The Chaos Factor
October 26, 2009

One of the difficulties in raising kids with Attachment Disorder is that they crave chaos and instability.  It sounds bizarre and is irrational, but there is a certain logic to this drive.  When these children are very young they experience high levels of stress, frustration, and fear.  This causes their brain to be flooded with adrenalin.  They come to percieve this state as normal and safe.  It allows them to remain on “high alert” – ready for fight, flight, or freeze – as soon as their world becomes stressful and frightening – which they have come to believe always will, and likely sooner rather than later.

When there is more than one child in the family with AD, it creates an interesting group dynamic.  It may seem like one child in particular has more acting out behaviors and does the most to create chaos in the environment.  The other children likely have certain triggers, but have behaviors that tend to be expressed with less frequency and intensity.  That is, until the most disregulated child becomes calmer and more stable.  Then, the kids that you thought were pretty stable start melting down and you wonder what the heck happened!

In our family, Kenneth has been the kid that most actively communicated his fears and anger – not verbally or rationally, but through uncooperative, rude, aggressive, and sometimes bizarre behaviors.  When he was on a major tirade the girls would have a domino effect and the entire house would be in an uproar.  I hadn’t really noticed it until lately, but when he was engaging in his more typical, consistent, and persistent acts of attempting to be the one in control, the girls would actually be more mellow and want my attention and affection.  I at first interpreted this to mean that they were unsettled by his behavior and were looking for reassureance from me.  Apparently, not so much.  They were actually in their “comfort zone”.  They had their adrenalin rush and recognized the familiar levels of tension.  All was as it should be.

Because Kenneth was seemingly struggling more with his demons, the lion’s share of the work we were doing with the attachment therapist was directed toward him.  The girls were included, and had interventions as well, but not as intensely.  Over the past 2 years, a combination of maturity, attachment therapy, a more condusive learning environment, and my stubborn determination to love him has garnered pretty amazing results.  We have not had a physical altercation or aggressive verbal outburst for nearly 4 months.  Kenneth not only cooperates with doing his chores, he frequently offers help and engages in random acts of kindness.  He certainly is not a perfect kid and there are still some episodes of stomping up stairs,talking back under his breath and not following all of the rules.  And that is completely normal.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to sit back and appreciate this metamorphasis – because Patsy has deemed herself as Kenneth’s proxy.

I have had a much more difficult time dealing with Patsy in this role.  I’m still not entirely sure why – except maybe because I am resentful that we were so close to achieving a peaceful, stable household.  And maybe because she was typically a sweet, funny, affectionate little girl with a wise and knowing soul.  Of course she had her moments and could put Kenneth to shame when she was in full melt-down.  But it happened less frequently and she emerged from these tirades as a sad, scared, little girl. 

Now, however, she is nearly always in some kind of a funk or another.  She rarely smiles, constantly questions me and argues, and seems to intentionally target me and push my buttons – then screams at me for hating her.  It is as if she slaps me in the face, then blames me for being such a rotten mom, forcing her to punish me.  It is about the most difficult thing I have ever done, to not take this personally. 

In fact, as I write this, I can see that she is mirroring onto me what she feels about herself.  She may well be mad at me for Kenneth being so much calmer now.  She has to act out to keep her comfort zone in place.  She is compelled to keep the tension present and at a high level.  And she desperately wants Kenneth to take his role back, so she doesn’t have to be the one to keep the chaos going.  That is why she also targets him and pushes his buttons every chance she gets.

So, we are stepping up our focus on Patsy, while being sure to help keep Kenneth focused and on track and making sure Megan doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.  Patsy is seeing 2 therapists and we try to make sure she has at least one session a week.  Tom and I take turns doing “snuggle time” with her every night before she goes to bed.  We are intent on hugging all of them all throughout the day.  I also try to make sure I spend time laughing with each of them every day. 

