Friday, May 17, 2013

This Ain't My Mama's Broken Heart

By: Gari Lister

Four years ago today -- May 17, 2009 – my 17 year old daughter broke my heart and changed my life forever.  She packed a bag, told her little sister not to tell us, and ran away from home with a boy she’d met a handful of times – a boy who murdered two people within a few months (literally).  I didn’t realize what a pivotal moment it was right away; I thought it was just another episode in a series of Katya crises.  

We responded as we always do to crises – efficiently and intensively.  Within 24 hours, we rallied the troops: her friends, contacts in DC and in law enforcement, not only locally but also nationally.  And in addition to the official channels, we got the local press to run an article, wrote an ad for the papers we thought she might see, and made a flyer.  I’m a litigator and strategist and my husband is a press hack who loves networking; when faced with a family crisis, we do not mess around.  When the police told us they had tracked the boy’s phone to North Carolina, we put the “littles” (our two younger kids) in the car and drove there with hundreds of flyers.  We charmed the local police into giving us local addresses, and we papered the town – each flyer with a hand-written note asking Katya to come home.  She came back the following Saturday.

We learned lots of devastating things that week, but one of the hardest for us to understand given our action mentality was the fact that she had told the boy’s family that we wouldn’t look for her or come after her.  She thought we had gone through too much for her, and that we would be glad to have her gone. 

But we moved on from our inability to understand, and we pretty much went through the next several months in crisis mode: we sent Katya to Outward Bound, which helped for a short time.  She fell for another messed up boy, started skipping school, and after three truancy cases dropped out of school and moved out.

And about that time, crisis over, I collapsed, physically devastated from the stress and heartbreak.  I spent all winter in bed, too tired to do much of anything.  I couldn’t carry luggage for two years, and I couldn’t go for long walks, let alone run.  It’s taken me three years and lots of yoga to recover.

So why write this?  Because I have recovered, and I am stronger than I ever was.  And I have learned two lessons.  First, our traumatized kids need us to be strong – not only emotionally, but also physically.  We can’t help them if they can kill us.  And Katya almost killed me.  If she had, where would my other kids have been?  So sometimes, the best thing you can do for your traumatized child is go to yoga.  Or go run.  Or go riding.  Anything to keep your body strong enough to handle the stress.  Don’t make the mistake I made in all my action – don’t overlook your own oxygen when you’re focused on landing the plane.

And the second lesson is that Katya ultimately ran away – and is still running away – not because of me, not because of the boy, but because she does not believe she is “worth it.”  That’s not new – any expert will tell you that – but I think it is a concept that gets lost in all the therapy.  My kids know they’re messed up – and if they didn’t, how many times do we remind them (with the best of intentions)?  Katya taught me that we have to not only help them heal; we have to also help them believe.  And to believe, they need to be fabulous at something -- anything.  So now my top priorities aren't only therapeutic -- they're also volleyball and ice skating because those seem to be my girls’ “things.” 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


By: Jane Samuel

Last week I took our middle daughter out of town for four days to attend her close friend’s confirmation – in another country. Despite all her healing I still worried this trip would be too hard on our youngest – now ten-years-old and adopted at one.  Luckily for her – and I – she was naïve as to how far away I would be (a long plane flight) and only knew I would be back in “four sleeps.”

As I prepared to leave I thought about the distance we had covered since the days when at one, two, three-years-of-age she would have walked off with the Maytag repair man - and did in fact affix herself  to the leg of a stunned contractor as he tried to leave our house one afternoon after fixing our washer. I knew then I couldn’t leave her, even though she seemed to care less if I did or not.

Or the days at six, seven, eight-years-of-age when we moved into, “Mom, don’t leave me!!! I can’t sleep without you.” I knew then that I couldn’t leave her, because now we finally had an inkling that she did care, that she was attaching, and I wasn’t going to let her down no matter what. We didn’t even bother to go away, or hire sitters for years, unless we knew we would be back home two hours later for me to put her to bed. The times we accidently stayed out too late we would arrive home to find her still wide-awake, her ever-hypervigilent-soul waiting to see the whites of Mom’s eyes before she closed her own.

