Friday, September 23, 2011

More on feelings

I continue to work to remind myself about the ways my son experiences his world. I am pretty aware of how we experience him and when we are in the midst of dealing with one of his huge outbursts I can lose sight of what he must feel everyday. Last time I wrote about this I was focused on hurt, hurting, angry and scared. I think those are the "biggies"  for him but I think there are a few other things also going on for him and other children who have experienced trauma.

For both my children who have RAD I think one of the states they are often in and/or feelings they experience are of being completely out of control. This stems out of constantly being in survival mode and so many things trigger them all day long that not only are they constantly in the throws of PTSD but they have no control over their reactions and feelings and often times can't even figured out the what or why behind their responses. They are in a constant state of reacting to whatever is triggering them and sometimes everything else goes out the window.

Many, many years ago my 3 year old niece was killed in a freak car-train accident and my brother was driving the car. He walked away with a few scratches and she lay in a hospital bed for a couple of weeks fighting for her life. When she died my brother was out of control in all areas of his life. He couldn't function in any area of his life-work, marriage, etc. which was perfectly understandable. Not only was he wracked with grief but he also suffered from a severe case of survivor's guilt and he relived the experience over and over again-in his waking hours and while he slept. During that time I spent hours talking to him about nothing and everything until he would pass out on the living room couch. Sometimes I would watch him sleep or I'd wake up to his screams in the middle of the night. It was awful to see/hear his pain, fear, hurt, and helplessness and over time we were able to talk about what was going on for him and get him the help he needed. Whenever something brought up these feelings he was usually able to pinpoint why something triggered him and try to work through it. My brother was a relatively well-adjusted, healthy adult when this incredibly traumatic experience happened. My son was/is not and his trauma doesn't have the "story" behind it that can help him and/us identify the triggers and possible avenues to work through them in the same way.

Something that compounds things for Tortuga is that for so long he was medicated for all kinds of things. Starting at about age 4 he had meds to calm him down, put him to sleep, reduce his aggression, and even get him going. At a time when many so-called normal kids are just learning to distinguish between some pretty big feelings-frustration, sadness, disappointment, anger, anxiety, etc.-my son's ability to even have these feelings was ...dulled-for lack of a better word. It is no wonder to me that he learned to express anger and rage and nothing else. He didn't have many of the more traditional ways and guidance of learning about these very big and overwhelming feelings. We have spent years working on distinguishing how disappointment feels as opposed to anger; how frustration and anxiety are similar, yet different, etc. etc. It is hard work for him and it takes time for the "lessons" to sink in when he is used to following a different "path" in how he responds to whatever brings up these feeling for him.

When he cannot figure out what the feeling he is having is, he would quickly spiral downward and out of control and meltdown or rages. I think the emotions are so huge and so raw and so overwhelming that he gets lost in them so quickly. When he gets this way he cannot see past those overwhelming feelings and so he just has to give in. Of course, once the dam is released it all comes pouring out until he exhausts himself which takes a really long time because not only does he need the release but there is something that is oh-so-powerful in expressing those primal feelings.  Sometimes this is the only time he feels "in control." He is now at a point where he recognized that this has happened so when we talk about it afterward he kind of smiles because he realizes that we have "caught on" to what is going on and he can recognize it too. We are working on helping him recognize what is happening before he loses control rather than after the fact. But it is HARD work and we don't always succeed.

I have to remember that he is trying and he is working hard and it doesn't always go the right way and it doesn't always end well but he. is. trying. He is also exhausted and for us it means we have to make his world really, really, small and very predictable and very routine (sometimes boring could be substituted here) and very structured with lots of "time out" thrown in.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

RAD still lives here...

After a summer of fun, back-to-back birthday celebrations, down-time with family, etc., there is ALWAYS fall out. Actually "fall-out" doesn't begin to describe what our last three weeks have been like. While both older kids did better before and during the celebrations, their feelings of jealousy and need to prove to themselves that they don't "deserve" to have this much fun made for some very rocky times.