I have been told VERY often in my life that I am stubborn, headstrong, obstinate and willful.  Many people in my life (especially work supvervisors!) have seen this as a terrible fault and a negative trait.  I see it as my saving grace – and possibly the best gift I can give my kids.  I refuse to ever give up on them and I will persist until they are all confident, happy, healthy individuals who know just how valuable and loved they are.

Copyrighted 10/26/09

September 9, 2009

I love dates that are number patterns – like today – 09/09/09, or in July – 7/8/9.  I don’t really know why.  It seems in general we are drawn to patterns and that we give great significance to certain numbers and patterns.  Deeming some lucky and some evil.  Like 6-6-6.  Was June 6, 2006 an evil day?  Is it bad luck if your lunch bill is $6.66?  Is 9-9-9 the opposite of evil, or evil to the 3rd power?

What if there is no evil?

It is interesting to me that people often react with more fear at that thought, than the thought that true evil exits.  I find that mind boggling.

I grew up Catholic – and it seems the religion I was taught was more about the struggle between good and evil than it was about the message that God is the all loving creator of all life.  There were many more hours spent teaching me about evil and punishment than ever dedicated to love and forgiveness.

I can remember as as small child being very confused by the two versions of God that were preached.  God is all loving, all forgiving, the father of all creation who granted us free will and who is omnipotent – and – God is vengeful, God punishes sin, God judges, and God only accepts into his heavenly kingdom those who obey his laws. 

First of all, if God is all powerful, how could there be a fallen angel or a devil at war with him?  Especially if he is also vengeful?  He would blast that evil soul out of existence.  If he created something, he can certainly uncreate it if he doesn’t like it.  A being is either all powerful or not all powerful.  I can’t imagine an all powerful being tolerating a demon running around harrassing his beloved creations.  It just doesn’t make sense to me.

And…if God granted us free will, why would he judge and punish us for using it??  That would be like me telling my kids “Sure, you can eat all the ice cream you want!”, then grounding them for life for doing so.  Again, I cannot find the logic in that.

I know lots of people will say that the bible tells us that God judges and punishes and has set out the rules for what is right and what is wrong.  It seems to me that since the bible was written by human beings it is likely that their own interpretations, life experiences, culture, and belief systems are intertwined with the enlightenment with which they were graced.  It is still man’s take on God’s word.

So, what if evil does not exist?  What if this war between good and evil is really our human experience of balancing our holy selves with our human selves; our spirit with our ego?  Every act I can think of that I have heard people define as evil seems to me to be directly connected to ego-centricity or even ego-mania.  Ego is of the physical world – it is concerned with self and self importance.  Spirit is of the metaphysical world and is concerned with the the whole of life experience.  When ego is in the power seat, it can drive one to act in ways that can be described as greedy, envious, prideful, and lustful.  When one is in touch with their spirit, they are more likely to act in ways defined as charitable, patient, kind, and full of humility.

Having my kids has driven this home for me more than any other experience I have encountered in my life.  I have come to understand that these kids live in mortal fear of being abandoned, abused and neglected.  They did not have the capacity to trust that anyone would be there to take care of them, keep them safe, and love them.  This excessive fear has caused them to act out in ways that on the surface look to be greedy, gluttonous, vengeful, and ungrateful.

They are not evil children, they are frightened children.  Fear is the fuel of Ego – the more fear, the greater the control ego has in ones life.

Initially I reacted to my kids the way I had learned to as a “good Catholic”.  Judge the behavior and punish it.  Meet fear with power.  Assert my ego over theirs.

But, when I let go of my fears of not being loved and appreciated, I understood.  I began to meet their fear with emapthy.  To soothe their fears, not face them down.  To bathe them in kindness, regardless of how they treated me.  To be vulnerable and let them see my vulnerability.  Yes, I still expect them to do what I ask, to follow the rules, to be responsible.  And I request it instead of demanding it.  I use humor, compassion and gentle words.

