Thursday, December 28, 2017

A.C.E.'s, Toxic Stress And Adoption

How do you help a 10 year old make good choices when she see's no need to do so? Everything that happens is because she was adopted. Adoption can leave a huge hole in a child's heart, one we as parents are powerless to fix as long as the child refuses to acknowledge that there is a problem. To keep from thinking of the pain she turns her brain off. She has become quite adept at this and I find it scary because I know where such actions can lead. Is learned dissociation less serious then when someone does it in order to survive a situation that is unbearable? Or are they one and the same? 

Another tactic is to stuff the hurt and pretend everything is okay. She stuffs her feelings until they erupt. I told her that stuffing her feelings is like stuffing trash into the garbage can. If you don't empty the garbage, it turns stinky and overflows making everything smell bad. If you empty the garbage can, the bad smell goes away and you can go on with life. "The big feelings that you don't want to deal with are beginning to smell and overflow into your actions. This overflow is causing you to make poor choices and do things that you know are wrong."

It is so hard to see your child heading down a path you know they will someday regret. I know she is hurting and I wish I could help her win the war that is going on in her heart. 

Earlier this week I was watching a documentary called Paper Tigers. It is about a school that uses a trauma informed approach to teaching/education. They teach their students about the A.C.E.'s - adverse childhood effects and how they play a huge role in the decisions the students make. Children with high A.C.E.'s live with something called toxic stress.

Harvard's Center On The Developing Child explains toxic stress like this: Extensive research on the biology of stress now shows that healthy development can be derailed by excessive or prolonged activation of stress response systems in the body and brain. Such toxic stress can have damaging effects on learning, behavior and health across a lifespan."

Our brains are designed to react to danger by becoming hyper vigilant. We are on high alert, ready for whatever our brain perceives as a threat. This is well and good because this rapid response is what can protect us from harm. After the danger has passed our brain sends out signals that calm our bodies and we return to a relaxed state. When a child is constantly in high stress situations his brain is always turned on and eventually he begins to view everything as a threat to his safety. This is detrimental to a child's emotional and physical well being and creates a situation referred to as toxic stress.

Knowing this and knowing that the stress level in our home is typically in the red zone, makes me despair for our children's future, especially for those who already have high A.C.E.'s. There are many days when it feels like a we go in a circle. A child creates chaos, the other children react and till we get them calmed the first child is back to acting out! The good news is that the one thing that can help children with toxic stress is something that we can provide. The presence of a stable, caring adult in the child's life can provide the security a child needs to begin the healing process. 

I have been clinging to this because so often in the face of our children's emotional pain, Dean and I feel helpless. We don't know what to say, we can't relate, we can't promise that everything will be okay. But we can promise that we will stand by our children through the tough times. And pray, how we pray for our children!

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Saturday, December 23, 2017

Adoption = Bittersweet Moments & Memories

"Welcome to our family Kiana Faith! Her adoption is over and she is ours!!! Thank you Jesus! All that work and time only to have the court proceedings over in about three minutes. Thanks to all who came to show your support."

This came up in my FB memories today and suddenly things became clearer! Kiana had a good week about a month ago giving us hope that maybe things were getting better but then it all crashed and crashed hard, leaving me sorting through the mishmash of clues trying to find a common denominator. I was sure something was causing this angst, insecurity, self loathing and rage, but what? 

There was a time when I would have never forgotten that an adoption anniversary was coming up. I had placement dates, final visit dates, adoption dates, all our CPS trauma dates as well as the dates when B went to TAP, the date we made final plans for his future as well as his re adoption date all down. If someone was having a particularly rough time of it, I mentally went over those dates to see if any coincided with the child's meltdown, if so, I had my answer. Anymore, our family has so many trauma dates that I live from day to day and forget half of them.

This is a side of adoption that is rarely focused on. We rejoice when a child is placed with a family who will love and nurture them. We celebrate adoptions (and rightly so!) but fail to acknowledge the flip side, that of pain and loss.

I pulled out Kiana's photo album and she has been poring over it, reading the captions and looking with longing eyes at the photo's of her birth parents. This is another aspect of adoption that is rarely talked about - the longing for birth parents. Many people feel threatened when their child expresses a desire to have a relationship with their birth parents but Dean and I choose to embrace that desire and do what we can to make it possible. 

We love Kiana dearly but we know there will always be a piece of her heart that she reserves for her birth parents and that is good and right. As we explained to her last night, "The Bible says a mother will never forget her baby. We also know that children never forget their birth parents." That seemed to comfort her a wee bit. Sometimes when we are having life changing discussions with our children about things we have never experienced and as a result feel out of our depth, Dean and I are constantly praying for the right words because the wrong ones could have such a painful impact on our children. 

Bittersweet is the perfect word to describe adoption. Bitter because of the circumstances necessitating adoption and sweet for the awesome privilege calling another parents child our own. 

Kiana's adoption announcements:

Monday, December 18, 2017

Our Family Trip

We received tickets to the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter through SWAN. We left Wednesday afternoon and came home last evening. Everyone had fun, but we all (or most of us) agreed that it is wonderful to be home again!

There were life sized displays throughout the Ark. Joseph asked me several times if those are real people!

Walking into the ark

We were so busy trying to keep our crew in line, we forgot to take a picture of the front of the Ark. We got this shot from the parking lot.

