Wednesday, April 6, 2016

And That's a Wrap... Sort Of

I figured my last post on the BeTA retreat would be a good way to wrap up my time here at Blogger.

I've used Blogger on and off for years, covering various topics, and it's been a good way to break into the blogosphere.

However, I realized that I need my own fully functional website, and I couldn't figure out how to do that here on Blogger.

So, if you've stumbled across my blog and have enjoyed reading, please be sure to visit my new, fancy-pants website where you'll find my blog, a helpful products page and a page with resources connecting you to others who live in the world of attachment and trauma issues:

Trauma Mama Drama

Lessons From the BeTA Retreat (Part 5): I really, really love my kids

This post is also available at my new website Trauma Mama Drama.  If you enjoy reading my blog, remember to update your feeds, emails and bookmarks with the new link, because eventually I will only post updates on the new site's blog.


About a year ago, Middle made me a bracelet that says, "I love you," in plastic beads.
I've written about this bracelet in the past, and how special it is to me... so special that I don't take it off. I wear it to bed, I wear it in the shower, I wear it when I dress up for fancy pants fancy events.
It's one of my most prized possessions, but I guess I haven't really explained what, exactly, makes this bracelet so special.
A couple of years ago, my mom gave Middle a big kit of letter beads for Christmas (yay, Mom, for tapping into Middle's love of crafting and arts!). One day, Middle decided to make me a bracelet. "Awesome!" I said. "I can't wait to see it!"
She set to work and a few minutes later she told me to close my eyes and hold out my hand. She pressed her handiwork into my outstretched palm. Smiling, I opened my eyes, excited to see the treasure she'd made. I can't remember exactly how she'd misspelled her message, but the beads spelled out something like, "IE LOFF YIU."
I stared at it in silence. Middle was "playing the game" (this is Middle's term for this behavior, not mine),  a super obnoxious feigned ignorance of anything related to spelling or reading.
I refuse to play this game with Middle. I know she can read and, more importantly, she knows that I know she can read. But she wanted to play, so she got sneaky and used the pretense of a loving gift as an attempt to force me into playing the game with her. This is a real trigger of mine, probably because it's been such a struggle for Oldest to learn to read whereas Middle and Little picked up the intricacies of reading almost immediately. They have such a gift... yet both of them play this game in which they willfully squander their gifts.
Middle has mastered this
stupid god-awful game. In fact, she's so good at it that she screwed herself into having to repeat kindergarten because she convinced her teachers that she couldn't even recognize written letters, forcing Husband and me to look like crazy people when we met with her teachers. "She can read!" we'd insist. "At home, she reads words like 'beautiful' and 'father' and 'sister.' She even knows the inflection she should be using according to punctuation marks in her sentences. She's tricking you! She has you all fooled."
lady tremaine
I'm pretty sure this is what the teachers saw every time I met with them.
Of course her teachers didn't believe us and thought we were being too hard on her until the very end of the school year when we told Middle she'd have to repeat kindergarten... Suddenly, Middle could not only read and spell, she could perform those tasks at the first grade level! Unfortunately, by then it was too late for her to retake the advancement tests and she didn't move on to first grade.
This game has real consequences, and she's lived through those consequences... But she still plays this effing game! And it drives. me. Batty. BATTY! So batty, in fact, that I refused to take the bracelet from her. Through clenched teeth, I said as calmly as I could, "You know I don't like this game... No, you know what? I hate this game!"
Now, normally, we don't say "hate" in our house, so Middle gasped. I wasn't supposed to say that! I was breaking a rule!
But I didn't care. "I hate this game so, so much. I hate it. There's no other way to say it. I hate it, and I don't want this bracelet because you are playing the game. I couldn't be happy if I wore that, because I'd be wearing something I hate. So here," I said, handing the bracelet back to her. "Go find something else to do, please."
"You don't want my gift?" she asked.
"I don't want that gift, no."
"But it says that I love you!" she yelled.
I looked at her, steady. "No. It doesn't." She smiled. I seethed. "I need you to go do something else. Away from me. Please."
I know, I know... Big therapeutic parenting no-no. Heck, probably even just a "normal" parenting no-no... I mean, who refuses a handmade gift from a child, right?
Well... Me. I did. I do.