I am not perfect.  I still let my ego-driven pride interfere sometimes.  I still lose my temper on ocassion.  Not as often though.  And we all laugh more.  And hug more.  And our home is calmer and more peaceful.

And I wonder…wouldn’t an all loving, all powerful all forgiving God be more like what I am trying to be?  Wouldn’t it make sense that he is all Spirit and no ego?? 

I am pretty sure that he is at least as proud of us, his creations, for who we are as I am of my kids.

And if I’m wrong….

I think he will forgive me ^~^

copyrighted 9/9/09

Daddy’s Little Girl
August 28, 2009

I’m sure you have been hearing on the news and reading on-line about the 11-year old girl in California who was abducted 18years ago and yesterday found to be alive and kept prisoner in a hidden backyard compound.  As with Elizabeth Smart and Shawn Hornbeck, people find it unbelievable that the victims stayed, and even bonded with their abusive captors.  My kids weren’t abducted, but the scenario hits close to home.

Six months before her fatal car accident, Mary learned that her husband was sexually abusing her oldest daughter.  As quickly as she could, she and the kids moved out of the house and into a shelter.  It became clear that he had been abusing her son as well – both of whom were his step-children.  At the time of her death, those were the only abuses she was aware of.  The younger girls, his biological daughters, were only 6 and 4 and did not disclose any abuse when the counselors talked with them.  Mary didn’t think anything had happened to them because Ron doted on them.  Especially Megan.   She was the princess and could do no wrong.  She learned quickly, too, that all she had to do was say “Kenneth did it”, or “It was Cristi’s fault”.  If she had to, she could even blame the baby – and she would escape any consequence. 

This created a hateful dynamic among the kids – most especially between Megan and Kenneth.  Kenneth was already the target of Ron’s anger and frustration, and to have t0 take the fall for Megan made it even worse.  Megan is an incredibly bright girl, and she learned very early on that if she was upset, she would just antagonize Kenneth.  She could express her fear, anger, resentment, etc., and Kenneth would be the one who would get in trouble for picking on her.

Megan was truly “Daddy’s Little Girl”.  She often went with him when he ran errands, he took care of her at bath time and tucked her into bed.  She was always on his lap – drinking in the attention and going out of her way to please him.  Mary saw him as a loving, caring father.  She assumed he only abused his step-children.

Several weeks after the kids came to live with me, Megan and I were in the car.  I can’t remember why, but she was the only one with me.  This sweet, sad little 7-year old asked me with a shy, quiet voice and a tear rolling down her cheek why she didn’t get to see her daddy anymore.  I told her that it was because he hurt Kenneth and Cristi.  She said she knew he hit Kenneth and hurt him, but she never saw him hurt Cristi.  And he NEVER hurt her.

I explained to her that he hurt Cristi in a different way.  I asked her if she knew where her private parts were.  She said yes and correctly pointed to them.  I told her that Ron touched Cristi in those places.  Megan looked very puzzled and said to me “That isn’t hurting.  That is how a daddy shows you he loves you.”.  I had to pull over.  My heart was racing, I was holding back tears and my urge to murder this man.

I asked Megan where she heard that – and of course she said from her daddy.  I had to tell her that he wasn’t telling her the truth – that when grown up men touch little children there, it is really hurtful.  She didn’t believe me.  She didn’t believe me for a long, long time. 

Perpetrators of abuse, especially on child victims, manipulate and brainwash their victims.  They keep them isolated from the world, they tell them that bad things will happen if they ever tell, they convince them that they are the only ones who can really love them and take care of them.  Humans are social beings – and the need for contact and interaction is so strong, that horrific acts and conditions can be tolerated – and even accepted as all that is deserved.  

Anyone that has had even a high school level intro to psychology understands the impact deprivation and isolation has on the psyche.  Grown, trained men have not always fared much better in prison camps.  How could one even question the motives of these children?

The sad answer to that, is fear.  People can become so afraid that if these children could be so manipulated and broken, it could happen to anyone.  It may be easier for some people to blame the victims than to face their own uncertainties.

