Bumps in the Night

The kids were at their visit with their bio mom. Mitch was asleep because he had to get up in a few hours to work the graveyard shift. I can’t begin to remember what I was watching on Hulu. It was 5:15 pm on Thursday night. I was supposed to have the night off from the crisis line but I eagerly picked up an extra shift at the last minute. The phone was on, charged, and ready to be answered.

*Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing.*

“Hi, this is Aubrey.” It’s the answering service. “Hello. I have a caller named Bob* that didn’t want to give out his information and said he’d like to speak with an advocate.”

The answering service connects the caller to me and within the first 1.5 seconds, I froze. It’s my dad. I haven’t heard his voice since my wedding day on August 2, 2008. Irrational. Irate. Infuriated. Ranting. Raving. Screaming. Swearing. Spitting. And this is about the time during the call that things start to go black for me.

If you’ve ever been to “da club” or “clubbin” or seen raves on TV, then you’ll know what I mean when I say how jagged people look when they’re dancing under a strobe light. It’s a bunch of 1 second stills, then it goes dark, then there’s another 1 second of light but the picture is different and so on. Jerking. Jostling. Jumpy. That’s what this call was like in my mind.

He’s yelling about how pissed off he is. He’s so angry and talking so fast that I can barely make out what he’s saying until he says, “I’m just going to kill all of them or maybe myself!” He has been unstable my whole life, so I’ve heard this from him before, but does he really mean it this time? How do I know? What do I do? I know! I will get him to calm down. Deescilate the issue so we can talk this out. I’ve seen my mom do this with him. I’ve tried to do this with him. I’m experienced in trying to deescalate my dad’s temper. These are all coping mechanisms a small child should know nothing about, but I know it all too well.

Me: “Bob. Bob…Bob, I need you to listen to my voice, okay? Bob. I need you to listen to my voice so you can take a deep breath, okay? It’s okay for you to be angry right now but I need you to breathe for me right now, okay buddy?

Bob: “Fuck you, you dumb bitch! You don’t have a fucking clue, do you?

Me: “Bob, you will not speak to me like that. I am trying to help you, but you are not going to speak to me like that again.”

My voice is firm. He calms down. 

Me: “Bob, I need you to take a deep breath for me and tell me what your location is.”

Bob: “I’m at the convention center. I’m sitting on the bricks.”

Me: “Okay, now I’m going to ask you a question and I need you to tell me the truth. Do you have a weapon on you right now?”

Bob: (irate) “No, I don’t have a fucking weapon on me, I’m not going to hurt anybody!”

Me: “I’m going to call to have someone come pick you up. What are you wearing?”

Bob: “Nobody here takes me seriously, nobody is coming to pick me up! That’s why I’m just going to kill every one of these assholes!”

Me: “Bob, I’m sorry but I have to take these kinds of threats very seriously so I need to call someone to come get you. I have to hang up now.”

It took me 3 different transfers to get to the correct city 911 operator. When I get to the right gal she tells me they are very familiar with this guy. I give her the full details (many omitted for privacy reasons) and we hang up. I called my boss to let her know what transpired. She asks if I’m okay and I tell her I’m totally fine. We get off the phone. I go to the bedroom to check on Mitch since I’m sure I woke him up by accident.

He asks if I’m okay. I crumble. 

For a good 20 minutes I’m hyperventilating on the bed, in my chair, on my back porch, and back to my chair. My legs feel week. I can’t stop crying. I HATE THAT I’M CRYING. The strobe light of memory lane flashes glaringly in my mind. My dad, all 6 ft 1 of him, towering over us in the middle of the night as we all quiver in the bed we’re sharing – begging of him to leave us alone and let us all sleep. The room is as black as his eyes but his casted shadow and his foaming mouth burn through us with the heat of 1,000 suns. He says the most awful things to the 3 of us. He is scarier than the monsters in the horror films I grew up watching. He is THE monster.