There were a few live animals inside the Ark.

The back of the Ark

This is how Joseph spent a great deal or our trip. Squinted eyes and his coat hood pulled up. The noise and lights were too much for him. In hindsight I should have brought noise blocking head phones and sun glasses. If it would be acceptable, I would have also brought a leash. Keeping track of three children who are easily distracted was quite a task.

We walked through Christmas Town at the Creation Museum early so we could beat the crowds. The brochure said they have tens of thousands of visitors who come just to see Christmas Town and from the preparations under way, it appeared they were prepared for just that.

Dean bought the children each a cup of hot chocolate. You should have seen their eyes light up! I told him he went up another step in their minds.

This girl was delighted with her very own cup, best of all it had a lid!!!

There Creation Museum had a small petting zoo

We ate at Cracker Barrel on Saturday evening. We were all tired of fast food!

I hurt my back a few days before we left on our trip. Lia was pleased to be my head prop,

Our motel had a pool, much to the children's delight.

Walking into the Creation Museum

Kiana and Joseph weren't impressed with the dinosaurs. Kiana kept asking me if they are still dinosaurs around and how do I know that they are extinct?

One final picture. The party was pretty much over at this point. The attitudes from a lack of sleep, structure and all the excitement were getting the best of everyone.

A few things we did to keep everyone as regulated as possible was:
-brought our own healthy snacks
-made sure the children ate enough protein
-went to bed early when possible
-went over rules before going into a restaurant or museum
-went prepared for things to be a bit rough so we weren't disappointed when things didn't go as planned.
Last night I asked Dean if he would take off work today because I anticipated having three very dysregulated little people. He asked if I was dreading today and I said, "Let's just say I am preparing for the worst, but hope to be pleasantly surprised." Amazingly enough, our morning wasn't any worse than any other school morning!  

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

What Would We Do Differently If We Could Have A Redo?

This picture came up in my FB memories this morning. Many pictures of him make me feel sad and sick at heart but this one is precious. I remember taking this picture after a particularly rough day although I can no longer remember what made it tough. Dean and I were determined to show him that we love him but we didn't understand that while you can show all the love you want, unless a child feels that love, it will not fulfill it's intended purpose.

This was before we knew about TBRI and the need to parent traumatized children differently. We knew that what we were doing wasn't working but had no idea what to do next. We didn't know about FASD and how it clouds and distorts a persons view of the world. We parented him just like we were raised and this does NOT work for our children from hard places. 

It is hard to look back and see all the mistakes we made. I am often tempted to wonder if things would be different if only we had known back then what we know now. Would we be a family of 7 instead of a family of 6? How much healthier would our children be if they hadn't been through a CYS investigation and adoption disruption? How much more trusting would Dean and I be? But my mind always goes full circle and I come back to the fact that we honestly did the best we knew with what we had and "our" little boy is having his needs met with his new family in ways our family never could have provided.

So if we could go back, if we would be granted a redo, what would we do differently?

- Attend a training in TBRI before bringing traumatized children into our home.

- We would bring one child into our home at a time and make sure they are fully bonded and secure before bringing in more children

-We would keep our interactions with the outside world to a bare minimum the first months.

- We would do our best to Meet Our Child At His Level versus the level on which his peers are at

- We would practice Felt Safety

- We would realize that Love Is Not Enough

- We would be on the lookout for Trauma Triggers, realizing that what appears to be negative behavior may actually be a trauma trigger

But despite all the things we wish we would have done differently and the many times we fall into the "why us" mentality, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that There Is Safety In Being In The Center Of God's Will

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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Can Anyone Hear The Cry?

Can anyone hear the cry of adoptive families?

Adoption is beautiful, it is a blessing, it creates new family's, it brings joy to empty homes and hearts, it gives a needy child a family.......


What many people don't understand about adoption, especially when children are adopted through foster care, is that these children are victims of trauma, of abuse and neglect. Many of them suffer from internal wounds that no one can see. When you bring them into your family, you are taking on that pain and you NEED outside support. Just like your child relies on you to help him find healing, you rely on outside support to hold up your weak arms while you help your child and that is where the ball is often dropped. I don't think it is intentionally. I think the general public simply has no idea what is involved in parenting traumatized children. They don't see how draining it is to do everything in your power to avert a rage. They don't see the pain the siblings endure. They don't see the hot tears coursing down a mothers cheeks when she really, truly doesn't feel able to go another day...and has been pushing through this for months and years.

Recently another adoptive mom asked me what she can do to help and I just looked at her and shrugged my shoulders. She smiled and said, "That is what we always say, isn't it?" 

I think this is part of the problem, we are in so deep and there is so much at stake that we really don't know what we need, or we fear the response if we are vulnerable.

-What we really need someone who is able to come alongside our family and willingly learn what our children need to stay regulated and bonded with us. 

-We need someone who will follow our seemingly crazy rules and be sure our children comply with them because this is the only way our children will feel safe.

-We need people trained in trauma and attachment, people who can take our raging child when we have reached the limit, people who can give us a break without further damaging the already shaky bond between us and our child.

-We need people who aren't afraid to stand their ground and will speak words of truth when a child, because of the pain in his heart, is doing his best to decimate his adoptive family.

-People who understand that our children aren't "bad" they are traumatized, they have brain damage. They need love and acceptance.

