This blog is my place to vent and share resources with other parents of children of trauma. I try to be open and honest about my feelings in order to help others know they are not alone. Therapeutic parenting of adopted teenagers with RAD and other severe mental illnesses and issues (plus "neurotypical" teens) , is not easy, and there are time when I say what I feel... at the moment. We're all human!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Influential people

In an earlier post I mentioned that all my life I've had friends / family/ people who've been influential in my life. Sometimes for the worse, but most of the time for the better. Most of these people were in my life for just a short time, but I took something away from the relationship that made me a better person.

My outgoing friend Stephanie in high school was a good example of this. At the time I was dealing with depression and if left alone would have curled up into a book and disappeared. She would drag me out to party and hang out. I was not a very hands-on person, while she was a very physically affectionate person, always greeting with a hug, putting her hand on people's arms when she talked. I wanted to be more like her, so I forced myself to imitate her until I finally became comfortable as an extrovert and with physical affection.

There was the friend in college who always seemed to have something bad happen to him through "no fault of his own" - I was his rescuer.

His girlfriend back home made multiple suicidal attempts and she always planned it so he would be the one to rescue her. When he went off to college (where I met him), she was in a psychiatric hospital. He didn't want to break up with her while she was "down," but I convinced him it was better while she was surrounded by professionals then later. Then she told him she was pregnant with his child, and wanted an abortion. He took a bus to their small town to try to convince her to give him the child. He'd checked out books (with my library card) about raising babies (which never got returned). He was unable to convince her so ended up giving her all his money for the abortion. When he got back in town on the bus, at 1am, guess who went to pick him up. When we arrived at his apartment, the uncle he was living with had put all his stuff on the front porch (apparently he had forgotten to tell the uncle he was leaving, or they'd had a fight, I don't know). So he ended up crashing with my roommate and I. He was too proud to accept food from us. Then he got hit by a car while biking to work. When he collapsed at work, I was the one to take him to the hospital - only to find out he'd collapsed from lack of food, not injuries from the accident. On the way back to the apartment, he refused my offer of a sandwich... This was all, of course, during mid-terms.
He taught me not to rescue someone to the total detriment of myself.

I didn't learn to stop rescuing until much later in my life. My mom was a big rescuer, and I thought that made you a good person. I didn't know the difference between helping people and rescuing them. In Social Work, I didn't understand the professors who lectured that we were only to help people with what they asked for - within the limits of our job description - I thought the job of a SWer should be to "fix" the real problem.

(ex. client's request -finding an apartment. What I thought really needed fixing - the raging alcoholism that was keeping him from holding a job.).

My brother-in-law taught me that difference, and I finally figured out the concept of learned helplessness from him, when I tried to fix it all for him. He was a bottomless pit of need that no one could fix, but it took me years to figure this out and stop trying to rescue him. He didn't want fixing anyway, it was so much easier to skate through life. He ended up in jail because it was easier to admit to guilt than to defend himself (he didn't actually do it). We tried to help him through college (we paid for it, signed him up for classes, and he flunked out of several different schools before he gave up), arranged for him to get tested for learning disabilities and ADHD (never bothered to go to the testing), and I parented his son (I ended up being my 2 year old nephew's primary caregiver for the 6 weeks he visited us one Summer). My brother-in-law capitalized on my husband's feelings of guilt for having a good-paying job that allowed him a few luxuries. NOTHING was ever my brother-in-law's fault.

Then there was "Whatsisname." The guy I almost married. The one who was so like my father that he gave my mom the heebie jeebies. From him I leaned about verbal abuse. I didn't think it was abuse if the perpetrator was only pointing out your real faults. He never hit me. He never made me cry. All he did was try to "help" me fix things I didn't like about myself either, usually by pointing them out to me, repeatedly.

  • He pointed out that I was gaining some weight (usually by pointing out my "cottage cheese" thighs and skinny girls) - this was true and bothered me too. I was on an antidepressant that increased appetite, but hadn't been told about this side effect until I'd gained quite a bit of weight. I remember complaining to my dad about this once. He "reassured" me that it was understandable for a young man to want his girlfriend to look nice. (In other words, my dad agreed with him).

  • He pointed out that I wasn't getting a "real degree." He was getting an engineering degree, while I was only getting a Masters in Social Work. Since I'd just graduated with a psychology degree that I couldn't figure out what to do with (met a guy with a great job in the Service department of Sears with a BA in Psych, but that didn't seem like a good fit), this was a really big concern for me too.

  • I was going to turn out just like my hypochondriac mom if I didn't "pull myself up by my bootstraps" like he did when he suffered a little depression. My mom was hypoglycemic, bipolar, had high cholesterol and suffered from panic attacks. One of the medications she was taking increased her appetite too so she was up to a size 24/26 (we were both on this same med, but my mom never questioned doctors so she'd been on it for years). Her meds were not stabilized so she slept 18 hours a day! This scared the HECK out of me. I was terrified I would become like my mom so I was willing to accept his "constructive criticism."

Luckily I had a hyper critical roommate about this time who taught me to avoid people who make me feel bad about myself. So I finally managed to end the relationship.

I had some other boyfriends who helped me feel better about myself. Who liked my laugh, my curves, my personality (once I finally decided on one instead of constantly remaking myself to make other's happy).

When I was finally ready to accept him, Hubby came into my life. He helped me work on one of my biggest issues of all. My "attachment disorder," my fear of men, my lack of trust, my disbelief that men were capable of staying and caring. No matter how hard I pushed him away, he stayed; he cared; he was faithful; he never criticized (even when I set him up - "Look at that girl. She's so skinny. Do you think I could look more like her?); he respected me; he loved me; he thought I was was a good person. It still took years. As Julia Roberts said in Pretty Woman:

"It's easier to believe the bad stuff."
Two years after we were married, I think I finally believed that he loved me, and was able to trust him with my heart and love him too. I still work on this often.

When Hubby and I met, I was an atheist. I'd been agnostic, but was forced to choose by my dad's side of the family. I chose atheism. As I finally learned to trust a man, so did I finally learn to trust in God. This has gone slower than believing in Hubby, because I didn't feel God right there with me, proving that he loved me, proving that he cared, and proving that he was effecting my life.

I began wanting to believe in God and many people influenced me. The book A Case for Faith, had a huge impact on me. I'm still a Doubting Thomas, and it's taken years of Godincidences for me to believe that life isn't just a random chaos.

The most influential people of all?

My children. For these "little" people I want to strive to be a better person, a role model, a teacher. They have taught me more than I can list on this page. Because of them I have developed a huge support group and learned to advocate. I have learned more about myself and I have learned that I need God in my life. Not just want him, not just "Ooh, don't want to go to the bad place," or "I'll pray that God will help me," but NEED him in my life.

Before having kids I thought I was a pretty together person. After having kids I discovered that I had a lot of issues shoved under the bed, hiding under junk in the closets, and locked in boxes. Because of the kids I'm finding myself having to pull those issues out, dust them off, and actually deal with them instead of just repressing/ignoring/ denying their existence.

I finally discovered I can't do this on my own. I need support, but not just from my friends and family. They have their own lives, their own challenges, and if they continually rescue me, the learned helplessness that I know now is bad for others - becomes my burden.

All of my challenges are not punishments from God for my sins, but instead are daily reminders, helping me realize that I need God in my life, he's the biggest supporter of all. So I try to think of the challenges as exercises building my strength so I can grow to be what God knows I can be!

Because of my past, I can empathize with and help my kids with their future.

Because of my kids, I actually have a future.

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