Being there for her isn’t always easy. It’s just not. Wishing that I didn’t have to hear the stories for the zillionth time is still true.

But I’ll listen for as long as it takes.


Thoughts on Acceptance

Christmas was lovely.  Good times with family and friends. There was lots of eating, minimal exercise, movie watching, more eating, lots of laughs and lots of catching up and dishing about life.

There was also a decision to just consciously accept some stuff that my typical hot headed self wouldn’t bother to accept.

In life, there are countless things that we must reconcile between our greatest desires and our greatest disappointments.

It isn’t easy. Some times, even after years and lots of work, we find ourselves so easily triggered. The flood of disappointment and sadness come crushing back over us like a tsunami wave. Sometimes it feels like we have to start the grieving process all over again just because of one little innocuous sentence.

For me, I know that two big triggers in the last 4 years are folks with commentary on raising a child with a trauma background and having a baby.

It’s amazing how many people have so much to say about these topics. The former I know is really because the issues are largely masked for folks outside of my and Hope’s home. They don’t know what I know or see and experience what I do. They make assumptions about my parenting, and draw conclusions about me and Hope.

The latter is more complicated because most folks don’t know that my journey towards Hope came after a pretty traumatic life event that left me unable to bear children or that my chances of having a biological child were iffy even before the event.

In the early days of this journey, I never anticipated that folks would have so much to say.  Well, they do. And, well, that sucks because it hurts.

It hurts a lot sometimes.

I’ve read a lot about other people’s journeys through parenting trauma and infertility; my story and my sensitivity around these issues aren’t unique. In fact, daily folks are posting about conversations and announcements that pierce their hearts and reduce them to tears.

Over the years, I learned to live with my deflector shields half way up. Having them all the way up creates too much of a barrier between me and the people I love. Besides, after a few years, my ability to react and respond has improved along with their level of sensitivity.

Well, I realized on this trip that my emotional shields were fully lowered, but it’s ok. It forced me to make a decision that I think will be healthier for me.

I mentioned that there is a new baby in the family. My sister gave birth to a baby boy recently. Our family is over the moon. He’s just perfect.

This triggered some comments about how folks thought me and my sisters would never have children or that it’s such a blessing that my parents are  finally now grandparents.

Oh, great, we’re two for two!

In the moment on Christmas day, I gave myself the gift of acceptance. I shared that gift and sprinkled it liberally all about.

The reality is these are people I love deeply. These are people who want the best for me. These are people who would never knowingly hurt me. These are people who may not always know what to say.

Some of these folks are a bit older and aren’t necessarily hip to all of the ways folks might be hurt or offended. Some of these folks have reached the age where even if they did, they don’t have to be uber-sensitive about much anymore because: old.

The long and short of it is, no one means to hurt me or stick their foot in their mouth, and even if they did, what does it cost me in that moment to just accept it and move on?

Oh it hurts. It does; there’s no denying that.

But accepting that there is no malice, that they may be caught up in the euphoria of having a much-desired baby around (which frankly I am as well), well, it doesn’t cost me much.

Sure, I could politely correct them. I could gently educate them. I could do all kinds of things. But frankly, that just exposes more of me and whatever emotions I’m wrestling with. It also makes me feel like I have to bring the dark cloud I keep on the shelf in my mind closet out and drag it with me everywhere I go.

I’m tired of living like that.

Just accepting folks and assuming and believing the best in them saves us both. In some of those moments, they are expressing their own joy about whatever. I don’t need to temper their joy just because they used poor phrasing or were insensitive or just didn’t remember my ouchy places.

So, I made a conscious decision to just accept the presence of commentary that occasionally dredges my wounds.

It’s life, man. It just life. I can’t have hazard cones all over the place all the time. It’s exhausting, and frankly, it’s exhausting being hurt and/or angry. It’s exhausting having the same conversations over and over. And frankly, it’s ridiculous for me to think that my life is so big that everyone should speak in whispered tones around me about babies and trauma related behaviors.