-We need people willing to show our children grace for behaviors that may appear appalling.

-We need mentors for our biological children and our adopted children who have strong bonds. Their sibling's trauma creates secondary trauma which can quickly create a traumatized family where healing is hard to find.

-We need someone to say I am going to do ___________ for you. If you ask if there is something we need, chances are we won't be able to come up with a coherent response.

-We need friends who are willing to carry one sided relationships (thanks to those of you who do this for us. You know who you are!)

The quote, "It takes a village to raise a child," is especially true when a child has experienced pain and loss. We, the adoptive parents aren't enough, we simply don't reach around. Many parents feel guilty asking for help because it was their choice to adopt. I struggle for this as well but many, if not most parents had no idea of the battles ahead when they brought their hurting child home. They thought they were enough, only to discover the void in their child's heart was deeper and more vast than they ever thought. 

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Friday, December 1, 2017

Holiday Brain - Living With FASD

The Thanksgiving-Christmas season is not for the faint of heart when your child has FASD. Throw in a birthday just a few days after Christmas and the drama only intensifies.

Yesterday Joseph's brain literally went AWOL. He couldn't function. It was almost like having an 18 month old again but this toddler weighs 80 plus pounds, can run, call names, fling toys with enough force to hurt someone (usually mom) and to make it even scarier, the general public assumes that he is perfectly "normal" and anything he says is taken at face value. Sometimes I wish I could hang a sign around his neck explaining his diagnosis and how it affects him.

Perserveration is a symptom of FASD and currently gifts are Josephs main focus. He loves looking through catalogs which is nice because they keep him happy and occupied for a long time. The downside is that he see's all kinds of things he wants and he has to tell me all about them. Then he keeps asking, "What are you going to get me for Christmas? If you don't get me _________ you can buy it for my birthday. How many more days until my birthday?" And on and on until I tell him, "You may look at the catalog but if you keep begging, I will put it away." He agree's but not a minute later he is back at it. I remind him that there is to be no begging and he sigh's and says, "Sorry mom, I forgot. I will be quiet now." Guess what happens 30 seconds later? Yes, he is back to telling me what he wants. Sometimes I remove the catalog, other times I know he cannot remember from one moment to the next, so I just close my ears.

He eyeballs every box and package that comes in the mail. Asks me where I went shopping and reminds me of everything said store may carry. December is spent thinking of gifts. I guess I can just be thankful that Christmas and his birthday are within the same week. We have one solid month of dysregulation versus two months of it.

Yesterday was particularly rough for him. I have never seen him so spaced. His brain refused to focus for more than a few seconds at a time, not nearly long enough to figure out one math problem, much less do a test like he was supposed to. After an hour of trying different methods to get his brain to function, during which he ran away, screamed at me and slammed doors, I told him he doesn't have to do school work today. Guess what happened? He had a full on meltdown. Trashing his room, throwing things and screaming even louder. He finally fell on his bed, sobbing his heart out. I hate hearing him cry like that because I know it is coming from a place of deep pain and I can't make it better for him. Eventually he was able to play with his Lego's but beyond that he couldn't follow even simple commands.

I know what he needs, a smaller world, but how to do that is the problem because the poor boy already has such a limited existence. If anyone out there has tips on making a small world smaller, I am all ears. He wants to do things, he wants to be helpful but he is unable to realize his limitations which means mom gets the blame. He tells me time and again, "You just want me to have a boring life, you don't let me do anything fun!" I wish I could help him understand that we are helping him enjoy life by providing boundaries but he doesn't have the ability to understand such abstract concepts. 

Last night he had another meltdown just before bedtime. He was doing a chore and it was not going well so I told him to put his pj's on. He pounded and kicked his bedroom walls while screaming how unfair life is. I was thinking of calling Dean to come in and deal with him when he calmed down and crawled into bed. I was sweeping the floor when I heard a little voice calling, "Mom, I want to tell you something." I opened his door and he said, "Sorry I screamed at you, tomorrow will be a better day." I assured him I loved him and all was well. Sadly FASD is getting in the way again and today isn't much better than yesterday. Oh well, it's December so we will hunker down until January!

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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Does A Lack Of Storms = Peace?

Once there was a King who offered a prize to the artist who would paint the best picture of peace. Many artists tried. The King looked at all the pictures, but there were only two he really liked and he had to choose between them.
One picture was of a calm lake. The lake was a perfect mirror, for peaceful towering mountains were all around it. Overhead was a blue sky with white puffy clouds. All who saw this picture thought that it was a perfect picture of peace.
The other picture had mountains, too. But these were rugged and bare. Above was a sky from which rain fell and in which lightening played. Down the side of the mountain tumbled a foaming waterfall. This did not look peaceful at all. But when the King looked, he saw behind the waterfall a tiny bush growing in a crack in the rock. In the bush a mother bird had built her nest. There, in the midst of the rush of angry water, sat the mother bird on her nest in perfect peace.
Which picture do you think won the prize? The King chose the second picture. Do you know why? 
"Because," explained the King, "Peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. Peace means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart. That is the real meaning of peace."
                        - A Gift Of Inspiration

This story got me to thinking and I realized, yet again, that I have it all wrong. I have this mindset that the absence of rage, meltdowns and mental health struggles would create an atmosphere of peace in our home. But in reality it is the calmness in my heart despite these things that really brings peace.