All I know is that my heart broke for Megan, to think that she believed that those cruel, selfish, horrible acts were expressions of love.  I knew that if she continued to hold those beliefs, she would perpetually re-enact those experiences – becoming a life-long victim of sexual predators of all types and ages, and likely becoming a teenage mom.  I also knew that I could not directly confront her beliefs, punish the behaviors she had learned, such as dressing suggestively (yes, even as a 7-year old), being coy with men, climbing on the laps of male acquaintances…

Tom and I worked together to find ways to lovingly and supportively redirect her to appropriate social interactions with men and women.  We made sure that we both took extra time and effort to lavish her and the other kids with expressions of love that are true and honest.  We always answered her questions about Ron, appropriate touch, and sex.  We also constantly told all of the kids that they are lovable, beautiful, wonderful kids – what happened to them was not their fault and they didn’t deserve it.

I pray everyday for Elizabeth Smart and Shawn Hornbeck that they have people in their lives that will help them understand that they made the right choices when they were captive – their choices kept them alive to finally be reunited with their families and communities.  I will now add Jaycee and her children to these prayers.  I hope you will too.

Copyrighted 8/28/09

Attachment Disorder: A Primer
August 23, 2009

I have mentioned in previous posts that I am raising my late sister’s children.  I have written primarily about Kenneth and Patsy – they happen to offer the greatest learning opportunities for me at this point.  I will write more about Megan and Cristi as well in the future.  When they all came to live with me 6 years ago Cristi was 13, Kenneth 9, Megan 7 and Patsy 4.  I was very aware of the grief they were experiencing in the loss of their mother.  I also knew they had all been abused in multiple ways over many years by their mother’s husband (the step-father of Cristi and Kenneth and biological father of Megan and Patsy).  I was incredibly naive about the depths of impacts suffered by these children and what it would take to help them heal.

It took me 4 years to fully understand the implications of the trauma all 4 of the kids experienced in their early years  and beyond.  Unfortunately too late to be able to help Cristi find peace and stability while I still had the opportunity to influence her life.  She has opted to continue her preferred coping strategy – which is avoidance.  I remain fully prepared and committed to help her proactively take c0ntrol and responsibility for her decisions and life at any point that she decides to do so.

What I learned is that when young children experience extreme and/or extended stress, their brains are constantly flooded with adrenalin.   This overdose of adrenalin impairs the brain’s ability to function, grow and develop.  It primarily impacts the areas of the brain that control mood, emotions and the fight, flight, or freeze response.  In a nutshell, at the earliest sign of stress -their brain moves immediately into reacting as if their very life is in danger.  Their brains have not developed the capacity to rationally intrepet the threat, analyze the options and determine a logical response.  In addition to this physiological impairment – they also have faulty assumptions about the intent, motivation, reliability, and trustworthiness of the adults and authority figures in their lives.  It was imprinted so early in their experience that no-one will consistently meet their needs, soothe their anxiety, relieve their pain and discomfort or unconditionally love them – that they simply cannot perceive it could be different now.  

Everything I had been doing in the first 4 years to help the kids manage their behavior ended up being contraindicated, in some cases even making things worse!  Traditional therapy and behavior management only reinforce their world view that they are not instrinsically loveable, valueable, or deserving of good things.  Not to mention that these interventions actually increase their anxiety and stress – sending them into emotional crisis mode even more frequently.

Ouch – that was a blow to my Ego’s pride in my Master’s in Behavior Disorders!

What’s more – everything that will help these kids requires me to act against the most sacred of our family rules – Respect your elders.  The most challenging part, however, is that it is absolutely necessary to completely remove Ego from Parenting.  This is no small task.

The good news is that when I am successful – it really does make a difference.

