November 19, 2016

When You Need Help

This is probably one of the hardest posts I've ever written.  I've thought about it at least a hundred times in my head and every time I've sat down to type out the words, they don't come.  The words don't make sense.  Probably because my heart doesn't seem to make sense right now.  And while I know that we don't owe anyone an explanation, I think there is freedom that comes from living the truth out in the open.  There have been times where I would have found so much comfort in reading a mom's words about her similar struggles... but there are few, even though I know dozens and dozens of families whose struggles mirror our own.

About 7 weeks ago, our daughter was admitted to a psychiatric treatment facility. Those words still taste like vinegar in my mouth when we tell people.  They are never sure what to say.  We aren't really sure what to say.  Mental illness... well, it's complicated.

Our girl had a hard life before she came to us.  A harder life in those 7 years before we knew her than most adults will experience in a lifetime.  Her story is her story.  It's private and tender and it's not mine to tell.  The amount of abuse and rejection she has experienced brings me to my knees and it amazes me how she's still standing at all.

Adoption is wrought with trauma.  It's not always the happy picture that gets shared from the pulpit on Sunday morning.  Sometimes it is and that is glorious. We have one of those glorious adoption stories living in our home, too.  But in many cases, adopted kids have been through hell.  They've lost their mothers, their culture, their innocence.  And while the world thinks that love will fix these kids and all will be rosy and smell like pine needles, the reality is sometimes very different.  You don't fix heartache that deep overnight with a new comforter and new brothers and sisters, a touch of therapy and tons of love.  You don't replace one mom with another.  Or rip away years of hard history. Histories shape us, for better or for worse.  Those hurts become the fabric of our stories, even when those stories are woven with love. So when your story doesn't turn out like the happy ones from the pulpit, it's easy to feel like you've failed.

We had red flags since the beginning.  Our daughter was adopted as an older child from a previously dissolved adoption.  I should have known that on the first day of our daughter being in our family that things weren't quite right.  On day one she crawled up in my lap, told me she loved me and how I was the best mom she'd ever had.  In retrospect, kids should be scared as hell coming to yet another family.  I now know that those first blissful months were our poor kiddo acting in a way that she thought would keep her alive.  She felt like she needed to be perfect to keep herself here long enough to formulate a plan. How sad and awful that some kids have been through so much that they know to develop those strategies to protect themselves.  So while I thought things were amazing, this kiddo was hurting so deeply.

After that little honeymoon, her survival strategies shifted.  Her brain told her she wasn't safe.  That we surely couldn't love her.  That surely we'd abandon her like everyone else in her life. (From piecing things together, we think we are her 6th or 7th family)  And if that was going to happen, she'd like to speed up that process so we'd just go ahead and send her on to her next family before she got too cozy here.  Her brain told her she was in grave danger here.  When love feels like danger, things are fundamentally broken.  My heart sobs to think of how dangerous and awful love being poured out felt to her.  She reacted the only way she knew how- to run away, to hurt others, to hurt herself, to destroy relationships, to create chaos.  Kamron and I took a heaping helping of hurt and destruction.  But in her eyes, I became public enemy number one.  Moms in the past had let her down- and I represented every one of those. I can't tell you the number of notes I've been given about how my heart is black, how hated I am, how I am not the real mom.  I can't tell you the number of times those words have been thrown in my face.  When the words no longer rattled me, the behaviors shifted again.

From the outside this kiddo looks like the picture of ooey gooey love.  When we walked in church on Sunday morning, she passed out hugs and smiles like her life depended on it.  At school, the same thing.  Out in public, if she saw someone she'd met once or twice she'd climb them like a tree and love the stuffing out of them. And when we'd get in the car to come home, she'd turn it off like a switch. When we would talk to people about some of the problems we were having in our home, we were met with blank stares and confusion because this was not the public self our child put forth.  People thought we were crazy.  We began to wonder ourselves if we were crazy.  I told a therapist that it almost felt like stories you hear of battered wives.  When the husband beats the tar out of her and then comes to her later saying that he's sorry, that he'll never do it again and how much he loves her.  Then she begins to wonder if she was ever really abused at all.  It felt just like that.  On repeat every day.  Until I no longer even knew what the truth was anymore.