This type of situation has the power to drag you down into depths of despair. It feels like there is no way out. Well, truthfully there is no way out, you are stuck and this can produce fear and panic. When you know that tomorrow will be no better than today, the coming year will not be better than the one just past, and in fact it may well be worse, you develop a sense of hopelessness. 

When you conquer one storm only to have another take it's place time and again, you begin to give up. 

How do you get that peace when all around the tempest is raging... has been raging for years....and will continue to rage for years to come?

First, it is impossible on your own you need JESUS to give you the ultimate peace. Secondly, you need accept that this is the path God has called you too and thirdly, you need to hand it over to God time and again. Remember it isn't the absence of the storm that brings peace but having a place of refuge and trusting that if God has brought you to it, He will bring you through it.

I think I need to print this story out and hang it on my refrigerator so I have a visual reminder that peace isn't the absence of storms, but a feeling of peace and trust within the heart.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Striving For Success - Living With FASD

The best outcome for individuals with Fetal Alcohol comes from making sure they can. Ask yourself, "Am I setting them up for success or failure?" Don't put them in a situation you know isn't going to turn out well. - Jeff Noble

Jeff is spot on with this advice. Time and again when I talk with parents who have a child with FASD they say, "But I want my child to be able to have fun in life. It isn't fair if he can't go out with his friends or have his own pocket money." Parents of younger children say, "It isn't fair if my child can't have toys in his room and no media time when his siblings can." First, FASD isn't fair to anyone. Not to the individual affected, not to the parents, not to the siblings. It is best for everyone if you can simply stop trying to be fair. Try to be understanding and empathetic instead. You may be surprised at the outcome.

I will admit that it is hard to give up the hopes and dreams you had for your child. But just because your child has FASD doesn't mean you can't dream at all, it may simply mean changing your dreams. Helping your child succeed while he is young will set the stage for when he is older, plus it will greatly improve your relationship with him/her. 

If your child isn't doing well at school, find out what you can do to support him. Many times individuals with FASD can succeed if given the right supports. Joseph wasn't doing well in a regular classroom at school. He was distracted and distracted others. The field trips and parties were too stimulating for him causing him to meltdown. So we tried one on one with him. He was in a room with his own teacher to guide and direct him. When he still struggled, we revamped his curriculum, when that didn't seem to solve the problem, we decided to home school. Guess what? He is doing amazingly well! He isn't doing 4th grade work, but he is doing a full work load in a lower grade and succeeding. Succeeding is the word we are focusing on. Not grade level work, not working in a classroom, but succeeding in what he is able to do.

Joseph can't handle crowds, or playing with a group of children. He gets overstimulated which will inevitably result in a meltdown. If he plays by himself or with one other child, he has fun without the meltdowns. Success! 

Joseph has a few chores which including helping clear the table, drying the cups and silverware and sometimes sweeping the kitchen floor. These are repetitious tasks and I am right there to help him out if he forgets how to do something. He does an excellent job with these chores. He puts the silver ware neatly in the door and makes sure the cups are dry and stacked in the cupboard. Sweeping the floor is a bit of a challenge but he is learning. I find if I teach him to do a job and make sure to teach him well, he can succeed and feel good about himself. 

Sometimes parenting a child with FASD can begin to feel hopeless. The child cannot seem to remember anything and is constantly acting out leaving you and him feeling like a failure. I suggest you mentally view him as several years younger than his chronological age and parent him accordingly. Give him chores, or jobs as Joseph calls them, that are within his "new age range." Keep your expectations within that range and you will find your child can succeed!

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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Even If

I have had a jumble of thoughts whirling through my brain these past few days, along with a need to write a blog post but nothing came out right. It always sounded whiny or fake, two things I cannot abide! I wrote and deleted numerous posts, everything from Thanksgiving, to memories of Braden since it has been 3 years since he had his first home visit and 2 years since we made "The Visit" to TAP. None of it sounded right. A few moments ago a post with this song popped up and I was like, "That song is just what I have been trying to say without success!"


They say sometimes you win some
Sometimes you lose some.
And right now, right now, I'm losing bad
I've stood on this stage night after night
Reminding the broken it'll be alright
But right now, right now I just can't

It's easy to sing
When there's nothing to bring me down
But what will I say 
When I'm held to the flame
Like I am right now

I know Your able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don't
My hope is in You alone

They say it only takes a little faith 
To move a mountain
Well good thing
A little faith, is all I have right now
But God, when You choose
To leave mountains unmoveable
Oh give me the strength to be able to sing
It is well with my soul

I know Your able and I know You can
Save through.......

-Mercy Me

This song perfectly portrays our current circumstances. Life is hard, so very hard and sometimes we ask, "Why Lord?" But underneath it all, we can say, "It is well with my soul," and in the end that is all that matters.
It is well even though Braden is no longer ours and as time moves on and we heal, the what if's and if only's are right there to torment me.

It is well even though FASD may affect more children in our family than we ever dreamed.

It is well even though our teen age son struggle's with the particular battle he has to fight, the battle of traumatized siblings.

It is well even though there are days when the sun refuses to shine and the clouds of pain and sorrow hang heavy over our home.

It is well because of JESUS! It is well because we know that he has a plan for everything that comes our way even when we cannot fathom why we have to continue wading through tough situations.