Or the past two years when she had done enough healing that she cried just a bit when I had to drive across state after state visiting colleges with our oldest. I finally could leave her, but made sure it was only for a night. And I called a lot. 

Now, last week, we were finally at a time when she could hug me good-bye as I dropped her at school and more-calmly-than-not state, “I wish you didn’t have to go. Couldn’t you just send Dad in your place?”

So I headed to the airport with our middle one, more focused on getting us to Europe in one piece - with our passports and cash still tucked safely away - than I was about our youngest falling apart.  I knew she would be okay.  That she knew I was coming back.  That – barring any tragedies – I would be back in her room to read her a story, sing her three songs and kiss her goodnight in four sleeps.

Having no ability to call turned out to be a bit more troublesome to me than I had expected. I had always been used to being able to call at the end of her school day and at her bedtime to make sure she knew I was still her mom. Now I was miles away, with no long-distance card, and limited Wi-Fi. I itched to send her a text on her new little iPod. I mourned the loss of her voice over the phone line. I longed to be able to Facetime her and let her know I loved her. The emails I sent instead to my husband seemed insufficient. I worried she was dysregulating. I worried that she would think I had left her forever.

I shouldn’t have worried so much. She did have a moment or two of upset, but calmed down, my husband dutifully reported. She did tell me after the trip that she had been afraid I would die. “Understandable,” I told her as soon as I could hold her again, “it is scary when Mom goes away. But I am home now!” And she seemed okay with that.

But the best indication that she had survived was the message on my iPad the second night I was in Denmark. I was just getting into bed and noticed a text on it from earlier in the day. “Mom. I luv u. BMITW,” it read.

I didn’t tell her I had to have her older sister decipher it. It didn’t matter. I was now BMITW status.
“Woot! Woot!” As they say here in the south. I am not only her Mom; I am officially – despite leaving her for four sleeps – the “best mom in the world!”

Friday, May 10, 2013

Batten Down The Hatches

by: Julie Beem

It’s nearly Mother’s Day.  And thanks to retailers, schools, churches, we hear the message of “celebrating your mom” broadcasted from the rooftops.  In a normal world, this would be a great thing.  Motherhood is truly one of the highest callings.  But what about children for whom their first relationship with a mother didn’t go well, didn’t last, produced trauma?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Getting Their Ticket Punched

By Marc Deprey

I’m not sure this is some great revelation, but this idea came to me this morning and it put a lot into perspective for me. We all know as adults (or at least I hope we all do) that we can’t expect the world to fit to us, that we know down deep that we need to fit the world and meet its basic requirements. That’s a fundamental truth we accept almost unconsciously and it allows us to navigate things pretty successfully overall.

But we forget that this was not always true for us. When we were born, we got a free pass as far as any expectations. Back then, we had no ability to fit into the world. We were completely unable to meet any of its requirements. As a baby, we depended solely on caregivers to meet our needs unconditionally and our caregiver had no expectations for us either. Our needs were anticipated, our moods quelled, our excretions removed—we could do whatever we wanted whenever we wanted to and not face any consequences.

As we grew up things changed. More and more we were expected to understand limits, be respectful of others feelings, to be civil and flexible. Now doesn’t it seem interesting that our kids with attachment trauma cannot do these very things? Is it possible that since they didn’t get their unconditional free pass at the very beginning of their lives, they are still waiting for it to happen? That they are insisting that their ticket get punched now?

If there is any central issue that characterizes my kids’ dysfunction it is their complete lack of flexibility and cooperation—their inability to meet the world. They assume the world must fulfill their needs, that things must line up neatly, and on their schedule, that parents are here to do as instructed, to please them and never correct them or upset them. It’s as if they are demanding to be able to be like babies, but with kid bodies, appetites, vocabulary, etc.  They’re insisting that they get what everyone else got, even though it’s simply too late to get it. 

Why?  Because they’re living with a ticket missing the first hole.

With their ticket unpunched, they look for the train conductor who will never come--stuck on a train that doesn't move, baffled by their plight. We tell them they must grieve this loss and move on, but because they are unable, they wait and wait. We wait with them--stuck on the tracks--in developmental limbo.