You see, that misspelled bracelet wasn't a gift... It was a physical manifestation of her strikingly developed ability to manipulate her environment. It was an I'm-going-to-try-to-upset-you-so-I-am-in-control-of-you nongift. She and I both knew it wasn't a token of affection, and she knew that I knew that. The jig was up.
Middle stomped off and I continued folding the laundry or whatever I was doing at the time. She was mad because I didn't take the bracelet and because she got caught playing the game that I hate.
I expected her to meltdown over my rejection of her gift, but instead, Middle came back to me a few minutes later. She stood near me, nervous, silent, and I tried to ignore her. When she started picking at her fingers and chewing on her lips, I sighed. "WHAT?" I demanded.
"Close your eyes?"
"If you put that bracelet back into my hand and it's still a big spelling mess, I'm going to get upset."
"Please?" she asked.
I took a deep breath and did as she asked, fully expecting to find a fresh set of mangled, mishmashed letters. But when I opened my eyes, I saw that she'd redone the bracelet with correct spelling.
"I LOVE YOU," said the bracelet.
It took me a few seconds before I could respond to her gift - a real gift. A gift she made me of her own volition. A gift she made me because she loves me.
My face went hot again, but I was fighthing back tears of joy - not frustration or anger. I flushed as I pulled her in for a quick hug and a kiss on the crown of her head. "Thank you. I love it," I said. "And I love you. And I'm never taking this bracelet off."
"Really?" she asked.
"Never ever."
"I promise."
"What about at the wedding?"
"I'm even going to wear it at the wedding!"
I said what I meant and I meant what I said.
Middle beamed. "I love you, Mommy."
Be still, my heart.
This little piece of jewelry means the world to me, and I meant to keep my promise.
But... I broke my promise at the BeTA retreat.
As I've mentioned, I had boudoir photos taken during the retreat. When I got "into position" for the pictures, my friend asked if I wanted to take off my bright-colored jewelry.
"No - I never take this bracelet off. I know it doesn't really go with the lingerie, but I promised I'd never take it off."
"Okay, it still looks good! Just wanted to check," she said. "Ready?"
"Wait. I should take these off," I said as I removed my ATN NATA Day bracelet and the gift from Middle. symbols of our traumatized children and the attachment trauma that rules our roost removed them from my wrist. "Don't want anything detracting from the intention of these pictures after all!" I tossed my bracelets into a corner, and proceeded to have an awesome time acting like a pinup model and feeling great about my body and myself. "No one will know I took it off right?" I smiled my sexiest smile and looked into the eye of the camera. "I'm ready!"
The photo shoot lasted about fifteen minutes, then I got dressed and moved on to my next scheduled activity for the day.
Several hours (and glasses of wine later), my photographer friend sent me a picture of my bracelets. "Are these yours?"
"OH MY GOD WHERE ARE YOU???" I yelled at no one. I tore out of the house and ran to the location of the photo shoot. I ran faster and longer than I have in years, in tears, imagining the devastation on Middles face if I'd returned home without her gift on my wrist, berating myself for forgetting about the bracelet - for forgetting about Middle!
I found my friend and hugged her with all my might. "I can't believe I left that here," I said, panting, sliding my jewelry back onto my wrist. "Thank you so much. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I'd lost this!"
I walked back to my BeTA house, shaking, and my friends helped me calm down. "You're a good mom," someone said. "You really love your daughter."
I took a shaky breath and smiled. "I do, huh?"
And there you have it. The most important lesson I learned on the BeTA retreat.
I know my hysteria over almost losing the bracelet is a little bonkers - I mean, I didn't really lose it, right? Getting so crazy over what turned out to be nothing is a little overblown. However, this bracelet is not just a cute thing one of my kids made that I wear out of obligation - it is one of my most prized possessions because, in my mind, it exists as tangible proof that Middle loves me, and I need that hard-evidence to remind myself that she does love me... Because that's a hard thing to remember sometimes, when she so often acts in unkind and unloving ways and her expressions of love look so different than what I'm used to.
This bracelet is more than a piece of bright-colored plastic jewelry. It's a symbol of her love for me, and it sustains me through the RAD-torture-tactics she engages in every. single. day.
And now, after almost coming unglued when I realized I'd completely forgotten to put it back on, the bracelet reminds me that love her, too.  