Even if God doesn't provide the relief we are asking for, we know he will provide the strength to go one more step, one more moment, one more day.

Even if our children make choices that hurt themselves and others when we yearn to provide for them, God knows we tried, and we know God loves them more than we ever could.

Even if we feel forsaken on every side due to the trauma that our family has endured, God will provide. He has never failed us yet. When life seems too hard, He reminds us of  reasons to live, to keep on keeping on.

Friday, November 17, 2017

All Or None - Finding The Unique Balance In Trust


Trust is a big issue in our house. The majority of us have trust issues, myself included. A baby is born primed to build on the trust foundation that has already begun in the womb. However when a baby doesn't receive the nurture he needs, he doesn't feel safe and the trust pattern doesn't develop. This pattern of trust can be disrupted by many things, maternal distress, lack of nurture, if baby is a preemie or needs extensive medical procedures and/or has unabated pain. In my post, Anxiety - The Alarm Of Being Separated I wrote that it isn't necessarily the type/severity of a situation that raises alarm but how the child perceives it. If a child feels there is no way out, if he has no one to look out for him, he will be a fearful child. In reality he may have loving parents but in his mind he is all alone. This is why it is so important to not only practice attachment parenting but to make sure your child is feeling loved and secure. Looking back, that is where we messed up. We practiced TBRI but due to some of our children's unique needs, they weren't getting the message and their attachment struggles continued unabated. 

Joseph trusts everyone and Kiana trusts no one, while I only trust those who have proved themselves trustworthy. I can understand  both of my children's needs, although I can certainly relate to Kiana much more than Joseph in this area. Due to his FASD, Joseph has no sense of stranger danger, thus everyone is his friend. He cannot read body language which would tip most people off as to whether someone is a friend or foe.

Kiana spent her early months feeling fearful and insecure. When she came to us, she was pretty much on target developmentally and not knowing anything of attachment disorders we assumed all was well. She presented well and I think she would have been okay if we hadn't brought two more baby's into our home. Having three attachment challenged baby's and no knowledge of attachment is a recipe for disaster! But like so many other parents, we meant well. We thought food and love was all they needed to thrive. In hindsight I should have been wearing each of the children in a sling, bottle feeding them, massaging them and giving each one my undivided attention. I didn't, not least because it was impossible and so we exacerbated the problem.

Now I have one child who needs to be watched every moment in public because he will go with anyone. He will talk to anyone and tell them anything they wish to know. He has no sense of what is an appropriate conversation. You ask him a question and he will tell you what he thinks you want to hear. Scary stuff in this world where no one is exempt from being accused of abusing their children. Kiana on the other hand is too scared to trust Dean or I for the love and nurture she needs so she will seek it out from other people. When we go away she has no qualms about asking the hostess for things. She will cuddle up to people, look them in the eye and act as though she totally adores them. In reality she is seeking love and nurture but is too scared to get it from her parents so she seeks it from other people with whom she doesn't have to maintain an ongoing relationship. 

This means my children look like the most outgoing loving children while their parents present as overbearing and strict. This presentation makes people even more "concerned" about our children which makes them dote on them all the more. 

After a recent situation I called Kiana out on her actions. By the way, she was totally unaware why she acts as she does. I figured at 10 years of age and because she truly wants to trust us but doesn't dare, perhaps a brief lesson on attachment, such as how it occurs and what it looks like in an older child was in order. I told her what had happened - she had soaked up love from someone else and as a result was being, lets just use the word challenging! Then explained that when a child gets love from other people he doesn't need to get it from his parents. That is okay for a well attached child but devastating for a child who is scared of trust. She understood that so I asked how she thinks __________ would have reacted if she would have acted in such a manner towards them. She looked at me and said, "____________ would have given me consequences!" I almost laughed because while I don't think she would have been given a consequence, she would have been told to go play, which would have felt like one. Poor girl, no child should have an  attachment disorder and brain inflammation! If I am honest, there are days I feel no parent should have to deal with such a situation either!

We have had some late night's with Kiana this week. She is fearful and dreams up ways to keep herself safe. The trouble is her "backup" makes her uneasy so she acts out and I get the brunt of her anxiety. Last night I told her about the times when I struggled with anxiety and depression and had feelings and fears similar to what she is experiencing. She wondered how I got better and Dean said, "Mom had to talk and use true words." One of Kiana's coping mechanisms is to tell us stories that are close to the truth but still don't reveal her deep fears and emotions. She wasn't sure about that because using true words means she is giving us a level of trust which makes her very uncomfortable. You know I never dreamed I would be thankful for those months of anxiety and depression, they were awful but now I can look back and pull out bits and pieces and they help Kiana. Please pray for Kiana, she is in a vulnerable place right now, Dean and I covet your prayers as well. 

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Another Learning Curve - Kiana's Journey With Lyme Disease

I am going to attempt to post an update on Kiana's Lyme journey. As some of you know the doctor I wrote about in this post: We Have Hope Once More! Told us that since Kiana's Lyme numbers are coming down, we no longer need to treat the Lyme. According to her, the symptoms we were seeing (her symptoms wax n wane but weren't much better) were due to inflammation, the residual affects of Lyme. She suggested putting Kiana on an SSRI to help those symptoms but Dean and I both felt that what we are seeing is not a psychiatric problem. So we began searching for a doctor AGAIN! Thankfully we found a doctor who thought he could help us without the use of psych meds. We spent 3.5 hours in his office learning about which foods she needs to feed her cells which in turn will strengthen her immune system which will hopefully be able to eradicate Lyme. In a nutshell, we can no longer "feed her with food from the grocery store." Instead we need whole foods, natural, organic foods. No preservatives, no gluten, no sugar and no dairy unless it meets certain criteria. He had history/science to back up all of his claims but what he was suggesting would require totally revamping our diet. He said this diet change would also help my brain heal from the SNRI and be good for Joseph due to the damage done to his brain by alcohol. 

