How 4 Simple Words Can Heal Your Deepest Pain.

There are classes, books, seminars, magazine articles, therapists, and websites, all at our finger tips for just about any struggle we have on the adoptive, foster and special needs journey. Most of them can help us heal from just about any wound we’ve sustained. But nothing is as healing as hearing the words, You Are Not Alone.

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My friend John and I will often text back and forth in the middle of the day. I’m not sure why it’s the middle of the day, since both of us are busy, but that’s what we do. We’ll text about vacation plans, getting our families together, our kids having sleep overs, the comical thing the DJ said on the morning radio show and, most importantly, life’s frustrations.

The other day John’s text reminded me just how powerful it is to find out you’re not alone. You see, our families are very much the same. Both of us are adoptive parents, both of us have been foster parents, and both of us have children with special needs. We are walking the same road. Our children struggle with the same things. We deal with the same weariness and stress as parents.

Two of his children, and two of mine, are homeschooled. We each have a child who pushes the limits, and our patience, to furthest place possible. It has almost pushed our wives over the edge. But we are also both raising children who suffer from FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder). On a daily basis we, along with our wives, are exhausted and defeated.

I shared the homeschooling frustration with John, among other things, and I was embarrassed. I shouldn’t have been though. His text back filled me with strength.

No man. We are in this together. Homeschooling can be hard on our wives.

Something Powerful, Something Healing.

You may not see the big deal in a text like that. After all, it’s just the typical life of a pre-teen right? Slacks off at school work; a little bit lazy; not completely dialed in to what it means to have integrity! It’s all par for the course.

Maybe you’re right. Maybe it is just a normal thing and I’m overreacting. Maybe we shouldn’t allow this to frustrate us like it does. But when this plays out day after day, my wife has repeated herself 4 million times, and we tie that to the constant work of raising children with special needs, one with severe behavior issues, we’ve got a recipe for exhaustion. Add in the extra fears we face as adoptive parents, the trauma some of our children live with from their difficult pasts, the battle we fight to protect our children, and we’re running on emotional fumes. It can be an extremely lonely and painful road.

Sure, we could pull ourselves together, read a book, or download a podcast. We could even check out a book at the library that walks us through, step-by-step, how to set boundaries for a child suffering from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. We could see a specialist for ADHD or a counselor who could help our child make better choices than the ones she’s made. We could consult with a psychologist on how to deal with meltdowns that last for hours, or become violent and threatening to our other children.

All of this might help. But all of this comes up short from one thing- Hope! At the end of the day, the author of the book is not in our home. The specialist leaves her office, gets in her car and drives to her house, not mine. The psychologist shuts his computer down and sets his sights on tomorrow’s clients. They’re all helpful, but they fall short of hopeful.

It’s not their fault. I’m not blaming them for anything. That’s the way it goes. That’s par for the course. It can leave you feeling pretty desperate. But to find out someone else; someone real, someone with flesh and blood and a heartbeat like yours; someone who deals with the same struggles, has the same fear, and walks the same road with their child as you walk with yours? That’s hopeful. That’s healing! And then to hear those golden words, “You are not alone!” Ah, there’s something refreshing in every syllable.

Finding Hope.

Think about this in terms of our individual lives. We have a sin or an addiction. We deal with a struggle, or a disorder, that we hold close and never let anyone find out about. Why? Well, for starters, we’re afraid of judgement. We’re afraid of ridicule and shame. We fear the haughty glares from the eyes of those who think they’re better. So we hold our sin, our addiction, our struggle, or our disorder close so no one can sling flaming arrows at us. It might make for an easier day but it’s incredibly lonely.

But then, we sit across the table from someone who shares their deepest, darkest secret with us. In their words we find hope because in their words we hear the same dark thing we deal with. We find out we’re not alone. There’s healing in finding this out.

The other day my wife had a conversation with an acquaintance who opened up about her son’s stay in a psychiatric wing of a local hospital. As my wife listened to her heart she identified. Our son has stayed in the same unit in the past. We’ve walked through the trauma of a child who’s completely out of control, violent, and destructive. My wife knew each tear dripping from her eyes.

