March 22, 2014

The Long Road of Healing

Don’t cry little one.  Take my hand.  Let us walk against the wind together.  Let me be the hand that guides you back to hope.  Back to love. – source unknown

Sometimes I forget.  I forget the years of his life that he spent alone.  Trapped in a crib that was less like a bed and more like a cage.  No matter how much he cried, there was no one to comfort him or hold him or rock him to sleep.  And sleep was rare for him, not only because of the constant pain caused by his medical condition, but because of the strangers who came in his room, coming in at all hours of the day and night.  Strangers who would do painful, excruciating things to his frail body.  He would scream and wail, begging them to stop, but they only restrained him more firmly, pinning down his arms and legs so that he could not escape their torment.  Sometimes I forget the horrible trauma that this child has experienced.

He may have no specific memories of those early years.  He would never be able to articulate now what happened to him, or describe why, even though it’s been several years, he continues to have frequent nightmares and unexplained anxiety.  Why he doesn’t want his Mama out of his sight for even a second.  Why hasn’t he gotten over it yet?  He has been rescued from that former life, and theoretically he should be living happily every in the safety and security of his loving family. 

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.  His body remembers.  His cells have not forgotten.  His soul bears the invisible scars of being abandoned.  The excruciating physical pain.  The utter helplessness.

Is it any wonder that he is plagued by fear?  That unfamiliar situations cause him stress? That he is hyper-alert to his surroundings at all times and doesn’t tolerate surprises or unexpected changes to his routine?   Even being hugged too tightly or being pinned during a tickle fight causes terrified shrieking.  The uncertainty and insecurity, the hidden wounds that are still healing, have taken a terrible toll on his behavior.  The behavior that everyone can see.

I wish I could explain to people who know him - the Sunday School teacher, the music instructor, the family friends, the relatives who come to visit, even the strangers in public who stare at his tantrums - I wish I could describe how far he has come.  How I want to say:

You didn’t know him then.  You simply cannot imagine how much progress he has made!  If I could, I would show you the “before” and “after” pictures, so that you could understand what a miracle his life is.  How thankful I am that he is even alive!

As it is, I cringe when you see his misconduct and hysterics.  When you are around him for even a short amount of time, I already know what you are thinking.  Or if you are brave enough, what you are going to say. . .

You really need to get your son under control.

If I were his parent, I certainly wouldn’t let him get away with acting that way.

What that child really needs is a spanking! (Or if you are politically correct, you would say that he needs a time-out, consequences, or 1-2-3 magic).

Perhaps I should just preempt the comments, and I can just hand you a checklist that says,

This child is (please check all that apply):
o       Acting unruly
o       Being uncooperative
o       Showing aggression
o       Whining
o       Screaming
o       all of the above”

Trust me, I know.  You have just spent a few minutes with him, but I live with him.  Every single day and night.  I am fully aware that his behavior, his unexpected outbursts and screaming and obstinacy can be difficult to manage.  Please trust me when I say that I am doing the best I can.  I am working on it.

Please understand that the road to healing can be a long one.  Long and frustrating and isolating.  Three steps forward and then two steps back.  It may takes years, or perhaps even a lifetime.  While I can’t make excuses for a disobedient and ill-behaved child (“admonish the unruly.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:14), I need to remember that traditional discipline isn’t necessarily helpful.  Would I chastise an injured soldier for limping?  Would I punish a crime victim for crying?  For being afraid of the dark?  Of course not!  So why would I even think of spanking/penalizing/disciplining this hurting child?  A child whose scars, the pain I cannot see and sometimes forget, are very much real?

There is nothing I can do to undo the damage that has been done.  Nothing I can give him to ease the pain.  So what can I do?  How can I reach this hurting child?  How can I take his hand and guide him down the road of healing?

Encourage the fainthearted. – 1 Thessalonians 5:14

PRAISE.  What better way to encourage his wounded heart than offering praise at every opportunity?  Yes, I will admit that he needs a lot of training.  He has many unacceptable behaviors that need to be redirected and changed.  But there are also hundreds of moments in each day when his God-given personality, his thoughtful character and charming temperament shine through.  When he shares a toy, unprompted, with his younger sibling.  When he remembers to say “please” and “thank you” for his handful of crackers.  When he cleans his room without complaining.  When he makes me laugh, gives me a spontaneous hug, says, “I love you, Mama.”  I need to remind him over and over again how special he is.  How lucky I am to have such a wonderful son.

POWER.  Another way to help heal the trauma, the deep wounds of being helpless and having no control in the midst of terrifying circumstances, is to give him some power over some of his decisions. Why not let him choose which shirt to wear, what to eat for breakfast, which chore to finish first?  He may not like going to sleep by himself, but he can choose which stuffed animals to cuddle with.   Which book he wants me to read.  Whether he wants the door open or closed.  As much as possible, I want to build up his courage and confidence by giving him the power to choose.

Help the weak. - 1 Thessalonians 5:14

PREDICTABILITY.  His spirit is weak.  He struggles with so many fears and insecurities.  Because of his painful past, the enduring of so many abrupt changes and unexpected pain, he craves predictability.  He wants to know what to expect.  He will ask me a thousand times each day, “what’s next?”  And every time, I will answer him.  Even at his young age, he loves lists.  When we are running errands:  bank, post office, library, market, home.  When we are settling in for the evening:  bath, lotion, pajamas, teeth, book, pray.  In that order.  He constantly checks the little calendar I keep on the refrigerator, counting off the days until his next doctor’s appointment, church on Sunday, a visit from a friend.  Whenever possible, I try to provide a routine, a consistent, reliable structure to our days. 

 Be patient with everyone. – 1 Thessalonians 5:14

PATIENCE.  One of the greatest gifts I can give him is patience.  Understanding that he may never be as courageous and adventurous as other children.  Knowing that with every doctor’s appointment or painful medical procedure, with every new situation, with every change in our routine, he will most likely regress, undoing any progress he had made.  And when that happens, we will begin again.  I can let him know that I will patiently walk this path with him, even when there are setbacks.  That I will never stop loving him.  That I will never lose hope that he will one day be whole.  That together we will successfully navigate the long road of healing.

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