Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Face of Trauma

There are many faces of trauma. This is one of them. In sharing our experience, we hope to shed some light on things that the average person has no idea about. It may appear to be a horror story, but it is not. It is about survival and surviving. This is a success story. We have all experienced trauma in our lives. Some more than others, however, trauma is trauma. One person's loss is no more significant in their life than another person. How do we deal with trauma? Everyone is different. The mechanism in our brain that tells us how to respond to trauma is formed by the age of 3. That is right. Everyone's brain is wired for stress in the first 36 months. There are 3 basic ways you can deal with trauma. Fight, Flight or Freeze! This is not a story of Charlotte, but a story of Charlotte and her Mother....that would be me.Charlotte's trauma, became my trauma. We handled it in a very different way. Charlotte's way of dealing with trauma has been pretty consistent. Mine, however, has been all over the place. We were both in very different places in our first 3 years of life. Here are pictures of Charlotte and I, both at age 2. This is one of three pictures of Charlotte that exist before she came to me.













I was held, nurtured, loved and cared for. All my needs were met in a timely manner with loving hands, eye contact and sweet words. Charlotte was cast aside, hated, and neglected. Her needs were seldom met and when they were, it was with a slap, a pinch, no eye contact, and a dirty bottle propped on a makeshift pillow, given with unloving hands and a string of curse word, filled accusations. I was given lots of toys and interaction. Charlotte's toys, given by unknowing family members, were sold for drugs and she had little or no interactions. We both ate macaroni and cheese during our first few years. Mine was served in a bowl after it had been prepared with hands that cared. Charlotte's was stolen from a cupboard and eaten straight from the box in a dark corner of a room. Charlotte had her own room. I shared mine with my sister. Mine had a bed with sheets and pillows and a warm feeling where I was tucked in with a hug and a kiss every night. Charlotte's was cold with a plastic crib mattress on the floor. Her only blankets were the dirty, over sized clothes on the floor and the door was locked from the outside. Charlotte spent days at a time in that room, eating the lead riddled paint off the walls that would poison her blood for so long it would find it's way to her bones. Thank goodness her pets were fed regularly. I had no pets during my first 3 years. Charlotte had MANY pets...not just the mice and cock roaches she loved, but the hamsters, cats, and bunny that shared their food with her. The cats and bunny survived Charlotte's love, but the hamsters, mice and cock roaches did not. When I was 2-3 years old, I was healthy. Other than the fact that my mother always cut my bangs too short, my hair looked shiny and healthy. I was a chubby little girl with rosy cheeks and bright white teeth. Charlotte was a teeny, tiny thing. She was always mistook for being a year younger than she was. At 3, her skin was pale and her hair was dull and flat and her bangs were cut completely off. It fell out by the handfuls. She had no glow to her and, though she smiled often, her eyes were blank. Her teeth were chipped with decay and along with a myriad of other things, she had been diagnosed "failure to thrive". It was during this time in our lives that our brains were forming their neuropathways. My brain recognized trauma, just as Charlotte's did. My trauma, like many other children's, was the soap put in my mouth after repeating a swear word, the worst thing I can remember during my first 3 years. Charlotte's was being put under the kitchen sink and having it tied shut with a shoe string and being left there for "2 sleeps". (I am not sharing some of her worst traumas) The difference is that my brain had formed neuropathways to help me cope with my trauma. I did not think I was going to die from the soap in my mouth. It did not take away from the fact that I knew I was loved. Charlotte's trauma of being put under the kitchen sink became more than her brain could handle, so in order to survive, she tells a very different ending than the one that really happened. In the real story, the womb and vampire came home and let her out. If you hear her tell the ending, she will tell you with extreme dramatization that I came in and rescued her and then beat up the womb and the vampire and brought her to her new home. She needs that fantasy to survive the reality. I just smile at her tale knowing in my heart that if I had only known, that would have surly been the reality!

