Twelve Months Later…

Hello Friends & Family, I am back! Well I didn’t really go anywhere but I had to step back and process some of the events that have brought us to where we are now (more on that later). I am excited to be back to blogging honestly it is the way I stay zen, because the burden is too much to carry without sharing about it. I am sure you are curious of what has gone on over the past year (yes it really has been that long!), well here is where we are.

Our family has had quite the year, when we last left you we were working through in home therapy for C and trying to determine our next move because it wasn’t working. That next move was a huge step out on faith. In May about 7 months after intensive in home therapy started we made the difficult decision to place C outside the home for treatment, it had become unsafe in the home for everyone including himself. Before school let out we had our first meeting with the residential program we had chosen (not an easy decision by any means). We really liked the program and we scheduled our tour of the facility a week later. Two very long weeks later we packed our oldest son and moved him to a residential boys wilderness camp. I would be lying if I said that it was easy, after everything he has put the family through but it was such a bittersweet day. On one hand I had just entrusted my son’s care to people that a month ago I had just met, I knew it was the right decision however it was so hard to leave and make the 2 hour drive home, there were many tears shed prior to drop off, at drop off, on the way home, and still to this day. On the other hand I knew for the safety of my family that this was the right decision, for the first time in 3.5 years my other children will have a chance to feel safe in their own home, yes you read that right, our other children were living in daily fear of what might happen if their brother lost control, it was a miserable way to live. We are 6 months into the program at the wilderness camp, we have home visits every 6 weeks for a long weekend (Thursday – Tuesday) and they are as expected, difficult. We have a very long time to go with this program before he can graduate and transition to living back in the home but we are hopefully on the right path.

slide2Where does that leave us? We have a few new challenges now with our oldest living outside the home.

The first challenge, the questions, people are curious where he is. During the summer it was easy to say he is at camp and they would smile and that would be the end of the discussion. Now that we are out of camp season and back in school when we say camp we are met with lots of confused looks and more questions. While I don’t mind answering questions sometimes those conversations turn awkward or overly personal really quick. I do share as much as I can because I believe in transparency in adoption because no one should go into this journey blindly however sometimes the questions in front of our other children are too much to answer with little ears. Yes I know they lived through it however it has been traumatic for them (yes there is therapy involved to help them through this) and doesn’t need to relived.

Our second challenge has been how our other children have adjusted. We have uncovered some unsettling things that have happened in the home now that C isn’t home and our youngest was able to feel safe enough to share. It turns out that C had been threatening to hurt him, while he had done this in front of us and it was stopped and addressed with out treatment team it had apparently been going on to a bigger extent than we knew so we are working with him to develop felt safety in the house again. This also extends of a lot of mood swings and meltdowns due to anxiety of impending home visits and a lot of crying and begging us not to pick him up due to their fear of him. This is heart breaking as a mother because in trying to do right by all the children I feel as if I am furthering the trauma caused to our younger children.

The third challenge we have and the hardest one by far to deal with has been family & friends. When we adopted and started having troubles our friends & family took a few giant steps back. They didn’t want our trouble child playing with their kids because well he was a bully, a thief, and downright mean. Do I blame them, no, however we need the support, we need the respite, we need that community that isn’t afraid to walk away. We have a few very close friends that have pulled in closer to us over these past few years and they have been such an amazing blessing I can’t even express in words what they mean to us. When we started have severe troubles & behaviors out of our oldest and we made the decision to place him outside the home for treatment most of our family had strong opinions yet no one was there to help us. We had single handily become the black sheep of the family, when we needed help the most those that were supposed to be closest to us walked away. I don’t know if they walked away because they felt we made the wrong decision, because they didn’t know what to do because this is all new, or because they simply didn’t believe this was happening — however they stepped away and we were left to pick up all the pieces by ourselves. This past year has been one of the loneliest I have ever experienced in my life. Again those friends that are our family have been there for us and without them I would not be where I am today in my journey of healing and rebuilding my family.