This is an important lesson, because when you have kids with attachment problems who are still struggling to heal from early-childhood trauma, it's so easy to question your feelings toward them because it is so often hard to love kids who don't bond to you in the way you'd expect. Like this bracelet incident, when kids with RAD engage in acts of love, those acts are often tempered with manipulation or deceit, or they engage in negative behaviors immediately after doing something loving, or they just flat-out say they don't love us in a way that differs from the typical experimentation kids test out at their age. It's heartbreaking, exhausting, and has me constantly questioning whether acts of kindness from Middle and Little are real or if they are just trying to score a point or two to their advantage.
And I know that sounds awful. And I know that if you aren't intimately involved with children "from hard places" you probably can't understand the suspicion that wells up inside me when my kids engage in sweet-on-the-surface behavior.
I love my kids. All of my kids. And that lesson really came home for me during the BeTA retreat.
I started writing this blog post over a month ago - while I was still at the retreat. I intended it to be the very first post in this little series about the BeTA retreat.
Yet this is the last post in the series... And the positioning of this post doesn't have anything to do with "saving the best for last."
This is the last post because it has been the hardest topic to write about. And it's been hard to write about because the negative RAD behaviors started up again a mere two days after I returned from Orlando, and sometimes it is so hard to love my kids who try their best (and sometimes succeed) to hide behind their damn-near-intolerable behaviors.
There have been times when I've allowed myself to ruminate and wallow in the negative feelings that crop up from time to time, when I've questioned my ability to mother my kids with trauma issues, when I've asked myself, "Do I love these kids? Can I love these kids? Will I love them if they hurt  Oldest or if they hurt me?"
When your little ones repeatedly break the same rules 1,375,226 times every day, lie to your face without flinching, manipulate your other children into engaging in questionable behavior, repeatedly try to hurt your pet, or falsely accuse you of abusing them, you question your feelings toward your children.
When your kid throws up at will to get out of things he doesn't want to do (Little has done this twice... and he's only six!), and you're stuck cleaning up on-purpose vomit over and over again, you question your feelings toward your child.
When you have to disrupt an adoption or even have to think about disruption, you question your feelings toward your child.
When your child hurts others and is punished by the law, you question your feelings toward your child.
When your child wants to kill you and your other children, when your child tries to kill you and your other children, you question your feelings toward your child.
When you read a book like this, you question your feelings toward your child.
Husband and I are lucky in that Middle and Little's trauma issues aren't as severe as Beth Thomas's - even though they can get violent, we usually don't deal  with pre-meditated violence. But her demeanor and facial expressions? Dead ringer for Middle. 
We're also are hopeful because that little girl up there? The little one who frightened people all across the nation when this documentary aired?
She managed to heal and lives a productive life as an adult. She has a website, but I can't link it here as I do not agree with the some of the of attachment therapy methods she promotes (coerced holding, for one).
Even though the methods used with Ms. Thomas are controversial and not recommended anymore, that doesn't change the fact that she healed through intensive treatment and love.
In the past, I've called myself Lady Tremaine and beat myself up over being a "bad stepmother." I used to think that if I could adopt them as my own (I can't btw... BioMom still has some access to them; her rights have not been terminated), that I'd be a better mom to them, that I'd "think of them just like my own kids" like I hear so many adoptive parents espouse. I used to think - and still think from time to time - that I'm just not cut out for this, that I am not built to endure this kind of love.
But at the BeTA retreat, I learned that all trauma parents question themselves, their motives, their intentions. I also learned that most parents - but especially trauma parents - aren't imagining me as a wicked stepmother... Because I don't see any of my fellow trauma parents as wicked anything. No. I see so many loving, caring people trying their very best to save children who were hurt early on in their lives.
We love our kids. We love them through the yuck and the ick and the fear and the anger and the sadness. And our love, our love... sometimes, our love is enough to bring them out of their chaotic, sabotaging behaviors so we can love them through the happy, too.
You don't know what "unconditional love" really means until you meet a trauma parent or a parent whose child has engaged in unthinkable behavior.
I love my kids.
And I'm so glad I do.

