Most things will be okay eventually, but not all things will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes, you’ll hold on really hard and realize that there is no choice but to let go.” Cheryl Strayed
What I would like to do is not fill in the gap. Ignore the questions and move on. I’d like to bury the last 12 months under the present, and fake life-long amnesia about that part of my story.
But I can’t.
Trying to hide unprocessed pain from ourselves is like trying to ignore the scent of a decaying, parasite infested carcass. The stench is grotesque, and impossible to ignore. It always ends up infecting the present and makes it stink. So I’ll write, because writing has always been how my heart translates to my mind, because I’m the best person to narrate my story (thankyouverymuch), and because I have learned that a camaraderie of adoptive families (and often their extended families) exists who are quietly journeying what it means to love kids who have been hurt profoundly. The orphans.
These are the parents who deal first hand, day in and day out with the consequences of the abuse of power against abandoned and hurt children. They are the ones who are often internally struggling and exhausted, and externally revered. They are the ones who understand that sometimes love isn’t enough, though our culture doesn’t fully understand this truth. It’s a breeding ground for shame. In fact, I have shamed myself to the max, inflicting invisible blows to my heart over how things have turned out. As if telling myself that I have no business ever being happy again changes what is true. No, the truth is that making myself continue to pay every day doesn’t make anything better for anyone. I dare to hope that my life can be fragrant and beautiful again. Dr. Brene Brown says that “owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we will ever do.”
But it doesn’t always feel brave to tell things that are dark. Things that cast light on the tragedy of humanity rather than make you feel warm, fuzzy, and inspired. Things that make you literally sick in your gut. Things that feel like failure, and don’t turn out how they should. It feels naked to tell this story. Vulnerable. I’m scared that you won’t understand my decisions, but I trust myself to be okay if you don’t, because this is only a small glimpse, and I don’t feel compelled to share every single horrible detail just to justify myself. One thing that I have learned is that it’s really impossible to judge someone else’s decisions unless you have literally walked their path. I have also learned that the ones who have walked your same path, or who have walked along side you while you walk it…they are the ones who can meet you with empathy and understanding.
The last year has been the most heart stricken year of my entire life. I thought that the ending of my marriage was the climax. I knew that my life would be very difficult as a single mom to my emotionally hurt adopted kids, but I had every hope that we would get divorced, co parent, and eventually both find equilibrium.
I don’t want to share details about my divorce because I have never publicly bashed my ex-husband and I’m not going to start, but because it’s relevant, I will say that since the end of last December, I went it alone as far as parenting my kids and in decisions about them.
And from that point, a cacophony of chaos ensued. A mazy, dark mess.
My youngest son (8) spun out of control to the extent that it became physically dangerous to the community (school peers), me, and my oldest son (11). He was involuntarily baker acted twice in two months, my family and friends became scared for my physical and emotional wellbeing and recognised that things were out of hand. The administrators at his school, who had been very compassionate and helpful with him became very concerned for his schoolmates and for my family, and were urging me to seek more specialized help for him. His trauma therapist, and regular therapist felt that we (my son and I) were in immediate danger. I was missing so much work because of things like weekly therapy appointments, weekly psychiatrist appointments, different evaluations, meeting with teachers and administrators, school suspensions, Baker Acts, and calling every resource I could imagine. I had used all of my vacation and sick time towards those efforts, and when I was at work, my days were constantly interrupted with calls. My employer, who supported and did more for me than I could have ever imagined, and way more than was required, lovingly asked me to consider taking a 30-day leave of absence to stabilize my home. They said that above all else, it was very difficult watching me try to shoulder it all by myself while working full-time. I decided to take the leave and started reaching out for additional help in every place that I knew of. I had already, over the course of the last three years, consistently and proactively taken advantage of various forms of counseling for both children, as well as behavioral specialists, trauma therapists, and had twice enlisted the help of a targeted case manager via the state agency that we adopted the boys from. I started to seek a part-time residential treatment center, because as a close friend told me “one hour of therapy a week seems like trying to stop the bleeding from a gaping wound with a band aid.” Literally every facility I found told me that his behaviors were too severe for their facility, or didn’t take his government insurance.
As doors continued to close, my hope diminished. I felt lost in the dark without a guide.
Nearing the end of my 30 days there were still not any good solutions and I began asking his mental health professionals to approve of and help me find full-time residential care for him so that he could receive specialized therapeutic care, and create some safety and stability in my home. I really needed to be able to work again in order financially sustain us.
We needed intervention in the form of a miracle, and literally right at the last moment, hope arrived on the end of my phone. The CEO of an amazing non-profit organization that I had reached out to as a desperate last effort, heard our story and called me back to say that they would step in on behalf of my family. Without their compassion, knowledge, empathy, and resources, I honestly don’t know what would have happened to us.