I’m a grown ass woman. This life has put me through harder paces than that.

I mean, I could write my own list of things not to say to an infertile woman or a parent raising a child with a trauma background, but guess what? It wouldn’t make that much of a difference because the folks who typically make those comments don’t run in the blogging circles I do—it’s not going to be read by them.

So, I’ve decided to practice some grace and accept these moments as they come. It’s ok.

I also know that Hope watches me, and while I teach her to advocate for herself, I want her to see when and how I choose to do it for myself. Not everything needs a response. Not everything needs a bark and a bite.

Acceptance is a good thing for me. It allows me to just put things in context. It allows me to focus on the good. It allows me to not ache. It doesn’t mean that things don’t hurt, but it makes it manageable.

I can’t change people. I only have the power to change my reaction to people.

In the end that is the power play.


A Night at the Theater

Every now and then Hope and I go through this absurd production written, starring and exclusively produced by Hope to get my attention.

These plays typically occur close to major holidays, schedule disruptions or anytime Hope apparently doesn’t think she’s getting enough attention.

[Cue Sophia Patrillo Voice]

no

Picture it: abdominal pain, usually cramps (which can legit be a problem).

Cramps worsen and ‘spread’ to the entire stomach.

Becomes accompanied by either constipation or diarrhea; initially faked.

She works herself into a frenzy, at which point the constipation or diarrhea become legit.

Pain worsens.

Cry  and moan, occasionally hyperventilating, like a bad actress in a bad horror movie.

Other side show ailments begin to emerge, including but not limited to short term amnesia, ear infections, inability to swallow, inability to talk at all, and something akin to what looks like a druggie nod.

Crying and gnashing of teeth; sometimes yelling.

[End Act I]

We’re regulars at the local Patient First; always the same diagnosis. Nothing wrong, maybe a little dehydrated. Go home, drink some water, eat some fruits and veggies.

Anyhoo, after our girl-fest weekend, I thought I’d fed the attention beast enough to sidestep her need to put on this play of Two Acts., but no, she managed to orchestrate her drama today with minimal warning.

The only warning I had was when I called to check on her this afternoon and she indicated that she didn’t know where I was; I didn’t tell her I was going to work (I did) and she wondered when I would be home.

Well, I missed my cue, because while I was at the grocery store she called in full on hysterics, yelling into the phone, moaning, screeching and vocalizing in an incoherent manner so loudly that other line-mates looked on with concern.

dancing

I tried reasoning with her, and she just couldn’t finish a sentence—she was clearly dying a quick and horrible death.

She could not get it together—not at all, so I eventually hung up.

dancing

We’ve been here before.

I set my basket down, picked up Yappy from daycare and headed home. On my way, I try to figure out why she got triggered. I also tried to control my own rage at having to “Play” this thing out with her tonight. It’s exhausting, expensive and while I intellectually get it, I find it to be over the top manipulation.

I get home to find a child who is now calm.

[Cue my simmering anger]

“Come on, let’s go to the urgent care.”

“Oh, I don’t need to go to the urgent care, I just wanted to know when you were coming home.”

giphy1

“Bull sh!t, you know the drill; put your shoes on and let’s go play this out.”

Off to the urgent care we went. Somehow on the way she developed amnesia and a busted knee which brought about an exaggerated limp—gotta make the most out of this urgent care visit.

In triage, I made her tell the nurse what was wrong with her because well, this was her drama. I’m just here to pay for the front row tickets.

Lots of concern.

Blood pressure and oxygenation: Perfect:

Fever? No.

Flu test: Negative.

Blood work: Great, if not sludgy because of dehydration.

Urine: Clear.

Abdominal palpation: She flinched a tiny bit, triggering the newbie nurse practitioner to ponder appendicitis.

Meanwhile, Hope is giggling, chatty. It’s like giving a dry flower water.

No, she does not have appendicitis.

Will I bring her back to check in tomorrow?

Hell naw, this play is over.