Monday, March 21, 2016

I'm So Full Of You-Know-What.... Or Am I?

This post is also available at my new website Trauma Mama Drama.  If you enjoy reading my blog, remember to update your feeds, emails and bookmarks with the new link, because eventually I will only post updates on the new site's blog.


There's some minor language in this post. Sensitive eyes and ears be warned!
I sat down to write my fifth and final post in my "Lessons from BeTA" series, but I just can't right now.
This morning was... Awful.
I failed at therapeutic parenting. And so did Husband. And we failed hard.
We broke all the rules of therapeutic parenting you can think of, and now I'm not sure how to repair the fallout from this morning.
I try so hard to channel my inner Christine MoersLindsay Woodward CrapoKaryn PurvisDaniel Hughes and stay therapeutic through these hard moments, but I so often fail.
know all the therapeutic parenting principles, and I believe in them. I know my kids "from hard places" need calm, stable, loving parents to heal from their early-childhood trauma, and that every time Husband and I lose our cool and revert to crappy authoritarian parenting we are undoing days, weeks, sometimes months of progress we've made.
I know all of this, yet I still find myself yelling at my kids and sending them to their room when I find them engaging in egregious behavior. This morning, Little left his room before anyone's alarm went off, went to Middle and started terrorizing her by hitting her and kicking her bed. When she got up to tell us, he played his sympathy card and started crying, so she laid back down. Only to have him come back and hurt her and harass her again. And again. And again. I don't know how long this went on, but at one point their angry voices roused me from my sleep, and suddenly I was yelling at Little and telling him he had to stay in his room alone until an adult told him he could come out.
Big therapeutic parenting no-no, especially when I know, logically, that isolation is one of his triggers.
Things devolved further into Crapsville when Husband reverted to his own default methods of authoritarian parenting.
And here we are. Unhappy kids, unhappy parents, and an uncomfortable atmosphere hanging in the air, dooming any chance we had at having a happy day.
And I don't know how to fix it right now. So I'm not. I'm hiding in my room chatting about this morning's events on my Facebook support groups and trying to process what happened through writing about it here. Oldest is in here with me playing on the computer, Middle is watching Where the Wild Things Are, and Husband is monitoring Little who is still in his room. Everyone is safe and okayish, but we're certainly not fostering a loving environment today... Unfortunately, I don't know if either of us has the gusto needed to pick up the pieces from this morning, glue them back into some semblance of a functioning household, and carry on. I'm sure we will get there soon, but I honestly do not know if it will be today. Because I don't think I can handle myself well if I try to repair with Little only to have him laugh in my face as soon as I believe I've made an impact (which is usually what happens... I will come away from a soothing moment with Little thinking the rest of the day will be okay and then literally two minutes later I find him engaging in unsafe or hurtful behavior).
I try to portray myself as a therapeutic parenting guru here on this blog, because I want so badly to help other parents who are struggling with the demands of helping traumatized children heal from their early-life experiences. I have all the knowledge to write informed articles that dole out advice to other trauma moms and put a positive spin on the adverse events our family continuously finds ourselves in, and I believe that my words can and do help others looking for answers to their children's inexplicable behavior.
But today, as I sat down to write an inspiring article discussing how one event at the BeTA retreat showed me how much I really love all my kids, how much I love my stepchildren even though they struggle with attachment and therefore find it very hard to love them sometimes, all I could think to myself was, "Oh, man... I am so full of shit."
And that thought has been echoing around in my brain all day long.
really believe that to be true about myself at this particular moment. But after talking with other trauma parents online all morning and discussing in great detail everything that happened today, I have to ask myself... Am I really? Am I really just bullshitting when I write on this blog, or comment on Facebook with tips or advice, or attending presentations on RAD and sharing my story?
Would I think less of my aforementioned parenting gurus if they told me about their hard days with their kids, the days they lost their tempers and yelled or isolated or even spanked their kids?
Well... No. No, I wouldn't. In fact, when I see my gurus discussing their own parenting failures, as awful as they can be, I'm actually comforted by their admissions because it shows me that even the most apparently calm-cool-and-collected therapeutic parenting coaches, bloggers, vloggers, and counselors screw up from time to time. Sometimes they screw up big, and sometimes they screw up small, and sometimes they get it just right.
There's a reason I mention Christine Moers so often on my blog in addition to the fact that I'm a huge fangirl of hers (and I'm a little nervous I'll act like a groupie or something when I finally get to meet her this April). I credit her with saving my family when it was about to break, and I know I'm not the only trauma parent to say that. She is a "big name" in trauma parent circles, because she's amazing. And wonderful. And just seems so very zen. Surely she never screws up, right? I want to be JUST LIKE HER, DAMN IT!
Maybe I am more like her than I realize.
And even though I feel like admitting my failures undermines my credibility as someone who claims to know how to do this therapeutic parenting thing, I think it's much more important to be honest during my hard times than to pretend they aren't happening, that they don't exist, that I've therapeutically parented the RAD-behaviors right out of my kids and that we are living happily ever after.
Sharing our hard moments, admitting our failures and discussing our shame and anger surrounding them, is incredibly important. We need to be reassured by one another during our biggest struggles, to be told by other parents who live this trauma life, "Hey... I've been there. Okay, sure... You 'did it wrong,' today, but tomorrow is a new day. Go eat some cake." We need to share our "bad moments" with other trauma parents so we can get support and gain insight on how to improve things. If you're feeling brave, I encourage you to share your hard experiences with others whether that be through your support groups, your social media groups, or even in the comments section of this blog.
When you share, you might find help. Earlier today, one trauma mom suggested I throw this morning out, turn on some good dance music and just get silly with Little today (a suggestion my wonderful mom also frequently makes!). And I'm trying very hard to talk myself into doing just that, to get past my fear of being manipulated and hurt by a freaking child and go do what's right.
I'm not there yet, and I may not get there today.
But there's always tomorrow.

