The phrase ‘rose colored glasses’ describes seeing life through a lens that turns everything into bliss.  Several of my kids have the opposite view of life, seeing through the shadowy lens of trauma.

Last year I was a front seat passenger involved in a serious car accident.  The car swerved uncontrollably to the right toward a deep ditch, caught air, rolled three times, pancaked upside down, crushing my arm and pummeling my hand – which had flown out the side window broken by my head – into rocky soil.  I am nearly recovered from my head and arm injuries,except for occasional nerve tingling.  I have 95% use of my right hand, which suffered broken bones and a deep flesh wound down to tendons.

The deeper wound I still suffer from almost daily is the trauma of the accident.  I lost consciousness as we left the road, and therefore have no memory of the actual crash.  Every time I ride in the passenger side front seat, on dirt roads, the pre-crash memory of knowing something terrible was going to happen, instantly surfaces.  If the driver (I can only ride with my husband driving, no one else) allows the vehicle to get right of center, I grow anxious.  If the car begins to slide, I panic.   If we swerve close to the ditch, I have to fight back tears.  As soon as my husband senses my stress, he graciously slows down and offers me comforting words.  I can only breathe a sigh of relief when we hit our driveway coming home, or blacktop heading into town. 

I have now begun to understand the ‘post traumatic stress disorder’ that 3 of my adopted children live with, and the signs that PTSD has surfaced any given day:

  • One comes for more frequent, desperate, heart-felt hugs
  • One takes on a viciously sassy attitude in response to simple questions or requests 
  • Another retreats to the comforting zone of electronic games with head hung down, mumbling dejectedly

I am left wondering “What happened?”  It is all about control.  If one can be in control, no problem.  If one is not in control, problem!

Before my accident I didn’t understand why my kids couldn’t just ‘get over it’ or ‘use words’ to explain the problem.  Now, I get it.  In their moment of stress, they need me to:

  • give heartfelt support by my slowing down to just hang with them, offer a comforting word, or allowing them space
  • calm a younger child by my sitting close, and regulating my breathing to theirs
  • comfort an older child by putting my hand on his knee, or arm around her shoulder
  • soothe one who is hyper-ventilating from extreme anxiety; I gently instruct “smell the rose, blow out the candle”‘ for deeper, slower breathing

Later when things are calm, I ask the child to share, if they can, about what triggerd the episode.  Sometimes there is discussion; sometimes there are no words to describe the overwhelming trauma, and it will have to be revisited much later on. 

Past trauma and its fallout, which puts a different lens on life for adopted kids, is a very real, very present, and often very exasperating issue.  Parents who reflect upon their own ‘out-of-control situation’ memories will begin to see life through the same trauma lens as their adopted child.  Then,  with empathy, parents can deal more effectively with behavior modification, social/emotional delays, and attachment issues.