They gave her some Tylenol (that no doubt cost $50), and handed me a discharge slip.

Something different happened this time around though. Typically this drama is so predictable…I know my lines, she knows hers. But she added some this time.

While waiting for the urinalysis she said, ”I’m sorry.”

giphy1

“I’m sorry for what?”

“I’m sorry I yelled at you on the phone. I just wanted to know when you were coming home.”

I did not know what my lines were supposed to be, so I had to improvise.

“Um, I told you I had a couple of errands and I had to pick up Yappy. All of the drama was not necessary. I would’ve been home soon. All of this drama is ridiculous and you know that. You could have just called me to see if I was on my way.”

“I know.”

On our way home, she apologized again.

“I know I do this over and over again, so you probably don’t think I’m really sorry, but I am.”

“I know. What will you do next time?”

-silence-

“You can just call me without the drama. This girl who cried wolf has gotten old. How will I be able to tell if something is really wrong?”

“I know.”

[End Scene]

I know she is sorry. I don’t know if she has the skills to do something different and better next time. I expect that there will be more visits to the urgent care.

What’s frustrating is that I know she can’t help it. She knows I’ll take care of her. She knows I’ll drop everything to see about her.

But her trauma brain still doesn’t know that. This is how she survived; she is how she got her needs met. I know that even though she knows on some conscious level that she doesn’t have to do this, that that primitive brain of hers will continue to put on this kind of drama every few months.

And we’ll go through the motions again and again until that hurt brain realizes I’m not going anywhere.


Empty Wrappers

I have a checkered history with food. It didn’t really start until I got into college. It was a way for me to have control when I felt I had little. I went on a pretty restrictive diet, dropped 40lbs and was rewarded with positive attention, a boyfriend, and cute clothes. Of course I gained it back, but the damaging behaviors that led to all the great attention had taken hold.

I’ve struggled with food periodically ever since, well, maybe except recently.

Parenting Hope leaves limited time for my own problems.

Or rather, Hope’s problems are my problems.

Well, Hope continues to struggle with food.

So, now we’re struggling with food.

I remember years ago, when she came to visit me for the first time, she asked me to buy some gummy vitamins.

She ate them in one day. All of them.

We’ve since moved on to fruit snacks, PB crackers, granola bars, cereal bars…just about anything that you can get individually wrapped at Costco.  Oh, and anything that you can put in a snack size bag.

What’s both intriguing and frustrating is how she’ll leave an empty box, but hide the wrappers in her room.

It’s irrational, like I don’t see the empty boxes, can’t see how 80 snacks are gone in a few days, or how I don’t know to just look in her desk drawers for 80 fruit snack wrappers.

I tried limiting access, but I knew that wasn’t right. I mean, this stuff is primal. It’s compulsive. It’s not just emotional eating; it’s emotional ish that’s left skid marks everywhere in her life.

So, I buy more snacks. I throw away the empty boxes. I wait until she goes to goes to school and then I go and clean the wrappers out of her desk.

wrappers

I’ve tried to confront her. It’s difficult because Hope avoids conflict with me like the plague. I try to be gentle.

Can we start with just properly throwing away the wrappers?

Would you like for me to prep snacks for you so that you can pace yourself and not binge?

What are you feeling when you eat a lot of snacks?

How do you feel when you finish?

What else could we do to satiate your need to eat all the snacks?

Silence. There’s only ever silence.

The whole exchange, if you can call it that, is less than 5 minutes.

I’m not really sure how bring some resolution to this issue. I know it’s a deep seated one. I see the pattern associated with it. I understand the stressors. And yet, figuring out the puzzle piece that will redirect the behavior remains a mystery.

So, I let it go…and go back to Costco.


Coping to Survive

We’ve had to make some drastic changes around Casa d’ABM recently in hopes of getting Hope back on track with a few things. It’s tough and painful, and it feels like all I do is pick on her and focus on the bad stuff.