Lessons from the BeTA Retreat... Short and Silly Lessons, Plus One Important Realization

  1. My husband really, really, really needs a break from the kids. Like, seriously. He almost never gets a break because I can not handle Little's violent tendencies by myself. The frequency of his violent meltdowns has slowed considerably, but he still gets going every so often, and I'm still not confident in my ability to protect myself and him, and stay calm through the entire episode. Now, I'm not sure how we will accomplish time off for him, but I hope we can figure out a way for him to take a weekend and go do whatever the heck he wants to do.
  2. My husband needs to start playing guitar again.
  3. Orlando water is NOT awesome.
  4. Orlando is NOT very close to the ocean.
  5. I seriously need to make an effort to have more female friends.
  6. I definitely need to make an effort to have more friends who live near me, who I can see in person and physically hug instead of just commenting on their Facebook posts with a pitiful little thing like ::hugs::
  7. Riunite wine is super duper tasty. I'm pretty sure I've said that a bunch of times.
  8. I don't care much for baklava.
  9. Our bodies absorb and react to trauma, and we can feel a whole lot better by getting treatment through a licensed massage therapist. I just had my first craniosacral massage Thursday and throughly enjoyed it. A lot of the resources on the internet say that type of treatment is "quackery," but even if it is, and I don't believe that it is, it gave me an hour of quiet and relaxation. Can't go wrong with that!
  10. I really, really must love the BeTA ladies, because TWICE during my time there I woke up before 10 a.m. on my own volition! And oh, I'm so glad I did because I got to see the sweetest and most elaborate marriage proposal I have ever seen. Okay, it was the only engagement proposal I've ever seen in real life outside of my own (which was super sweet as well - don't get me wrong!). But still, it was very well planned and incredibly moving. I am so thrilled I got to be a part of that.
  11. Having boudoir photos taken of me and seeing the edited results has made me realize that I'm still pretty darn sexay.
    Bow-chicka-bow-wow! I *totally* want to show everyone my pictures from my photo shoot. However, I realize that over sharing is just NOT appropriate. Also, my mom and in-laws read this blog from time to time, so I figured liberal use of the cropping tool was in order here.
Thanks to this Trauma Mama for the photo shoot! If you live in NE Indiana and are in need of a photographer, check her out at Sheri Rouse Photography!
And, finally, I knew when I left home that I love my kids, but on my trip I realized that I reallyreallyREALLY love my kids. All of my kids. A lot. And equally. Differently? Sure. Loving kids with attachment disorder is hard work and is different than any other kind of love I've ever experienced. But just because the love I feel for my stepchildren is a little different than the love I feel for Oldest doesn't mean it's not equally overflowing from my heart.
And that's a topic for an entire blog post, coming soon.

This post is also available at my new website Trauma Mama Drama.  If you enjoy reading my blog, remember to update your feeds, emails and bookmarks with the new link, because eventually I will only post updates on the new site's blog.

Lessons from the BeTA Retreat... Self Care Is NOT Optional!

This post is also available at my new website Trauma Mama Drama.  If you enjoy reading my blog, remember to update your feeds, emails and bookmarks with the new link, because eventually I will only post updates on the new site's blog.


I have written before on the importance of self-care, but my weekend at the BeTA Retreat really drove that message home for me.
Before I left, I was in one of my "dark places." I felt frustrated every time I took a breath and my face ached from all the frowning and brow furrowing I'd been doing. I was losing my temper with the kids on an almost-daily basis and once again questioning my decision to willingly sign up for life as a Trauma Mama.
One week before I got in my car and drove to Florida, I had a panic attack that sent me to my knees in my kitchen. The cause? Middle and Little threw a toy while they were playing.
Clearly I was physically drained and mentally exhausted. I was in desperate need of self-care.
But self-care is hard to accomplish in my house. There is always some crisis with the children I have to help manage. I have to organize and take three children to their many, many, many appointments. I have to converse with teachers on a near-daily basis regarding some unhappy incident that occurred during the school day. I have to make sure I'm taking time to keep my marriage healthy and not neglecting my husband and make sure he's not getting overloaded as well. So I ignore my own needs for entirely too long.
The result? An unhappy Trauma Mama, unhappy kids, unhappy home.
It's hard for me to remember that when I take time to care for myself I am doing everyone a favor. I am much more likely to handle trauma-related behaviors when I have nourished my own mind and body with self-care. I also stop hyper-focusing on negative behaviors when I've had a short break from the onslaught of drama the kids like to throw at me... And this allows me to enjoy my kids instead of simply managing them.
Many thanks to this Trauma Mama for letting me use this image, and for introducing me to Riunite wine... A nightly glass (maybe two on the really rough days!) of that has become part of my daily self-care routine. Relaxing and tasty!
Many thanks to this Trauma Mama for allowing me to use her image capturing her appointment with a henna tattoo artist (who also happens to be a Trauma Mama!) - beautiful self-care that provided a reminder of the weekend for days after the event's conclusion. She inspires me with her unconditional love for her children no matter how challenging the behavior can get from time to time.
So. Self-care is not optional. You must do something for yourself on a regular basis or you will crash and burn. I'm shooting for more self-care and have started with the following:
  1. Drink a glass of wine with dinner - two on those super stressful days.
  2. Ask for quiet time after the kids go to bed (Husband likes to start "adulting" and chatting immediately after we tuck the kids in and I prefer an hour or so alone to calm down. I never asked for this before because I was afraid I would hurt his feelings... But I learned at the BeTA Retreat that I need my alone time... and I need to ask for it.
  3. Blogging, and writing in general. All my life, I've dreamed of becoming a real-life, bona fide author... But my schedule and the current state of the publishing industry has made that goal a little tricky. Blogging and writing articles for various webzines fulfills my need to express myself and it also allows me to share the effects of early-childhood trauma with the world (or, if not the world, the people who visit my blog or read my articles published elsewhere). And I'm pleased to discover that it's just as satisfying as I imagined publishing a novel would be!
  4. Coloring. Adult coloring books are awesome. And I even sometimes find that coloring with my kids on our giant Pirasta posters offers me a chance to catch my breath and relax!
  5. Taking a shower. When I was pregnant with Oldest, I swore I'd never fall into the "haggard mom who can not remember to clean herself because she's so overworked" category of moms... But a lot of the time I will catch a whiff of myself and realize that I haven't showered in three, maybe four, days. Seriously. You can't feel good if you are grimy. Fact. I plan on adding daily makeup once I increase my showering frequency.
  6. Reading. I really need to start reading for fun again. Break out the Jodi Piccoult, it's time to relax!
One of my BeTA friends did my make-up for the boudoir photos I had done via Sheri Rouse. Oooh la la!