Maybe you’ve guessed by now that the guy on the phone wasn’t my dad, but his voice sounded just like my dad’s. It’s like I heard a ghost and when that happened, when that ghost kicked in the door, busting the frame, like he had time and time again, I instantly traveled back in time. Panicked. Shocked. Disbelieving. Yet, there I was, on the phone, trying to hold it together to help this guy calm down enough to get a description of what he was wearing, whether or not he was armed, and where he was at so I could report to police in the area he’s in since I have no tracking information like a dispatch center would.

I was truly terrified tonight. More terrified than I can remember being in years. It was a full on PTSD flashback and it completely drained me. At times, I couldn’t figure out if I was standing on my back porch or if I was hiding under the covers from the monster that my dad was. Thank God Mitch was here. He did such a great job at soothing, helping me breathe, refocusing my attention on that stupid tree in the back yard that I could barely see because it was dark, but dammit, he was going to get me to focus on ANYTHING other than the trauma I was reliving.

He grabbed my work phone, he called my boss, and he told her I couldn’t finish my shift tonight. She was extremely understanding and I appreciate that. I have been a crisis line advocate for a year now and this was the first time a call triggered my PTSD. I should also mention that the man I spoke with tonight has called multiple times before, and I truly like the guy. He’s a good man with a hard life. I think part of my tears tonight weren’t because of him, but for him. My heart cries out for where he feels insufficiencies in his life. Regardless of what the outside world perceives to be true or not, he speaks his truth to me when we are on the phone and his rage is not unfounded – it just came out in a different way tonight. I feel sad for him. Sad because I think he’s lonely and sad because, in his mind, his world is so chaotic and scary.

I really don’t know what I would have done if Mitch wasn’t here. I’m so glad the kids were on their visit with their mom during the call, but when they got home…oh, how I hugged and loved on them like no other. Not just because it made me feel happy to do so, but because it’s important for kids to be hugged and kissed and doted on by parents (or parental figures) in their lives.

Mitch, just as in many other scenarios, you were, once again, my hero tonight. Thank you so much for all of your courageous and heartfelt work to try to understand what it’s like for me to live with PTSD. Thank you for loving me when I’m sure I’m hard to be loved. And to anyone else reading this – thank you for reading, for not judging, and for continuing to encourage me to share whatever it is that’s on my mind through the written word.

xo,

a

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Messy

I’m feeling exceptionally emotional about the girls today. I think this is probably because we got some information yesterday that leads us to believe they will be gone very soon. In fact, the wording was specifically “very soon.” I don’t have to tell you how extremely sad this is. I’m selfishly thinking of how this makes me feel right now instead of how exciting this must feel for their mom. Just let me get this out. I promise not to stay here but if I don’t say this here then it’ll stay inside, and I can’t let this fester.

I guess I’m worrying and it’s highly likely that it’s unnecessary. One of the hardest parts about being a foster parent for me has been the emotional triggers it brings from my childhood and young adulthood. These triggers are the reasons I have chronic PTSD in the first place. When I think of them going home, I’m scared for them to wonder why they don’t see us anymore. I’m afraid and physically cannot bear the idea of them wondering where we went and I couldn’t possibly pray any harder that they won’t wonder if they did something wrong and that’s why they don’t see us anymore. That very idea feels like it’s literally slowly killing me.

And why would such a thought be so triggering? Well, maybe it’s because I know what it feels like to be left behind by a parent. I know how it feels for a parent to be there one day and gone the next. I have felt the ache of wondering what I did wrong, why I wasn’t good enough to stick around for, and what I could have done differently to make them stay. These are all feelings I cannot even begin to imagine my girls knowing because I know that if they stayed here they’d never know what that is like, and now I worry if I will make them feel that way when they don’t live here anymore. I don’t want to be the person that fades in and out of their life, like my dad has done to me. It’s far too much of an emotional mountain to climb.

I thought, “Maybe if I show him I love him enough he will change and things will be okay.” No matter how much we love these girls, the fact is that they are not ours, they do not belong to us, they are not staying here. So the correlation between trying to love my dad enough to get him to stay and trying to love the girls enough to get them to stay is the same stabbing feeling of getting nowhere and treacherous sadness, and I have to constantly remind myself that neither of those situations were ones I had control of. Maybe that’s the hard part, knowing that I have no control, but only that I can control how to respond rather than how I react.

