Friday, June 5, 2015

Trauma-Informed Care for Parents

Trauma-informed care is all the buzz, and it should be - for mental health professionals, health care employees, child welfare workers, those in the justice system, and educators.  We need to understand that complex trauma is real and has significant consequences for its victims in terms of brain development as well as cognitive, social, emotional, and moral development too.  Its impact can reach into adulthood, and the effects on health outcomes aren't pretty to say the least.  In a nut shell, stress kills.  And those difficult behaviors that traumatized youth may display?  Well, we aren't going to punish, threaten, or reward them out of them when they are rooted in the back-brain stress response system of fight, flight, or freeze.  Any healing happens in relationships - in connecting with and being with others who provide safety - both physical and psychological safety.  It takes time, lots of time, but time alone is no cure.

I couldn't be more hopeful about the conversations and potential changes that may come from making sure our professionals and systems are truly "trauma-informed." Sometimes a little information can do more harm than good though, and even the experts may miss the mark.

I think this is especially the case when it comes to being trauma-informed with parents.  This is because we, as parents of deeply hurt children and teens, are often traumatized too.  And by trauma, I don't necessarily mean vicarious trauma - the trauma that comes from bearing witness to the stories of our wounded loved ones.  Many of us have experienced vicarious trauma - the kind that eats at your soul after intense therapy appointments where your child crawls in your arms and expresses raw pain from years of abuse in the biological home - those times when you hold your little one, knowing you can't protect her from what someone else already did.  Her tears and your tears melt together.  The ache lasts long after the tears dry.  The anger is heavy.  Thoughts of revenge creep in and linger with no outlet.  Bearing witness and the vicarious trauma that goes with it?  Check.  I've got it, and many other parents do too.

That's not the type of trauma this post is about.  I'm talking about the trauma that many of us as therapeutic parents experience - the kind that comes after years of rejection and rage where your child kicks, screams, claws, bites, and hits, causing direct injury to us.  It's what makes me flashback to the night my child cut my head open with a candlestick every time I see blood.  Every single time.  It's the kind of trauma that led me to jump and scream when a colleague innocently threw a new toy my way during a meeting, and it took me hours, I mean that literally, to calm down my racing heart and focus my frenzied mind.  It's waking up in the middle of the night after hearing something and feeling like my child is coming into my bedroom to kill me in my sleep as she threatened to do - even though she's out of state in a treatment program and has been there over two years.  I was and continue to be traumatized by my child.  Frankly, it's still hard for me to grasp how I, as an adult, can be traumatized by a child.  Whether I like it or not, it's true.  I know I am not alone.

With our kids, we know the importance of distinguishing the CAN'Ts from the WON'Ts.  It's just as important when understanding traumatized parents.  For example...

I CAN'T see my child anymore without experiencing significant distress.

I CAN'T stay as regulated as I used to when she escalates and may even dissociate.

I CAN'T quickly bounce back to play a game during a visit after my child takes a break with staff and calms down when there has been no acknowledgement of her minutes ago threatening behavior.

I CAN'T put 100% of my focus on what is best for my girl when I am in need of help and support too.

I WON'T allow her trauma (or anyone else's) to be an excuse for traumatizing others.

These CAN'Ts are a direct result of the trauma I have experienced while in relationship with my deeply wounded child.  Parenting my girl has changed me.  I don't like it; not one bit.  I beat myself up because of it sometimes.  But just like we can't punish, threaten, or scare traumatized children out of where they are, shaming me for where I am will not shift me either

Instead, I need to ask the professionals working with us to please see me.  Please believe me.  Please be compassionate and withhold judgement.  I beg you to offer me, the parent of a traumatized girl, the same top-notch trauma-informed care you are offering my child.  She needs me in order to feel safe, and for her to get the best of me, I need you to help make sure I am safe and that I feel safe too.  Many other parents need this as well.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Being a Tourist at Niagra Falls

I really am not sure why I'm about to write about what I'm going to write about.  Maybe it's jut something I feel like I can offer after this crazy ride - something that at times can help all of us.  I struggled a bit with what to call this - emotional leakage, emotional contagion, staying off the escalator?!?!  I landed on, well, you can see for yourself.  :-)

I've never been to Niagra Falls, maybe this will prompt me to start a bucket list and make a bullet for that very trip.  I dunno.  I've just heard stories of people hopping in a barrel and going over the Falls.  That seems incredibly stupid to me, and I'm not ever going to do that.  If I go, I'm going to stay behind the guard rail and watch the awesomeness.  Easy enough right?!?!