I'm finally taking self-care seriously. Are you? What do you do to practice self-care? Leave your tips in the comments!

Lessons from the BeTA Retreat... Trauma Unites Us!

This post is also available at my new website Trauma Mama Drama.  If you enjoy reading my blog, remember to update your feeds, emails and bookmarks with the new link, because eventually I will only post updates on the new site's blog.


When Husband and I awoke one January morning in 2015, we sprang from our bed full of hope. Middle and Oldest were back in school after the winter break, I was heading out to attend a workshop on Reactive Attachment Disorder, and Husband was taking Little to The Nurturing Center, a behavioral health center for families recovering from the effects of trauma that offers a therapeutic daycare, play therapy, art therapy for parents, parenting classes, and even Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT). I was sad I was missing the first day of our treatment program, but Husband and I were both excited and couldn't wait to interact with other trauma parents for the very first time.

Today is the day it starts to get better, we thought.

The weeks leading up to this warm winter's day had been rough. Little and Middle had gone on a two-week supervised visit with BioMom over Christmas break, and they missed her terribly. They were also having a hard time readjusting to the way Husband and I run our household, and then we had to further disrupt the kids when we were forced to pull Little from the Head Start Program he'd just started.

Don't get me wrong, the Head Start Program isn't a bad program... but the teachers at our assigned location were not trauma-informed (they yelled... excessively... and put kids in time-out frequently... they were over-worked and over-crowded and didn't notice things like Little having an accident in his pants), and they had no interest in changing their tactics in spite of a huge spike in the frequency, intensity and duration of Little's rages. They kept trying to tell me everything was fine... even when he started deliberately engaging in behavior that could have killed me and on our drive home each day. Let me tell you, an infuriated five-year-old boy screaming, "I hope you die! You're a loser!" while throwing his shoes and then his full backpack at your head as you drive 60 mph down the highway is a terrifying thing to experience, made even worse because the meltdown occurred over the simple fact that I refused to roll his window down - because he always tried to crawl out of it! WTF child?! Is my desire to keep you safe really that freaking awful?!

Anyway. I think that gives you an idea as to how angry the kids were, and I think you can guess who received the brunt of their frustration with these events and changes that laid beyond their realm of control...

Yep. Middle and Little declared us enemy combatants when they returned from their visit. They held steady with their RAD torture tactics for months.[/caption] So, when we woke that day, with visions of family harmony and unicorns and rainbows prancing around our heads, we were understandably excited as we went our separate ways for the day. 

I arrived at the training early, anxious to learn and mingle with other trauma parents. I tried to talk to the other parents in the room and discovered they were all foster parents. I also found out that the other parents in the room didn't actually have children diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder, but enrolled in the class for certification credits. When the lady teaching the class began, she asked me to describe RAD since I was the only person who had children with the diagnosis.

"It's... It's pretty crazy. I've never seen kids act this way before." 

"Elaborate, please." 

"Well... Okay, when my kids had been with us about a month, I almost left because I thought they were sociopaths -" 

"Are you a medical professional?" she asked. 

"No... But -" 

"Let's be careful throwing words like 'sociopath' around, then." 

Pause... "Okay, well, that's the best way I can describe how I felt when I didn't know what was - "

"Anyone else have any experience with RAD?" 