Watching a parent be an addict is hard, to say the least. Playing second fiddle to an addiction is not a feeling I would want anyone to know, but sadly, many can identify with. I am the first person to acknowledge that addiction is an illness. What may seem like a choice is actually a cry for help, a way to escape, a way to stay alive for people who have been through trauma but have no resources to properly heal. I get so outraged by the stigma of mental health in our world today. If we addressed it and made it accessible then maybe there would be less addiction, less loss, less trauma, and the cycle could break. We are not there yet, and frankly, we are so so late.

Even though it might not be true, I feel like my dad chose his addictions over me. It can sometimes feel like it’s easier to love the high than it is to love me. When you’re made to feel that way for so long it’s easy to start believing it and when you believe something so tragic, you start to push anyone away that loves you, compliments you, celebrates you. It feels like people are just saying nice things to be nice, not because they truly feel that way. Surely they can’t possibly love me, especially if they knew that I’m really not the person they think I am. Then one day someone asks you why you think so poorly of yourself and you can’t even figure out why because this is all you’ve known, because the way you were treated made you feel as if you weren’t good enough or important enough to love. It’s because the actions of one of the most influential people in your life that are supposed to love, support, care for, celebrate, and protect you is prioritizing their addiction or has disappeared without a trace instead of choosing you.

All of this all leads to not feeling like enough. Had I been a good enough daughter, maybe my dad would have stuck around. Had I been worth loving, maybe my 13 – 19 year old self wouldn’t have had to fight tooth and nail scouring the internet for 7 years to find him. Maybe if I love the girls enough they can stay. Maybe if I fight tooth and nail to advocate for their best interest they’ll get to stay. These two subjects are very closely connected and painfully triggering.

As hard as this all is, it’s good for me. I knew I needed to start going to counseling and I aligned it with the same timing as becoming a foster mom. I knew both would be hard, I knew both would be a lot of work, I knew that through these experiences I would be able to heal. I wanted to be able to love others in the ways I wished to be loved. I wanted to love myself the way some people in my life love me. I knew I couldn’t do that if I didn’t do both of these things. While some may see this as me breaking, this is me healing. I am erupting from a pile of disappointment, shame, uselessness, heartbreak, and trauma. Everything is flying around in the air but it is no longer holding me underneath its heavy pile. It’s progress, not perfection, but a step in the right direction nonetheless.

xo,

a

Foster Parenting

I kind of surprised myself tonight. I started responding to a post on a friend’s page about being a foster parent. Admittedly, I was a little miffed with the person making a lot of argumentative comments because I felt like she was attacking foster parents, and homie don’t play that. As foster parents, we get enough shit flung at us all the time. This was an emotional response. As I typed, I felt it coming up from the deepest part of my heart and spewing out onto the keys. I didn’t mean to hijack my friend’s post…but I kind of did. Sorry, Sharla. I guess I’m surprised by the feeling and the clarity that I shared here, but I’m not sure why. It went a little something like this…

It sounds like you have been victimized by a lot of awful circumstance during your adolescent years, which can be so traumatic at a young age and extremely triggering in adulthood. I respect your position as coming from a child broken by the system and as an adult to see the injustice that can happen to people who can’t protect themselves. Shame on the people who knowingly commit wrong-doing to families. It is truly heartbreaking to see a family disbanded and I’m sorry that happened to you.

However, with all of that said, I believe you are taking an opinion on this matter that has gone deeper than just the message of this article. “I’m saying that total removal from any knowledge or presence of an addicted parent is an unhealthy move…” Am I confused about what this statement means? Are you saying it is better to leave the kids in care of an addict? If yes, what makes a person support showing children what a life of addiction is like?

As a foster mom, I have heard time and time again about the struggles of the system, what it does to individuals, families, and the state of our community. Foster care is always a last resort. The State of Washington doesn’t remove children from the home as easily as it sounds like you have experienced. I’m not saying you’re not being truthful, but we know a different system.