So how does all this define us? It makes us who we are. Something as simple as picking up a crying baby to meet their need can create a neuropathway, or ignoring the baby's cry as stubbornness can disturb a neuropathway. Dr. Spock, himself, (the one who said, let them cry themselves to sleep) while in his 80's, apologized, saying he had made a grave mistake and had contributed to the fall of a generation. You can not spoil a child on the inside. You can never love a child too much. I think some parents show their love in material ways and that also causes a disturbance in the neuropathways of the brain. The longing is for touch...for eye contact...for love. Did you know when you make eye contact with someone, it stimulates the frontal lobe of the brain and causes all kinds of "flow" in our neuropathways. Babies who got no eye contact, make no eye contact. The stimulation it causes makes for an uncomfortable feeling instead of a connection. I sound like I know my stuff, huh?! Well I don't. Ask Charlotte. When Charlotte came to me just after I turned 40 years old, I was not at all prepared. I had no education in abuse or neglect. I had no idea of the depths that mental illness and drug addiction could take a person. I knew alot about Satan, but had never known of anyone who actually worshiped him outright. Charlotte came to me immersed in these things. I remember my lawyer saying "Don't take this little girl. She will kill you in your sleep." WHAT!!!??? She is 3!! All she needs is love. Well, we were both wrong. Charlotte will never kill me in my sleep, but she needs alot more than love. She needs parents who have an in depth understanding of her brain and who she is. Now I am going to tell you something about me that is not pretty...there have been days, where the thought of dealing with this little girl has almost made me physically sick. That is a hard thing to admit, but it is true. I believe that I am not the same person who turned 40 those 7 years ago. After 11 therapists, counselors, and doctors, admitted failure in their endeavour to help us, I have become hard and unfeeling in some areas. It is that protective mechanism. A woman of strong faith, that loved God more than anything in this world...I walked away from the church (who became divided about my situation) and from my first love, Jesus. How did this happen? Charlotte's trauma, was causing trauma in my own life. Hence the Fight or Flight or Freeze...I chose Flight in some areas of my life and Fight in others. I actually chose Freeze a couple of times, I am sure. People in my life saw how I was changing. My Sweet Hubby, looked at me differently when I was "dealing" with Charlotte. I could see the disappointment in his eyes and knew he was confused by my behavior. He saw someone who was very loving with her sons, both biological and adopted, and just could not seem to connect on a maternal level with this beautiful little girl. This is not uncommon among these situations. Charlotte's voice would change when her Daddy came home. She became sweet, cooperative, and loving. Her face would almost visibly contort to a different being when he left for work every morning. She would spend her days stealing, lying, raging, hoarding, gorging, abusing the dog, destroying any material possession she got her hands on, and making herself bleed using the blood as paint. She would physically attack me to the point of bruises. All behaviors you will find in a traumatized, unattached child. These children are angry, and rightfully so. Before I knew better, I held the door shut on a 35 pound, 4 year old and she pulled that door open in one swoop against all my weight! I flew across her room as the door was pulled open. Rage. It is always formed out of fear. Fear. It is the end result of a child who was not loved. Love. When it is "perfect" it casts out all fear. Has my love for Charlotte been perfect....results tell me no. I was using logic, and consequences with a child whose brain did not have the neuropathways to comprehend them. Well this IS a success story, as I said in the beginning. Many of these behaviors have decreased or stopped. Some remain. Some come and go in cycles. This time of year is especially difficult as the halloween season approaches and "evil" looking decorations come out. She is triggered in her brain. After years, I began to get on my face before God and seek His wisdom. He is not changing Charlotte as I had prayed so many times, for so long. No, He is changing me. He is giving me the keys to unlock my daughter's healing. He is showing me a way to form new neuropathways... those that were not formed during infancy. YES!! The brain can be changed! He is giving me a new chance to be the mother that Charlotte needs...not the mother I thought she needed. Real and perfect love, is being willing to admit you don't know what you are doing and opening yourself up to becoming what the child needs, even if it is the exact opposite of what you thought it was. Love is the key, though it is not enough. Knowledge based in love is enough. "My people perish for lack of knowledge". I thank God for providing us with the knowledge needed to do the work, and the mercy and grace to give this humbled servant another chance. The story is not over. I will share more at another time. Now please go pick up your crying babies.

40 comments:

Nancy said...

How brave of you to share this heart-wrenching story. Blessings on all of you.

Linda said...

Beautifully written Bren, and I'm so glad I met you while you were in the process of this change. I personally have seen the difference in you, and I thank our God for answered prayers.

Debi said...

My heart goes out to you. Although I have not gone through as much as you have with Charlotte, I raised my niece for a couple of years. With God's strength and guidance she healed from her physical and psych wounds and graduated college, married and has 3 beautiful children of her own.

Joni said...

Wonderful Bren! I hope things continue to improve for you and Charlotte.

Karolee said...

Charlotte is so blessed to have you for her mother. Thank you for taking her in, for fighting with Satan, and for loving her.

Rose Marie said...

Thank you for sharing this heart-wrenching story. Coming from a home where my father was an alcholic and would go on a 3-4 week drinking binge EVERY 2/3 months (towards the end of his life, every month), small things trigger unpleasant memories for me and my siblings. To this day, we do not enjoy Christmas. None of us. My nephews and nieces have come to me asking, why is my Dad/Mom like this at Christmas time. I explain and they say that they understand, but they haven't experienced it and so they don't understand. Unfortunately, your daughter will have ugly memories; but she will remember you and what a wonderful Mother you are and those are the memories she and you deserve.