While she couldn’t offer any solutions, she could say from her heart, “You are not alone!”

And that’s the hope we can offer through this blog: You are not alone. 4 simple words that can bring healing in ways a self-help book or class might not be able to. We have been through hell and back with our children and we’re still alive. We know what it’s like to feel lonely and trapped. There is hope. There are other’s on this road. You are not alone!

Question: Have you felt lonely on the road of adoption and foster care? Share your story with us. We are in the same trench! You can leave a comment by clicking here.

The Refresh Conference is coming soon! We will be there as main stage and breakout session speakers. We would love to hang out with you. Don’t wait to get your spot. We know how hard the journey can be when you’re an adoptive or foster parent. But we also know how desperately you need a community of like-minded people. That’s why we believe in this event. It’s life-changing, rejuvenating, and empowering. We almost guarantee that your experience there will be life-changing more than you realize. Trust us, you do not want to miss Refresh Conference 2017! If you’re ready to register for this event, it’s open and they’re waiting for your call. Don’t wait. Click here to register today before it closes down!

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  • Kerry

    Yes! I have and often feel completely alone. If it wasn’t for my friend Julie (who introduced you guys to me) I would be in despair at all times. The only problem is that Julie and I are across the country on opposite coasts. We are Fb friends, which is my lifeline really. So this post blessed me beyond measure. My son is out of control and my mind goes to dark places in that I envision him in juvie..and he’s 3.5..ugh. I know that sounds crazy but my thinking is along the lines of “if he’s this bad now, how will he be at 10..at 12 and so on” We’ve had him since he was born but he was exposed to polydrugs and alcohol. So I’m scared for how he will be when he’s a teen.. He is extremely aggressive and constantly angry. I worry he’s showing signs of a mood disorder and he’s really little for that. Right now its ODD and ADHD.
    Anyway, thank you for this and for your kind reply to my last comment. That was so nice.

    • Kerry, it’s our pleasure. We are so glad this post encouraged you. That’s a win for us. Let us know if there’s anything else we can do for you. Have a great week.

    • Allisonm

      I met my son with similar exposures and lots of trauma and placements when he was four. He suggested that I kill myself. He attacked me daily for the first 2.5 years and raged anytime he wasn’t sleeping. He slept 2-4 hours out of any 24. I hear your despair and loneliness. Our son has had lots of diagnoses, including bipolar disorder and the two you named. He was best described as “relentless.” I used to wonder what his future would be like, given the extreme difficulty of his condition for the first five years we were a family.

      He is now 12. He has PTSD, RAD, ADHD, and drug/alcohol-related developmental issues. Impulse control is troublesome, but it used to be nonexistent. His anger, which we still see frequently, is mostly a function of fear–triggers from past trauma or fear that what is happening in his current environment is threatening his ability to survive and cope. He doesn’t have a very big window of tolerance now, but it is enormous compared to where we started. We see a lot less rage and he is constantly acquiring better coping skills. He is not bipolar or ODD. He has needed less and less medication, now taking only one for ADHD and night meds for sleep. Without sleep and a sensory reset, he has no ability to cope. We haven’t chatted with police in several months, since we started homeschooling again.

      I was adopted at birth with no known substance exposures, yet I struggled with serious attachment challenges and a fundamental anxiety that I didn’t get meaningful help to resolve until adulthood, largely because I am old enough that attachment disorders and the effects of prenatal trauma hadn’t been identified yet, let alone treated. As a child, I had many symptoms in common with my adopted foster children. I would encourage you not to exclude the possibility that attachment challenges and/or trauma are complicating your son’s situation.

      We have benefitted from approaches based on helping our son feel safe. Traditional logic says that if we make the consequences of our child’s behavior sufficiently unpleasant, he will stop the behavior. With a child who is already acting out an overwhelming level of fear, adding more fear and unpleasantness just compounds the problem. It seems really counter-intuitive, but the more I understand about what is driving the behavior, the more sense it makes and the better I get at responding in ways that help.