My youngest son went to stay with a gifted, strong, and amazing woman who has a team and who has made it her life mission to work with children like mine. You might guess that she has also walked my path. With him squared away and receiving help, I thought we would finally be able to have some normalcy. So the next week my leave was up, and I went back to work. My sister had graciously come to me and offered for my oldest son to stay with her family so that I could decompress. I was starting to become depressed and since he truly was always helpful, compliant, honest, and kind, she said he would be no trouble at all. I thankfully agreed, thinking it would be good for him to have some time with his cousins, and for me to get upright again.
Nothing could prepare us for the next sinister blow.
He was there for five days before we found out that he, on multiple occasions, molested one of her four children, and had propositioned two others.
Can we pause here for a moment and breathe together? Because as an aunt, sister, and mother, the molestation of my sweet little 4-year-old niece by my son took the breath from my lungs, the light from my eyes, and broke my already exhausted heart in a million pieces. This is one of the many memories from this year that I fear will always be etched into my heart and mind like a hand print in dry cement.
I’ll never forget the panicked call from my distraught sister telling me what her husband had walked in on my son doing to their daughter. My legs trembling beneath the white dress I was wearing for my work event, the dryness in my mouth, the numbness in my hands, the warm fear in my cheeks as my mind registered what she was saying. I remember asking her to contact the police, which she had already done, and telling her I was on my way. I called my therapist and then a close friend on the ride to their home, because I just couldn’t be alone with the weight of what was happening.
As I pulled onto my sister’s road and neared her house, I felt dread. Her home, a place so familiar to me where we gathered as family so many times, where I sat with her sipping coffee and sharing laughs, suddenly felt like the scene of our own private nightmare. I remember seeing my son in the back of my mom’s car with his head in his hands, realizing in that instant that I never knew the depth of his trauma, and simultaneously feeling vomit well up in my throat. I pushed it down, swallowing hard, trying my damnedest to beat disgust down with empathy. And then? My heart burned hot with anger towards him every time my eyes beheld my beautiful, innocent niece or my brokenhearted sister. I won’t forget my sweet mom’s shoulders shaking as she silently sobbed in the front seat. She, like the rest of my family had accepted, encouraged, freely loved, and nurtured my boys with all of their hearts.
In that moment, I felt like it was all my fault. And I felt bamboozled. My whole family did.
I’ll never forget the police in the driveway, or hugging my sister tight. Wishing I could turn back the clock and take it all away. Apologizing over and over to my brother-in-law, and knowing that my words had absolutely no impact given the acts done to his little girl. I’ll never forget the ride to the police station, with my son in the back seat of my car. Dumbfounded about what to say, but knowing that whatever he received from me in that moment would leave a mark for better or worse. I asked myself what I wanted him to remember.
So I turned around, and told him the truth. I cried as I told him that I felt sad and angry about what he did. I told him that children don’t typically do this unless its been done to them by someone also. I pleaded with him to tell me who did it to him. I also told him that this didn’t have end his story. That he could choose differently and not let this define his life, but only if he chose to deal honestly with his own abuse. I remember telling him that there was nothing unforgivable. I tried to say the right things but my stomach turned with sick each time my mind went to my sister and her family. I won’t forget sitting in the interview room at the detective office as my son admitted to what he had done to my niece…and learning that there were other victims.
I’ll never forget vaguely recognizing that I still needed to figure out dinner after the interview, pulling through the Chick-fil-A drive through on the way home, feeling like I was very much on a different planet than the cheery sounding person at the drive thru window. My mind was racing about how to behave towards the person in my backseat, I recognized that this was way over my head, and I was scared, if I am honest, about being in my house alone with him.
I’ll never forget learning two days later, that my youngest was sodomized by my oldest. I had to ask the mental health professional explaining this news to me what the word “sodomizing,” actually meant. I have never experienced such shock or grief as I did in that moment of understanding. When my youngest was out of the house, my oldest needed a new victim…enter my niece. At once, so many things made sense about the behavior of my little boy. I thought of his charming face, and big brown eyes enduring rape and molestation at the hand of his older brother. Too scared to speak out. No wonder he hated his brother so passionately. I remember wondering why, in all the times I asked if he had been hurt in that way…why didn’t he just tell me?
At this time, I don’t want to discuss where my kids are in any detail, or my parental status. I hope you’ll be satisfied with understanding that they are not in foster care again, they are both safe, cared for, and receiving quality help from qualified professionals who are helping to heal their hurts.
If there is a silver lining, it’s that my youngest is no longer a target, enduring rape as his version of normal. That my oldest was caught by my brother-in-law so soon, preventing additional abuse to my sister’s family. That knowing what I now know of my oldest, who presented as a very compliant, honest, innocent, and fun-loving child, I’m thankful that many children have been saved from his sexual violence. I’m thankfully that he has opportunity for healing for himself. Maybe his future will be different. I am thankful for the family that I have, and their unconditional love and support, which came at a high price for them too.
These days, I’m trying to tell Should’ve, Could’ve, and Would’ve to take a hike. There are so many thoughts I have about how this might have played out differently, signs that I couldn’t have understood, things I wish I could change or take away, but I can’t. I’m still grieving all of the loss, as is the rest of my family, but I’m not going to feel badly anymore about my physical or emotional limitations. It’s time to heal.