This morning Megan and Patsy were downstairs playing “chest” as Patsy told me.  According to Patsy, she got mad during the game, so then Megan got mad and wouldn’t play anymore.  Patsy said “Megan just needs to understand that I get upset easily when I am playing games”.  I asked, well, since you are the one that got mad about the game, do you think maybe if you apologized to your sister she would be willing to finish playing?  All that succeeded in doing was to turn up the drama dial.  Patsy informed me (in her loudest, highest pitched voice) that I always took Megan’s side and I don’t care about her, I never listen to her and that she HATES me!

I was smart enough to shut up at that point and just leave her be.  She went into her bedroom, which is just next to mine and proceeded to throw every toy in her room at the wall we share.  She included several fists bangs for good measure along the way.  I finished doing what I was doing and went downstairs.  A few minutes later she brought me a note and stomped off to take a shower.  Her note basically reiterated her earlier verbal rampage.  When she finished with her shower she stomped up to me and demanded to know if I had read her note.  I answered that I had and that it must be awfully sad if that is what she believes.  No wonder she is so upset.

She stood there a minute, then walked over to the sofa, sat down and started brushing her hair.  I turned to her and asked her if she wanted to join us on a picnic and taking Gracie Mae to the dog park.  She said “sure”, hopped up from the sofa and began doing her chores.

And all I had to do was to remember lesson #1 taught to me by our attachment therapist, Shirley – give empathy for the feeling without reinforcing the behavior.  Brilliant strategy that is simple in concept and takes a great deal of self-awareness to execute. 

One thing that really does help that is a traditional technique – take a deep breath and count to 10.

copyrighted 8/23/09

Ground Control to Major Tom…
August 21, 2009

Have you ever noticed that we have a tendency to live out our lives as if everything were life and death scenarios?  We seem compelled to control the world around us and to react with extreme alarm if even minor things don’t go the way we want them to.  A simple 15 second delay on the part of the driver in front of us in his response to the green light can cause a symphony of honking horns and a flock of “birds” flying out of car windows.  A web-page freezes up and the keyboard gets poked and jabbed and perhaps even bashed.  It seems even the simplest tasks have to be as orchestrated and well planned as a lunar landing.

I don’t understand Ego and its need to be in charge. 

I fall into Ego’s trap far too often.  If someone says the sky is purple – why do I feel obligated to insist that it is blue.  Who cares?  So what?!  How do I know what purple really looks like?  Why, just because I interpret the sky as blue does that mean it is absolute truth?

When I take a deep breath and think, well, that is interesting – I open up possibilities rather than shut them down.

The REAL kicker is when the difference in perspective is something more personal – when someone questions my values, knowledge, skills, lifestyle.  Ego soars into hyper-mach 10 drive then!  I immediately make judgements about this other person’s sanity, values, knowledge, skills, lifestyle – even their right to think differently.

I wonder what would happen if I took a deep breath and met their perspective with marvel and amazement- instead of resistance.  I actually wonder this alot – almost always after I have had a blazing reaction.

I really want to get better about meeting the world with astonishment and awe as my initial response.

I am going to set an intent to be thoughtful and conscious about this – taking time everyday to increase my awareness of my reactions.  It seems like it would be a much less stressful way to live.  I am going to redirect all of my energies who currently work for Ego at Ground Control – promoting them to Scouts, seeking out new frontiers.  I imagine I will see things in a whole new light.  Who knows, I might find a purple sky.

copyrighted 8/21/09

Calgon Take Me Away
August 19, 2009

Writing this blog has been therapeutic for me – helping me to gain some perspective, focus on the positive, and keep my ego in check.   I hope you are finding my posts to be entertaining, interesting and helpful. 

I have shared a few of the lessons I’ve learned and some of the stories of when I have done things right.  Last night, tho, it all went out the window.

The evening started off well enough – Kenneth started the casserole with little resistance, even remembering to remove the plastic wrap.  Everyone had their chores finished when I got home from work and the girls and I played around and were giving each other “fish kisses” – our cheeks sucked in and lips puckered up like a fish – kissing each other on the nose, chin, forehead.  It was very sweet and fun.  I was feeling particularly tired and was glad to be just chilling out on the sofa.  At bedtime, Patsy went willingly to brush her teeth and kissed everyone goodnight.

