I sit up quick, anxiety stealing my breath. I take a second to gather my senses. I grab my phone; it’s around 3am in the morning. For months, I am ripped out of my sleep with terrible anxiety about 3 am every morning. There has been only a handful of nights over the past year that I have slept past this witching hour. When I wake I can feel the fear, anxiety, sadness, and isolation consume me as I lay in the dark. The only sound I hear is my fan oscillating. Sometimes I wake up crying; sometimes I lay just held with paralyzing fear, fear for my daughter, fear for her future, fear for all our future if she continues on the path she’s on.
As I lay awake at 3 am, I replay the video conference therapy session with Jill and her therapist yesterday. Jill was her usual. As Jill grabbed things on her therapist’s desk, tried to steal the mouse from the therapist hand to close the conference call, walked out of her office several times because she did not like what we were talking about; I just stared at this child I did not recognize anymore; this child stolen by mental illness; this child caught in the depths of her trauma. The therapist was having to fend off Jill’s octopus arms which grabbed everything. We were talking about things Jill needed to do in order to be able to come home. Jill did not like the conversation and wanted to stop it’s progress by any means possible. When something affects her, gets to her, makes her uncomfortable, or mad, she starts misbehaving to gain control of the situation. In watching this surreal scene on my computer screen, I say to myself at least she washed and combed her hair today. They tell you to stay positive, right? Jill plays this young, just out of grad school, not a mother yet, therapist like a fiddle. The therapist obviously has no understanding of Reactive Attachment Disorder, but Jill sure is giving her a crash course in it right now. This same young, inexperienced therapist tried to tell me I was too firm with Jill and needed to use more positive sounding “boundaries” instead of “rules”. She said my “one and done” approach was not giving Jill the opportunity to make the choice to behave. She was saying all this to me as Jill repeatedly tries to reach to her computer and end our video conference several times. She takes decorative things off her desk and threatens to break them. All the while the therapist is using her positive boundaries words to give her the choice to comply. Jill is straight up ignoring her and laughing at her. I sit there with a smile and nodding while the dark part on the inside of me laughs at how “well” her positive choices are working with Jill. I laugh not because I find it humorous; I laugh because I find it sad that no one understands how to work with a kid with an Attachment Disorder. I have often thought about going and getting a PhD in Psychology to help kids with Attachment Disorders because very few people “get” what works with them. The therapist says she took some courses on children in poverty and trauma informed therapy so she knows about trauma. That is like reading a book on gambling and then saying you are an expert at Poker. Kids can experience trauma through factors of poverty, but not experience complex trauma which can lead to Developmental Trauma and Attachment Disorders. Kids don’t have to be impoverished to have complex trauma. That is a very stereotypical school of thought. There are children who grow up poor, but do not experience abuse and have great attachment with their care givers. I countered her in saying how many courses did you have with subject matter on Complex Trauma, Attachment Disorder (A.D.) , and Developmental Trauma (DT)? Did they offer practicums in working with children who had experienced Complex Trauma and have A.D.s? She replied, “Well, there were a couple of courses where we discussed it, but none where it was the sole topic.” I just smile. It reminds me of a line from the Mary Tyler Moore Show that I watched on Nick at Nite as a kid. Lou Grant (Ed Asner) and his wife went to marriage counseling with a counselor that was not married. When Lou questioned the counselor how he thought he could be effective on giving marriage advice if he has never been married, the counselor replied, “You don’t have to be a whale to write Moby Dick.” This situation reminded me of that scene I saw on tv so many years ago. I shake my head, that is not enough when you are the sole counselor for a facility where 80% of your residents have Attachment Disorders.
People always say to you as the parent of a kid with an Attachment Disorder, “Why don’t you get them in with a therapist that specializes in Attachment Disorders?”, as if you are an idiot and never thought of that! Here is my answer, ” BECAUSE THERE ARE NONE!” They are not even present in facilities that are made to take children with A.D. You feel so helpless as a parent because no one seems trained to help your child. I wish I could go pick a good therapist off a tree like an apple, but the trees are bare in this area, people! Hear me!