Things only got worse from there. The lady teaching the class actually told me I was telling her a "really weird story" when I described how my stepdaughter did well at school but came home and blew up. "Kids with RAD can't do well in any environment," she said, cutting me off. I stayed for the entire class, but as a stepmom in a room full of foster parents, I didn't find the community I was looking for. I was heartbroken. 

I called Husband around 12:30 in tears, only to discover that he, too, was in tears. The Nurturing Center was not quite what we thought it would be. We'd anticipated attending parent classes that would teach us how to better practice therapeutic parenting... Instead we discovered that the program was geared more toward basic parenting skills and self-improvement. Most of the parents in the program were struggling in different ways than we were, and Husband had almost left at the conclusion of the morning session because he was so frustrated by our misunderstanding. That's not to say the program isn't amazing - it is. The staff and medical personnel at The Nurturing Center helped us out a lot... In fact, I don't know if I would have been able to continue caring for Little if they hadn't helped us, especially through the therapeutic daycare and PCIT. I also met some wonderful parents there and remain friends with them to this day. However, we'd been working under the assumption that we would learn things like the SPACE method and the damaging effects of trauma on the brains of children... to say our disappointment was staggering is a bit of an understatement. 

So when a friend of mine from the internet (who also step-parented her kiddo with RAD) asked me to come to the BeTA retreat, I hesitated. "I don't know. I don't know if I will fit in. Husband and I never find people in our situation in groups like that, and it really sucks," I said. "I don't know if I can take a whole weekend of not fitting in." 

"Trust me," my friend said. "You'll find people. It's an amazing experience. You don't want to miss it." 

And oh, how right she was. 

You see, parenting kids "from hard places" gives us all common ground and our shared parenting experience transcends our differences in lifestyle. 

We are united by trauma. 

At the retreat, I met bio moms, step-moms, foster moms, adoptive moms, and women raising their grandchildren, cousins, siblings, or nieces and nephews. People from all sorts of different religious affiliations and backgrounds (this was a big one for me as an agnostic... so many groups for trauma parents base their strategy in religion and as I've said that approach just doesn't work for me). I met moms who had happy childhoods with their birth parents, happy childhoods with adoptive or foster parents, and those who experienced adversity and trauma in their youngest years. I met others who have a happy relationship with their husband, those struggling to keep their marriage intact while they battle their kids' trauma issues, and those whose marriages have ended. I met single moms, moms with same-sex partners, and moms who exist in completely "traditional" family units. Moms younger than me, older than me, and the same age as me. Moms who like gospel music, moms who like gangster rap, moms who rock out to heavy metal. People who curse like sailors (as I tend to do in real life!) and people who probably thought we should wash our mouths out with soap. Drinkers. Abstainers. Liberals. Conservatives. Democrats. Republicans. Libertarians. 

Some of the people I got closest to during the retreat are so very different than me, but we had the commonality of raising kids with trauma, and further we felt the same way about the whole experience - we shared our simultaneous hope and hopelessness and we understood each other in a way I haven't experienced since I was a child.  

And none of our differences mattered. If you're a trauma parent and haven't found your community yet, I can't emphasize enough how important it is to find a group of people you can meet with in "real life." Even if those meetings happen only once a year, they play a vitally important role in keeping your sanity amid the chaos of raising our children. If you attend one event and don't find what you're looking for, don't give up! Keep looking. You'll find something. And when you do... You'll wonder how you ever survived without your "people" standing beside you, united by trauma. 
There's an amazing event coming up in April just for us trauma parents... Parenting in SPACE! Billy Kaplan, Christine Moers, Lindsay Woodward Crapo and many others will lead classes in the art of therapeutic parenting. Registration time is coming to a close, so if you are interested in attending be sure to check out the website soon! ****************************************************************

Friday, March 4, 2016

Lessons from the BeTA Retreat: Online Support Pales in Comparison to In-Person Support

Lesson #1: Online support groups are amazing and necessary, but pale in comparison to in-person support.

I don't get out much. I'm an introvert with a mild case of Only Child Syndrome. I worry about the judgment of others and burst into very dramatic tears when I think I've done something to upset someone I consider a friend. I have a hard time understanding the nuances of my interpersonal relationships outside of my husband, my childhood friends, and my mom, so I constantly worry I'll screw up blossoming friendships. My heart races and I feel a little nauseous when I'm out of my comfort zone, and things get really serious when I'm not completely in charge of my plans. I never carpool on the rare occasions I get together with friends because I need to be able to leave at my leisure. Riding with someone robs me of that freedom. I prefer quiet environments that allow me to have my own space, and I struggle with unexpected physical contact... I lived in Hawaii for six years and never got comfortable with the "greeting kiss."

