(Language warning – occasional “s-word” usage within this post)
Today, I’m writing to explain what was going on and how I drug myself out of the hole of despair I found myself wallowing in.
After Little hurt my back, I spent a few hours researching residential treatment options for Little, and called this center located about two hours away from where we live. It was the best possible option for us and I was impressed with the running of this residential program. A lot of residential programs are very hands-off when it comes to parental involvement, which, while absolutely necessary in some cases, didn’t seem right for Little. He’s only six, and the idea of dropping him off somewhere for care and hardly ever seeing him made me queasy. In addition to just feeling icky about putting him in such a program, I fail to understand how such a plan fosters attachment, and since disordered attachment lies at the root of his behavior problems, I worried that a low-involvement program would just make things worse instead of helping him to get better.
The residential hospital I called, though, ran things differently. First of all, they accepted Medicaid, a rarity in residential treatment options. Also, they send the kids home every weekend and required parent-child therapy three times a week. The therapist on the phone, who would actually work with Little if we admitted him, voiced concerns about the amount of traveling we’d have to do back and forth during his 9-12 month treatment, but I didn’t care. “I’ll drive every day if it means he can get some help. This sounds like a good place,” I said. “Do you have any experience and training in trauma-informed care?”
“I do, but it’s not my main focus.”
“What about attachment-focused methods, like Daniel Hughes?”
“Not really, but I’ll gladly incorporate appropriate methods into Little’s treatment if he comes to stay with us.”
“How do I know if he needs residential treatment? I’m scared. I don’t want to make things worse for him.”
“Well… ::Insert long pause here::… You’re the only person who can answer that.”
Unsure, needing advice, and still not speaking to Husband, I turned to my online support groups for their opinions and experiences. All went well until a friend of mine, whom I respect so much for her driven dedication to helping trauma-parents survive this difficult parenting situation we find ourselves in, responded in a way I didn’t anticipate. She doesn’t know me so well, and she rightfully questioned my idea of placing Little in a residential facility at the age of six, and looking back she didn’t say anything overly harsh or critical. But the bluntness of her reply sent me into a panic. I interpreted her words (which, again, only questioned why I felt Little needed such a drastic treatment plan) as a personal attack. And I assumed malicious intent behind every “like” of her comment.
Oh my God. All my trauma mom friends think I am a horrible human being. They all think I’m Lady Tremaine and they hate me now.
Maybe I am just a bad, evil stepmother after all.
Let me reiterate that… My friend didn’t actually accuse me of any such malevolence, nor did anyone who “liked” what she said. No one said anything derogatory toward me. Yet, I read one comment from a busy friend questioning this residential treatment idea and just fell into this woe-is-me-everyone-hates-me melodramatic pit of despair and stayed there all day, crying.
Consumed with rage, sorrow, shame, social-anxiety and self-pity, I ran away in the only way I knew how… I deactivated my Facebook account.
At that point, I knew something was terribly wrong – I live far from all my “IRL Friends,” and I depend on Facebook for a major part of my social life. I scheduled an appointment with our family therapist, but the appointment was several days away. I couldn’t stomach the thought of carrying on with my angst until then, so I scheduled a parent-coaching session with the always-amazing Christine Moers.
Christine gave me exactly what I needed. While Husband, my mom, my best friend and my trauma mom friends I turned to listened to me and gave me their opinions, experiences, and advice, that wasn’t what I needed.
All I needed… was empathy.
I needed empathy from someone who heard my struggles with Little, nodded her head and said something along the lines of, “That is hard. This is hard. And I don’t blame you for feeling like you’re losing your mind. I don’t blame you for thinking about giving up. Because this just sucks.”
Someone who would see that I was at my limit and had been there herself a time or two.
After our coaching session, I felt good enough to go to my massage therapy appointment… I highly recommend finding a good massage therapist who practices cranial sacral therapy… That particular method claims a lot of things that have yet to be proven, but man oh man is it ever relaxing!
After my massage therapy appointment, I felt good enough to come home and talk to Husband.
And after I talked to Husband, I felt good enough to give the kids a hug and kiss. I felt good enough to get back to momming.
If I hadn’t taken the time to care for myself by first utilizing Christine’s coaching service and then visiting my massage therapist, I probably would have stayed in that reactive, angry state far longer than I actually did.
More importantly, if I had engaged in serious self-care a few weeks before my epic meltdown, I may have avoided losing my shit altogether.
Self-care, people. I can not stress it enough.
When I finally made it in to my therapist’s office, we talked about what happened and she said that I was having a stress reaction – that I was literally out of control and that no matter how hard I tried to stop being angry at Little for reaching for his bag, I couldn’t. And I couldn’t because instead of dealing with me and my stress reaction, I hyperfocused on Little’s transgressions instead.
My point, in sharing this with all of you, dear readers, is to remind you all that we can have reactive stress responses to our kids’ reactive behavior. And the tricky thing about our own stress responses is that we may not recognize them as such… Or, if we do recognize them, we may be quick to dismiss them… That’s what I did.
I knew something was very, very wrong, but I blew it off with the thought, “Am I seriously having some sort of PTSD-response because my kid threw a frigging BAG at me? That’s ri-damn-diculous… My husband is a combat veteran and my kids were abused and neglected… THOSE are things you have PTSD responses to! Not a child throwing a bag! WTF is wrong with me?!”
I shouldn’t have ignored my concerns as long as I did – while I don’t have a PTSD diagnosis, certain things now cause stress-responses, and those responses need to be dealt with immediately. Just like with our kids, we can’t just ignore the bad thoughts and feelings and hope they go away. We have to recognize those responses and emotions. Process them. Resolve them. And learn from them.
We can’t parent our kiddos and guide them out of their trauma-behaviors if we’re in the midst of a stress-reaction ourselves. Trying to do so only increases the chance that we lose our shit, which increases the risk of triggering our kids or even re-traumatizing them.
If you’re struggling, feeling like you’re about to completely lose your mind, take the time to learn about stress responses and secondary PTSD, and then bust out your coloring books, run a bubble bath, and/or drink some wine. And find a therapist who will help you maintain your sanity as you journey through this trauma-parenting gig.
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