Thursday, September 29, 2016

Budget Friendly Fall Family Fun

   What family friendly activities come to mind when you think of fall? We enjoy doing things that involve the whole family and won't break the bank. So when I was asked to write a post on this very topic, I jumped at the opportunity.

Most of these activities can be done at home with minimal cost to you. If you would like help tracking your costs, check out the free financial tools available here.

#1. Hayrides  - if you have access to a tractor and wagon like we do, this is a family favorite activity. Invite your friends to ride along and ask them to bring a snack to share.

#2. - Rake the yard and make a huge leaf pile. Take turns jumping in it and burying one another. Our children can spend hours playing with leaves.

#3. - Cider. - Nothing tastes quite as good as freshly squeezed apple cider. We also enjoy it hot with spices.

#4. - Caramel apples. Find a recipe for homemade caramel apples. Get the children involved by having them unwrap the caramels. Roll the candied apples in your favorite toppings.

#5. - Go for a hike and enjoy the beauty of nature as it prepares for winter. We live near a trail that goes through the woods. The children find all kinds of treasures like colored leaves, acorns and berries.

#6. - Pick out mums to set on your porch. One year I let each child pick their favorite colored mum, they were delighted.

#7. - Bonfires are the perfect way to end the day. Invite friends or neighbors over for S'mores and hot chocolate. Sit around the fire and learn to know each other better.

#8. Buy a pumpkin and scoop out the seeds. Toast the seeds in the oven and cook the pumpkin. Use the cooked pumpkin to make a fresh pies.

#9. - Make and pull taffy

#10. - Make hot chocolate and serve it with all the toppings; whipped cream, chocolate shavings, cinnamon sticks and or course, cookies.

#11. - Cabela's - If you really need to get out of the house, take the children to see the animals at Cabela's!

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

FASD Is Permanent

Several times in the recent past I have been asked when Joseph will get better. My goal is to explain how FASD affects him as well as helping people understand that FASD is permanent.

 Joseph's prefrontal cortex has sustained the most damage. This part of the brain is responsible for problem solving, decision making, memory and judgement among many other things. One article aptly refers to this part of the brain as the control panel. 

Joseph needs us to love him, encourage him and protect him, the same things every child needs. However we sometimes need to take our level of protection to a deeper level, we have to protect him from himself. At this point Joseph would not intentionally hurt himself but he might unintentionally. Just the other day I found him with his belt around his neck, he even had it buckled! He was pretending to be a dog and his belt was his collar. I removed the belt and explained why it was dangerous. Since his memory was also affected by alcohol, he promptly forgot what I told him and given the chance might do the same thing tomorrow. That damage will never go away, FASD is permanent but it is not hopeless! 

These are some of the comments we hear from time to time. Sometime's the person is trying to make us feel better, other times they are hoping that he will get better and then there are those who really don't understand. It isn't easy to know when to explain and when to just be quiet and smile. Since September is FASD Awareness Month, I wanted to write at least one post on the topic. When I couldn't come up with any ideas, I decided to forget about it, until I was asked several times in succession, "When will Joseph get better," then I knew I had my topic.

 "By the time he is a teen he will probably catch up to his peers."
No he won't, baring a miracle, that is. For many years to come Joseph will function at half his chronological age. Often when people with FASD reach their mid twenties to thirties they are no longer so far behind their peers but that varies for each person.

"At least he will be able to take care of himself when he is an adult."
    FASD is permanent. Maybe Joseph will be able to care for himself someday, maybe not. It isn't that he wouldn't be able to meet his needs physically, it is more that he wouldn't remember that meat needs to be refrigerated, that you do not invite strangers over for the night or share your whole pay check with a friend only to have to go hungry yourself. 

"Be glad he doesn't have a permanent disability."
  It is permanent. Joseph has what is called organic brain damage. His brain was injured prior to birth. 

"Maybe if you would do x,y,z he would to catch up to his peers faster."
   Supplements, medications and therapy all help those with FASD to reach their greatest potential but nothing will "heal" them.

"He will grow up, just give him time. He matures slower than others, give him more time."
   More time, if only it were that easy! However there is a bit of truth in the "give him more time," approach. Because as I mentioned earlier, when these people their mid twenties they seem to catch up to their peers on some levels.