At the same time, I crave social attention. I want a million friends, I want to be invited places, I want to have one of those "girl friendships" I see on TV shows and movies... You know, where my BFF and I get in our pajamas and get a little cuddly as we bond over the latest chick-flick. And that's why I love the internet. I'm great at online friendships that don't require that up-close, face-to-face, outside-of-my-house-so-I-should-get-dressed interaction of "real" friendships. I can find any type of person I want to be friends with on the 'net... Trauma Moms, moms in general, people who like the HBO show The Leftovers (seriously... that show is amazing), and we don't have to go through that tedious small-talk to deduce good conversational topics that's so common in "real life."

I heard about the BeTA retreat a while back via this blog and part of me really wanted to go. It sounded amazing... Four days with other moms who struggle with their traumatized children?! How cool! Right? I spent an hour or two digging deeper into the internet, trying to find out all I could about this retreat... and then I decided it sounded like "too much" for me to handle and put it out of my mind. Then, a few months ago, one of my online friends told me I should attend the BeTA retreat. I hemmed and hawed a little, but eventually decided to take her advice. I took a few deep breaths, bit that bullet, and signed up. The organizers of this amazing event added me to some groups where I could ask a million questions (I did) and talk to other moms who planned on attending the 2016 retreat (I did!). I made friends in the groups and when I left for the retreat I felt excited about meeting all these people in person!

... And then I got there.

Things were pretty crazy at the event's location that first day. There were over 100 women milling around between houses, and most of them seemed to already know each other. As I walked up to the main house, I saw women hugging and squealing with delight, and I started shaking. I walked into the greeting house and stood just outside of the kitchen, silently pleading with my eyes for someone - anyone - to come and take me under their wing. As the day wore on, I continued to search for my sense of belonging. I started talking to a few of the ladies but I didn't quite find my groove that first night. I was tired from driving the seven hours it took to get there and from being up for nearly 24 hours (nerves!), and I was too shy to push my way into the dozens of conversations happening around me. Almost everyone else looked like they were having a great time, and I cursed my socially-awkward self for daring to leave the comfort of my house in an attempt to make friends. I looked around and thought to myself, Well. Clearly this was a mistake. I'm going to leave in the morning.

The next day, I grabbed one of my bags and walked a block to my car, determined to get out of there after I attended a class on Trust-Based Relational Intervention. But I didn't have my keys. I retrieved my keys, walked back to my car, and this time realized I'd left my bag on the bed in my room. I let a string of expletives fly and blinked back a few tears of frustration.

Clearly, the universe wanted me to stay at this retreat.

I lit a cigarette and pondered my predicament. I thought about all the other times I left my bubble of comfort in an attempt to do something new - sleepaway summer camps, sports teams, choir groups, etc. I always had an escape plan for those (Call mom to come get me!), and I had one yet again (hop in the car and GTFO). I sighed. What if I don't engage my escape plan this time? I thought. Everyone else looks like they're having fun. Surely I can have fun, too!  I decided to give it the day.

And that was one of the best decisions of my life!!

As a writer, it troubles me that I can't find the words to accurately describe how absolutely amazing and wonderful it was to be literally surrounded by moms raising kids affected by trauma. Imagine being in a place where saying the words "sticker chart" elicits frustrated groans from literally every other person in the room.

Imagine yourself at dinner with 15 other moms, and imagine you're in the middle of an engrossing and emotional story about your kids' wild behavior, so someone takes your plate to the kitchen for you because they don't want you to have to stop venting.

Imagine telling a group of people, "I don't like it when people do [insert disliked behavior here]," and watching as everyone avoids engaging in that behavior around you for the entire weekend (as opposed to our kids who would actively, obsessively engage in said behavior!).

Imagine someone hugging you and whispering, "I understand." Imagine wiping a tear from someone's cheek, and them doing the same for you.

Imagine yourself laughing, and I mean really laughing. Big, raucous, belly-shaking laughs. And then imagine laughing even harder because your friend erupts in the most joyful, carefree laugh you've heard in ages.

Online message boards and support groups are amazing, but as much as I love the internet, I now know that it's not enough to sustain my sanity. I needed to find "my people." We all do. So, I encourage all of you to attend an event geared toward trauma parents. There are so many different organizations that have cropped up to help us navigate the shark-infested waters of our lives, and most organizations have events from time to time. If you do some Googling, I guarantee that you'll stumble across something that speaks to you, that makes you want to get out of your house and meet people who will actually be able to relate to you. Pick one. And go. Maybe attending one of those events will transform you.

But even if you don't have an amazing, life-changing, soul-feeding experience? 

At least you tried.

And, because you tried...

You know that you can try again.

This post is also available at my new website Trauma Mama Drama.  If you enjoy reading my blog, remember to update your feeds, emails and bookmarks with the new link, because eventually I will only post updates on the new site's blog.