Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Reactive Attachment Disorder: The Colors Of Hurt

“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”  ~Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Raising a child who has Reactive Attachment Disorder is an oxymoron.  In reality, she is raising you...forcing you down an unfamiliar path on life's journey.  

It is sort of like walking into a room that has been ransacked and pillaged.  You instinctively know the space was once perfectly splendid, because you can still spot obscure fragments of what the space surely looked like before the destruction took place. What causes you to gasp, is the gaping hole in the heart of the room.  That void is where there was once a brilliant stained glass window, poised to sparkle and shine.  But now there is only brokenness.  In fact, what is left of the shine and sparkle is heaped up on the floor.

You, as the parent, are charged with picking up the broken pieces of glass, one color at a time, using only a pair of cheap tweezers.... while yellow jackets swarm in through the open space.  The space was once protected from outside pests by the grand window, but not anymore.   

The bees buzz all around, threatening to sting you.  Well, actually, they are relentlessly stinging you, set on preventing you from picking up the glass.  The task is immense, fraught with aggravation.

The splendid room represents what was once a whole child.  Erected by the Creator, this one was crafted to stand as a sanctuary, welcoming others to bask in all that makes it unique and special.  Yes, the stained glass window was a one of a kind design.  A rare, priceless treasure.  At one time, light poured through it, allowing the owner's true beauty to be revealed to all who entered.

The broken window, once signifying strength, now personifies the many colors of hurt brought on by neglect, abuse, and abandonment.  Though it's edges are sharp and ugly, you can still see a glint of light on the broken glass if you are willing to look for it.  

The tweezers?  A parent's feeble attempt to protect herself from being wounded by the countless colors of hurt.  

And the bees, of course, are bee-havior.  The ups and downs....highs and lows....the manipulation, the control, and the acting game.  Lies, rage, stealing, sneakiness, hoarding, destruction of property, etc.  Those dreadful, horrible bees!

As a parent, you take your tweezers in hand and prepare to focus.  Even though the job appears to be terribly hopeless, you are determined.  You have met with the Master Builder and have been told He can re-build the window as long as you, first, methodically separate each color for Him.  He instructs you to see and touch each and every broken piece.  

"Can you make the window look exactly as it once did?" you ask The Builder one day when He stops in to check on the progress.

"No," he replies with a sigh, "this will be a brand new design."

You don't like that answer very much.  After all, when this child entered your life, you had plans for her.  Big plans.  Wasn't she going to soar on the wings of eagles and achieve all the dreams you'd dare to dream for her?  No, a new design will not work for you.  Gathering courage, you sheepishly inform the original Builder that while He may have been the right Man for the job the first time around, this time, you think you'll look for someone else.  

Sweeping up the glass and pouring it into a deep bucket, you take it to one who advertises himself to be a window fixer.  This person brags how he has restored even the most difficult of cases.  Degrees line his wall, so you are immediately impressed.  And he tries to put the pieces back together.  But he fails.

So you find another, and another, and another.  All of them tout past successes.  Most guarantee a favorable outcome.  Yet they all fail.

Eventually, you throw the colors of hurt into a garbage can and try to pretend it never existed.  There never was a completely perfect stained glass window in the room in the first place, was there?  And those pesky choose to ignore them.  Every once in a while, you give in and swat at one or two or three or four.  And eventually, that plan fails too.  

As long as the gaping hole is in the room, bees continue to proliferate.  Becoming more and more agitated, they are determined to force you to leave the room once and for all.  At times, seeking relief, you do leave.  But you always return.  Parents never give up. 

Filled with sheer frustration and exhaustion, you stand and look at the expanse of the room.  There has to be a way to tackle the problem while dealing with the ever mounting problem of bees.  At last, you bring the broken pieces back into the room, pour them out onto the open floor, pick up your tweezers, and start examining each piece as you sort the colors into different piles.  You once stood tall, now you spend most days on your knees in the floor.  Where pride once stood, humility bends. 

The bees show no mercy.  Their stings harm and injure.  Sometimes you get mad and scream, other times you cry.  But at all times, you'd rather throw up your hands and give up.

You hate yourself for that.

This job is meant for a warrior, which you are not.  You are just a mom or a dad who had a divine calling to pluck a child from life's rubble to bring a whisper of hope.  Now, you are in the rubble too.

One day, you glance up to see the original Builder standing by.  

"So, I see you've decided to do this My way," He gloats.

Part of you resents Him.  That part of you wants to pick up the shards of glass and throw them at Him.  The other part of you, though, wants to cling tightly to His neck, trusting Him to fix it all. He is fully aware of your inner battle.

"You know," He smiles, "while this new window won't look like the first, it will still be beautiful.  We are working together, you and I.  For this to be successful, it will require both of us."