"I saw how well Joseph interacted with the other children, he is really improving!"
This one is a tough one because on the surface it appears that he is doing better. People with FASD have good days and not so good days. If you happen to see Joseph on one of his good days, you may be inclined to think he is doing better but sadly, the good days don't last.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

Enjoying Life

We have been doing more than settling fears and thwarting rages around here, although you might not get that impression from my recent posts. The other week Dean told me I write a lot about the negative things that go down around here. He encouraged me to write about the good times as well.

    When the storms of anger and fear are coming at us nearly non stop it is easy for me to lose sight of joy and forget about the happy times, so I was glad for his reminder.  Here is a post without any of the heavy stuff, just pictures and little tales of family life.

We had a birthday party for these three friends. Lia, Annali and Jeralyn have birthdays within two weeks and we always celebrate together. 

The girls all excited to begin opening gifts!

Lia de-stressing after her birthday party.

Dean smoked pork for the party and we enjoyed pulled pork sandwiches for supper. I love when he does the cooking, makes preparing for company much easier on my part.

Lia and her two turtles had a tea party while I tried to get some housework done. She gets incredibly bored when the others are in school. Every day she asks, "Is this my school day?"

Playing doctor with the bunny she got from her friend Jeralyn. "Mom, her heart beats faster than a humans!"

Lia and her friend Kendra holding Fuzzy and eating cheese curls

Watching dad work.

Dean regraded our back yard


Scheduling, rescheduling, cancelling and confirming appointments... sometimes I threaten to hire a secretary!

Tristan watering the grass

Living in the woods means the children get lots of briers in their feet.

Fresh cinnamon rolls and coffee

The campfire we enjoyed tonight and of course we made S'mores

Hiking on the Horseshoe Trail, one of the children's favorite Sunday afternoon activities. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Safety In The Lions Den

This past Sunday our Sunday School lesson was on Daniel and how he prayed to God even when he knew his life was in danger. As we discussed Daniels life, God put the thought into my head that when we, like Daniel, are in the lions den we may be safer spiritually. In our human flesh we tend to pray harder when we are in a place of danger, be it physically, spiritually, emotionally or otherwise. Prayer is what draws us to God, it strengthens our faith in a way nothing else can.

  This week has found me in the lions den regarding my children, their trauma and the role I have to, no I should say, I am privileged, to play in helping conquer their personal lions. 

I know God is in the details, he had me share the thought that perhaps we are safer spiritually when in the lions den, because he knew what this week would bring. He knew I would need something to hang onto when the lions roared.

Nothing that has happened this week came as a surprise, we knew it was inevitable but we weren't prepared to have everything come to a head at once, at least I wasn't. It doesn't help that I am weaning off of a medication that messes with my central nervous system. I have to wean a little more every 4-6 weeks and every drop leaves me feeling pretty awful.

As I was pondering this, I came to the realization that I can choose to view these difficult times as unfair or I can view them as a blessing. Today I will choose to walk close to God and be blessed, how about you?

 I Choose Joy! A Divine Encounter

Monday, September 19, 2016

Of Kittens And Being Mean To Mom

The conversation Kiana and I had the other evening included Marshmallows kittens. When the girls found the nest of kittens this past summer, I never dreamed how many times I would use them to explain life lessons to my children.

  Kiana was telling me how she fears I will die so sometimes she is mean to me so she won't get as close to me, thus alleviating the pain of loss when/if it happens.

  "Let's pretend Marshmallow couldn't take care of her kittens so she found them a new home. Do you think she would do that because she loves her babies and wants them to be happy?" I asked.

Kiana agreed, so I asked, "But what if one of those kittens was really worried her new mom would die, so she was mean to her new mom, how could we help that kitten?"

Kiana thought a bit then suggested, "We could find it a new home and a new mom."

"That is a possibility," I agreed, "But what if that new mom wasn't nice to the kitten, or what if she didn't know how to help the kitten work through it's big feelings? Then what?"

"It could go back to it's second mom," Kiana suggested.

"It could, but wouldn't it be a lot easier for everyone if the kitten would work on it's relationship with the mom it has instead of looking for other moms?" I asked. "If the kitten moved from one mom to the next and back again, it would have even more big feelings to work through."

