Thursday, January 26, 2012

Letting It Go....

Things have been better with Ruslan.  I was going to write a post about his general progress, but just writing about his emotional state has taken so long, I’ll get to the rest later. 

In the fall, when I posted about our problems with Ruslan, another mom told me that her Ukranian daughter had been diagnosed with PTSD and was on Zoloft.  I am well aware of the wonders of medication, since I’ve seen Zoloft, Valium and Seroquel at work on different occasions in my little world.  We strongly considered meds, but since Ruslan had been showing steady improvement (and since the local pediatric psychiatrists do not take our insurance and their therapy is $215 per session) we decided that it might be better to wait.  

Besides, I’ve taken friends and family to therapy over the years and seen how helpful it can be, maybe meds wouldn’t be necessary??  I was discussing therapy with a psychiatrist once, trying to understand how/why therapy helps with something like PTSD.  He finally said to me, “The bottom line is that if a person endures trauma, for some reason they are much better off if they are able to face it and almost re-live it by talking it out, but the key to therapy is that they are re-living it in a safe place.”  He said more than that, but that was the gist of his point.  

Luckily, Ruslan loves to talk so after that PTSD connection, I thought I would try to get him to talk about Ukraine.  I told him one night that if he has a memory about Ukraine, I wanted him to talk to me about it because I want to know about his life there.  I expected him to talk about his surgery, since what could be more traumatic than waking up from tendon-lengthening surgery, in a cast and with no pain medication?  Instead, he immediately started to talk about a particular care giver in the orphanage that he didn’t like.  He said she used to hit him on the bottoms of his feet and pull his hair.  This sounded traumatic enough to me but the memory didn’t seem to phase him, he was really matter of fact about it.  So, I asked him if anything else happened and he started to cry and said she locked him in a closet.  That, apparently, is where the bulk of the trauma lay.  He cried for a good long time and kept telling me over and over again that she locked him in a closet.  

Now, before you get too down on Ukranians, it’s only fair to note that, um,  ….I understand.  While I would obviously NEVER lock any child in any closet for any reason, there have been times in the past year that similar ideas have crossed my mind.  Mentally/Emotionally disturbed children are fantastically annoying and at times I have put Ruslan in his bedroom and closed the door, just because I knew I needed to get away from him or I would explode.  Ruslan didn’t have his own room in Ukraine so, I'm not sure if there were all that many convenient places to let him scream things out.  While again, locking a child in a closet in inexcusable on every level, I do understand the necessity of getting away from him at certain points.  

Anyway, back to America.  I had pulled Ruslan onto my lap when he started crying/screaming and I was hugging him tight, thinking that if he just got his crying out, things would be OK.  Well, he cried for a good long time and it was getting rough.  Ruslan gets really tight when he cries and he screams LOUDLY.  Since his body is so stiff, his mouth ends up right at your ear, unless you completely turn him away from you, which is not very comforting.  Well, he kept screaming, “They lock me in a closet! They lock me in a closet!”  So, I quieted him down enough to tell him, “Ruslan, you are not in Ukraine any more.  You are home and everyone loves you here and we would never, never lock you in a closet.”  Now, I thought that was pretty good, but believe me, it was useless.  He quieted down for maybe three seconds and then he went right back into his mantra, still crying, still tight and still very, very angry.  

I wasn’t sure what to do because rather than creating a safe environment that would lead to the ultimate cure-all like the good doctor said, I was in a situation that was getting worse and worse by the minute.  I had the incredible foresight to start this conversation at bedtime, so all the other kids were upstairs, well within ear shot.  They were starting to peek their heads into the room, one by one, trying to figure out what was going on.  I was thinking that I might have to put him down and just let him cry it out and wondering if the rest of the family was going to have PTSD by the end of this when finally, Ruslan changed his mantra and went from, “They lock me in a closet! They lock me in a closet!” to, “WHY MOM?  WHY THEY DO THAT?  WHY? WHY?”  

I finally stumbled on what he needed to hear and told him, “Ruslan, it was WRONG of them to lock you in a closet.”  He actually stopped crying when I said this, and looked at me with full attention, so I went on and said, “It was very wrong of them to lock you or any other child in a closet and I’m SO SORRY that happened to you.  If Mommy or Daddy had been there, we would have done everything we could to stop it and we would have told those people in Ukraine that it is wrong to lock children in a closet and that they should say, ‘Sorry Ruslan,’ for the way that they treated you.”  Thank God, that was the last of the crying.  His body relaxed (more or less), he put his head against my shoulder and let out a deep sigh.
Once again, I came to see a little more of the jumbled emotional mass that resides inside my boy.  He was sad and angry, but he wasn’t really sure that his feelings were valid.  Since he wasn’t sure whether he deserved the abuse or was suffering injustice, I suspect he was feeling the anguish of both.  

He took a few minutes to process the whole thing and interpret it on an eight year old level (Daddy, the good guy, comes rushing into the orphanage and beats up all the care-givers and tells them, “NO, NO!  You say, ‘SORRY Ruslan!’”) and we went through a few key points over again, but after a few minutes, he was visibly lighter and I felt we had made progress.  

