Tag Archives: Coping

The Gap

Let me start off by saying that I deeply believe in family preservation and open adoption whenever and however possible. I think there would be far less of a need for adoption and foster care if we really believed in family preservation and providing families with the support they needed to parent successfully. I also think that fears about whether and how we process our emotions and relative standing around family status is a huge barrier to successful open adoption. It’s so much easier to see families as a threat and inconvenience than it is to see families of origin as having meaningful standing in the lives of adoptees. Yes, yes, #notall situations can be preserved or open, but smart folks can easily distinguish those situations from the mass.

Hope’s adoption opened weeks after finalization. I didn’t want to be that judgy adoptive parent, but in many ways I was. I desperately wanted to protect Hope, who at the time was still easily overwhelmed by just about everything. Her family wanted to reconnect, but in their excitement they just kind of breezed past several years of Hope’s chaos. There was a huge gap, and I had to get right into the middle of it to sort things out.

That was four years ago, and we’ve all grown in our understanding of how this big family thing works. Family can be really messy, and my daughter’s emotions about how she fits is messy too. And there’s still a huge gap and I’m still right in the middle of it, and sometimes, like lately, it’s really, really sucky.

Hope is now an older teen. She’s matured some; she’s developed some more coping skills. She has unpacked some of her trauma and her emotions around the need to be adopted by a non-family member. She’s really doing great even as she has a long way to go.

She’s happy to be in contact with her extended family, but she still hasn’t unpacked a lot of her feelings about all that happened or figure out what kind of consistent contact, if any, she wants or how to manage the increasing expectations of family that she be more participatory in big family events.

There’s a gap. I reside in the translational gap.

I’m there to encourage some interaction, to manage expectations, to make some desired connection happen, to decline some invitations, to offer some explanations, to try to facilitate and guide negotiated connection.

My daughter is increasingly clear about what she doesn’t want—even if she isn’t clear about what she does want. Her family is increasingly clear about what they want and hope for—even if they don’t get why that vision isn’t shared by Hope.

In the last year I’ve found myself the bearer of really difficult messages to share.

“I’m sorry, she doesn’t want to come.”

“Is so & so going to be there? If so, that’s a non-negotiable no for Hope.”

“I’m not sure when we will get to visit next. Hope doesn’t want it to feel like a huge family reunion; she wants it to be like this….”

At every point of connection, I check in with Hope, see how she’s feeling, what she needs, how does she want this thing to go, what will make her feel good about this, figure out what success looks like for her. It’s actually getting harder on her end. As she gets older, her desires are crystalizing around what kind of interaction she wants but the latent desire to please and to capitulate makes her shut the whole thing down. Her choices are different than what most of us want; I do my best to honor them. I often find myself in that gap, feeling like I’m delivering news that just hurts.

I know the news hurts her family. I hear it in their voices. I see it in the texts and emails. I try to be open and transparent, and I often wonder if they think it’s me keeping her away. I often wonder if they think I’m really an ally.  I’m trying to be, but I also know that Hope will always come first. #teamHope #alldayeveryday

And then something will be said that feels like there’s still an obliviousness around the history of the situation.

“I really wish I knew all that happened to her.”

“So and so just said it was XX, which doesn’t seem so bad.”

“If I knew what happened, I definitely would have responded differently.”

And I get emotional, and I’m reminded why it is so complicated for Hope. I get that she wants and needs a very specific type of acknowledgement about certain events in her life. I also get that we aren’t specifically dealing with her birth parents but extended family who may not be privy to the story as I know it or the story as Hope lived it. And Hope isn’t ready to share her full story with them, so…

There’s a gap. It may be there forever. I hope not, but it might be there for a long, long time.

I am sensitive to the fact that I sometimes see Hope mentally comparing “us” versus “them.” My family and the family she’s been grafted into is different. Not better, not worse, just different. My family has long joked about our dysfunction—every family has some—but what and whether that looks like dysfunction to someone new(ish) is different for every family. That seems to be the case for Hope; it’s normal.