"What would you tell Marshmallows kitten if it was making life very hard for it's new mom?"

I was really hoping she would have a profound thought, one which would unlock the door that was keeping her bound by fear but she couldn't come up with anything.

"What would you tell that kitten?" She asked me with a sheepish grin. 

 "I would tell it that Marshmallow, it's mom, thought she had found  a good home for her baby. I would tell that kitten that Marshmallow would want it to love it's new mom and that it would make her sad to hear that her kitten was having so many struggles."

Kiana got teary eyed over that. I always struggle to know how far to push my children and while I don't want to toy with their emotions, if that will help, I will try it!

"I think I know a little girl who is a lot like that kitten," I said quietly.

Kiana nodded, "I should just be nice to you, but it is so hard!!" She cried.

We went on talk about ways to work through her big feelings then I suggested that we color some pictures together, something she loves to do. I paged through the coloring book and found the perfect picture of a kitten. I colored it, tore it out of the book and wrote a message on it. A message reminding Kiana to love her mom and that I love her.

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Saturday, September 17, 2016

If You Would Die Now, I Wouldn't Have To Worry About When It Will Happen - Learning To Trust

Our church has a week of revivals every fall, some years we are able to attend most nights and some years like this one, our children's trauma rears it's head and keeps us home.

  Yesterday we were determined to go, come what may. Then the children came home from school..... and two hours later our plans changed. 

   A certain little miss was over the top defiant. This defiance and blatant disobedience has been building up ever since school began and yesterday it boiled over. I know it stems from the fear of abandonment but is there ever a time for the child to face reality or do you just excuse the behavior and blame it on trauma? 

  Joseph was over tired so he went to bed and Dean took Tristan and Lia with him while Kiana and I sat down to tackle the problem at hand. 

   "Can you tell me what is bothering you?" 

Our children usually give a list of superficial issues in an attempt to keep us from getting to the root issue. Talking about big feelings is painful for them so they avoid it whenever possible. The trouble with that method is, you never resolve issues if you bury them and refuse to talk about them.

   Kiana listed the surface things that bother her such as, "I am wish I had as many gifts as Lia" (She just had a birthday), "I am sad about B..." all of which are legitimate big feelings, but not the root issue.

 "I am afraid you will die and sometimes I wish you would die now so I don't have to worry about it happening. If I am mean to you now, it won't hurt so badly when you do die," was what finally came up after 20 minutes of talking. Poor child! I had figured as much but to actually hear her say it was tough.

 Many years ago I had post partum depression which brought on a deep set fear that Dean and Tristan would die. The turning point for me was talking to a woman who's husband had passed away from cancer. She said, "Sandra, it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all."

I tried to impress that fact upon Kiana and we spent quite a bit of time talking about it, but Dean was the one who really helped her understand. After Kiana and I were finished talking she told Dean what we discussed and he had some good thoughts to add to it.

  "Remember how you feel after you have spent the day disobeying and being unkind? You feel like you have ruined your day, right?" Kiana agreed so Dean continued, "But think about the days when you are obedient, you get extra privileges and you are kind to mom and dad, when you go to bed you feel good about yourself, right? If mom were to die and you had spent your time being mean to her how do you think you would feel?"

  "I would feel terrible!"

"That would be an awful feeling," Dean agreed, "But if you had done your best, you would be so glad, right?"

 "I would be glad, but I would still be really sad," Kiana said.

"Yes, but think how it would be to feel bad about what you did and feel sad on top of that, that would be a really big feeling," Dean explained. 

  "So what do you think would give you the biggest feelings, obeying mom or disobeying her?" 

"Disobeying, but it is so hard to make good choices!" Kiana wailed.

"It is hard and you will mess up, we all do," I explained. "Sometimes when you are disobeying, I am kind but sometimes I get angry, right?" Kiana grinned at me because she knew what I had in mind, just that morning I opened my mouth before I got my frustration under control. 

"We all make mistakes but we must try, you haven't been trying  lately and that is getting you into trouble."

"If you try your best and ask Jesus to help you, he will but if you don't try he won't help you. You must do your part even when it is really tough. That is part of growing up!" 

