This is probably going to be a rather long post. A lot has been happening 'round these parts lately. Part of me wants to totally forget about most of it. Part of me wants to really celebrate the healing that is going on. Most of this post is for me so I don't forget I guess. It's fun to read about progress and I don't want to forget how we got there.
I had a great chat with Christine on the phone last week. Unfortunately – a lot of what she suggested to me were things we're already doing around the house. Or...maybe I should say fortunately? Does it mean I'm doing things right already??! At any rate, it felt really good to talk with someone that's been there, done that.
Cherub 2 is struggling right now. Really struggling.
And this is where things seem different. So many of the kids I read about on other blogs that struggle lived through visible trauma. They survived disrupted adoptions. Or they bounced around the foster care system for awhile.
Cherub 2 joined our family at birth. So, it's not the same. The trauma he survived is invisible.
Cherub 2 grew in the womb of someone that knew all along that she was not going to parent him. In fact, we think that maybe Cherub 2's first mom kept her pregnancy a secret from everyone but Cherub 2's first dad. Can you imagine the stress she must have felt? There is no way Cherub 2 could exist in that stress-filled environment without it affecting him.
So despite the fact that he's lived in a loving, safe, family environment his entire life. He was formed and connected to someone that didn't want him for nine months.
While talking with Christine she explained that she rarely uses labels anymore (ie. RAD or attachment disorder). Instead, she calls what we're dealing with "trauma behaviors".
It hurts to use the word "trauma" when I talk about the beautiful baby boy I've held in my arms since he was 20 hours old. I don't like to think about him suffering. After all, we've cared for him completely. All he's ever known is safety and love. It almost doesn't seem right to even compare what he's gone through to a kid that was abused and/or neglected.
But the trauma behaviors are there. I can't sugarcoat it any longer. My little boy struggles. My little boy suffers. My little boy suffered trauma that is going to affect him for the rest of his life.
Fast forward to yesterday.
Cherub 2 got off the school bus one blink away from completely losing it. I could see it in his body language. His gait becomes very stiff. He walks completely different. He trips "on purpose". He falls when nothing should cause him to stumble. I could hear it in his voice. He has a different cadence when he talks. It often sounds similar to baby talk.
Thankfully, my mom, dad and sister are visiting. Usually I have to navigate the pre-meltdown stage alone while trying to field the needs of five other children. Not an easy thing to do. But my with the extra help in the house I was able to grab Cherub 2 by the hand and take him for a walk.
We went outside and started walking down the block. I held his hand and I asked him if he knew what the trigger was. (He's far enough along on the path of healing that even when he's starting to lose it he usually will attempt to name the trigger. And for Cherub 2, naming the trigger often enables him to climb down off the mountain ledge without flipping out.)
Cherub 2 had no idea what the trigger was. I tossed out a few ideas but nothing stuck. So I looked at him and said, "Ya know what Christine told me the other day?" His ears perked up and he wanted to know the answer. I said, "Christine said we should stop worrying about the stupid trigger so much. The trigger, in and of itself, doesn't have to matter so much. We need to start just dealing with the behavior."
Cherub 2 was still very visibly dysregulated. However, he was listening so we kept walking and talking.
Many of the blogs I read refer to the child that was traumatized as "baby" when they process through difficult big feelings. (I really wanted to find a sample of this and link to it. But I'm not currently having success with that.) It's almost like giving the child a "before" identity - when they were suffering their trauma - and and "after" identity - when they were with their forever family. It's a way to remind them that they are safe NOW. Baby wasn't kept safe. But Child is safe now. Baby will try to "tell" Child that they aren't safe now. Child can "tell" baby the truth and dysregulation can be avoided.
I wanted to make this concept work with Cherub 2 before. But since we've been with Cherub 2 his entire life, it was difficult. There is no easy before and after in our situation. So, we introduced the concept of "dysregulated" to him. Over time it became a way for us to describe him when he was in the middle of a full-out freak-out. It was a way for us to pin-point behaviors that aren't acceptable. What I've been searching for now though is a way to talk to him BEFORE the freak-out. A way to talk about the very visible signs that he is dysregulated on the inside so that we can keep from having a rage.
As we walked I told Cherub 2 about the behaviors I wanted to deal with right then and there. I told him that it was obvious to me that he was starting to get dysregulated. I said I could tell by the way he was walking and by the way he was talking. I said he looked all wonky.
At that very moment it struck me. We'll give this behavior a name. And thus, Mr. Wonky was born.
I've been able to work in all kinds of therapeutic parenting language now. Cherub 2 was very receptive to it all. As we walked and talked he actually started to relax.
We said that Mr. Wonky makes him walk funny. Mr. Wonky makes his legs stiff. Mr. Wonky wants him to trip. Mr. Wonky makes him want to fall over. (For ease of reading, I'll refer to Mr. Wonky as MW for the rest of the post. We're using the name a lot now as we talk about things.)
MW wants Cherub 2 to talk funny too. And MW doesn't like me so much. MW doesn't want Cherub 2 to be anywhere near me. In fact, if Cherub 2 wants MW to go away, one of the first things he should do is get close to Mamma. MW doesn't want Cherub 2 to have good things. MW doesn't want Cherub 2 to be happy.
We walked. We talked. He relaxed. He took deep breaths. He started telling MW to go away. He said out loud that MW wasn't welcome anymore. That his Mamma does love him. That he can walk the right way. That he is strong enough to talk the right way.
In the time it took us to walk up the block and back down, Cherub 2 went from nearly freaking out to completely passing the dysregulation test. **Angels were singing!!**
Cherub 2 would prefer that MW stay a secret. (Of course, we told Mr. Amazing.) But, it hasn't been possible for me to not say anything about MW. It's been a nifty thing to throw out when I see the behaviors start. Or even if I have to tell him something that might make him unhappy later. For example, while getting ready for bed tonight he and his brother decided to watch two episodes of SpongeBob instead of listening to stories. I looked at both of them and said, "Do you understand you're choosing SpongeBob over stories?" They both said, "yes". I looked right at Cherub 2 and asked him if MW understood too.
This just about drove Cherub 3 nuts because he doesn't know who MW is. But Cherub 2 smiled at me and said he understood.
I know that naming the behavior isn't going to solve the problem. But Cherub 2 has been incredibly receptive to it. He seems almost comforted by having the ability to tell Mr. Wonky to go away. He doesn't like being dysregulated. So often you can see it all over him. He wants nothing more than to calm down and be OK. He just doesn't know how. Having this power to tell "someone" to go away has been wonderful. It's not going to make him stop freaking out. I know that. But at least for the last two days, it has kept the crazies (somewhat) at bay.