As I lay awake at 3 am, I play in my head all the things I want to share with others about complex trauma. As I have stated in my other posts, children who have experienced Complex Trauma and have Attachment Disorders (diagnosed or not) need to control everything because their lives have been so out of control. They are amazing manipulators and can play even the most seasoned educator, therapist, or doctor because those people often make the assumption that they are just “kids like any other”. Wrong! A.D. kids don’t speak love like everyone else. Would you expect a kid who only knows Mandarin to become fluent in English just by moving him from a house in China to a house in America? No! He would have to learn the language over time if he was willing to learn it. (Change is a choice! Learning is a choice!) If he did learn it, he might be able to lessen his accent and become pretty fluent, but his native tongue will always be Mandarin. He will most likely always think in Mandarin and will always feel more comfortable speaking his first language. Parents, educators, therapists, doctors, whoever reads this, please understand, the language of love and caring is foreign to them. They do not understand it. They will not be native speakers of it. They will always have to put thought into it. Their ability to successfully “speak” love and attachment takes YEARS of intervention and even then may not be successful. First, it has to be specifically and explicitly taught, then taught again, and then taught again. They don’t learn from mistakes like other kids. They keep doing want they want regardless of the consequences. They have a skewed sense of social justice because their early life was so unjust. Their main purpose in life is survival by any means necessary. They see boundaries as threats to their control. However, that is exactly what they need most. This upcoming information is going to sound counterintuitive to your nature, but it is a MUST for kids with A.D. and D.T. You must speak THEIR language to reach them. You must explicitly define boundaries, have very firm rules with very firm and CONSISTENT consequences (not unfair or totalitarian, just firm) and YOU MUST DO WHAT YOU SAY YOU ARE GOING TO DO! They have not been able to rely on adults to do what they are supposed to do so you must be consistent to show them they are safe and can trust you. Their trust is not innate. It is a relationship that must be cultivated and tended daily. Gifts and physical rewards hold very little meaning to them because they do not harbor the attachment to the person who gives it to them. If you give them material things, then they will see you as someone to manipulate to get what they want. They will appear to attach to you, but they have not. You just become their “dealer”. What I do instead is quality time rewards. I go with them to the zoo. I go on a nature hike. I take them to the playground. It can be exhausting though because they are constantly pushing boundaries and they often intentionally embarrass you in public to gain control if you are holding on a demand. Do not engage in verbal conflict with them they are trying to gain control. Only give 2-3 word directives and do not respond until they comply. They will make a lot of noise and once they see they can get away with it once, they will double their efforts the next time. I have learned from my experience fostering children with A.D. and adopting a child with R.A.D. that unfortunately the best method with them is one time to comply or you get the consequence or one and done as I call it.
All this weighs on me at 3am every morning. I realize that my child’s future is on the line. My concern over what her future will look like and my fear of what the rest of my family’s life is going to be like permeates and marinates my mind and wears me out. I feel their is a mental and spiritual fight for my daughter, so I pray. I pray holding onto my weathered tether of Faith. At 3am, I hear the whisper that I was the wrong Mom for her. I think if another woman had adopted her, someone stronger, someone better, maybe she would be better off than she is now. I feel that I have failed her. I think maybe if I done it this way or tried this earlier she would not be at this place. I feel guilt when I do things with my son because she is not there. I also feel abundantly guilty because I have had to put so much time and energy into seeking treatment for Jill that he does not get the attention and time he deserves as well. Logically, I know my daughter suffers from mental illness. Logically, I know that the abuse she lived daily before she came to us caused irreversible damage to her brain structures. However, I keep praying because I know I am in what I call the Jesus Zone. That is the place He puts us when nothing of this world will change a situation so we know what does come is totally through His Hands! Though my soul is weary, I still believe! I praise Him for all good things He has given to me! God bless!