For several weeks over the fall, that was our drill.  We discussed his memories from the orphanage, his biological parents, his surgery, his Cerebral Palsy, his small size, his walker and on and on to infinity.  After that first day, we fell into a pattern and I got the clue that what he really needed to hear was: what happened was wrong (or very sad), he is right to feel angry or sad about it, Mommy is so sorry that these things happened, God put Ruslan in a safe place now and Mommy and Daddy are here to help/protect Ruslan.  We seem to have to get through all five points before he will really relax and let things go, but to everyone’s relief,  it is possible for him to get there.  

At first it was every few days, then once a week, then twice a month and by Christmas, he had gotten enough of it out that he could reasonably function.  I say this because at some point about mid-December I sent him to time out and rather than screaming in protest and then crying in frustration, he simply went.  He crawled over to the time out chair, sat down and when the egg timer was done, he told me what he did wrong, apologized, and then went back to his toys.  …Glory be to God in the Highest and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men!

We had a few rough days over Christmas, but with travelling, no routine and almost daily excitement/stimulation, we were expecting a few bumps.  Now that we are back into our routine, everyone can see progress.  

I finally got the ultimate affirmation yesterday, January 25, 2012 from Reilly, my eleven year old.  Whenever things were really falling apart with Ruslan or Will, she would often ask me, “Mom, will our family ever be normal again?”  This broke my heart.  I used to tell her, “Yes, our family will be normal again. We’re just going through some changes,” etc.  But, sometime around mid-summer, I decided we’d better face the truth.  I finally told her, “No, our family will probably not ever be the same as it was before we got Will and Ruslan, but that doesn’t mean it will be terrible.  It’s just different.” Then we talked about the changes that happened in our family and how it was worth it to have the boys.  It took a few minutes during that conversation for her to really grasp what I was saying and that life would still be OK, but she did get it, and she hasn’t asked me that question again, probably because the answer was now more depressing than the question.  

However, last night our family had a reasonably enjoyable dinner.  Everyone was chatting amiably, Ruslan did not talk every ten seconds, Bill did not lose his temper with Ruslan for talking every ten seconds, I did not glare at Bill for losing his temper, and the dishes of vegetables did not morph into a fatted ox (see Proverbs 15:17).   

Toward the end of dinner, Reilly said in front of everyone, “Mom, you were wrong about our family.”  So, I gave her my standard answer.  “Don’t be silly.  I am never wrong.”  Reilly, God bless her, smiled and said, “You said our family would never be normal again.  But we are back to normal now.  You were wrong Mom.”  

Of course, my immediate thought was that this hardly matters, since we are about to screw everything all up again anyway, and adopt two more girls, I’m certain to come out right in the end.  But, I let it go. 

* Proverbs 15:17  Better is a dish of vegetables where love is, than a fattened ox served with hatred.  


  1. Thanks Erin! I'm always squeamish about posting when there's not much to laugh about, so I can't believe this could be anyone's favorite but I'm glad you liked it. FYI, my favorite post is from way back on Oct 16, 2010 and according to my stats, it wasn't that remarkable. This is how I can write these serious posts with confidence. It's always better when I don't trust my instincts.

    1. I'll explain further....this post screams healing to me. It isn't only Ruslan who needed healing in your family and I love seeing everyone start to heal and move forward. I love that Ruslan is safe and he can be secure in knowing that the horrors of the past are over, I love that your family is feeling "normal" again, and I LOVE that you are prepared to dive in again with 2 more girls. There is much to celebrate in this post even if there isn't much to laugh about. And I'll admit that I'm not a psychologist myself but there isn't always one right way to do things and I think you've done a fantastic job of helping Rulsan to heal.

  2. I still have a lump as big a a grapefruit in my throat and tears running down my face. Oh poor Ruslan and all the others that were there and are still there. The original 'special needs' group have all been adopted; Praise God. But there are more children, and more are coming. Oh how it angers me but I need to place it in God's hands. I so thank God Ruslan is safe in your home!There is so much work ahead of us if we are going to change the behaviors of the careworkers!!!!Now for sure I iknow I have to go back!!Give Ruslan an extra big hug from me!!

  3. And did I interpret your last statement correctly? You are adopting 2 more girls???? Details please and congratulations!!!

  4. Makes me wonder what's locked up in Seth's little head. Maybe one day, we'll learn. Poor Ruslan. And thank goodness for inspiration and the ability to say the right words at the right time.

  5. This is a really encouraging update about Ruslan! It sounds like some healing is starting to take place there. I'm sure it's a long road ahead but what a great start!

  6. Marnie, Way to go to persevere through the tough times and love when it is hard so that a heart can be changed. Inspiring to me! I needed that encouragement this week!

  7. I highly recommend Thom Gardeners "Healing the Wounded Heart" and the teachings of Restoring the Foundations (Chester & Betsy Kylstra). Thom teaches to first allow God to show a safe place (out of Scripture or out of a favorite memory) and then start the memory work as "painting a picture" of a memory from that safe place. When the memory gets too painful, one can return to the safe place and create some distance. Not everyone is ready to encounter the pain of a specific memory, but the Holy Spirit should always be invited to come and speak the Truth, and He always will! Otherwise you will become an idol in Ruslan's life, because you or Bill become the savior. And always, always, have him forgive - that takes the right of the enemy to torment him.