But it’s not all bad stuff. I’m focusing on breaking bad habits and building skills that she desperately needs.

But I’m sure that for her, it feels like I’m picking on her.

Sigh…so in some ways, it’s kind of a short-term, no-win situation.

Damned if I help; damned if I don’t.

So…I’m back to throwing a bunch of interventions up in the air and trying to figure out which one fits, makes sense for us, and has the best chance at effectiveness.

Hope’s general outward response?

giphy1

My response to her response?

giphy1

Our joint response feels like it’s playing out like this:

dancing

Yeah, it’s like that.

We recently had an interesting chat. Hope was sharing her frustrations about coping with a bunch of stuff.

I asked her to give me some examples.

She did.

I made some suggestions.

She rebuffed them and doubled down on how her approaches were foolproof.

I noted that clearly they weren’t, otherwise this would be a moot conversation.

“Oh yeah, right.”

So, I probed how and when she developed her ways of coping. I asked her to explain to me why they had historically worked for her.

My heart hurt. Most of her coping strategies involved swallowing her emotions, withdrawing, learning to be ok just being sad because that was apparently her lot in life. I interpreted so much of the coping to be a sad acceptance of tragedy, the desire to limit her emotional trauma by just not being emotionally involved at all, and straight up denial.

How does that work for anyone??? How can you live like that?

And then it dawned on me.

These coping strategies are right on target if your goal is to survive your situation. If your goal is to just get to the next day relatively unscathed, without much physical or emotional hurt, then if you just fold into yourself, you can survive.

But what if your life doesn’t call for those specific skills anymore? Are those skills transferable in a more stable life? If all of your basic Maslow’s needs are met, and theoretically you can focus on some of those more abstract life goals, do those survival skills still serve you well?

Spoiler alert: They don’t work. You need a different set of life skills if you are moving from dysfunction to function.

I began to understand my daughter’s frustrations. She was using the tools she had developed and refined for years to survive in an environment where they didn’t really help her.

Just imagine that you are a whiz with a power drill; I mean, amazing! And then you are asked to go do a car repair…with just your drill. Let me know how that works for you.

Without being critical, I began to try to explain to Hope that she was going to have to try something new, and that I knew that was weird and scary, but her old bag of tricks wasn’t going to serve her optimally in this chapter of her life. In fact, her survival skills were becoming a hindrance.

She didn’t buy it. It’s ok, it will take some time.

Our kids, they are brilliant in their resilience, but their transition to normalcy is so hard for them to wrap their brains around. It requires them to trust, and that’s something they don’t really do. Hope tells me that she trusts herself, and that’s about it.

She does trust me, but there are some hard limits, and I know where those limits are and I try to earn my way beyond them.

It’s not easy though. I’m fighting years and years of her expertise in living her life in a way that she gets to see tomorrow. In nearly 44 years; I’ve never had to work that hard. Not on my worst day have I had to work that hard to survive. I can’t imagine that much change in her world view after only 3 years; that expectation is not appropriate.

She’s changed some. Her expectations of me increase, and with them her belief that I’ll deliver and ability to meet those expectations increases. But it is very slow, very incremental change.

As our Year of the Try comes to a close, I’m pondering next year’s family theme. I’m thinking the development of life skills is probably something we might give some focus in 2017.


Histrionics on a Friday

There are few things in the world more heartbreaking than your kid, your adoptive kid, telling you that she moved here because she thought she would be happy and that she thought you would try to understand her but you don’t.

sadABM

Yeah, that got yelled at me today. #shetoldme

Sigh.

TGIF.

So, I’m still simmering over the early events of the week and what I feel like was the defiling of my house. And because I’m petty, my behavior has really been unpleasant this week. #regressive #notproudbuthonest

About a year ago, AbsurdlyHotTherapist had us imitate each other in the midst of a fight…yeah, Hope stomped around, hemmed, hawed, yelled and stomped some more. When she was done she added that I would do that for days at a time when I was mad.