She has been trying to make good choices and her mom has been trying to be kind and patient. It is a work in progress for both of us!!!

 We talked about Marshmallows kittens* and being kind to our new/adoptive mom but I will write another post about that.

check out this link to help you in your search for therapists, Better Help -finding therapists

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

It Takes A Village To Raise A Child

"It takes a village to raise a child"
                               - African proverb

  This proverb is especially true for those children who have special needs, particularly when those needs involve attachment issues. I remember quaking in my shoes at the thought of sending B to Kindergarten. He was a pro at manipulation and the majority of people fell for his tricks. God answered our prayers and blessed him with a teacher who went above and beyond the call of duty to make the school year a success.

  Joseph may have brain damage but he can sniff out people who are "sympathetic to his case," a mile away. A child with attachment disorder will put up a fake front to manipulate people. Since he is familiar with this type of actions, he can pick it out when someone is using it on him. For instance, Joseph stays with us when we are away so we can help him stay regulated. From time to time we get into a situation where someone misunderstands this and feels sorry for Joseph. They often pay special attention to him and Joseph knows this. He doesn't know how to handle the situation and as a result acts out. When we sit down with him and try to figure out what is causing the latest round of behaviors, it usually boils down to, "_______ was being fake and it gave me big feelings."

  Children with attachment disorder/ FASD need firm boundaries and routines if they are going to succeed. Sometimes some of these boundaries appear pretty extreme or unnecessary, or those in charge of the child feel uneasy requiring them to toe the line. When this happens the child may do well for awhile but when he is back with his parents, it all falls apart.

 Saying things like, "You have a good mom/dad."

"Your parents will keep you safe."

"Your mom and dad love you, why don't you ask them for a hug," when a child comes and asks you to hold them or tries to snuggle beside you.

If the child shows you something from his lunch that he really likes you can say, "Your mom knows what you like and packed it just for you, how special!"

Children with attachment disorder crave love and attention but feel it is too risky to get it from their parents since that would mean relying on mom and dad. If they can get it from others with whom they have no emotional connection, they will. One way of encouraging a bond between parent and child is to have the child receive good things only from their parent. If you want to give the child a gift or treat, give it to mom or dad to hand to the child. 

We have been blessed with a village of supportive people and for that, we are deeply grateful. Parenting children with attachment issues is a tough but rewarding calling, without the prayers and support of you all it would be so much more difficult!

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Saturday, September 10, 2016

Trust Is The Platform On Which We Build Relationships, Lessons In Bonding

Will you be there for me?

Will you catch me if I fall?

Do you have my back?

Our children base everything they do on these questions. Most times it isn't a conscious decision, they don't think, "Mom might not take care of me," after which a sense of fear overwhelms them and they either shut down or throw a tantrum. Instead what usually happens is something triggers the memory of feeling abandoned and their behavior deteriorates from there. A child who has a good bond with his parents may experience the same situation, he may feel fear but he goes to his parents for comfort and security whereas children from hard places immediately assume they will be left to fend for themselves and they panic.

 Sometimes I wonder if we will ever reach the place where our children will default to, "I am loved, I am wanted, I am needed," instead of always coming up against the rock wall of, "But you might leave me this time."

  Yesterday marked the second week of school and the noise from little people trying to adjust to the change in their lives has my ears begging for mercy. One whined, one refused to follow instructions and the third melted down in a puddle of tears whenever I tried to figure out what was wrong. While I expected this fall out, as is usual, I was blindsided by the intensity of it.

 After helping Joseph work through a melt down that honestly didn't make much sense, I got to thinking, "This is all about trusting that mom and dad will be there for me." I was tempted to throw my hands up in defeat. We have poured love, time... our whole hearts into helping our children feel loved and cared for but they still worry we are going to walk out on them!

I know the new school year is what triggered this anxiety. All summer the children spent their time at home with me. Their days were fairly routine and best of all, they always knew where mom was. Now they go to school and don't see Dean or I for 6 plus hours. They don't know if I will be there when they get home from school, even though I always am. They don't know if I decided I am tired of being a mom and walked out the door. You and I know that is an absurd thought but my children don't know that. They each had another mom who they think did just that. If their biological mom didn't take care of them what is keeping me from doing the same thing?