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Where do we go from here? That is a thought that is often on my mind, we are taking this one day at a time. Learning how to help our children gain the feeling of felt safety in our home that was stolen from them by their older brother. We are working on healing ourselves as we identify and name things that we have kept hidden for far too long. We are recovering slowly from the emotional abuse we lived daily with our oldest. We are working on forgiving and repairing any semblance of a relationship with C. At this point I can personally say I do not see myself being able to trust him again, the wounds are too deep and too fresh, I do prayerfully hope that changes some day but at this point in time it is just not possible.

What is next, we keep swimming =) Honestly we are working on building our relationships with our other children. When you live with a child with severe attachment and behavioral issues you will find that the other relationships in your life suffer. We have taken vacations, done family photos, and been able to relax and enjoy life. Life around the house isn’t filled with chaos and fear it is filled with love and laughter. While this will likely be now of the hardest decision we have ever had to make I can say confidently that it was the best decision for the circumstances we were in.

 

 

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Therapeutic Counseling – Friend & Foe

Counseling, therapy, in-home services — all huge helps for raising a child from a difficult place. Luckily for us after months of searching we found a provider that would be able to meet in our home and provide not only a therapeutic service to help him conquer some of his behaviors/social struggles but also a counselor to help him process the trauma from his past in a safe setting.

A few weeks ago we were able to secure in home services through a wrap around program with our local board of DD & Catholic Charities. I attended a few meetings with the case manager and the new in-home therapist.  A case manager is for the parents, she helps keep everyone on the same page and secure services for the family. Currently our case manager is working with the school to try to get him accommodations in the classroom in the form of an IEP and also to help us get the proper referrals to see a neurologist/psychiatrist in Toledo to have neurological testing done to see what damage the drugs and alcohol have done to C’s brain.  At the meetings we discussed what we as parents were hoping to accomplish with the in home services and how we could work as a team to help C better function in the house and at school.

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Last Monday C was able to meet the new case manager and in-home therapist in our home. We set our first session date for the following Monday at 10am.

Today was our first official session with his therapist. While I was very excited to get him back into a therapeutic counseling service I was bracing for the backlash. C is not like most kids in that he will try to mask/hide/manipulate his emotions so he doesn’t feel or appear weak. While the therapist was talking with him during his 2 hour session I waited patiently attending to other things around the house that needed done, I keep a close ear to see if he was actually participating with this therapist (he was!). Near the end I was invited in to discuss what was talked about and help create a plan of action for the next week until she was able to meet with him again. The plan of action consists of small things for him to work on, we aren’t moving mountains here just spoonfuls of sand, but small changes count as long as we are moving forward.

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During his session they talked about some hot button topics that I knew he would normally cry during but he withheld his tears like a pro (sadly being able to manipulate emotions is his speciality). I knew that the floodgates would open after she left and with me here it would all be directed at me (as many experts have termed the adoptive mothers, I was his nurturing enemy). Like a ticking time bomb he sat with a smile on his face and so politely talked to his therapist on all the changes he was going to make and proposed things we had proposed to him to help make his life in the house a little more enjoyable (we have a no chores no play policy — he hasn’t done chores in over 2 months, you can do the math).

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After the therapist left it was nearing lunch time so I had him grab a book and read (no chores = no play but reading is always available). I went to prepare lunch while finishing up school with the two youngest. As he read and  I prepared lunch I could see the smile turn to anger, the emotions were starting to boil over, he wasn’t going to contain them any longer and one false move and he would be set off. I placed lunch on the table and started to call everyone to the table to eat. After arriving to the table I reminded him that the therapist asked him to work on his table etiquette, specifically how quickly he ate and the size of his bites. That reminder set him off, he was furious that I would ask him to cut reasonable sized bites of food and actually chew them instead of swallowing them whole (I know I am a monster for not wanting him to choke or get a tummy ache).  He jumped up out of his seat, slammed his chair back into the table, and screamed he was going to his room. In our house if you leave the table the meal is over (this has stopped the children from wandering around and grazing all day long). As he went to storm out I calmly told him that when he cooled off as long as he didn’t hit anything he could return to the table if he apologized for the outburst. Instead of going to his room as he threatened he decided he would rather spend the next 10 minutes screaming at me about everything I had done wrong. According to him “I took him away”, “I stole him from his birth mother”, “I hate her and made her go away so I could keep him”, “I hate him”, “I am mean”, “I  don’t love him”, “Everything is my fault”, “I am making him see a therapist and get help and that makes me the devil”, & my personal favorite “I hate you because you love me”. While none of these are true (well maybe the last one, he isn’t a huge fan of the love I show him) he believes each one to it’s core, especially the ones about us taking him away. In his hurt and confused brain/heart we are the enemy. He can’t/won’t believe that the person he has put so high on a pedestal could ever give up on him like she did. After his mini emotional meltdown I was able to get him into his room to lay down, rest, and reset his system.