      I mostly want you to know that you really are NOT alone. We have walked this road, too, and done it with little friendship or support and often a lot of unhelpful judgment. Our children are worth what we’ve been through, and to be a help or encouragement to others coming up behind us is gravy.

      • Kerry

        Oh thank you so much Allison! That was really so very kind of you! Your words were heartfelt and very thoughtful. I’m so grateful you took all that time to share your story and encourage me so. I really think that was so nice of you. I will definitely keep those suggestions in mind. I think it’s a very valid point and its easy to dismiss trauma when one adopts a newborn. But surely his environment was traumatic. He was very unwanted, stressed bio mom and drug and alcohol exposed. I know it must have had an effect!

        Could I ask you for a little more detail on your discipline methods? On my own I have concluded that immediate and logical consequences only seems to escalate things dramatically. Do you have a method you follow? Thank you so very much!!

        • Allisonm

          While I am attempting to instill a grasp of cause and effect through logical consequences, the reality for all of our three children with PTSD, etc., is that when they are in survival mode, logic doesn’t enter into their thinking. Unless and until they feel safe, they aren’t capable of making a connection between their actions and the consequences, no matter how logical or natural. If they are also struggling with brain damage or developmental issues, it is even harder. For perfectly normal children, the developmental tasks presented at each stage of childhood are traumatic and difficult at first and become easier as they master them. For children like ours, who have a deep elemental fear for their lives as a starting place, normal life is more than traumatic. It s overwhelming. Their acting out is not misbehavior, it is communication of the severity of their distress. A terrified child looks even more like an angry child than an angry child does. Understanding this informs my responses.

          When my child is losing it and flying into a rage because he has to make a transition from sleep into waking, or from one room to another, or into different clothes, or from the house to the car, my response needs to be to his level of distress brought on by any disruption of the status quo. His sense of safety can be so tenuous that even a change to something that he really wants can be overwhelming and feel threatening. So I engage, understand, comfort and reassure when many looking on would think I should ignore and/or issue consequences. I do what will affirm our relationship and make me a safe person for him. I also shrink his environment down into one that is more manageable for him. I don’t plan too many things. I choose my battles carefully. If he can’t change his clothes because it is one too many transitions that day, he wears the ones he has on for awhile longer. The world isn’t going to come to an end. And if I succeed in not overwhelming him with requirements and he has a couple of hours without rage, he has gotten the experience of getting through those couple of hours without losing it. That’s a big win in our world.

          I have to meet my son where he is. If he could do better, he would. If he seems manipulative for my attention, it’s because he needs my attention–badly. Before I can teach him healthier ways to get it, I have to meet his need. My attention is a huge contributor to his feeling of safety. At age 12, after years of doing everything we could to meet his overwhelming needs, our son is able, at least some of the time, to learn from logical consequences and from instruction. But we didn’t start there. Actually, we did start there and it escalated everything, just like you are experiencing. We didn’t make progress until we understood his behavior as communication and started responding to his distress. I have benefitted from the work and writings of Karen Purvis, Heather Forbes, and the man who wrote The Explosive Child. Though they suggest methods and approaches, the thing that helped me most as a parent was understanding the ways in which my children’s start in life affects their perception and their abilities to cope. From there, the counter-intuitive has become more intuitive.

          One more thing: the language I use in my own head and with others has a big influence on how I respond. Instead of using language that describes our problems, I try to think and talk about how my son is experiencing what is happening. What is it like to be in his skin right now? What does he need from me and others to help him feel safe and comfortable enough to relax and be a little boy. I do this a lot when meeting with the school, doctors, therapists, church, and any other place where my son may need to interact. When others consider what it’s like to be my son, they approach him with patience and compassion, rather than frustration with his problematic behavior. That kind of language helps me stay compassionate and patient, too.

          I probably haven’t given you anything concrete here. I wish I could be more specific, but it really is much more of a perspective shift for me than a method. I hope you find something here that is helpful to you and your son.

        • Gosh, we LOVE to see this kind of community and camaraderie here. Fills us up.