I was a bit skeptical, mostly because it sounded so extreme but I agreed to go into it with an open mind. Yesterday my sister in law loaned me the book, Childhood Development: Taking The Neurological Voyage To Maturity and it emphasized everything Dr. B was recommending. This same sister in law has a grain mill and offered to grind some grain for me, plus she gave me some recipe's using these grains. All that made us feel that this is something we are to pursue although if I am totally honest, I don't want to.

This morning I was pondering this and I thought, "Isn't it enough that we parent different than the typical family, we home school because our children cannot handle separation and now we have to eat different too?" Then I though, "Perhaps changing our diet should have been obvious piece to the puzzle and I am just a slow learner!"

Kiana is still taking her supplements. Dr. B added a few and took one away when he saw the ingredients. When he told us what was in the capsules, we agreed that there was no need to have that foreign matter in her diet! He said she should be a changed girl in a year but he expects a faster response since she is a child. And so the Zimmerman family is about to embark on yet another journey! By the way, I would be totally content if we didn't have to learn all this stuff but if it helps our children, we want to be willing!

So if you have been eating organic, "whole foods," and have advice or tips for me, I am all ears!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Where Are The Casserole's - Helping Struggling Adoptive Families

I hesitate to write this post but for the sake of so many hurting family's out there, I am going to stick out my neck and share what is on my heart. I have a small bulletin board in my kitchen where I hang the encouraging cards and note's we have received in the past. They are a visual reminder that people are praying for us and are such an encouragement. As I looked over the cards this morning, I was struck again by how we as a society do such an awesome job helping out during a physical illness but we fall short when there is a mental illness, especially when it is ongoing. Awhile ago there was a short video clip floating around my adoption support group. This video was an interview with mom's who have adopted children with attachment difficulties. When asked what is different about attachment issues versus a critical health diagnosis, one mom spoke up, "The casserole's." She explained that when her daughter was injured, their neighbors and friends brought casserole's to show their support but when their son had a mental health crisis and needed to be hospitalized, no one brought casserole's. This video brought a great deal of response from the group because this is seems to be a universal problem. 

Now before anyone feels they left their friends or family down, let me share what a dear friend once told me. During the time Braden was home and later at TAP and we were struggling to find our way, I was sharing my heartache with a friend who has walked this very same road. She said, "Sandra, I think part of the reason people don't realize how desperately we need help is because we appear to have it all together. We don't look like we need help!" That was quite a new thought to me because in all honesty I thought it was obvious to everyone that we as a family were shattered and barely hanging on. I thought people understood that we sometimes considered extreme actions to end this nightmare we were living. But then I got to thinking, do I share this? Do I ask my sisters in the church, family and friends to pray for emotional/physical safety for our family, not because of what my child may do but because of what I may do? Of course not! Although to be completely honest, part of the reason I didn't share was the fear of how such a deep heart cry would be received. I knew if anyone so much as hinted that all parents feel this way at one time or another, it would be enough to send me over the edge. Why? Because this pain was different than the - I am so tired of this pain that I am going to run away, only to wake up the next day/week or month with renewed vigor. This was a pain that had built up over years of hurt and betrayal.

When we were looking at daily trips to West Chester for IV therapy and then when Kiana developed a blood clot and needed her line removed, we were blessed with cards, money, gifts and meals. The gifts were all greatly appreciated but in all honesty, those medical things were not that big in the face of what we deal with and have dealt with on the mental health front. Why? Partly because we knew people had our back. I had people lining up to provide babysitting while I took Kiana for treatments. Our church planned to bring meals in twice a week, or more if I felt we needed it. People went out of their way to support us and we felt so blessed!

I think, and this is just my theory, that the reason that the casserole's don't come in when someone suffers from a mental health problem is because many people can't relate. This is especially true when it is an adopted child diagnosed with an attachment disorder.  We are all  susceptible to illness, in fact, sooner or later we will all face a devastating illness or accident in our immediate or extended family. What many won't experience is parenting a child with an attachment disorder. This means most people don't recognize the need to assist these family's.

Since I have begun blogging Dean and I have had the privilege of sharing what we have learned with other adoptive parents. We feel it is one of the redeeming aspects of the painful things we as a family have experienced over the past years. A few of the things I hear time and again is, "I feel so alone, no one can see what our family is going through," or "I feel guilty asking for help because we chose to adopt."  

Adoption is a blessing, but it is hard work. Many parents find their child will not be able to live alone due to the effects of drugs/alcohol. These family's become tired, they grow weary of the constant supervision their children need. These children often need ongoing therapy and medication to give them the best opportunity to enjoy life and it gets costly. Parent's tell me, "I wish I could give my son/daughter everything he/she needs but we can't afford it."

So if you are looking for someone to bless in the coming weeks and months consider an adoptive family. Maybe they are struggling more than you would ever dream.