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While I know that these will happen after sensitive subjects are talked about during his therapy sessions it doesn’t make them any easier. It is hard to know what will set him off and how long the meltdown will last. Our goal during a meltdown isn’t to rationalize or even discuss anything – the solitary goal is to get him de-escalated and back to using his whole brain to think with. During a meltdown a child reverts to the most primal state of survival the fear center of the brain resulting in the fight, flight, or freeze response. There is no use of the cognitive portions of the brain when in the fear center so logic and reasoning has went out the window. The best way we have found to reset C’s brain is to have him lay down and rest, in the resting state his brain is given a chance to relax and leave the fear center so when he wakes he can use his whole brain instead of just the fear brain. When he wakes up naturally we will sit down and discuss what set him off, why it set him off, and how he can better handle his emotions in the future.

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Seeing your child revert to the fear center is like watching a different person, a person with out logic and reasoning. It is heart wrenching and frustrating at the same time.

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Welcome to Our Life

In January of 2013 we set out to become foster parents with the hopes of adopting some day. The next few months were consumed with countless hours spent in classes, reading books on parenting children from hard places, home study visits, and pile (and piles) of paperwork. At the beginning of May 2013 we received a call that our license had been approved by the state and we were officially foster parents. During that same call we also received our first placement – 3 children ages 6 (Boy – C), 4 (Girl – M), and 2 (Boy – A). After a brief discussion we accepted the placement and Mother’s Day weekend 2013 we met our children for the first time. Going into the placement we were told that the children had been in care before and we would be the 3rd home in 19 months. We were also informed that the county was seeking permanent custody of the children and they would be available for adoption, with the foster family being the most favorable placement.

The first few months were pleasant, we were all getting to know each other and finding our groove as a family of 5.

August 2013, permanent custody was granted. The final good bye visit for the children and their biological mother happened. The 2 youngest children didn’t fully understand what was going on, however our oldest understood what a final visit meant and was devastated. With counselors along for the journey we worked with him on processing the loss, working through the grief, and continuing attachment parenting to help build the connection that was severely damaged from years of neglect.

The holidays are hard on children that aren’t with their biologically family. This first set of holidays, Thanksgiving & Christmas, weren’t an exception. The first year we keep the holidays small, immediate family only as to not overwhelm the children and to help promote family bonding. Thanksgiving wasn’t as hard as Christmas was this year.

In December 2013 we signed the intent to adopt agreement for the children with our court date set for February 2014.

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Christmas morning was a difficult time for our oldest, recently he had been struggling with being able to control his behaviors and emotions, at the time we attributed it to him dealing with he grief and loss of his biological family, but looking back it was the first telltale signs of a much deeper issue, RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder). Christmas morning, a time that we had hoped would be filled with happy memories of family & love has forever been engrained in our minds with jealousy & hatred. To set the scene, our oldest son C (he was 7 at the time) had talked for months about wanting a big RC truck to play outside with; our youngest A had wanted a Cozy Coupe (he was 3 at the time). The kids came down stairs and we opened stockings, gifts from us, and gifts they have made each other. Finally with 3 gifts left under the tree it was time for Santa’s gift to each of them. As we had them sit with the gifts in front of them so we could open them one at a time, we saw C’s face drop when his gift wasn’t the biggest under the tree. He got very angry and demanded to know what he didn’t get the biggest present, at this point we hadn’t even opened anything yet so he had no idea what was inside any of the 3 boxes. After calming him down we got back to opening the final gift from Santa and Santa sure came through, he delivered each child exactly what they had wished for, C got the big RC truck, M got a vanity, and A got his Cozy Coupe truck.

