Monday, February 7, 2011

giving it all to those who deserve it, and only pieces to those who don't.

provided by google images.

***originally posted on our private group home blog, 11/27/07.


so yesterday i came walking down the stairs when to my left i heard some frantic chirping and fluttering. 

i looked over to see a small bird had flown through our front door which had been left open accidentally about 5 inches. 

i called for ben and he did his best to summon the small creature....think a male version of mary poppins with a spoon full of sugar but with more facial hair, and without the awesome purse hiding a lamp inside. the bird actually sat on ben's hand for a minute, but the as soon as ben would move or even look like he was going to move, the bird would flip out and start frantically ramming into the windows. crashing over and over, it became disoriented and i was afraid it was about to do some harm to itself. finally the bird caught on to the fact that we were trying to help him, and flew out the open door, stretching its wings and embracing its freedom. 

my dreams of one day owning my own aviary or possibly whistling a duet with a bird while convincing the british children i was baby-sitting to tidy up or take their medicine were shattered, but i watched it take off, and felt peace knowing it was back where it belonged.  

 these few moments got me thinking...we had a really REALLY bad day with *carrot top  yesterday. to the point that he did some more property damage, standing on the top of the countertop, removing every glass dish in the home and crashing it to the floor, shattering it into pieces.  he moved to the family room, taking every book off of the shelves, throwing them across the room.  he overturned the couches, yelling and cursing as loudly as he could.  when that didn't get the results he wanted {your guess is as good as mine as to what those results are}, he then decided to try to get some negative attention by doing some self-harm, picking up a fork, scraping it down his arm repeatedly, until blood was drawn.  this is what he did while sitting on the couch, as i taught our family home evening lesson to the other kids. 

 he goes through this cycle every so often of not knowing how to deal with his anger...or boredom...or fear...or whatever it is.  there is no telling when it will stop, or if anything that we say will break through to him.  even though i know it's not necessarily by choice, as i was sitting there, teaching on "loving one another" and watching the metal prongs of the fork scrape up and down his arm out of my peripheral vision, it sure felt like it was all a show.  a cry for attention, in its worst form.  i didn't give him the attention he sought, because i know the pattern of this, and to show any type of concern/frustration/anger/sadness, will only make things worse.  will only exacerbate this.  so instead, when i watched two drops of blood slowly drip down his arm, i stood up without breaking my sentence of changing the inflection of my voice, walked to the kitchen, grabbed a paper towel and handed it to him.

i know him.  i know his history.  the experiences he had to endure in his beginning make me sick in my gut and make my heart cry out.  he is a child of God, i remind myself.  and at 16 years old, he has no idea what that means.  but all of the ways we are trying to teach him what this means, he does not see it.  whether that is by choice, or a result of his beginning circumstances, i do not know.  

i thought about this little bird, as ben and i were doing everything we could to get it to safety & freedom, the bird continued to flutter about, bashing itself into walls and windows. i was so extremely frustrated with carrot top yesterday and couldn't believe the level he will take things just to get negative attention, again disrupting the home into a chaos that feels like it will burst the very walls of its foundation.

before family home evening and the forking episode, ben and i and carmella (our awesome staff member) were there, talking softly, reasoning, trying to make him laugh, teaching and teaching some more, and when that all failed, finally telling him he is sinking his own ship and needs to start bailing himself out, that there is nothing more we could do. he had to make his choices.  and he just kept hitting himself against walls, windows, dressers, couches, you get the idea.

what i'm saying is that i got a little perspective yesterday. that i don't know how much time it will take for carrot top to understand that the front door has been open the whole time and all he needs to do is just stop fighting and start flying. 

maybe he will never understand. maybe it will just take some time, like the bird. 

but whatever he chooses, ben and i will be standing there with our hands open, ready to help.  ready for him to see his way to freedom.


most people who read this blog know that before we moved to arizona, ben and i lived in & managed a group home for troubled teenagers for a year in north carolina. when i look back on that year it feels like an out-of-body experience, that it was me there during all of the craziness, but it really wasn't.  most days i felt like i was on robot-mode.  doing the work, day in and day out, but not really living.  i'm not sure how better to explain it.

when i was in seattle last weekend, lindsay jane asked me, if i had the chance and knew what i was getting into this time, would i work at the group home again?

i've thought about that question since she asked me.  