Marilyn R said...

Thank you for sharing your heart and experiences. God doesn't always ask us to do things that are easy. I am adding Charlotte to my prayers. Just think of the beautiful memories you are giving Charlotte now and to come!

homemakerkate said...

Dear Bren
I can see how God has blessed you and your family. He does Great work! He is an Awesome God!
Trauma to Triumph! Amen.
hugs
homemakerkate

Charlene said...

Thank you. Thanks for not quiting, for following God's leading. For being willing to change yourself and loving someone that wasn't capable. I am the product of God's love and one of the few success stories of the welfare system. I did not have to go through as many horrors as Charlotte, though I still have my own. I must have done mostly flight and fright, because I rarely freeze - I moved alot as a child and sometimes when I have a difficult situation the first thing I think about is moving. Thankfully God has put me with a wonderful husband for 23 years who must have a freeze mechanism, because we have lived in the same place for 16 years! I thank God for His healing miracles in my life and I know that to His Glory is my life and success.

Quilting Pirate said...

by sharing this story, you have found another way to deal with trauma - by sharing experiences and the positive outcomes and the fact that it is always in everyday life.

Thank you for sharing this. I can see how you have become stronger and Charlotte is very much loved.

Nadine said...

Bren, this post is so moving, I can't find any words to express my feelings, except: THANK YOU...

From the bottom of my heart, a biiiig, special ((HUG)) to you (and Charlotte),
XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXO
NADINE

Sweet Mummy said...

I have found your blog in a completely weird way... but I found 3 connections when I got here. I was trying to trace the origins of the "You Lift Me Up" award, and when I googled that I came across your "You Make Me Smile" award post. (I have that one too, isn't that cool!) THEN, I saw on your profile that you are a Christian and a Quilter, and I thought "I must check out this blog" because I am a Christian and a Quilter, too. Just now, coming to write my comment, I see Karolee here too - I have sort of 'met' Karolee through PrayingKaren's blog. Funny, how small a world it is, eh?

I have read this amazing story that you have shared and I am so touched by your openness. It must have been difficult to write, but it is very well written, and speaks right out of your heart. I want to encourage you but I don't know what to say. When that happens, I sometimes (when I think about it!) ask God for a picture to share, or a phrase or a scripture. I see a dove, with wings spread out wide, almost blindingly bright against a stormy sky, soaring on the wind. It's beautiful in my mind's eye. I hope it will minister to you, somehow...

anne bebbington said...

Bren - it has taken immense courage to talk to us in this frank fashion - Charlotte is blessed to have 'found' you - I feel that eventually you will feel blessed too. I can't imagine how it must be to cope with a child like that and thank God you're given the means to do it for her sake. My MIL and I haven't always seen eye to eye over the years but she gave me a wonderful piece of advise when mine were tiny 'Pick up your baby - you can never give a baby too much love' How right you both are

Guðrún said...

This story almost made me cry. I hope time will heal the wounds on her soul.

Lindah said...

An awesome story, Bren. May the telling of it bless both the teller and the reader. It is so good to hear about answered prayers. You remain in my thoughts and prayers.

God bless you,
Linda H

Yvonne said...

WOW.....thanks for sharing!

kcamou said...

Bren, thank you so much for sharing that remarkable part of your life and Charlotte's. I hope that you continue to find your way through and I know that God will continue to bless you all.

meggie said...

Hugs, Bren.

Lily said...

I agree with you Bren, you can't spoil your kids with too much love and cuddles. What a wonderful thing you are doing to help Charlotte and help yourself through being such a good mum to her. And getting 'inside her head' and seeing things from her point of view should help greatly. Whenever I find myself getting shirty with Romily I try to see things through her eyes and it usually helps to moderate my feelings and actions too.

Your kindness will come back to you Bren.

For something completely different and sill, I've tagged you for a bit of fun :)

Su Bee said...

Is it true that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger? I'd have to say yes - it sounds like you both are/will be strong women.
Now I need to go find a child to hold........

Jeanne said...

Bren, I'm so sorry for the difficulty you all have endured. How wonderful that Charlotte has a loving place now where she belongs. She looks so happy and beautiful in the picture. I'm sure it was very difficult to share this part of your life. Thank you for having the strength and faith to not give up on her. God bless.

Lynda (Granny K) said...

What a beautiful daughter you have, and she has a truly wonderful mom. Hold fast to that which is good. Bless you. Hugs. Lynda

Niki said...