 The other evening Kiana was trying to figure out how she will find someone to take care of them when Dean and I die. My heart broke for her! Kiana said, "I guess I will just start walking up the road till I find someone." I listed our neighbors and reminded her that Tristan could call someone if that were to happen. "But I don't want you to worry about mom and dad dying," I said. "When your mind wants to think about that kind of thing, I want you to come to me for a hug or sing a song. Sometimes we have to make our brains stop thinking about the things that bother us," I explained. That is a big task for an 8 year old but I knew I needed to give her something that she could do to help herself.

  Sometimes the way looks long but for now we will keep doing our best and leave the rest up to God.

From House to Home {Link Party} #188

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Lessons In Love And Rejection In Adoption

Those of us born into a loving, secure family cannot be too thankful  for that blessing. We don't have to wonder why our mom couldn't take care of us pr who our family is. We don't have the beast of rejection snapping at our heels, threatening to pull us down and devour us. Watching our children work through the devastation of rejection is tough. How do you help someone come to terms with something so huge, when you have had a secure childhood?

   Sometimes Dean and I feel wholly inadequate to fill the intense emotional needs our children have. Facing the onslaught of rage, fear and pain these deep needs cause can be wearying, but seeing them grasp what we have been telling them is so rewarding!

   Today held one of those rewarding moments. Kiana was keenly feeling the affects of her past. Going to church and seeing her friends who "match" their parents is hard for her as it is a visible reminder of the fact that she is adopted. As is typical for children with a history like hers, she was lashing out at me.

   We need to be sensitive to our children's pain, but sometimes they need to face reality and today was such a day for Kiana.

  It is easier for her to cast the blame for her troubles on me. "If you wouldn't have adopted me....!" Of course that isn't logical thinking, but trauma is seldom logical.

  I whispered a quick prayer for direction and wisdom which God graciously answered by bringing to mind our cat Marshmallow and her kittens. Marshmallow had a nest of kittens in our woods earlier this summer and the children loved them dearly. Mama Cat wasn't impressed with all the attention and moved them several times. Eventually she moved them and we couldn't find them. That was the end of the kittens.

  I told Kiana to think of those kittens. "What if Marshmallow couldn't take care of her babies and left them cold and hungry, they would be meowing and crying. Then we would find another cat who would be willing to take care of them and feed them like her own. If the kittens would scratch and hiss at that cat, do think they would feel warm and safe?"

  Kiana shook her head no.

  "But what if those kittens cuddled up to that cat and she fed them and kept them warm and even though they missed Marshmallow, they would let the new cat keep them safe."

  "You are like those kittens, you can hurt us because of the pain you have in your heart, or you can let us help you and love you. The choice is yours, do you want to be a cold and scared kitten or one that feels safe and loved?"

  I sent her to think about which type of kitten she wants to be until lunch was ready. I haven't sat down and asked her what she chose but her actions speak for themselves. She joined in the talk around the dinner table and cheerfully helped with clean up afterwards. 

  Sometimes, well most times, we feel out of our depth when it comes to helping our children heal but we thank God for those break through moments!

  I am off make sure my kitten feels loved and secure.....

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Saturday, September 3, 2016

Moment To Moment, A DVD Review On Teens Growing Up With FASDs

  I just finished watching the DVD, Moment To Moment from NTI Upstream and I give it a thumbs up! The DVD follows the challenges and difficulties parents and their prenatally affected teens face as well as giving an over view of how alcohol affects the unborn child.


   While we don't have a teen with FASD in our home but I can readily relate to the things mentioned, such as when one teen said, "I have to get up at the same time every day or I have a hard time staying on task for the remainder of the day." Or the youth who's hours at work got changed because her manager thought she was being irresponsible when she failed to change the soiled tablecloths in the assisted living dining hall where she worked. The teens mother said her daughter was not being irresponsible, "She wasn't told to change every table cloth, just the soiled ones. She does an excellent job if she knows exactly what to do and doesn't have to decide how and when to perform a task."

  Doctors and those involved in the legal system shared stories and information from their experiences of working with affected teens, adults and their family's. Some of the stories they shared were heart breaking but I am so thankful someone is speaking out and is willing to teach and train those who help make decisions for the safety and well being of those with an FASD.

