Friday, June 24, 2016

The Lost Years- Secondary Trauma

Mike and I are sitting here watching TV tonight and 20/20 comes on.  They're talking about a case from 2011, the case of missing college student Lauren Spierer.  They stated it was one of the most well known missing person cases of all time.  I consider myself someone who keeps up with current events, sometimes I even get pulled into stories and (admittedly) obsess over them.  But this one, it didn't ring a all.  I asked Mike, "Do you remember this?". He didn't either.  Then we realized the year...2011.

Mike lovingly refers to the years of 2010 and 2011 as our own personal 'Nam, because there are long periods of time, many significant events, that neither one of us remember.  We have blocked them out I suppose, similar (although obviously incomparable) to what a soldier, post war, may experience.  They were indeed the most trying years of our lives so far. 

These were the first years we had the twins home.

Here's a perfect example of our lapse in memory.  In 2012 I said I wanted to go to Columbus for my birthday to go to the science museum and the famous Columbus Zoo.  About halfway through our day at the zoo we came upon the polar bear exhibit.  Something seemed familiar, there was a playground at the entrance of the exhibit that I could have sworn I had pictures of the girls playing on before.  I asked the zoo employee if the Cleveland Zoo had a similar exhibit and he told me no, that the Columbus Zoo was the only one in the state that had polar bears, let alone that very same playground.  I'm sure he thought I had forgotten to take my meds that morning or something!

Here we are in 2012:
We finished our day at the zoo, both of us trying to remember when we would have brought them to Columbus before then.  We were able to rule out that we had taken them the previous summer so that only left the summer of 2010...right after we brought them home.  We wouldn't have been that crazy!!  There's no way!!  We were so broke!!  How would we have even afforded it?  Where would we have stayed??  To this day we can't answer those questions folks, but I do have photo evidence that we were at the Columbus Zoo the summer of 2010.

Here is the infamous polar bear playground photo (apparently my sole memory from this visit)...
Parents of kids from trauma will attest to this, but there is such a thing as secondary trauma, and most of us who are parenting trauma kiddos would fit the bill for this diagnosis.  We get PTSD from our kids' PTSD.  It's a vicious cycle.  You can read more about this here. This article states it best:
 "Because these behaviors serve as a way for their child to communicate and express how their trauma has affected them, parents are, thus, being exposed, on a regular basis, to their child’s trauma.  Parents who are experiencing secondary trauma may: feel anxious, tense, easily overwhelmed, and have sleep difficulties; re-experience their child’s aggressive, suicidal, or self-harming behaviors or details of their child’s trauma; feel as if they have changed and are not themselves anymore; or wish to escape or avoid their child or their child’s behaviors."
Those first two years with the twins were so wrought with trauma that our brains had blocked so much of it out completely!

We spent most of our days doing behavior modification.  Our girls were so filled with rage, coupled with the fact that they didn't speak English so they couldn't communicate their feelings, even if they were capable at 4 years old of putting it into words.  They would scream, kick, hit, spit and bite.  We spent a good amount of their waking hours teaching them the basics of how to behave, using holds that would assist them in calming themselves and their bodies.  We would find out later that they both have what's called Sensory Processing Disorder (very common in children from trauma) so the pressure of the holds would physically help them calm down.  (Now we have weighted blankets).

I am so thankful that I took so many pictures those first two years so that they can fill in the major gaps in my memory and so that the girls have a beautiful pictorial representation of all of the fun we did have those first two years.  They made SO MUCH PROGRESS in those years that it was unbelievable.  I do remember those hopeless days when we thought we'd never get to the point that they could function in a school environment, never go to a friend's house to play and never be calm enough that our cats would come out of hiding around them!  If you are in that place, the abyss of the unknowns about your child, please know there is always hope!  They will improve and so will you.  You will learn to be their best advocate and you will learn how to parent them, even if it was different than you thought you'd parent.  God will give you the strength if you ask for it.  I still have to ask Him for help, strength, patience, grace and love for my kids on a daily basis.  Most importantly YOU ARE NOT ALONE and YOU ARE NOT CRAZY!!