His Words stab you with fury.  Is it not enough that you are having to settle for a new version of the window?  But now, He is spouting off something about how He is doing this task WITH you?  Is it not YOU who are on the floor cleaning up the mess, day after day, while He is not around?  So you slam the floor with the balls of your fists and shout:  "What do you mean we are doing this together?  I don't see you on the floor picking up the pieces every day!  Where are you when I'm being stung by the bees?  Where are you when I'm so tired I can no longer hold my head up?"

"If you'd put down the tweezers, the task would go much faster," he laughs.  Your outburst hasn't troubled Him at all.  What kind of Builder is this?    

So now you decide to give Him the silent treatment.  Yes, that will make you feel better and will probably get His attention.  Put the tweezers down? Who is He kidding?  You know without the tweezers, you will get cut.  You'll bleed, for crying out loud.  So you hold even tighter to the tweezers, set your jaw, and continue on, pretending The Builder is non-existent.

After a few moments, the Builder commands the bees to leave the room.  His voice booms, filling the room.  At once, the pests fly out of the space where the window used to be.  Poof!  They are gone.  

That gets your attention.  If this Builder can command the bees to leave so easily, can He not also restore this window to it's original beauty?  The dawn of that realization makes your blood boil even more.  

Hearing His feet rustling through the glass, you don't dare look His way, but you know He is moving toward you.  The Builder kneels down in front of you.  His knees are now touching yours. Taking your chin in His hands, He gently pulls your face up to meet His:

"You are so stubborn,"  he chuckles to Himself, shaking His head.  "That is why I chose you for this task."

He chose me?

Looking around the damaged room, a tear escapes from one of His eyes.  He turns back toward you and grins the sort of grin that melts your heart.  Sincerity floods from The Creator's eyes as more tears meander down the lines on His face.  His tone is hushed, and His voice breaks:

"If I can repair the window, I can also repair your wounds.  So put down the tweezers and allow yourself to feel the colors of hurt. In bleeding, you'll find empathy, and from that, compassion will become your constant companion.  You're going to need a lot of that to survive this mess." 

Reaching down to pick up a handful of glass, He allows it to slowly run through His fingers.  You are captivated by His every word and every move.  He really does care, doesn't He?  The bees are gone, the space is quiet, and you no longer feel alone.  He continues:

"Even though it might not look like it on most days, we are in this task together.  Nothing in this world happens without My fingerprint upon it.  There are no mistakes and no accidents.  Every action is joined with intent.  This window was broken so an eternal lesson could be learned.  While your plan was to love the colors of hurt out of this room, restoring it to what it once was..... Mine was that you simply love." 

"For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love."

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Reactive Attachment Disorder: A Discussion On The Back Porch

Natalie is back home.  Through a series of phone calls over the last couple of weeks, I learned she was not doing well in the therapeutic boarding school where she has been residing for the last six months.  Diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder nearly three years ago, she has fought like a warrior to overcome an affliction brought on by three years of abuse and neglect in a Russian orphanage.  If ever there was a victim, it is Natalie.

You should know, Reactive Attachment Disorder is more than a diagnosis to me.  It has become my nemesis.  Oftentimes, the bane of my existence.  I hate it and wish like heck I could rip off it's head and kick it's ruthless butt.  Because of RAD, I subconsciously represent the mother who abandoned Natalie, the orphanage workers who abused and neglected her, and the birth family who has forsaken her.  By other moms who parent children who have been diagnosed with RAD, I am known as a Trauma Momma.  But by the medical community, I am called Natalie's 'trigger'.  An insipid substitute.  The pain, the fury, the disappointment, the fear, and the despair have to go those emotions, in Natalie's case, are placed upon me.  It is so unfair.

This morning, Natalie and I sat on the back porch and had a long talk.  Since she's just returned home, we are in what is referred to as a "honeymoon period".  And make no mistake about it, I will take full advantage of this time.  Over the last two and a half years, Nat has been in and out of treatment centers, more in than out, so a quiet, uninterrupted moment on the back porch is an inestimable gift to me.  We spent a solid hour discussing the ravages of RAD.  It's ironic how much we understand it, but how horribly it continues to shamelessly outplay us.  

The root of the disorder can be boiled down to one word:  TRUST.  When a baby arrives into the world, it learns to trust immediately.  Completely incapable of survival on it's own, the child learns that she will be comforted when she cries, fed when she's hungry, supported when she's hurt, and held when she's afraid. The baby feels worthy.  A part of something.  Cared for.  And in response, the brain makes necessary connections....connections that will make a person whole.  When that nurturing does not take place, however, those connections are not made.  Are never made.  To overcome, requires a lot of intentional work paired with much trust when trust was never woven into the individual in the first place.  How do you utilize trust, then, when it is non-existent?  And there lies the conundrum.

A person with RAD, as a result, carries the burden of constantly managing and/or manipulating the people in their lives.  Since she lacks the ability to trust, she believes she has to continually be in the proverbial cat bird seat.  In control.  And if she gets the feeling she does not have the upper hand, she will create a situation in order to re-take that very real perception of control.  It's a full time, exhausting job; individuals who have RAD never take a break from it.  To do so, would mean vulnerability.  And vulnerability requires trust.  Which they don't have. 