If you are looking for a easy to understand, yet thorough and informative way to raise awareness for FASD, this DVD might be just what you are looking for. 

*some conversations were paraphrased.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Does Our Past Impact The Choices We Make?

Does our past really impact the decisions and choices we make, or is that just an escape route someone dreamed up because they didn't want to accept accountability for their actions? 

  Think about it, if our current reactions to situations reflect on our past experiences, the way we are parenting our children and relating to others is serious business. Now I want to clarify that we can and do heal from traumatic happenings, we can "rise above them," so to speak but they still have an impact on how we respond to the situations in life.

   My daughter beginning Kindergarten is what triggered this whole thought process for me. How are those two things linked you ask? Almost three years ago, we learned through another source that CYS was not happy that we placed B at TAP. CYS felt we were "getting rid of him," as they said, and as a result they wanted to move Lia. We were working on the adoption process at the time and thought we had a good relationship with CYS so when we learned this we were stunned to say the least. The next months were a nightmare, in fact I don't remember much of them besides the heart ache and disbelief that we were so badly misunderstood. If CYS would have moved Lia, I would have been home alone and I was beginning to mentally prepare myself for that possibility during the months we were being investigated.

  It is now 2016, Lia is ours and she went to Kindergarten, leaving me home alone. Guess what emotions came to the surface? Panic, desperation, loss... I am reliving it all over again. This morning as I was picking up the clothing Lia left lying on the floor, I found myself mourning the loss of my little girl. I mentally walked through the grief of losing her and hugged her clothing to my heart. That quickly I snapped out of it but it was another reminder for me to give my children grace when they are obviously reliving a painful experience. 

  The only difference between my experience and my children's is that I am an adult, I can defend myself and do things to change my circumstances, plus I understand why I am triggered by certain things, my children can't.

  This is why the beginning of a new school year is so difficult for many children from hard places. Change means pain, a new school term means learning to know a new teacher, it means figuring out if she like me and accept me. When my children thought of a new school year, they thought of leaving the comforts of home and that thought made their body "remember" another time they left home and never went back. Imagine the fear they feel? The fear that they will never see mom and dad again... Except my children don't know that is where the very real terror they feel originated, they only know that the thought of school unleashes a load of mixed emotions doused with fear.

   One of our children reacts to new situations by acting ignorant and being defiant. Another child needs to me to spend time holding her and rocking. They are reacting to the current situation, a new school year, in light of their past experiences. Dean and I can explain why they feel what they do but they have to be willing to walk through that pain and reach the comfort on the other side, something that is overwhelming and scary.

  If a child has always been secure in his parents love and acceptance of him, he will usually face things like a new school year with ease because he expects people to love him. If he has been uprooted, endured prenatal substance abuse or other forms of trauma, he is much more likely to view the world as an unsafe place. What does a wild animal do when it is cornered? It snaps and snarls, looking as fierce as possible in an attempt to keep you at bay. Our children react to new situations the same way because they feel unsafe, threatened.

 Some of our children default to lying and raging when something doesn't go their way. We used to think they could stop this behavior if they wanted to, but we have learned that this is a trauma response. They are reacting to things that happened years ago and many times they can't tell us what triggers them. Consequences don't work, connecting with them, calming them and helping them figure out the big feelings behind the reaction empowers them to conquer the next battle. 

   Just this morning I saw this explanation for trauma reactions/PTSD:
 “Trauma causes the brain to malfunction. During a traumatic experience, memories cannot be processed correctly. So a person with PTSD is still carrying those traumatic experiences around in their body. Because those experiences were never filed away into the ‘past tense,’ the brain continues to operate as if the trauma is happening in the ‘present tense.’ It’s like a computer with a program that's running constantly in the background. The idle is way too high. And it’s an exhausting way to live. So those memories need to be revisited and processed. And we have an amazing way of doing that. It’s called EMDR. I won’t explain it here, but it works. It takes away symptoms. It won't turn you into a yogi who sits on the beach. But it will take away panic attacks. It will take away insomnia. And it will take away suicidal idealizations. We aren’t changing anyone. But we are getting people back to their best self.”

You can find the link here.