It's pretty amazing what our brains do in order to cope with things.  It makes me wonder if other parents have these experiences.  One of my best friends had a baby that had a very rough first year of life.  He struggled with acid reflux so badly that this child cried CONSTANTLY.  Perhaps she experiences some lapses in time due to that traumatic year.  If you have a story about a period of your life that your brain blocked out, leave it in the comments!  It will help me not feel so crazy!!  Ha!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

10th Birthday Surprise

Hello again!  I haven't posted since September and for that I apologize.  This thing called life got in the way.  Something happened this evening, however, that I had to get down into words.

Tomorrow is the twins' 10th birthday.  We decided to let them open a couple of gfits tonight (from the grandmas) since they were things they would want to wear to school tomorrow.  (Also, because they got new shoes and Celia has to use a shoe box to make a Valentine's box that's due tomorrow, so we needed the box, LOL)  So, after the FaceTime calls to grandmas so they could see the girls opening their gifts, they both went upstairs to their room.  They came down to the basement to find me riffling through my scrapbook stuff (with cobwebs all over it) to try to find some heartsy things for Celia to use to decorate her box.

"Here", they said as they handed me a pencil zipper pouch.  "What's this?" I asked.  "We've been saving up our money since Christmas, and with the birthday money we just got, we now have $100 to go toward our trip to Ethiopia."  Insert shocked face here.  They've shocked us in the past with their generosity (you can read about that here), but this was a whole other level.

As I've stated in a previous post we have been working with an investigator for nearly a year who found the twins' birthmother.  Our plan is to go visit her and the twins' sisters in Ethiopia for their 12th birthday.  We have had an ongoing relationship with their family through our investigator and our Ethiopian friends here in the states who can call their birthmother's phone and translate for us.  The girls know they are now our extended family and our families and friends united in the fall to send the funds over to pay for tuition for their sisters at the school of their mother's choice.  You can read about that more here.  It's been incredibly healing for all of us.

But, they are kids and that is some pretty heavy stuff to process.  I've given them time and space to process it and tried not to nag about how they feel about it all.  They tell me in small ways.  They all three sleep with photo albums of their birth families in their beds, and on a recent trip to Ohio for the holidays, they even packed them in their suitcase with no prodding by me.  I still wasn't sure how they felt about our plans to go to Ethiopia in two years.  Now I know.

One of our favorite people in the world is Amsale, my Ethiopian mama in Akron.  I spoke with her and asked if she would call the twins' mother soon to check in and see how they're doing.  She had the idea of calling her on the twins' birthday!  After the twins handed me the money, and I picked my jaw up off of the floor, I told them that Amsale was calling her tomorrow and I wanted Amsale to tell their mother about this.  Their smiles lit up the room.  I saw their love for this woman in their eyes.  A woman they feel so guilty for not remembering now.  A woman who stirs up some very complicated feeling for them.  But I saw the healing tonight in their eyes.  God is healing them through this incredible story he's using us in.

So this week we will go to the bank and open a new account.  Mike and I also got a good chunk of change as a Christmas gift from my parents to get this account started.  I recently started working full time so that we would have the extra money to sock away.  I also am starting on a journey of selling this nutritional drink that is helping my own health, with all of the income I make from that going straight into this savings account for our trip.  Our girls are aware of this goal we are working towards and they've decided to join us.

 The timing of this was critical for me.  They're kids, and as such they can be pretty big a-holes a lot of the time.  The twins are also getting close to that snotty, snarky age, which I have no patience for.  Every day I am shutting it down.  It's exhausting, and most days I wonder if they're going to turn out to be jerks.  It's rare that I have the energy, patience and grace to deal with the attitudes in a loving and teaching way.  I just shut it down and send them to their room until they're ready to be nice.  But, tonight I feel good.  Tonight I know that they are learning selflessness.  Tonight they are healing and value us working as a family towards a common goal.  Tonight I not only love them, but I like them and I am cherishing them.


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