Disclaimer: I wrote this because it has been what I am hearing as a need from other adoptive family's, not because I am begging for handouts! :) 

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Friday, November 10, 2017

Anxiety - The Alarm Of Being Separated

Last night I listened to Gordon Neufeld talking about, Making Sense of Anxiety In Children And Youth. And I was struck that despite our best efforts in attachment parenting we were still missing a vital component.

Gordon begins by saying that one of our biggest mistakes when treating childhood anxiety, is that we still use adult methods such as rationalizing irrational thoughts and prescribing medication. We focus on the symptoms versus the root cause. Amen, I heartily agree with that one! While psych meds can be a blessing, the more I learn about them, the more I realize they are way over prescribed and rather than "heal" a patient they simply alleviate the symptoms leaving the root cause to manifest itself in other ways. Of course there are times when medication is necessary for someone to begin healing but that isn't what I am here to share today.

Anxiety is a vague sense of feeling unsafe and unease characterized by apprehension which is both cognitive and emotional, along with a restless sense of what it is all about.

We are born with an already intact alarm system, in fact this alarm system is developed around 6 months gestation. What is the alarm system? It is a complex system that involves the limbic and emotional system. When you are alarmed your emotions are activated and your limbic system senses this (similar to a startle response). The alarm system makes you aware that something is wrong and our perception of our world fills in information. There is a heart response, then a mind response but this is all below the level of consciousness. Even though we are not consciously aware of all that is happening, the process brings emotions.

There is the belief that how you respond is most determined by what you see and unless we as parents "see" correctly, we won't respond correctly. 

When a child is about to enter a street you raise your voice and hope to see that light of recognition in their eye which signifies their alarm system has been activated. He will respond to your call with, "What?" And you will tell them. This is how the alarm system is supposed to work but for many it doesn't.

A child is faced with many devastating experiences; daddy being gone, loss of a loved one etc. but there is nothing the child can do about these experiences and a sense of futility comes over the child. When this happens the amygdala sends a signal to the lacrimal gland and the eyes water. When we are up against something we cannot change we become transformed through the process of adaptation. There are many kinds of tears but the tears of futility are a special kind, requiring a soft heart and a safe place for the child to experience them. Gordon said that many people with whom he worked both in private practice and in the prison system are dry eyed, they have lost the tears of futility. We witnessed this first hand with Braden although of course we weren't aware of this at the time. When a child truely experiences futile tears, behaviors melt away in their wake, leaving an hour or more where those behaviors are totally gone. We have seen this first hand as well. When Kiana truly cries those tears of futility, she is soft, safe and secure and all the behaviors that plague her are gone.

Anxiety is a matter of the heart, you can't think yourself out of this one, the more you think, the more anxious you become. We are created to find rest and relief which is why children need their tears when faced with futile situations, it leads to resilience, the brain realizes it can survive. The answer to anxiety has to do with tears of futility.

When lacking tears of futility another pathway opens, the path of courage or the path of things we treasure. We need to fight for the things we treasure and that brings mixed feelings. Until age 6 many children aren't able to reach a resolution to their sense of alarm. This leaves a child with the, "I want to go, I don't want to go" feeling but he isn't even aware that is what is going on. Typically in such a situation the child will begin to cry (and we as parent brush it off as childishness, which it is.) However some children, especially those who have learned not to cry, don't shed any tears and the alarm goes louder and higher. 

We know that feelings of alarm should move us...
....to caution if possible
... to cry if the situation is futile
.... to take courage in what alarms us in our way.
As parents we are traffic directors, deciding which route our child should take in any given situation. To help move to tears or to courage. 

Most neuroscientists have not yet figured out why this alarm system is so important because they don't understand the attachment theory. Attachment - facing the loss or lack of proximity with what or to whom we are attached. Separation is what alarms us so much. Attachment is our preeminent need, the less developed we are the greater the need. Pursuit of proximity is all about being with mom and dad or a teddy, sibling etc. when separated it triggers an alarm because we need proximity for our survival, it is a preeminent need. Every time an infant faces separation, it triggers the alarm. Ideally the first 6 years are all about relationships. Year after year another level of understanding of proximity, thus understanding of separation develops. Which means a child's "opportunity" to experience separation increases.

We typically think of attachment growing through the senses such as sight, smell, hearing and touch but in reality it is all about closeness and proximity.

By 2nd year the child's life is all about becoming "like." We feel close to those we are like but that opens another way of separation. To be different than, gives way to anxiety.

By 3rd year the child wants to belong, to be on the same side as. When the child doesn't experience a sense of belonging with those to whom he is attached, the alarm goes off.

By 4th year it is incredibly important for the child to matter. He feels close to those to whom he considers dear and when he doesn't experience that closeness, the alarm goes off.

By 5 yrs he becomes involved. He puts his heart into whatever he is attached to. But when you give your heart away it can be broken. another form of separation. If all develops well he realizes that to be known is to have no secrets that will come between. It alarms a child greatly when he has a secret which he cannot afford to tell mom. The alarm has to be silenced. Think of how often a child experiences separation, how often that alarm goes off:
bedtime is a big one
rival with a sibling for parents attention
in all these things he is experiencing a sense of separation.
When faced with separation, we are blinded to the reason. Separation is a significant experience but it is the vulnerability that is too much to bear. In our emotions we feel this deep wound and defenses are erected while other feelings are numbed out. The brain automatically tunes out perceptions that would lead to vulnerability. the most vulnerable of feelings are:
maternal rejection
separation from life we are used to
not being invited into the primary attachments presence.