When it comes to emotions, though, it's not always so easy to stay behind the guard rail, but we need to.  Just because another person is escalating doesn't mean we have to jump in and join them.  Just because someone I care about is mad, does that mean I have to join in and be angry too?  Does it mean I need to rescue them somehow because I'm uncomfortable with the emotion?  Honestly, I'm pretty darn good at this - staying calm I mean and letting the other "be" where they are.  It's what helps me work with tough kids, and it helped me survive a tough kid at home.  I see other people struggle with this though, and after my tough kid hurt me so many times, it became tougher for me to do it with her too.  I'm working at getting back there again though - to my place of inner calm (different from dissociation so I'm told) with her - no matter what big emotion she is riding out for the moment.

I reminded Little Turtle of this idea the other day - encouraging her to try it on for herself.  I asked her to remember the time when we met her sister at Pizza Hut and her sister was really upset.  She was angry.  She was defiant.  There was a throwing of a shoe at one point.  (All things my girl acted out plenty of times herself during these visits, but on this particular day, she stayed behind the guard rail with my vigilance and nearly constant prompting).  Sister started hurling insults at Little Turtle, and she made me so proud because she said, "You may hate me, but I love you." 

If we can stay regulated even when the other isn't, we have an opportunity to be present with them - to truly hear them and be with them even in their moments of big emotion.  When we sit with someone in their anger, we let them see that we accept them - all of them - the good parts and the nasty parts.  Now, that's not to suggest that we should put up with abusive behavior - not saying that at all.  Emotion doesn't equal abuse though.  It's easy for those lines to get blurred I think - for all of us - kids included.

So here's to accepting emotion without abuse.  Here's to being present.  Here's to the kid saying she wants all calls through therapist!  I'll take it.  The ironic part is that I was staying behind the guard rail in our calls, but that's why she doesn't like it.  She wants to tangle; I'm not giving it to her, and for whatever reason, that is ticking her off right now.  Well, it's not for "whatever reason."  It's because she doesn't feel in control of me, and that's a good thing.  She's riding the Falls, but that is a barrel I'm not jumping in!

How do you stay calm (and thus, mindful) when others are escalating?  Does your calm ever help the other calm too?  What triggers you to jump into the barrel with both feet and no regrets (at least until later)?!?!

P. S. The visit was rough, rough, rough.  Mommy couldn't find the guard rail.  I looked calm - really calm, but I dissociated to get through yet another highly disturbing and intimidating Cracker Barrel experience.  Let's just say I won't be having chicken and dumplings again for a long time!  Sigh!

Monday, December 29, 2014


Triggers - I hate the blasted things.

I joke with my trauma mama friends that due to all this stress we are bound to lose our minds. Picture it - me in the home (likely being tended to or not by perhaps an orderly named Little Turtle) once Mommy has completely lost her mind.  I may not remember my name or the fact that I hate reality TV (except for "The Duggars" or "Sisterwives" or especially "The Little Couple"), but those bleepity-bleep triggers will remain!

Oh, did you think I was talking about the kid's triggers?  Surprise!  Cause, um, no...

There I will be sitting in the day room minding my p's and q's until someone comes in close with an offer about soup. I won't even remember why, but I'll perhaps throw that soup across the room.  Because ya know LT once did that to me when I had the audacity to choose the soup she likes instead of the one she doesn't for lunch. A hospital stay later, and there will be no Campbell's choice for geriatric Jen.  

Or, what about pineapple?  Seems safe enough doesn't it?  Maybe, unless you awoke to the crazy kid standing over you eating pineapple out of a can with a nail.  Then not so much.  I can hear the phone call now. "Poor old Jen truly has lost it. There was pineapple on her plate and she shattered the dish on the floor. Obviously she doesn't understand what she's doing."  True dat, but that doesn't mean it didn't make complete sense!

And we can't forget "Happy Feet."  Hopefully they don't show cartoons in the memory unit because with that, I may be ramming my wheel chair into others' all while ranting and raving that people are a bunch of FBA's (f'in b**** a**es).  It will sound like nonsense, but of course, it's far from it!

Hmmm, as much as losing my cognitive capacities scares me and leads me to settle on eating whatever I want whenever I want it so that my body doesn't "linger" once my mind is gone, there is something liberating about the idea of my own turn to uncork without abandon, but if I'm truly going to enjoy it, maybe I should start while I can savor the moment (and again later upon recollection)!  

may have a prime opportunity starting in less than 48 hours. A visit awaits, and since I jinxed it with my last post about progress this and progress that, Little Turtle is high on the TUDE scale and low on the giving a rip about anybody else's perspective continuum.  May prove to buckets of fun!

Needless to say, I'm taking "Frozen" and crossing my fingers that it doesn't result in a future trigger for me because I can't afford going back brain at the school talent show this year when the umpteenth tween sings "Let it go!"

What triggers will haunt you in the home one day?