Sunday, January 20, 2013

It Takes Years, But It's Worth It

Another night with Joshua asleep beside our bed, but tonight I have a better understanding of what is going on.  

We are a society used to instant gratification, and instant outcomes.  Generally speaking, we Americans don't do so well with situations that drag out too long.  When it comes to emotional healing, what we sometimes are unwilling to accept, is that it can take many years to come to a place of wholeness.  For some folks, it can take a lifetime.

Joshua is now 10 years old, 9 years post adoption.  In every way, he appears to be a very typical, well adjusted, bright kiddo.  While he was most certainly diagnosed with severe Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) when he was a toddler, few would ever recognize that in him today.  Few, that is, except Joshua himself, for he can never quite escape the fears that creep in, he can never run from the insecurity that catches him off guard.

I had just told Dominick last night that I was sensing something was up with Josh, but I couldn't put a finger on it.  I said that I needed to try and spend more one on one time with him to try and get to the heart of what I was feeling.  Less than 24 hours later, I had my answer, and it was not in any way sought out by me.

Picking Joshua up from working with Dominick at the airport late this afternoon, he held a little pocket spiral notebook in his hand.  On its cover Yoda is depicted saying "Do, or do not.  There is no try."  Yoda must have had Joshie in mind with that one.  We get home and as we are getting out  of the van, he turns to me and asks "Mom, can we talk alone in your bedroom. I want you to read something."  I respond, "Sure!  Let's go straight there."  I explain to the other kids that Josh and I were going to have a conference, and asked them not to disturb us.  We both grab pillows and flop on our bed, and I ask him what was up.

"Go ahead and read this.  I wrote it today and wanted to tell it to you so I could remember exactly what I wanted to say."  He then hands me his notebook, and I begin to read what he has written on the first two pages.

"The bad thing about my imagenation is it makes my dreams turn into Nightmares.  This is this way because I make it feel real, and when I said I couldn't turn it off it ment that when I have nightmares they just keep going on and on and it doesn't go away for a year maybe."

"Joshua, I am so proud of you for writing down your feelings and sharing them with me!  This is awesome!  Let's talk about it some more." I said, and I then asked him to explain more about his nightmares. He said he was not having any right now, but that they had just ended a month ago and he hoped they stayed away.  

He surprised me then by spending about 20 minutes talking about how the colors in his room felt disturbing to him, and how he really, really wished we had kept the lavender and yellow walls that were up before when Dominick and I called that bedroom ours. I had stenciled a white picket fence and flowers along part of the walls, and Josh adored it, lobbying hard to keep it as it was.  I was so interested in that back then, and was even more curious that he brought it up now.  He explained that the tan and red in his room made the other boys happy, but that it made him feel a little scared and he didn't know why.  He pointed to the quilt on my bed, which is pastels of all colors, and said, "This makes me feel happy and safer.  There's something bright and cheerful about it that makes me calm inside. I don't know why my room feels the way it does to me, but it makes me feel nervous or something."  He also shared that he doesn't like to wake up with the curtains closed,not because he is scared of the dark but because of how it makes him feel in the morning.  He told me that he liked the girls' room better because it was happy and cheerful colors, and that he liked waking up in our room for the same reason.

"Josh," I said, "I know exactly how you feel, and colors affect me the exact same way.  You know how our bedroom doesn't look like most grown up's rooms?  Most grownups pick colors that are different.  They are darker, or muted colors.  Your Dad and I don't care how others feel about our bedroom, we like to wake up and see happy colors, too, even if it isn't considered cool or mature.  Who cares what others think? They don't have to live in it!"

He then went on to say he didn't want to change things for his brothers, because he knew they would never want colors he would like, and it wouldn't be fair to ask that of them.  I asked him what he would like if we could repaint, and I had to suppress a grin when he started talking about rainbows, and maybe a rainbow blanket because blankets are important to him.  Why did I have to hide that grin?  Because he had no way of knowing what his Grandma Alice is laughing out loud about right now, and that is that when his mom was 11 or so she redid her bedroom with bright yellow walls with CDOT orange closet doors and window trip...and rainbows everywhere.  I loved rainbows and had stickers, stained glass sun catchers, and all others sorts of rainbow items strewn throughout my bedroom.  It made me happy, and here my 10 year old son is talking about rainbows making him happy.  He said again, "I really wish we hadn't painted over your flower garden walls.  Now THAT would have made me happy to see every morning!"

