Tag Archives: family trauma

Family Unions

This weekend Hope and I will travel to my mother’s hometown to join up with other descendants of my great-great grandparents. I haven’t attended a family reunion since I was a girl in grade school, so I’m excited to go see cousins from all over at a huge gathering of my people.

As I registered me and my daughter for this event, I really wondered about how Hope felt about attending this event.

Hope often remarks how large my side of our family is compared to her side. She comments on how her paternal side seems large but she just doesn’t really know many of the people even though they seem to remember her from when she was a small child.

Behaviorally, it’s clear that my daughter has found her place on my side of the family. She adores her aunts and cousins. She has relationships with her grands. We’re still working past the big emotions related to reclaiming her place on her side of her family. The visits are less frequent because of distance and emotional stability. The conversation is stilted and awkward. The perceived demands that she remember, forgive and embrace them all are hard to overcome. It’s definitely a work in progress.

But family gatherings during the holidays and summer break with my family seems substantially different than going to a family reunion. Did other descendants choose to build their families through adoption? I know of some kinship adoptions in our extended family, but there are still some relations there that just are.

Will Hope feel overwhelmed by the event—beyond her “I don’t like crowds” complaints? Will her new roots in this family be enough to make her feel safe at this event? Will she choose to blend in not mentioning our type of family or will she feel like she needs to separate herself by disclosing our adoption? How best do I make her feel safe with any choice she chooses to make?

My parents and a sister did our Ancestry DNA tests several months ago and have been intrigued and amused at the results. It’s interesting to see how DNA trickles through the bloodlines. I bought a test for Hope who at one point was very, very interested in doing her test, and then she just dropped it and resisted talking about it anymore. I wondered if all that was revealed in watching my immediate family go through the process, uncovering family secrets and connecting with far flung relatives, was just too much to consider for my daughter.

And so, here we are again, at the precipice of another major family event. Will my daughter embrace it? Will she be a distant observer and not feel connected to any of it? Will she reconcile that paper and blood can coexist in families? Will she feel something for these people…these strangers?

I would be lying if I didn’t say I had a lot of emotions about this family reunion. I’m excited to see kinfolk, but I don’t know how my daughter will fit this into her lived experience. I’m not sure what being sensitive looks like here. I’m sure I’ll figure it out, and hopefully maybe it won’t matter at all. Maybe, she will just slide in, grab a hotdog, sit down next to a distant cousin who is cute and figure it out. Sometimes she can be a total boss like that.

Taking my daughter to my/our family reunion is expanding her union and that feels really, really significant. I try to think of our biological families as tied together by us—similar to how families are joined in marriage—ours is joined in adoption. I think a lot about how unbalanced it already feels sometimes, and I wonder if and how this will add to that?

I wouldn’t want to not take Hope as that sends a dangerous signal. Hope is my daughter. Hope is my sole beneficiary to everything that’s mine. She is my lovely, beautiful girl. She is my daughter. Of course, she goes to the family reunion.  Duh! That’s a non-starter.

But there’s always another side to things and that’s Hope’s feelings about it.

I’ve asked her about it. She hasn’t said much. So, I guess I’ll press forward, put on my family reunion t-shirt on Saturday morning, see if Hope puts on her family ‘union’ t-shirt and see what happens. Whatever happens I’ll be there for her as usual.

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Narrow Range of Emotions

During all of our quality time this past weekend, I asked Hope how she was feeling emotionally these days. I got the standard issue response, “Same.”

Every time I ask Hope how she’s doing/feeling, she lets me know that nothing has really changed. The only thing emotionally that seems to have changed much over the last year or so is that Hope can actually talk about her emotions and what they feel like and what the impact they have on her looks like. I’m proud of this evolution even if she says it hasn’t had any impact on managing her emotions.

Hope says she has a very narrow range of emotions: anger ←and →sadness. She’s said that she just plays the appropriate emotions on the outside for everyone else’s benefit.

My daughter is a marvelous actress.

I scrolled through some of my favorite pictures of her on my phone—surprise pics from good gifts or a great musical performance.

“These reactions aren’t real?”

Hope tried her best to explain that a small part of her feels the emotions, but really, she just amps the reaction that she knows folks want to see. She feels sadness and anger all the time.

Then I was sad and angry, and a wee bit hurt that all those great moments we’ve had are a little tarnished because she had to fake the appropriate response.

I was sad that despite finding a home with lots of loves and 1st world comforts she’s still so sad and angry, and angry that so many people hurt her and still control her ability to live a fulfilled life.

My daughter can’t live authentically because she’s so broken that she can’t feel the full range of emotions available to her. That’s a doozy.

Trauma is such a bitch.

It’s hard enough learning to connect your body and mind through emotions and learning to harness everything, especially as a teenager. But when everything is so disconnected? I found myself really wondering how she processes other people’s emotions? Does she read them correctly? I mean, I guess she does since she tries to respond accordingly. But I have to figure that this emotional stuff is connected with her social challenges.

I believe in time, Hope will enjoy a widened emotional range; I’m hopeful.

I’m wildly emotional. We watched A Dog’s Purpose this weekend and I cried all through the dang thing. I was hugging Yappy and about the go get The Furry One’s ashes to sit with them. I laughed hard during Despicable Me 3, and I was shocked that the South Park movie was more vulgar than I remembered. My heart felt shaky from missing my 6 month old nephew when pictures of his first time in a pool came via text. Worry furrowed my brow when I heard my mom wasn’t feeling well. Empathy spilled out when I heard about Sister M’s dog being terrified of fireworks on July 4th. I felt it all. I am a big emoter, and sometimes it annoys Hope.