Thanks so much for sharing your stories. I think this kind of stuff is more prevalent than people know. I, too, have suffered, as a lot of people I talk to have. It's very sad sometimes to know the world we live in. On a happier note, we are living proof that good people DO exist. God bless you and your family. I really enjoy your blog. I wish I could write as good as you to make mine a little more fun to read LOL.

Niki said...

just blogged about your post :)

Alice said...

Dear Bren and Charlotte - Praise God that you met.

This is a heart-wrenching story that has also uplifted us with the power of God's love and guidance shining through.

May God bless you and all your family always.

Copper's Wife said...

Thank you for sharing that story, Bren. It makes my heart ache for all of those children that are still out there.

dayz in and dayz out... said...

What a moving and inspiration story. The way you have told in is so powerful.
I too am caring for a child from a world that we could not even begin to emagine.
I have a renewed streanth and hope by reading your words. How you've shared your thoughts...you have been so REAL! Thank you for your hontsty. This was written for me Bren. Our LORD is so perfect in HIS ways and HIS timing...this was written for me.

dayz in and dayz out... said...

please forgive the spelling in the last post. My fingers and thoughts were not together.
momtogirls5

motherofmany said...

It is astoishning the things they can survive, isn't it?

You know what's worse- I lived 1/2 mile down the road from my kids, and I saw them outside by the road unsupervised (I even stopped once and told my now oldest to go find her mommy cause she shouldn't be by the road), and as a trained foster parent, I didn't call the help line. And now when I hear the stories of what they endured, I know it is partly my fault because I could have rescued them and I didn't.

In Pursuit of His Call said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. I look forward to reading more of this success story, particularly the applicable ways that God is showing you how to provide Charlotte with love. I had a friend who's childhood wasn't all that great and when I met her she had just been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. Well, I thought all she needed was love too but the way I knew how to love was not what this friend needed. Ultimately, she ended up seeing ou frindship in ways that I didn't and then started falsely accusing me of things, leaving these accusations on my answering machine, and was just very manipulative. I didn't know how to deal with the situation so after making amends with her, I stopped contacting her. This short friendship affected the way I meet other women and I get really suspicious when they seem to act like this friend and it's sad to say, but I then avoid desiring a relationship with them. Again, thanks for this post...Now I need to pick up my crying baby. She needs a feeding.

Kim said...

Very touching, Bren, and it explains in more detail some of the things you have mentioned before. Thanks for sharing!

atet said...

Bren, I wish I could say I was shocked or surprised by the depths that Charlotte has endured. But I've heard stories like hers too often to be. But, as always, I am saddened. Being able to bilogically carry a child does not make someone fit to be called a parent. Nope -- for that, you need compassion and love. Both of which you have in abundance. And, you have something more, a williness to share that love with a child who many would have written off at the age of 3. Her smile is testament to the fact that both of you are survivors and successes. No, the road she has to travel will never be easy. Nor will yours, but the rewards are sweeter knowing what you've had to overcome. Blessings on both of you.

Tracey @ozcountryquiltingmum said...

Thanks for reminding me about the important things in life today,she looks very well after your care, hugs, tracey

(Angie) Norththreads: said...

Oh how my heart aches for Charlotte. Thanks for sharing this amazing enduring story of life-blessings to your family!

lindiepindie said...

This was a really touching read. My good friend adopted a sibling group of 4, 2 of whom behave like Charlotte did. It's been a couple of years of a lot of learning and hurt. God bless you on this journey!

Claudia said...

I had a friend in the same situation. They had adopted her brother at birth but she was adopted around 3 or 4 years.
she did all the things you describe including playing a different game with the father. she was very dangerous and would sneak out at night and wonder around the neighborhood.
Sad to say they were not able to help her after 6 years of trying everything. She had to go to an instituation. It was the saddest day of their lives.
God Bless you for keeping her and asking for God's help.

Tazzie said...

Dear sweet Bren, what a gift from God you are. You have given shelter and love to Charlotte, and rescued her from who knows what fate. I just don't have words to express the admiration I have for your strength and compassion.
You are an amazing woman.
*hugs*
Tazzie
:-)

Donetta said...

Be embraced.

Leanne said...

I have come here through SweetMummy's site. Such a heart wrenching and courageously told story. Thank you.

MoonNStarMommy said...

I was told by a therapist that if I didn't change my ways (in his eyes) then my child would kill me in my sleep. Why? Because he get extra love and attention - I have a hard time not bending to him - because he was premature and faught HARD for his life... I was told when I was 4 months pregnant that he would not make it, I'm just purely thankful I can hold him everyday!

(BTW- I found you via Melzie)