Thursday, September 29, 2016

Our Marriage & Complex Trauma

Matt and I met under serendipitous circumstances. During our first encounter, he awkwardly avoided eye-contact with me while conversing freely with my roommate.

Two months later, he was secretly learning Sign Language from the outdated VHS tapes he repeatedly checked from his local library. He hadn’t yet asked me out, but he knew I worked at a Deaf school and he wanted to be prepared.

He drew a map of my neighborhood and reviewed it with me prior to our first date so he wouldn’t get lost on his way to pick me up.

Twelve months after that first date, we were married.

And we have no regrets.

For the first couple of years after our children came home through adoption, Matt and I even commented that parenting our children with intense needs was bringing us closer to together, rather than driving us apart.

For almost six years now, our entire family has been impacted by the unique needs that accompany complex developmental trauma. Because we now realize our children often communicate through their behavior, we are continual “interpreters” between two of our children and the rest of the world so they are better understood, have opportunities for personal growth, and aren’t criminalized.

Our family’s lifestyle generates stares that remind us the specific supports we provide for each of our individual children are largely misunderstood. Our relationships with each member of our family is dramatically impacted by the needs of each of the other members. Two of our children need intense structure and scaffolding to succeed developmentally and emotionally. The routine we provide them with lowers their stress level so they can enjoy life and learn, and eventually, become more flexible. All the while, we must constantly problem solve so we can give our two biological children the specific attention they need to be nurtured in the wake of childhood trauma, which is no small thing.

Due to very real attachment needs, we are not able to just drop our children off with a trustworthy babysitter during their waking hours. Because two of our children are still learning to trust us and it takes a long time for them to trust other adults, either Matt or I are “on” at all times. Even when they’re sleeping, “hiring a sitter” involves divulging sensitive information for our children’s safety. It’s exhausting to brainstorm whom would be both capable of watching our sleeping children and will not exploit them with the information we must share.

We hear it’s best to put our marriage first.

We just aren’t sure how to put our marriage first... without our family falling apart.

The stakes are so high.

Two of our children go to school. For them, school is their safe place to learn and their most consistent opportunity to build relationships with trustworthy adults other than their parents.

For our two children who are home during school hours, they need to be home with a parent so they can process trauma and have space to enjoy a healthy childhood.

We are privileged to have the opportunity to so specifically care for our four children’s complex needs. Yet, beyond school, we are the only supports they have. We meet needs seen and unseen. Constantly. There aren’t predictable breaks for us. There are no retreats for mom and dad together.

And we acknowledge that if our children’s needs were not so unique and intense, we wouldn’t be desperate for respite. At one point I was homeschooling one of our children who came into our family as an older child. I explained to Matt how overwhelmed I was because I was convinced that if there were ten of me I still wouldn’t have the ability meet his specific needs. All ten of me would be overwhelmed. Matt nodded in agreement. He got it. And we found a way to keep on until he got into a school that was safe for him.

It feels as if Matt and I have been on an aircraft that’s lost cabin pressure for six years and we’ve only had one oxygen mask for the both of us.

After almost six years of struggling for oxygen and waiting our turn to breathe, it’s easy to begin to resent the other’s need for oxygen.

It’s not logical.

It’s not gracious.

We’re beyond logic and grace.

We’re desperate and we need all of our energy to survive.

His need for oxygen is a threat to my very existence.

My need for oxygen is a threat to his.

We love each other.

We belong together.

And we’re barely hanging on.

Can you relate? Join the Conversation, here,
on Facebook, and on Twitter.

FYI: I should have mentioned that Matt and I read this post together and were both excited about me posting it. In fact, processing our experience together has been helpful for us to work through our individual experiences.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Seeking Solitude in the Digital Age

Had I not accepted an unusual challenge during my senior year of college, I doubt I’d be currently aware of how my heart longs for quiet.

The challenge was to choose a spiritual discipline I’d never intentionally practiced before and find a way to observe it for one week.

The list included disciplines I was well acquainted with, such as prayer, fasting, and meditation. As I read on, I began to wonder if there was a spiritual discipline unfamiliar to me. When I read “Solitude” I honestly had to admit I didn’t even know what practicing solitude meant. All I could picture was living in the wilderness, wearing a brown robe cinched with a rope, and making my own butter.

The whole idea seemed highly impractical, but I do love a challenge.

The year was 2001. At the time, I owned a cell phone but for emergencies only. Because it seemed like such a novelty, I constantly told myself it cost $220 per minute to use (which it might have because I was most definitely roaming where I went to school) so it just took up space in my purse. The internet was up and running, but when writing research papers one still needed to cite real books. Email had become a thing, yet my friends and I utilized it to write each other letters. Upon receiving an email, I would print it out and save it in a special shoebox where I also kept my handwritten notes from friends and family. While I owned a television, I didn’t purchase cable, so I could really only use the VCR unless I wanted to watch something badly enough to get the tin foil out and begin problem solving to make our antenna work. AOL Instant Messenger was new and, on occasion, I would chat with a few friends who had it. LOL was the only initialism I recall ever reading, and I never once used it myself.

When I decided to practice solitude I knew I needed to set guidelines for myself. At the time, I lived off campus and had a week where I was staying alone. My classes were scheduled on Tuesdays and Thursdays and I was only taking a few credits as I had already met most of my graduation requirements. With this schedule, I realized I could avoid contact with people five out of seven days. I also chose to eliminate listening to any music, watching any screens, and any use of the phone. Having completed all of my final papers, I had already packed my computer up and sent it home. Therefore, I had no internet. Believe it or not, while I didn’t make a rule for this, I also don’t remember reading nonfiction books.

Given I spent most of my time alone that week, and that I had been struggling with loneliness going into the week, one might wonder what I did with my time.

I still wonder that. I remember reading, journaling, cooking, and cleaning. I remember life becoming peaceful, my heart becoming light, and time passing fast.

Toward the end of the week, I was surprised to realize I was no longer lonely. In fact, I wanted to find a way to extend my week of solitude. My heart had found the very quiet it needed. Which was the quiet I had been robbing myself of out of fear- the quiet I usually spent my hours distracting myself from.

Human connections are imperative for all of us. Yet, when I deny myself of solitude, my relationships suffer. I’m too scattered to listen and respond well.

Social media and email are tools, and in order to use them to enhance connections, I need to set the rules.

I don’t want to live distracted by ads, text notifications, social media, and email.

At this point in my life, a week of solitude seems nearly impossible. Still, I know I need to make some changes to quiet my heart. Last week, I made a social media schedule for myself. According to this schedule, I should not be on social media during one minute I would otherwise be spending with my children. I also purchased an ancient word processor to write on so I’m focused during time I’ve chiseled out for writing.

I took these measures after hearing my three-year-old ask me three times before his words began to register, “Mommy, are you listening to me?”

He shouldn’t have to wonder.

My life is complicated enough. At times I am distracted by weighty matters that seem like threats to my family’s well-being. With or without social media, there will always be times I have difficulty being present for my loved ones.

I do have the power to limit distractions.

When I am brave enough to use that power, I’m free to carve out fragments of quiet I once believed were unobtainable as a parent.

As a result, I’m more present with my loved ones- something our hearts mutually desire.

Can you relate? Join the Conversation, here,
on Facebook, and on Twitter. Also, remember, I’m scheduling posts and responding when I can give you my full attention too!

Blog Design by Get Polished