When I was little I couldn’t understand why my two sets of grandparents seemed so very different. It was something I had to reconcile in my mind. They weren’t better or worse, just different. I see Hope doing that processing at nearly 17. I probably did it at 5.

There’s a gap.

I’m prepared to stand in it for a long time. It’s really uncomfortable though, can’t lie about that. I know it’s uncomfortable on some level for everyone involved and that that discomfort is probably way worse for Hope than for me. There are no regrets about trying to figure out this family thing. I know it’s in Hope’s best interest to have access and relationships with her extended birth family. More is more. But it isn’t easy. It requires constant scanning, checking in and assessment that her needs are being met, whether it’s to visit or to decline to visit. I pray it gets easier for Hope, that she’ll find her way and heal from the hurt. I also pray that the family gains a better understanding of the hurt and what it has been like for her.

I think that will be the thing that narrows the gap, maybe even eliminate it.

I hope so.

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Anxiety Sucks

I had a huge meeting this weekend that I spent months preparing for. Truth be told it wasn’t that the content was dramatically different than what I had done before. I recruited a team of some of my favorite colleagues to work with me to pull the content off; these folks are among the top notch folks I’ve worked with and I was delighted that they joined up.

For some reason this meeting really affected me in ways I didn’t really like in the weeks leading up to it. Frankly I was an anxiety-ridden nervous wreck. I can’t even say I know why I was so anxious about delivering this program. The group was one I hadn’t worked with before, but many of the people had either heard of my work or maybe even have been to a program somewhere else.

I fretted about who would come, what they would say about the program, whether they felt like I was teaching or shaming, whether they would think I was worth their time. As much as I love my job, it takes an emotional toll to step in front of a bunch of white folks to talk about diversity and inclusion. Not every appreciates me doing my job or even see a need for jobs like mine—and that’s me being polite. For some reason, stepping in front of this group felt particularly challenging. It required a lot of personal and professional vulnerability.

It felt like a lot of pressure to get this right. I couldn’t sleep. I haven’t been able to get back to my disciplined routine of exercise and eating—so I’ve also put on a few pounds. I started having tummy issues. My shoulders started hanging out near my ears. Tension headaches and exhaustion.  I was a functioning panic attack for the last week.

The program came off beautifully. I hit my zone in the first 15 minutes; I love this stuff. I’m good at this job. Not only did it go off well, I had a wonderful time. It was a blast.

And as I exhaled, it dawned on me that some version of this anxiety is how Hope feels all the time.

All the damn time.

I cried.

It feels miserable, just miserable. I don’t know how she gets up every day. I don’t know how she functions. I don’t know how she can focus on school or the few chores she has or anything. I don’t know how she ever has an appetite. I don’t know how she keeps any weight on. I don’t know how she can sleep. I don’t know why she wouldn’t sleep all the time.

I don’t know how she deals with me? How does she internally manage her reaction to my nudging and pushing to do school work? How does she not breakdown when I fuss at her for letting her room get messy?

How the eff does she do anything?

We’ve been really working on Hope’s coping skills a lot these last few months, trying to raise her self-awareness about how anxiety affects her physically. Most of her symptoms are somatic and it’s often hard for Hope to associate the physicality of her anxiety with the fact that it’s actually anxiety. We’re getting better at recognizing it, but after a couple of week so of my own anxiety and how many days went by before I could admit that I was really suffering…I don’t get her.

She is more magical than I even imagined before.

I get why she can spend hours, days even, watching K dramas; the ability to escape is critical to her very survival.

I hated my brush with intense anxiety this month. I hated it, but I’m grateful for the my own raised awareness about what my daughter must experience regularly. It is a reminder that I really do need to be supportive and sometimes extra gentle with her. I also want to be sure to continue helping Hope build her coping skills.

Anxiety sucks.


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.


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