Tortuga has packed his backpack and planned to run away, has verbally assaulted his younger brother when he thinks we aren't listening, has refused to do his schoolwork correctly, has been rude, disrespectful, testing boundaries, BUT he has not raged, threatened to kill us, drawn pictures of mutilated bodies. He hasn't even had a meltdown.  Progress I think.

It has been almost 4 years since we adopted him and in that time he has made progress. Lots of it. It has been hard for him, for us, and for the rest of the kids. When I let myself think about it too much I feel guilty that our other children have had to live with so much of what they have had to live with in our own home. Yet, I also think about where my son has been and how hard all this has been for/on him. Each time I think I cannot do "this" any longer I think about what he has had to do and how much longer he has had to do it. Then everything comes back into perspective. Yes, it's not fair-to any of us-to have to put up with all that we put up with but we are family. We are on this journey together and family does what family needs to do to make it work.

I try to remember that my son is hurt and hurting. He carries the impact of the harm that was done to him in utero and in those early formative years. He has the cognitive and learning scars of this harm and he carries the emotional and developmental scars as well. But mostly he carries the hurt. The incredible hurt and pain of losing his birth mom who despite his intellectual understanding of what happened he still loves with all his might in the way that a five year old loves their mother and wishes for their mother and idolizes their mother. It's visceral and primal and so very real despite everything he knows and understands about why he cannot (and often does not want to) live with her. I cannot even imagine what it must feel like to walk around with that hurt every single day.

I try to remember that my son is scared. He has learned the the world is a scary place full of scary things real and imagined. Years of watching late night horror flicks (think Chucky, Freddie and Michael My*ers), being left alone for days with only these movies for company, being locked out of his home, wandering out into busy city streets in the middle of the night, have all taught him that the world in not safe. He hasn't had years to learn to trust and believe that someone will be there to protect him from this. He has learned to trust only his own ability to keep himself safe (and he doesn't feel all that confident about this either.) Add to it the constant moves to new homes, new people, new schools, new caregivers, social workers, and foster parents, he learned to always be afraid. No wonder he is hyper-vigilant, constantly on edge, lashing out first, always tense, always ready to fight. Danger is possibly at every turn and despite the fact that I think he should know by now that we are keeping him safe and aren't going to let harm come his way he doesn't yet KNOW that for sure. His guard isn't completely down yet and who knows how long it will be before he can truly believe we are going to keep him safe. He may never do so but it doesn't mean we can stop trying.

I try to remember that my son is angry and he has good reason to be angry. Sure his anger is misdirected but who else is he supposed to be angry at? I am here and right in front of him every day. It's much easier to be angry at me than at all the other not-so-tangible people and reasons that he has a right to be angry about. The thing is he probably doesn't even really know what is angry about. Sometimes I see that his anger is at himself --for being "bad, " for trusting, for caring, for trying, for not trying, for making mistakes, for doing things wrong, for doing them "right" and it not making a difference, for loving and not being loved in return, for caring, for destroying things, for wanting to destroy things, etc. He has so many reasons to be angry and he has seen first hand that when someone is angry they hurt and destroy so that is what he does. He directs this anger at us, our family, his things, but mostly at himself. My job is, and has been, to help him channel his anger. To honor his right to be angry but to teach him how to not let his anger destroy him or those he cares about.

Each of my children have a "treasure" box in which they keep special tokens and reminders of things that are important and irreplaceable. For Tortuga one of the things in his treasure box is a plastic ziplock bag with all the pieces of the cards we gave him and friends and family gave him when he first came to our family. They used to hang on his bulletin board but in a rage one day 3 years ago he tore them to little bits. I picked them up and saved them in a bag with a note reminding him of what they were and how they got damaged. For a long time he wanted to throw it away so I kept it. Then he wanted to tape them back together but I wouldn't let him. Recently we put them back in his treasure box and he said he thought he understood why I wouldn't let him tape them back together. He said "because it is there to remind me of what I did and what I never want to do again." When I asked him what he meant he said that he thought that whatever he did never mattered. When he sees that bag he remembers that it matters to us and to him because he regrets it. He says it reminds him that he never wants to destroy something that irreplaceable ever again.

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