Yeah, I do. When I have been wronged…I’m like a virus, you just gotta stay away and wait until I sputter out.

That, admittedly, is not conducive to consistently good parenting, and I’m working on it. I’ve gotten so much better talking myself into just letting it go, most days.

But I’m way more petty than just ordinary petty, and I’ve got a nasty temper, and sometimes it makes me wonder if I should’ve ever become a parent given my penchant for high strung emotion.

But, that’s neither here nor there, right? I just gotta keep pushing for improvement.

Normally when our conflicts have escalated to Hope’s screaming that she’s miserable or that she thought things would be different, I run to hug her. I feel guilt about triggering that kind of honesty from her (which as an aside, in those moments of high emotion she is an incredibly effective communicator about what she’s thinking and feeling). In those moments, I want to gather her up and dab her tears and tell her that it will be ok.

I didn’t do that today, though.

Nope

I resisted the urge, not because I didn’t feel those things, but because I needed her to have a reality check. I needed her to understand that families have conflict, that happiness is not judged episodically but holistically, and that I still need her to take responsibility for the things that she utterly refuses to acknowledge. Like clean that gotdamn room of hers.

A hug was not going to get us to that space in that moment, even if I wanted to offer it. #lowkeyrealtalk I didn’t want to anyway.

This last week has been like watching my bank account spout like a geyser. Money has been flying out of the house like Elphaba on a broom, and flying out for some ridiculous ish. Yesterday morning, I just cut the cash tap abruptly amidst wails of poverty and starvation. The sense of irresponsibility and entitlement had pushed me to this point:

 

giphy

You would’ve thought she was in a Russian bread line with all that wailing.

 

Now I can afford an occasional oil spout, and once money is gone, it’s gone, but if it’s one thing I can’t stand it’s spending money that doesn’t need to be spent on things that could have been avoided.

So, instead of the immediate comfort, today I sat down and patiently waited for Hope to sit down with me. I talked about empathy—mine and hers. I talked about responsibility—ours to each other, but um mainly her responsibilities to me and to our home. I talked about communication efforts-ours-and how we need to continue to work on them. And we talked about choices—when she has them and when she simply doesn’t.  #eatthecake

She spoke; then I spoke some more. And then I walked away.

I often wonder what Hope thinks happiness looks like. I swear she thinks it’s like a nonstop carnival. It’s not. I know that happiness is a collection of experiences in which things are good, satisfying, fulfilling; they may be interspersed with disappointment, but not overwhelmed by them. I often feel like Hope needs every experience to be happy, happy, joy, joy to experience and acknowledge some kind of continuous happy; she doesn’t yet know how to be happy.

She simply doesn’t know how to be happy. I’m trying to teach her, but really how do you teach someone to embrace and experience happy?

The inability to recognize happiness and to choose it really hamstrings our relationship. I feel like I will always disappoint her because her expectations about being happy are so absurdly off-kilter that they are impossible to meet. Being unhappy is learned behavior; I don’t believe that its innate. Hope learned unhappiness.

Learned, pervasive unhappiness is a beeotch.  It is a smothering blanket.

I wish it were as easy to encourage her happiness as it is to for Yappy to be happy. This dog’s happiness hardly knows any bounds.

 “Hey boy, wanna go to the PARK????”

 

dancing.gif

Not Yappy, but Yappy-like!

 

“OMG! YES!!!!! I AM SO RIDICULOUSLY HAPPY!!!!”

Ah, but life with humans is so much more complicated and so much more dramatic than life with dogs.

And so, we just go on, trying to make a little progress at a time.

She just made me a grill cheese sandwich, so I guess we’re cool again. #anotherreasonIcantdropweight #apologyfood

Tonight we will host our first sleepover, and tomorrow I’ll drop off Hope and her friend at an amusement park before Yappy and I visit my parents for the day.

Tomorrow things will be happy, happy, joy, joy until the next hiccup that makes the world come histrionically crashing down. And I’ll be ready to have these conversations all over again.


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