Here is a peek into our discussion on the back porch:

Me:  "Let's consider a child who is raised by a physically abusive father.  Everything surrounding that father is viewed by the child through an abusive lens, would you agree?"

Nat:  "Yes."

Me:  "Even if the father shows kindness....he is going to be viewed by the child as the abusive father who is showing a moment of kindness.  The label is something he will never fully overcome, even if he makes a change.  Do you think that is accurate?"

Nat:  "Yes," she answered, "because that kid is probably wondering when the abuse is going to happen again." 

Me:  "And I think that's fair, because the child has a clear memory of what happened.  But, can you see that you view me through a lens in much the same way?"

Nat:  "Sort of, I guess."

Me:  "I am viewed by you as the mother who doesn't really love you.  That is the lens you always use with me.  Yet you don't have anything to base that judgment on.  No matter what I do, I'm viewed through that lens your brain has falsely created.  If I'm being extra kind, you respond by thinking I must be up to something...that I am probably trying to gain something from you....or that I may be trying to manipulate what do you do?"

Nat:  "I do something really bad to make you mad," she replied with a sheepish grin, "and if you don't get mad, I do something else and then something else and then something else until I do make you mad."

Me:  "I know why you do that, but do you finally understand why you do that?"

Nat:  "Because when you get mad at me, it proves to me that you don't love me."

Me:  "But the truth is, I do love you."

Nat:  "I know that in my head, but I don't know it in my heart."

Me:  "And when I don't get mad at you, no matter how bad you act and no matter how much you act out and disobey, then what?"

Nat:  "Then I know you don't really think of me as your daughter, because a real mom would get mad at her daughter for disobeying and for doing horrible things."

Me:  "So I can't win?"

Nat:  "I guess not."  She answered me with a dead stare.  No emotion.

Me:  "Do you see how unfair that is to me?"

Nat:  "Yes, but I can't help it.  I try to make myself believe I can trust you and that I can be a part of this family, but I don't feel it.  I don't know if I've ever felt it."

Me:  "Now I know this is coming from the person you trust the least in the world, but can you at least agree to consider that there might be a remote possibility that what I am telling you is true....that the reason you feel the way you do and do the things you do is a result of your mind playing tricks on you?  And that I do love you and actually do want the best for your life?"

Nat:  "I'm trying.  I really am.  I don't want to live at treatment centers, but that is where I don't feel so angry."

Me:  "Because when you're living away from home, you aren't having to face the problem.  I represent your hurt and pain.  I embody your abandonment.  So by running from me, you have this idea that you are better off....because when you leave me, for a while anyway, you don't feel that pain.  In reality, though, you are just avoiding the issue that needs to be resolved the most.  And the pain always returns, doesn't it?  Even at the treatment centers."

Nat:  "I know.  And you've gotta believe me, mom,  I don't want to feel the way I do and I don't want to hurt you or anybody else anymore.  My biggest regret in my life is that I keep hurting you and my family and that I haven't been here for y'all.  I want to stay with you this time; I always want to stay.  But I can only do my best."

Me:  "No, you can do more, but it is going to require you to be alert and on guard every single moment. You have to determine in your heart that you will stick it out and that you will see all this hurt, despair, rage, and anger for what it is.  Name it.  It is Reactive Attachment Disorder and nothing else.  Natalie, if you keep running from me instead of facing this problem, it will never get fixed.  And I'm not sure I'm going to let you run anymore.  You are sixteen now and that means you are more mature.  I think you can lick this thing."

Me:  "I'm trying really hard."  

And she ended the conversation with that.  

No commitment to stick it out....but a continuing commitment to "try".  

Ugh!  I wanted to stand and stomp my feet, really hard, like a big baby.  I wanted to cry, to run away, to scream at anyone.  But I didn't.  Like her, I sat back and became silent.  She had ended the discussion, and so it was over.  You can't push a person who has RAD or they will push you back.  

So here I am.  Again.  Hoping against hope that we will have a different result this time.

The easy fix, you might say, is to force her to stay.  And while that is always my plan, I've learned through experience it is much easier said than done.  When a child with RAD decides she wants to control a situation, she is pretty much willing to go Rambo on you if she has to....running away, defacing property, harming herself, and even harming others.  No limits.  No boundaries.  Suffocating with sorrow, she is willing to go to great lengths to escape.  I've lived with it long enough that I get it:

To close, if you will look back on my last post which was on January 29th, you will see that I am expecting a miracle in Natalie's life this year.   I haven't written a post on this blog since then, I think, because I have been expecting.  Waiting.  Hoping.  Believing.  And now she's back.  

Hey God, in case you are reading this, I AM READY FOR THAT MIRACLE!