We kept plowing on.  What else can you do?  We advocated everywhere we could.  We begged school for emotional support for our child even though she displayed no behaviors there that they deemed relevant.  We sought more therapy.  We cried, we got mad, we doubled down.  We got more firm.  We got more lenient.  We went out in public more because it felt so crummy at home.  We stayed home more because the juxtaposition of home and public life was so wonky, going out hurt too much.   We talked about our problems.  We held them in.  And every time we thought we were getting a grip, our kiddo's survival tactics shifted again and again until we found ourselves treading water constantly.  There are just so many things that have happened that are too tender to share.

Our child entered the hospital for the first time in 2015.  And then a longer outpatient program the same year.  Things got better for a little bit, but then ultimately went back to us living in a state of fear and panic all the time again.  Don't get me wrong, we had some amazing times in the last few years.  If you look through our photo albums it looks like the peachiest life on the planet. Our blessings abound.  But a family is only as happy as it's most unhappy child and it began to take a serious toll.

As things escalated at home, the need for video cameras in our home became necessary.  I stopped sleeping.  I would watch the video cameras all night long every night making sure everyone was safe.  I was so consumed with worry for our other kids.  And our hurting child just shut down completely.  I think she just became tired of fighting for what she thought was survival all day every day and she just became a shell of herself. Often sleeping 4-5 hours at a time during the day just to check out of life.  And becoming so sad and depressed that a major intervention was needed.

As a mom, you want to be a fixer.  I studied.  I researched.  I read every book/article/clinical study. I prayed.  I reached out for answers.  We talked to doctors and therapists by the dozens.  It took me a while to wrap my brain around the fact that I could no more cure my child's depression than I could cure cancer.  And it was then that I knew that if I wanted wholeness, happiness and safety for my child (and all my children) I was going to need to let go and let the people who are trained do their job.  For many months we looked at treatment facilities.  We looked at their models and compared and finally decided on one we knew would be just the perfect place for our daughter to find healing, in hopes that she can come back home and her heart and brain will no longer tell her we are the enemy.  That she is precious and worthy of love.

And so 7 weeks ago, we flew across the country and placed our babe in a psychiatric facility that specialized in helping children with adoption trauma and depression.  They understand her and how to help her.  That in itself feels like a miracle.  After a month of her being there, they have devised an amazing treatment plan for her.  And then they delivered the blow... they anticipate that for her to make progress, she will need to be in treatment for about 18 months.  It's hard to convey what it feels like when someone tells you that it will take 18 months.  It's both validation for what you knew was true and heartbreaking that an innocent child can be so hurt that it takes that long to even attempt to rebuild their system of trust.  The next year of our life will consist of a lot of travel.  We'll be back and forth across the country frequently for visits because if we want to heal as a family, we all have work to do.  There is lots of family therapy via Skype.  And what we hope is a lot of healing.

We had our first visit last weekend and I already see so much progress.  We started adding in Friday night dates where I read books to her on the phone while she's getting tucked in.  We are rebuilding and repairing trust and relationships.  She's learning that she is precious and worthy of being loved.  She's learning that all the things that have happened to her are not her fault.  That takes time.

That is where we are.  Both hurting and breathing in the calm and peace and safety that is permeating our house right now.  It's strange- when you live in a state of dysfunction for so long you almost come to no longer notice just how nonfunctional things are.  Until they snap back to functional and you look back and you wonder how you have survived and held on so long.  In retrospect, I wish we wouldn't have tried to hold on so long.  It nearly took us all down- our daughter included.

Mental illness has such a negative stigma around it.  I don't want to be a family who brushes that under the rug or hides in shame.  We are all in counseling- lots and lots of counseling.  We've all been through a lot.  We love our daughter to distraction and I have learned more about love from her than anyone I've ever met.  She has shown me that love does.  Love makes the hard decisions.  Love looks a lot like work.  Love means letting go and seeking help.  Love feels a lot like offering our tender feelings over and over again even when they are rejected.  And in time, our hope is that love will look a lot like us all being back together again.

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