Saturday, August 3, 2019

Self Care, Healing & Parental PTSD

I have been mulling this post around in my mind for months trying to find the words to explain my struggle without making my children look bad, or making it sound as though I have completely lost my marbles. I hear other mom's share their panic and despair and I wonder why this topic isn't discussed more...the topic of PTSD in parent's, especially the primary caregiver of children with developmental trauma and/or brain damage.

PTSD is a lonely road, especially when your PTSD is caused by your children. Sweet little, (or not so little) children who have everyone wrapped around their finger. Children who have perfected the art of dividing and conquering the adults in their world, children who are so terrified of a relationship with their parents that they will sacrifice the family they have without realizing the cost. It is utterly terrifying to reside in this world. Nothing is sacred, nothing off limits when trauma is the driving force behind a child's behavior. How do you even begin to explain that to someone who hasn't walked this road? Is it even possible for them to fathom the fear that lies just below the surface?

PTSD is tiring. My brain becomes exhausted trying to keep everyone's trauma from bursting out of the carefully guarded fortress of what I perceived as a safe place. If I can keep Trauma under wraps, don't give it an opportunity to escape, perhaps our family will be safe from those outside our walls. My CPS trauma, (and I am working on that) has me terrified of anyone who has the authority to step in and tear down the supports I have so carefully put in place. I know it isn't healthy to monitor my child's every interaction with others, but the cost of not monitoring them is too high, I simply can't risk it. Too many years of too much micromanaging has only served to intensify my PTSD. I thought I was the only one who did this until I talked to other parent's who have been down the road of investigations, false accusations and deeply painful experiences with those who have the authority to remove a child, the very child for whom you have been burning the candle at both ends in hopes of finding help, sacrificing so much in an attempt to help him find healing. Guess what? We are in this together, we are all afraid because we know our children can't grasp the long term repercussions of  a threat made in the height of emotion.

Most of the training I have had up until recently, has focused on being available to your child at all times. When they rage, you must be a soft place for them to land, when they scream they need to hear quiet, gentle words in return, when they destroy things you quietly go about your business and don't make a scene. They need you to be the calm, unflappable adult who can take whatever is thrown at you. Unfortunately many children will simply up the ante until you have to take notice, until you have to intervene for everyone's safety at which time the child will turn on you scraming abuse. What kind of relationship does that bring to mind? In any other situation it would be classed as an abusive one, but when it involves our children with trauma histories it quickly becomes a gray area. After all the child is acting out in the only way he knows how and if they are to learn, then they must have someone model the correct way to react to the curve balls life throws. Unfortunately when trauma/brain damage is in the picture, curve balls can be, at the very least, an hourly occurrence. For some reason we fail to take into consideration that our brains can also be traumatized. Or perhaps that shows the great love we have for our children, we are willing to sacrifice ourselves in order for them to find healing. But I now think that concept is wrong. We have to first take care of ourselves. If you are shaking your head and saying, "I told you so!" I get it, yes I was told this for years, but what no one could explain was how to provide self care and my head was so full with keeping everyone safe that I didn't have the ability to search out self care.

What does it do to a mama's heart when she hears abuse and negativity day in and day out, but every other person the child comes in contact with is blessed with a smile and kind words? It wears away at a body. Some days I can handle it while others I want to sob, "Go find yourself another mom, one you can love and respect, because no matter how hard I try, this relationship is fraught with pain!" Then I feel guilty because what kind of a mom thinks, or even worse, says such things to a hurting child? However, internalizing the pain doesn't help either. I have proof, I tried it for years and eventually my body said, "This has to stop or else." The guilt I feel for having these thoughts adds to the layers of trauma, because I long for my child to be able to rest in our love, I long to see my child thrive.

When you swallow your feelings of pain and reach out to your hurting child, only to have him throw your kindness back in your face, it hurts. The pain becomes a physical thing, takes on a presence all it's own and invade's your relationship with others. As one child recently told me, "Mom, you think everyone in the world is out to get us." That was a wake up call to me because I know what drives that type of thinking;  unresolved trauma. I also know unresolved trauma can make a person do and say thing they never would if they were operating from a place of love and security.

As is typical in traumatic relationships, walls are built to protect hurting hearts from further pain. Our home is full of these walls. I hated them, but as long as I felt like I have to be everything for my children, the walls continued to grow higher and wider still. A therapist finally looked at me point blank and said, "You need boundaries with your children and other people and I am going to hold you accountable." If I am honest, the thought both terrified me and gave me hope because while I hadn't the foggiest clue how to go about setting boundaries, I also saw a glimmer of light at the end of a very dark tunnel. For years all of my trauma training enforced the belief that I must never react negatively when my children lashed out due to their trauma. In order to maintain that level of parenting I shut down because that is the only way one can endure such an intense level of physical and emotional pain for any length of time.

I have been praying that God would show me, lead me, to those who have the ability to help our family heal and as the months have passed He has faithfully provided doctors, therapists, counselors, teachers, friends who while they may not understand are willing to listen, and others who have unknowingly ministered to our family. I have had to release my tightly clenched fists and face my fears that in doing so our family is going to be decimated. If I am honest, letting others in is a deeply traumatizing experience for me, but somehow in the midst of that letting go and facing my fears healing is coming. My PTSD is screaming at me, "This is all a mistake, your worst fears are going to come to life if you don't keep micromanaging!" But I keep reminding myself, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome." How often do we trauma mama's find ourselves on the race track of doing the same thing and hoping against hope that this time it will be different because our training says this method should work?

For me, self care means getting professional help so I can sort through my own inner pain from the past years, setting boundaries (how freeing!!) spending extra time in prayer and connecting with God, acknowledging the hurts in my life rather than trying to squash them, saying no and most of all, building a village of people that I can rely on. That village has been a long time coming, which I mostly take the blame for, but God has brought some amazing people into our lives during this past year and for them we will be forever grateful!

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