Friday, December 16, 2011

It’s Not ‘bout You, Mama

I spent a very thank-filled day yesterday, and have begun today in much the same way.  I am truly living this day as fully as I can, even if I live it simply and within my regular routine.  Because of recent experience, I am more aware of how even the simple, the routine, and even the simple routine CRAZINESS of raising traumatized kids is truly a blessing.  Today is a gift.  That’s not just an old cliché. 

Yesterday, I wrote about the trauma triggers my kids experience when we celebrate family milestones – like my 22 year-old son’s college graduation last Sunday.  There are many reasons my kids do not handle celebrations well.  One reason is because they did not receive the attention they needed as young children.  They were terribly neglected by their birth mother.  That neglect continued when they entered the orphanage system in Eastern Europe.  The reason my son gets angry, and my daughter does everything she can to get attention (even negative attention), is because they still haven’t had their emotional buckets filled.  Their needs are still not met, even though they’ve been home four years.  They still need attention.  When they act like a baby or are angry, it’s because they didn’t get what they needed as babies.

When this happens, we do not coddle them, but we also do not ignore them.  Granted, there are times when it gets to be too much, and like I wrote yesterday, even I need a time out from the craziness.  We don’t allow celebrations to turn into events that make the day more about them when it’s not, but we do help them process what’s going on.  For my son, we might say, “You seem like you’re far away.  WHAT (not why – I have learned not to ask “why” questions of my traumatized kids) are you thinking?”  If he says he doesn’t know (which he does a lot), we make suggestions to help him.  For example, “I wonder if you’re sad because your brother is receiving a lot of praise from us today and you know he’s always had it.  I wonder if you wish we’d had you all along so you could have had that pride from us all your life, and if you’re not angry that you didn’t get it from your birthparents, or the orphanage caregivers, when you were little?” 

There are times he’ll say, “That’s not it,” and become even more angry.  We know we’re right on track when that happens.  Other times, he’ll say, “That’s not it” and then tell us what’s going on.

Our daughter isn’t as cognitive when she’s triggered.  Her trauma is very emotion-based because she doesn’t have clear memory of her neglect.  She acts out.  She’s unable to say, “I need attention” on her own.  We always have to remind her that she’s acting much younger than she is because she doesn’t see it.  She never realizes she’s using her “baby voice,” or that she’s quite literally bouncing off the walls.  We always have to remind her of her “tools.”  They are:  stop, take a breath, take another breath, and think.  She always needs help with the last thing:  think.  We identify for her that she needs to tell us what it is she really wants or needs.  Thankfully, she’s able to do that when she’s reminded.

My kids have lost a lot.  And so, in addition to the trauma trigger that celebrations are for our family, whenever I am sick, even with the slightest cold, my kids are also triggered.  However, we had a bigger scare this last week.  We didn’t tell the kids everything and we didn’t share all our worries, but they were aware there was something going on and it added to the crazy behavior – behavior we’re still dealing with even now that we’ve gotten fairly good news.

Last week, I noticed a lump on my left rib cage.  I saw the doctor and he was “concerned.”  I had to wait another day to get in to the hospital to get a CT scan with an IV contrast.  They couldn’t get the IV started.  I got stuck three times.  My anxiety level was pretty high.  My mother and both my grandmothers died of cancer at the holidays.  My prayer has always been that I not get sick and that I not die at the holidays.  (May sound silly, but I’m being real.  I don’t want my kids – any of my kids – to have that trauma trigger every stinkin’ year.)

Finally, they got the contrast started and did the scan.  It went quickly once I had the contrast in me, but it made me pretty sick for a few moments.  Then I waited again.  Friends prayed.  I had peace, and I slept well that night, but I was still pretty frightened.  All the kids knew was that I was undergoing a test to see if I needed to have surgery to remove the lump on my rib.

The next day, my doctor’s nurse called and told me I have a lipoma – a benign fatty tumor.  We need to watch it and if it grows, I may need surgery later, but for now, I don’t need any treatment.  To say that my husband and I were very relieved is an understatement.  Again, I am very thankful.  God certainly allowed the experience to remind me how each day He gives me is a blessing.

It’s hard to hide when you’re anxious.  I was weepy off and on that day and night, as I waited on the results.  I hid some of that from my kids, but I wasn’t able to hide all of it.  I talked with our therapist about this and she agreed that maybe it’s not such a bad thing my kids see emotions are a normal part of dealing with life – all emotions.  She and I agreed it was a good thing for them to see that I needed the support of my friends when I was scared, but that I would be okay, too.

My kids have experienced traumatic loss.  They’re scared they’ll lose me, too.  But it’s not about me; it’s about what they haven’t had, and it’s about the needs they haven’t had filled.  Even though my son is in a constant “dance” of push and pull with me – of wanting to be close, but not too close, and then causing us both pain when it gets too uncomfortable for him, he still does not want to lose me.  He’s lost so much else.  Every little illness frightens him and his sister. 

Just as they did not receive the attention they needed as young children, they also did not experience the repetitive lessons a young child needs in order to learn life’s lessons – like healthy moms can get sick, but they can also get better and everything doesn’t need to completely fall apart.  That’s about them, too, but that’s also where I can help.  It gets hard doing and saying the same things over and over again to teenagers as though they were 3 year-old toddlers, but that’s where their needs were not met.  I am thankful God allows me to be that “broken record” I have complained I need to be too often.  Things can get hard around here, but we have a certain glue that doesn’t let us fall completely apart.

Even if the tumor had not been benign, I would want them to know everything doesn’t need to completely fall apart.  And so, I’ve been reminded in a new way how each day is a gift.  Even the hard days.  As one friend wrote, “Even if it rains on my parade, I’ll still be there marching.”  If I can teach that to my kids and they can grab hold to even some of it, then I am even more thankful.


beemommy said...

Really like your parade analogy. A few years ago, I thought I was having a heart attack (fairly young, only 49 or 50, thought maybe it was panic but didn't want to take a chance) so I woke my husband and drove down the hill so the EMS would not wake my kids (son would have melted down with the crazies immediately) daughter would have had a more neuro-typical response but stressed, nonetheless. Yep, it was panic but they kept me for a day. So, totally get where your kids would fall apart if (thank God it was benign!) anything more serious.

Trauma Mama T said...

Thanks for your comment, beemommy. I'm in my early 50's so I can completely relate! Panic attacks are no fun, but I'm glad your heart was okay. It's amazing how things others see as just parts of life can be so much harder on our kids, but they are. All we can do when those times come is work to remind them of the tools we've already taught them - and pray!

DeeChloRox said...

So glad you are fine!

Scott and Kathy said...

So much of what you say is right on.....I consult
Your blog often.....It is when my heart hurts and I need understanding. The journey is rewarding yet tiresome..exhausting is another word. I too am in my 50's and my child is 7. he has been home from Siberia for 4 years in August. Thanks for taking the time to share your journey...It is helpful!!!Glad your lump was a fatty tumor. My Dad had one and never had to have surgery.:)