The children with whom I work cannot name these rejections because when a separation becomes that intimate, a child cannot see it. Major rejections cause us to become blinded to even periphery rejections such as not being included in a party, missing teddy bear, different than others etc...

When we become blinded by the experiences that affect us the most it orphans the feelings of alarm, divorcing them from the cause. The brain cannot stand this and tries to figure out what is wrong. The brain is a "meaning making" organism and needs to know what is wrong. When it isn't given information it begins inventing reasons. the brain expresses alarm to what can be seen but since it is blinded it gives rise to obsessions that are irrational reasons for alarm. Gordon calls these irrational reasons, "Cognitive backfill." When the brain simply invents reasons it has certain themes it tends to follow such as, something is out of order and I am alarmed. Or somethings out to get me, paranoia of a circumstance or situation connected to the alarm which brings about phobia's.

All of these things come about because we are blinded by what is underneath - the separation we are experiencing. We call this, the alarm without eyes.

How does a sense of blindness disable the alarm system?
We know we can be defended against something that is too much to bear if it is situational but the problem occurs when our senses get stuck and our perception is knocked out. The brain can even knock out some feelings and impulses. An example is the child who doesn't heed caution. He becomes restless and reckless. We have agitation with no apprehension. The child doesn't say, "I don't feel safe." In fact he uses no safety language at all and if you were to ask him if he is scared, he will say no. But we are all scared! 

Even deeper: is the child who's brain goes right to physiology- this child can present as cool as a cucumber. You will never know he is alarmed. This child seeks adrenaline that is associated with the alarm system. These children do things like cutting just for the adrenaline rush. Our children are so highly alarmed they are becoming defended against it. Now we have:
-Anxiety based problems - not feeling safe, behaviors, phobia's, nightmares OCD
-Agitation based problems - this child doesn't feel unsafe. He is not scared or restless, he is reckless, dangerous constantly in harms way, implusive.
- Adrenaline based problems - devoid of feeling of alarm, attracted to what alarms, lacks attachment to conscience and engages in alarming behavior.

In this context we see that anxiety based problems are not that bad in relation to the other two. Anxiety makes you feel miserable but in reality you are better off than the one who doesn't feel pain. Anxiety loops and loops with no way out giving you no way to deal with source or find an outlet. Anxiety is incredibly uncomfortable so the child chews his nails, suck's on clothing or hands because this evokes the parasympathetic nervous system.

Some ways that we are separating our children and setting off the alarm is when we place them in time out or when we give a consequence and seek to find what the child is attached to so you can take it and use it against them. 

Separation is a vulnerability that is too much to bear. We get alarmed when faced with separation.

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Tuesday, November 7, 2017


Anxiety: A feeling of worry or fear strong enough to interfere with ones daily activities.

My withdrawal has been a challenge to deal with lately. My symptoms change daily, with the worst ones typically lasting a few weeks. My most recent symptom is anxiety. While I hate it, I am also a wee bit thankful for it because it helps me understand my children better. 

The best way I can think to describe anxiety is a feeling of dread or doom. The feeling sweeps over me and I think, "Do I feel this way because something is going to happen and I am being warned?" Then I remember, this is just anxiety again and I force myself to quit worrying about the latest fear my brain has created. Since I am aware of the thought process that exacerbate's anxiety it is a bit easier for me to ward it off. 

Several of our children struggle with anxiety and one would think having dealt with it personally would make it easier to relate to them, sadly it doesn't always work that way.

Joseph has anxiety due to his FASD. He cannot rationalize, doesn't understand his world and is out of tune with his body and emotions. The perfect atmosphere for anxiety to percolate.

Lyme disease and PANS have brought about intense anxiety for Kiana. Along with anxiety, she suffers from intrusive thoughts which she despises and fears. She doesn't like bedtime because she worries that the intrusive thoughts will take over which causes anxiety which in turn stimulate her intrusive thoughts and round we go. Keeping her on oral anti inflammatory meds have helped keep her brain inflammation down. since the inflammation is the source of her negative thought patterns. 

This is some of what we deal with on a daily basis, manageable but frustrating. Then Dean went on an overnight business trip and the children's anxiety went through the roof. Kiana is certain her dad won't come home again. Nothing I say or do, makes her feel any better. Lia walked around sobbing yesterday because, "I just wish dad was home!" 

Our house was the scene of much wailing and lamenting yesterday morning. Today the wailing turned to rage. I feared for our patio door but once more it stayed in one piece despite the rough treatment it was getting. I couldn't make sense of it. They know Dean is coming home tonight so why all the big feelings? As I pondered it, it struck me, they are sure dad isn't coming home and since dad is supposed to be home tonight, they will soon be faced with their worst fear (or so they think.) Kiana's anxiety was so high today she spent the day in bed reading her new library books. I figured since she isn't hurting herself or disturbing the rest of the family, school work can just go on the back burner for the day. 

We can usually help our children through emotional junk by getting them to talk but they don't have words for their anxiety. They just say, "I am mad about something but I don't know what!" If anyone has advice for childhood anxiety, I am all ears.