If I am understanding things from your perspective, you believe the family unit should stay together come what may. For the most part, I support this, but not when it endangers the life and future of the child. Breaking up a family is not ideal, in fact, it’s the worst nightmare of many. The heartache of being separated without control, without understanding, and with great sadness are all emotions that kids and parents endure, and it’s not fair.

But what also isn’t fair is when a child isn’t given the same opportunities as the next one. What’s not fair is when a parent retains custody of a child they don’t want. What’s not fair is to completely overwhelm state workers to the point that they cannot give focused attention on their caseload, and therefore, apply the least bit of time and attention to ensure everyone’s needs will be met once reunification happens. Not just for the child, but for the parents, too. Setting the entire family up for success rather than failure should be the logical thing to do, yet I am in the middle of fighting my state workers right now. I am imploring them, please, merge this family back together. Please, don’t throw them all in the dryer together at the same time and watch them collide and tumble only to see what shakes out.

For as many bad bio parents that are out there, there’s just as many bad foster homes. That is an unarguable truth, but some of us, people like my husband and I, we fight. Hard. Not just for the girls, but for the family unit because we believe that if we love the girls the best we can and do whatever is necessary to support their mom, and fight for the reunification process to go how it should and not how the state would like for it to, (which is to throw them all in at once – an awful idea for reasons I can clarify later, if necessary) they’ll all be better off. And not just for a few months, but for the rest of their lives. We love our girls so much that we have jumped in with both feet to be supportive when we didn’t and perhaps shouldn’t have, but we did it because we knew that all of our efforts to advocate for the girls would carry into advocacy for the betterment of the family.

Foster parenting gives a lot of people a bad taste in their mouth. The system is broken, the families are broken, hearts are broken. This isn’t just happening to the bio family, this is also happening to the foster family. We chose not to just open our door, we chose to open our hearts. We chose to be advocates instead of sitting back and watching more injustice for this family. We chose to do more than necessary because we know that going the extra mile will only strength relationships. And at the end of the day, when all is said and done, they will leave our house and our family (temporary or not) will be broken. Our hearts will be broken. Our system will still be broken. And then the phone will ring and another family will need our help to watch over their children while they try to make arrangements for a better life. Once again, we will open not just our door, but our hearts as well and I hope that you can appreciate that our side of things experiences just as much heartache as yours might.

I know Washington CPS has a program that does in-home services for families that are struggling through a variety of situations such as drugs, DV, etc., so I’m grateful that this is the case, because, honestly, there are just too many kids in foster care, not enough beds, and not enough people being held responsible. In the last 7 months of our lives, we have learned far too much about how this system is broken. We have been angered by the difference in treatment their mom gets versus what their dad gets. It seems like whomever has the better attorney gets the better judgement. It’s wrong. The better attorney doesn’t prove the better parent. We need to be closely examining the family unit, what the parent did to lose custody, and what can be done to make sure that reunification is healthy for everyone. Yet, we watch so many families fall by the wayside. When I think about it, my heart emotionally cannot take it. To think of it now just makes me cry.

I’m watching our system want to rush the family back together right now because it has been open for too long and they want to close it out. It’s not just. Mitch and I got into foster care for a variety of reasons, but one of them was because we truly wanted to help families. We come from limited means, so we are not able to financially support families, charities, etc. in the ways that our hearts want to, but we do what we can and this is the best we can do right now.

It’s tough to parent someone else’s children. For as much as the bio parents are scrutinized and under the microscope, judged, blamed, insulted, and not taken seriously, the same thing happens to the foster parents. It sucks, but this is a choice. We choose to do this because we believe that we should. We won’t get rich in coin but rich in love and after it has been 10, 20, 30+ years of dragging our heels in the mud, kicking and screaming for families to have the treatment they deserve, then I will say, “We have done all we can. Time to move onto something else.”