With such a narrow emotional range, my wide range has caused Hope to call me overdramatic on more than one occasion.

I asked Hope was AbsurdlyHotTherapist helping her explore ways to help her allow herself to feel more. I already knew the answer: there’s so much rage that has to be dealt with first that prying open the emotional landmine is secondary. She did say that going to talk about it was really helpful in letting off some steam each appointment. I’m glad.

It often feels like there is so much to juggle with Hope’s recovery. The facets feel countless, and the need to shift coping strategies is never-ending. Some mornings I lay there looking at the ceiling fan wondering what will be expected of me in parenting my daughter that day. I whisper a prayer to keep the drama to a minimum.

Beyond making sure she feeling physically safe, it’s hard prioritizing what to deal with. It’s also hard to control my own range of emotional responses. It’s hard to admit that I wish I emoted less so that I could focus on strategic management of Hope’s healing—but I’m guessing that would make me a less effective mom to her. She needs my emotion—not only as a reminder of my love but as a model for expressing emotion.

It’s all so complicated and painful.

I just hope that one day Hope will be able to smile genuine smiles; laugh real laughs, sleep with the light off, feel confident, know she’s loved and can return love in a healthy way. Until then I’ll keep playing whack-a-mole trying to help her, and just relish those moments when she appears to be authentic in her emotional expression.


An Anxious Life

I have learned a lot about living with anxiety since Hope came into my life.

I have always been a bit high-strung. I am incredibly self-motivated and will run myself ragged in the quest for achievement. I set goals. I achieve them. I have problems. I solve them. And while I have experienced depression and eating issues, I didn’t really think I had a problem with anxiety. That is, I didn’t until I started my doctoral program. During the first course, I started experiencing some physical symptoms of anxiety (chronic insomnia, IBS, etc) that I just did not understand. My doctor had to explain that I was really anxious about school.

Oh. Ok.

Now what?

He prescribed me something for my anxiety that reminded me of how my grandmother used to carry valium in foil in her purse. I used the medication judiciously, stepped up my exercise and clean eating and tried to get more sleep. I coped and got on top of it.

And then Hope came along and everything I understood about anxiety was completely blown up. I had no real frame of reference for a life with generalized anxiety dominated by somatic symptoms. While I could relate to her insomnia, I was mystified by the constant stomach aches, headaches, chest pains, constipation, diarrhea, the lack of hunger, the ravenous moods, the fear, the drama. We are regulars at the local Patient First clinic since I made a personal commitment to just take her in and let her have the attention she needs. It’s worth the co-pay.

Sometimes I’ll offer her some Tylenol or Advil. Sometimes I’ll make Hope tea or cocoa and we’ll sit together. Sometimes I sit and do some breathing exercises with Hope. I’ve even bought placebo pills to just give her something.

And still, she struggles. And when Hope struggles, I struggle. We all struggle.

During the last few weeks Hope’s anxiety has escalated to levels I saw when she first transitioned to our home. She complains about being ill daily. She swore she had food poisoning a couple of nights ago. She didn’t. She works herself into a frenzy resulting in no sleep, save an hour or so when her body just shuts down in the wee hours of the morning.

I look at her grades; I can practically map the days her anxiety is heightened. It tracks so closely with her performance.

I’ve alerted the team of professionals. We’re trying some strategies; I’m hoping we can help her find better ways of coping and letting some things just go. It’s easier said than done.

And like trauma, anxiety is contagious. There are times when I can’t sleep either, when my worry consumes me; when I can’t figure out my next power move designed to save Hope from herself.

I find myself daily trying to remember to release the stress in my shoulders and let them just hang. I have to remind myself to do some breathing exercises. Throughout the day I use timers to remind myself to do short 5-minute bursts of exercise (youtube videos!) to relieve stress. I try to stick to relaxing an hour before bed to help me wind down. And yet, my shoulders creep up, and my mind races trying to figure the way out of this trauma induced maze that we are stuck in, and I’m often consumed with all the things that need to be done to try to set Hope up for her version of success.

The truth is, that I’m almost always exhausted as a result. Her anxiety is our anxiety. I know that how I feel is only a glimpse of what she feels. I’m certain she’s exhausted too.

Each year for the last 7 years my doctor has re-upped my prescription for my anxiety meds. I usually fill it one time during the course of the year. I save the small white pills. I rarely take them, choosing instead to find other ways of practicing self-care to cope with my anxiety.

This week, I reached into the back of my side table drawer and retrieved the bottle of meds. I took two before bed. And the next day I took two more. I may take them a little more regularly for a while.

Hope left for her 4-day band trip two days ago. I’ve been looking forward to it. I’m so tired. The idea that I’m only available to Yappy for a few days is a weight off of my shoulders. Not that I won’t miss Hope. I know I’ll be eager to see her on Sunday, but not having to remember to make sure she’s up and functional is a nice thing. I hope that her time away will also be meaningful and relaxing.

As for me, I’m focusing on self-care: yummy food, the love of my couch, time at the dog park and maybe, just maybe, I’ll stay awake long enough to get a manicure.

Maybe.


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