About fifteen minutes later she came downstairs, still in her school uniform.  Before I could ask her what was wrong, she started whining and wimpering, saying she was scared.  I asked her what she was scared of and she said she didn’t know.  I told her to try turning on her radio, sitting up in bed and reading.  She ran up the stairs wailing that no-one cares about her and she hates all of us.

Whoa!  Where the hell did that come from?? I am tired, and REALLY tired of her drama and all of the “fire-drills”.

So, I ignore her.

Which is certainly better than my first inclination which was to go into a tirade and tell her that she is acting like a spoiled brat and that if I didn’t care about her why did I give up my life as I knew it to take care of her and her siblings.  I could have gone on to describe how much better her life is now – she actually has a bedroom, a bed, nice clothes, regular meals, etc., etc., etc.  At least I didn’t do that.

And of course, she came back down the stairs a few minutes later with her drama dial turned up even more. My response was to tell her that she could turn on all of the lights, listen to some music and read a book to get her mind off whatever is scaring her. She yelled that no-one ever listens to her and there is no way she is going to bed and no-one could make her.  I placed my head in my hands and groaned.  I intentionally waited about 10 minutes, then announced I was going upstairs.  I wasn’t going to “let her win”, but knew if someone was upstairs she would probably chill out.

Just as I was straightening up the livingroom for the evening before I went up, Tom decided to take the laundry up.  Once he started up the front stairs, Patsy scurried up the back way.  That aggrevated me even more – and I’m still not even sure why.  When I got upstairs, Patsy came into mine and Tom’s room to take her meds.  Tom started talking to her about what was wrong.  I was too fed up to stay there and listen, so went to brush my teeth.  As I was finishing up, Patsy came in to apologize and say goodnight.  I said that I forgave her, even though I hadn’t yet.  I did recognize that I was over tired and in a nasty mood, so I decided to just go to bed.

Today I was reflecting back on the events of the previous evening.  Initially I was beating myself up for screwing up and not using the strategies and interventions I know that I “should”.  Then I started berating myself for letting Ego take hold of my inner conversation.  So, instead of staying mired in the past, I wondered what it would be like if I was as kind and gentle to myself as I am with the kids.  I took a few deep breaths and asked myself what was wrong and what I needed.

Here is what I learned:
1)  I’m tired
2) Getting back into the school-year schedule is a hard transition for me – I am WAY NOT a morning person
3) I have been doing a lot to focus on the kids’ needs – school enrollment, school shopping, counseling appointments, Dr. appointments… – and haven’t really done much for myself
4) I want to feel appreciated

What I decided I need is a day to relax and rejuvenate.

On Saturday I am going to do just that. I am going to get my nails done, have a hair appointment, and am thinking about taking myself on a shopping spree as well.  Just the thought of giving myself a day to take care of myself has made me feel less stressed and more calm.

I also had an interesting idea about how to feel more appreciated. First I decided that there is nothing wrong with wanting to feel appreciated.  What is wrong is when you don’t feel appreciated, you don’t say anything, and then get resentful.  So, I decided that I am going to talk to the kids about how I am feeling and ask for what I want.  I am going to ask the kids to choose from one of the following ideas:

1) Write a letter to me describing how I have touched your life
2) Write a poem to me, expressing how you feel
3) Give me a foot massage
4) Create a large, beautiful bouquet for me with flowers from our garden
5) Make a collage of all the ways I make a difference in your life using printer paper so I can frame it
6) Some activity or memento of your own creation and imagination that expresses how you feel

These are all things that will stay with me for a long time that will help me always remember why I made this choice.  And why it is so important for me to persistently insist that these kids deserve love, safety and happiness and know that someday they will believe it.

copyrighted 8/19/09