Looking back on that moment we had originally thought it was just a jealous sibling that had never been taught how to appreciate what they had been given, but when we look at the pictures his face tells a different story. The hatred in his eyes toward his siblings over the size of a box was the beginning of the end.

As February rolled around we had our final reading and acceptance for the children’s adoption. As adoption day got closer the happier the children seemed. With the children all being old enough to know their names we left it up to them if they wanted to keep their birth first name and get an extra middle name and new last name (that was our plan). Our oldest came to us during a counseling session and asked if he could have a new name completely because he wanted to start over with a new family. After discussing with his therapist we started the process of picking a new name for him (and his other siblings as they wanted new names too now). With our oldest’s help we found a name we all agreed on and it was settled we were ready for adoption day.

Adoption Day was a snowy February morning in 2014, the kids had lived with us for about 10 months and while there were some trying times we felt like we were making good strides along the way and have watched them grow by leaps and bounds over the past 10 months. Adoption Day was quick in the courtroom with our closest family & friends standing by watching us legally adopt our 3 children. After court we took the kids to Build-A-Bear to mark this day with a special creation. We headed home to a small welcome party at the local restaurant with friends & family, then we surprised the kids with a night at the local hotel (with a pool). We went swimming, watched movies, ate popcorn, and enjoyed breakfast in bed.

As we continued down the path life had set us on and blessed us with we had the support of friends and family, the services and support of counselors, and we thought we were making progress little by little.

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Within a few months of the adoption things started to spiral faster and faster. We experienced behaviors, manipulation, rages, emotional abuse, threats of violence, severe lying, stealing, hoarding, cheating, sneaking out of the house, and many other things that you wouldn’t expect out of a 8-9 year old.  A year and a half later and we are here today; tired, worn out, and grasping at straws. We have been through doctors, counselors, therapists, specialists, and psychiatrists. We have continually sought help for our son, a child who through all of this is so broken from the trauma, abuse, neglect, and abandonment he has suffered through for the first 6 years of his life. It has been so very hard to remember daily that he isn’t turning our lives upside down to be difficult it is because he doesn’t know how to love, connection, attach, be safe, feel secure – never in his life has he ever felt these in the purest form. We love him unconditionally, find ways to connect and attach, provide and safe & secure home but he isn’t emotionally able to receive this the way you and I would. Attachment, Bonding, & Connection is a foreign language to our oldest son (C), his needs in the womb, in infancy, as a toddler, and as a child were never met by his caregivers (be it biological family or foster family). At almost 7 he had never been taken care of by an adult, he had to become the adult to survive and for his siblings to survive. He was the provider, the parent, the guardian, and never the child. His brain is wired differently, he is always in survival mode.

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Spring of 2015, after over a year of dancing around the official diagnosis and trying rationalize other options he was diagnosed with what we (his therapists and his parents) had long suspected – RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder). This is a pretty serve diagnosis and one that left us with more questions than answers. After that appointment more doors opened up for help for our son, we were able to make more connections and find more people to help us along this journey.

As we continue this journey part of my self care commitment to myself & my family is that I will find an outlet so I don’t feel so alone & unsupported, so that is where this blog comes into play. I will be chronicling our journey, the ups, downs, and unexpected as we seeking to help and heal our son. While I have 3 children whom I love and adore, this blog with be dedicated to our oldest son (who we will refer to as C on here for privacy) who is a child struggling with RAD.

 

Please join us on this journey; ask questions, say a prayer, lending an ear, or give a hug (in person or virtually). By opening up our lives and letting everyone in we hope for a few things; more understanding about the lasting effects of childhood trauma, less parents feeling alone on this journey, and acceptance – of us, of our son, of where he started and where he is now. I look forward to sharing our lives with you and I hope you understand loving a child with RAD is hard (harder than you can imagine) but the battle isn’t over because of this diagnosis, the fight to heal your child is just beginning and it can be a positive one.

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