We continued to talk and he said he wanted to tell me something else, and that was that when he was in his bed at night, he could see the light on in our bedroom window, and he felt better when seeing it because he knew I was "safe". we are getting to the meat of it.  I asked him if that was why he liked to sleep in our bedroom, so he would know I was safe and nearby.  He quickly said, "Yea, I just sleep better knowing you are OK and still there."  Then he added that he didn't think he'd be getting rid of his stuffed animals for a really long time, because they made him feel happier and safe, too.

"So Josh, let's talk about strategies for handling things when you are uncomfortable.  You've grown up enough to share what you are feeling and when you are feeling it, now the important next step is how to handle it.  I can never tell you with certainty that nothing will ever happen to me, just like you can't promise me that either.  But what I do when things are hard or scary is force myself to imagine what would be the worst possible thing that could happen, and then I think of ways I could deal with it.  I know it sounds strange that thinking about the scary thing makes you feel better, but figuring out how to handle something before it happens takes away some of the fear of the unknown.  So, if the very worst thing happened to you, and I did disappear, what could you do?  Who could you count on?"  He slipped under our bed covers as the tears began to well a little, but I went on saying, "You would still have the best Dad in the whole world, wouldn't you, and you know how much he loves you.  You'd still have the best brothers and sisters in the whole world who would be there to hold you and care about you, and help you forever.  You know that, right?" and he nodded saying, "We are all lucky that way.  But it wouldn't be the same."  I then explained that I knew what he was feeling because I had been through it with losses of those I loved in my own life, and yet I made it through and still find so much to be happy about.  

I asked him what we could do right now that would help him feel more secure.  He thought for a moment, his brow furrowed, and then he suggested that even if we don't paint his walls maybe he could have some "happy sheets and blankets, maybe a rainbow or something". I told him I thought that was an excellent idea and we would do that.  I said, "What if we remind the boys that your bedroom curtain needs to be left open at night so you can see our bedroom light on, would that help?"and he said he thought that would.  I then suggested he write down his bad dreams, if he had more of them, telling him that many people believe that if you get those dreams out and on paper, you'll be done with them.  He said he was going to try leaving music on at night, and that Matthew had already been playing some classical music at night in the bedroom to try and help him.  

"See?' I said, "You already have several strategies to help you feel safer.  Would it help if we had an intercom system or walkie talkies for awhile, so you could call out to me and I could hear you if you had a bad night?  We could figure something out for that." and he liked that idea.  I emphasized over and over how he was capable of coming up with ideas to help himself, to have control over his reactions.  I then asked if he thought it would be good to go and visit a couple times with Miss Joan, his old therapist, saying she might be able to offer even more ideas and she had a lot of kids who had feelings like his whom she had helped.  He quickly said he thought that was a good idea, so we'll be doing that as well.

What was so important today was that he was able to talk openly about his feelings without someone else initiating the conversation.  He was able to see he had some control over helping himself to feel better, and that there were several tactics he could use to move him to a better place emotionally. For a 10year old, I think this was huge.  While we may have him still sleeping on our floor a couple nights a week for a long time to come, we ARE making progress.

Will Josh always carry insecurity with him?  It's surely possible.  But then, aren't we all insecure about something?  Haven't we all had to figure out our own coping strategies to deal with our fears?  For a child with RAD, what is the key is that he has learned to be open, express his feelings, and can reciprocate love and affection. These are things some RAD kids are never able to do!  So instead of feeling defeated that Joshua still struggles with insecurity 9 years later, I am celebrating that no matter how hard it sometimes is, we have made extraordinary progress and he is capable of learning healthy coping skills...something many RAD children can never quite manage to get far enough along to do.  Yes, it is taking years to get him to this place, and it will take years more to get him even further.  But we keep at it, chipping away, one day at a time.  

The child who at one time rejected all human touch has come a long, long way.  As he snuggled cheek to cheek with me after having willingly opened his heart, I could only smile.  Maybe LaJoy's are just too stubborn to give in.


Hilary Marquis said...

I have the sudden urge to go buy the most obnoxious colorful fleece I can find to make a blanket for special little guy...

Anonymous said...

I just saw the first part of a PBS series, "This Emotional Life," on Netflix. In the first part of the first of three episodes, they talk about attachment, and how it shapes brain development--how it is as critical to survival as food and water. They include a bit about Harlow's infamous monkey study of attachment, and mention that the unattached monkeys developed loads of fears. Reading your post about Joshua brought this to mind. I wonder if it might help him to see this segment . . . another tool to perhaps help him step back from his fears and see them for what they are, and perhaps why he is inclined to have them. No, certainly won't erase them, but might help him put them in context and perhaps reduce their intensity . . . just a thought. As always, THANKS for your blog!