By far, this has been the most emotional, difficult, sad, angry, beautiful, loving, hilarious 7 months of my life, so far. When I look at those babies asleep in their beds at night, I am so deeply aware of how great my love for them is and I am reminded every day that they are not mine. That they belong at home, with their mom and sister, so they can be a family again. For them to stay with us permanently would mean that their bio family fell apart and as difficult as it is to grasp and imagine our lives without these littles, it is far more difficult to accept any responsibility for breaking up a family. So we will keep them for the short term but we will love them forever.

And that, my friends, is just the tip of the iceberg.

xo,

a

The Crisis Line

Some of you know that I work on as an on-call Crime Victim’s Advocate. I have about 8 shifts a month with half of them being a 16 hour weeknight shift from 5:00 pm – 9:00 am and the other half of them being 24 hour shifts (typically on weekends) from Saturday at 9:00 am – Sunday morning at 9:00 am. Last January I went through a 30 hour training course in order to be qualified to take the calls, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from being on the crisis line for nearly a year now is that sometimes you can never be qualified enough for what you’re about to hear.

I took a call a few nights ago that I’m still thinking about. I made a vague post on Facebook about being sad that I wasn’t able to help her. Many of you wrote very kind and sincere responses. Thank you! Without going into too much detail, it became clear to me that this person was suffering from mental illness. Yes, I specifically used the word suffering. She kept repeating the same three sentences over and over again during the hour we were on the call. I’m not going to reveal here what she was saying because it doesn’t necessarily matter what she was saying, but that she believed what she was saying. It made me really sad because, in her mind, that’s who she is now. This caller has had some sort of trauma in her life that made her cling to the last time she felt normal, loved, appreciated, and made her feel like she had purpose and she couldn’t understand why the world around her didn’t see her that way.

Imagine that for just a few minutes. You feel a certain way, you know yourself a certain way, but the world doesn’t understand you. You’re trapped inside of the words and pictures in your mind. Regardless of whether someone else is seeing it, understanding it, or feeling it, you are experiencing all of these in real-time, all of the time, on repeat. And it’s frazzling.

This is part of what having PTSD can feel like. It’s like a hamster wheel of turmoil that you can’t get off of. All of those words, pictures, flashbacks, and the multiple emotions are washing over you like a weighted blanket. Your brain is in overdrive while it’s trying to dissect every single thought, emotion, and flashback at the same rate they’re crashing into your mind. Suddenly, there’s a multi-level back up and everything is tangled up and there’s a mess everywhere. Everything has to be pulled apart, sorted, cleaned up, and eventually the road will reopen. It’s not like this all of the time – thankfully, but there are certain things that trigger that type of response, and it’s important to know that it’s not just an emotional response but a full body response. Adrenaline pumps through your veins like white-hot electricity, your bones crack as they try to break free from underneath the skin that covers them because the skin you’re in is uncomfortable and raw and can feel like razor blades on fire tearing away every shred of who you are until you’re screaming in agonizing pain for it all to just stop.

And as my counselor has told me time and time again, all of those things might be happening to me on the inside but on the outside I look calm. Even my voice and movements are steady and precise. I think this must come from how our brains work (without us knowing) to protect ourselves. Instead of your brain “allowing” something so volatile to happen to you it replaces those thoughts with happier moments, days where you felt carefree, a time when things weren’t so complicated. I think this is where that lady’s brain was at the other night. Instead of being the emotional basket case that I have been in the past, her brain allowed her to remember a pleasant time, except now that’s all she can see. Some might think this isn’t so bad, and maybe it isn’t, but the gap between that time in her life, her trauma, and where she’s at now is significant.

The reason it struck me is because I am afraid of that mindset leading her to what mindset I’ve had before. Will it eventually drive her crazy that nobody in the world can see her for who she believes she is? I’m worried that it might. And there’s nothing I can do about that. There was no way for me to help her and when I couldn’t help her, that translated to me that I had failed her. “I’ve been there before, I see all the signs, I can fix this!” But I couldn’t and it was an awful call to hang up from. And I’ll never know what will come of it…

xo,

a