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  • Writer's pictureAdrea Tilford

Nurturing the Nervous System on World Adoption Day

This World Adoption Day post is coming to you a day late. For one, I didn't realize it was World Adoption Day until the actual day itself because let's be honest - it's almost impossible to keep track of special days anymore. I'll try to remember this one for the future. Secondly, I found myself battling some feelings of despair and discouragement on Tuesday. Heaviness. I couldn't figure it out. Was it the looming election? Heaviness in the air that my sensitive soul couldn't shake? Maybe.

I'm taking a class through my school, Bruce Perry's NeuroSequentialModel of Education. We have to read The Boy who was Raised as a Dog. I've avoided reading that book for many years. I wasn't sure I had the capacity for the stories I knew it held. Now, for this class, I read it. Thankfully the pacing is slow. Tuesday afternoon I started in on chapter two. PTSD - a revisit to very real reality in my world. In 2018, an event in our lives triggered the onset of PTSD for me.

PTSD is a psychological injury. In the book, Perry discusses how children who disassociate as a primary stress reaction are often more likely to develop PTSD. That's me. He shares this information in other sources and it wasn't the first time I heard it, but the section was enough to help my brain engage and start to connect some dots for the heaviness I was hauling around that day. And for why it continued to feel like rocks were being added my invisible backpack as each hour passed.

Yesterday morning, I spent time in prayer. November 9 the final day of praying the Novena of Surrender to Jesus in November. Day 9 talks about suffering. I lifted up that heavy feeling that did not dissipate in my sleep. Then I processed the upcoming days with Sam in our weekly family check in. And the dots began to connect.

1. November 8 was the day of the event that began my journey with PTSD four years ago

2. On Saturday there will be an event in which there was the high likelihood I might have to encounter the person most involved in causing the harm

3. There was an added layer because the story involves my child, but this space is not a space to share my children's stories or experiences so that is all I will say.

I wrestled mightily with the follow through for the decision I needed to make. I knew in the depths of my heart that I needed to stay home and do some nervous system and soul care. I do not live with the daily symptoms of PTSD any longer, I have thankfully, with incredible support, experienced much healing over the last four years. And I know that because of the nature of complex trauma, my tender nervous system requires keen awareness of dysregulation and continuous maintenance through self-care. So, even with ALL that I know and ALL that I'm trying to teach others, I still wrestled. Here is why...

I did not want to miss work. I had just been gone for an incredible vacation. Missing work for emotional wellness makes me feel inadequate, small, out of control.

Does that ring true for you? Do you push through? Just keep going?

For so many years of my life, I WOULD NOT miss work, or school - no matter how sick or awful I felt. And the impact of that was felt by those in my life, those who I taught, my husband and children. Pushing through is a cycle I want to break. I do not need to PUSH through. I need to care for myself so that I can go back to work and be my best contributing self.

I decided to stay home. The power of old patterns, sinkhole like cycles became clear when my child was also experiencing nervous system overload symptoms.

Did I dare let her stay home? Fever free? Only an upset stomach? Friends, how could I even wrestle with this? I wish I could say that I didn't, but you need to know that I did. Because breaking cycles is seriously hard work.

In the end, I knew that if my body was remembering that day four years ago, there was a great likelihood hers was as well. I offered her a walk (that was my first plan). We walked. And though that walk - the connection with nature, the powerful wind that forced our senses into awareness, the holding of hands and smiling as dogs scampered in and out of the water - was helpful and beautiful, it wasn't enough.

We went home and snuggled up. We read. We petted pets. We rested. We ate healthy food. We rested. And by the time in the day that I needed to reconnect with my work world, she said she felt better too.

So why in the world this post for World Adoption Day?

Did you know that many adoptees suffer from Complex Developmental Trauma or CPTSD?

Did you know that the in utero experience a child has can give them a strong disassociative response because the only tool a baby has when feeling extreme threat is to disassociate? Why does in-uterine threat impact so many children who are placed for adoption or removed from their first families and then adopted?

Threat, and all of the powerful onslaught of neurotransmitters that prepare the body for fight, flight or freeze, can be found in not knowing what you are going to do with an unintended pregnancy or how you will be able to take care of a child. Threat can come from not knowing how to tell your family about the baby or hiding a pregnancy. Threat can come from being hungry or feeling continuously unsafe. Threat can come from the memory of conception. Threat can come an unstable home environment in any number of ways. Threat most definitely comes from an unexpected death during a pregnancy.

Did you know that the separation from first mom/family is one of the most traumatic events a person can endure? When your biological design includes being fully dependent on a person and for whatever the very complex complicated reasons that change that person's abilities to meet your needs that biological connection is severed you experience prolonged overwhelm and grief. Trauma. And even if you go straight into the arms of a loving, committed family, you are with strangers and that experience is terrifying too.

In this post Roe era, I've heard and seen too many "Just Adopt" messages.

There is no such thing as "just adopt." Adoption is beautiful and redemptive Yes! AND adoption is complex and messy and filled with grief and loss that needs processed. That's not easy work friends. Doable and so necessary, but not easy. Not a "just" anything.

Complex trauma does not impact all adoptees. Complex trauma does not only impact adoptees. But it's something we didn't understand when we decided to adopt. It's something we've come to understand deeply because it is also a part of my development and my story.

Understanding complex trauma has changed the way we do life.

We treat complex trauma by pampering the nervous system and focusing on healthy relational connection. We do our own grief work, our own counseling and nervous system care. We love ourselves and our children well among hard to understand behaviors. We develop greater understanding of behaviors that challenge and push and pull so that we can comfort and BE with one another well.

Today, I feel better. Not at my best yet, but better. A day off from work helped. Walking in nature helped. Resting, reading and connecting helped. Writing this essay helps. Knowing that I am not helpless helps. Once again, Perry's book reminded me of that learned response and so I took action against the feeling of helpless the upcoming Saturday was triggering. I asked for help in finding out if we might encounter the person I was fearing encountering so that we could make an informed decision about Saturday. In just asking for some information, I was able to settle my nervous system. Getting that information so that we could make an informed decision helped even more.

We noticed the incredible cloud outside the front door. We went to our church commitment and reengaged with the world. We snuggled at bedtime.

Little by little we are healing. Breaking cycles. Loving well. Grateful.

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