when i answered lindsay, i said no, i wouldn't.  at least i wouldn't do it with the me of 2007.  i felt completely unprepared for the things that we faced in that house, and the issues it brought forward inside of me that i didn't even know existed, bubbling under the surface.  it's not that i didn't want to ever face those issues, i just didn't want to have to face them while living in a somewhat traumatic situation that i couldn't escape.  where i felt i couldn't even take a breath for the majority of that year.  

a lot of times i felt like i was behind bars in that home.  like the kids weren't trapped there with me, but i was trapped with them. i tried to be as happy as i could, given the situation.  ben & i had a great relationship, and we made close friends with our co-workers.  but i often felt like i was suffocating in the chaos and the screaming of those kids, the overturned couches, broken dishes and punching walls.  it triggered something inside that caused pretty severe insomnia.  and when i could sleep, i had terrifying nightmares. 

i had no idea that i even struggled with anxiety until about 9 months into our year there.  i brought it up to ben, what was going on.  how when one of the kids would "go off" which meant in a pretty severe way, my mind couldn't relax and let go from the events that would occur.  over and over again, i would go through the details of the conversations with the kids and be up until 3 or 4am.  and if one of their tantrums really ended badly, where they had to be restrained, or hospitalized?  my mind wouldn't let go for days.

i recognized what it was, and also recognized what triggered it.   i had no control over the environment of my own home, i could not feel peace there.  and what bubbled underneath, from years of my childhood where i experienced this same situation, came bursting to the surface.  and yet dealing with the old hard & ugly while trying to create peace in this new hard & ugly was overwhelming.  i did my best to compartmentalize, and put my issues on the back burner to hold it together for the kids, and for myself.

knowing now what i didn't know then, i wouldn't have accepted the job offer if i had known what we were getting into, because of caleb.  our 2 1/2 year old, special needs son.  granted, he was never harmed or even saw much of what the kids were doing, but that was because after the first week or two of us living there & me getting a taste of what life in that home was really like.... when the first boulder came crashing through the window and the first broom broke through the glass on the door, while he and i were sitting only a few feet away, i kept caleb separate.  he spent most of his time upstairs in our place, or ben & i would split our time where one of us would be out with him while the other one worked our employees and the kids.  i just couldn't trust them, they had proven that to me, specifically targeting him with threats when they were upset.  and knowing that i couldn't trust them around caleb made me even more anxious.  

whenever caleb was downstairs with us, i was on hyper-alert.  i couldn't relax, and wouldn't let him out of my sight.  at the first glimpse of one of the teenagers freaking out, i walked caleb upstairs and would situate him with toys and a show so that he wouldn't have to hear the crashing or yelling.  or worse.

there were good things that came from that year, like it brought ben down the path of returning to school for his psychology doctorate.  before that year we had been floating from one job to the next while he tried to figure out what he really wanted to do.  ben was so amazing with those teenagers, and his patience and unconditional love was spotlighted in that situation.  he is going to make one fantastic therapist, and is planning on working specifically with teenagers.

i learned how to shed the layers of a really difficult-to-love individual, and see them through God's eyes.  the year pushed me to find a strength that i didn't know i had.  to not give up, or quit when internally i was struggling desperately to hang on.  i relied so much on God that year, praying night and day that i could find the strength to go on.  that i could remember and firmly grasp the reasons that we accepted, and remember too that this job wasn't something i felt that i wanted to do, but had to do.  it was my first experience of receiving a personal witness that at that time in my life, i was living and doing exactly what God wanted me to.  

aside from the anxiety that surfaced, i also realized something i hadn't known before about myself.  i thought that i was a pretty loving, open and accepting person.  and i think that in general, i still am.  but i came to see that i am also someone who completely shuts down emotion when i have been repeatedly hurt by another.  i did not know how to love those teenagers for where they were at, and not internalize their issues.  their emotion was contagious to me, and when they screamed curse words in my face or even tried to physically hurt me, i could not separate that it wasn't really me they were mad at & hated.  their words pierced me, and the anger they sent my way devastated me.

i walked into that house and wanted to give each of them all of my heart.  

but i have learned that in life, there are some people you can't give all of your heart to.  because they aren't in a good enough place to take care of it and not hurt it.

these are the people you can give only pieces of yourself to, and then the rest you protect.  i just didn't know how to do that yet, without being hurt.  so instead, with the kids, and specifically carrot top, i shut down.  i would feel anxious when he was coming home and that anxiety would manifest itself into a state of almost loathing him when he walked through the door.  i'm not proud of this, i just didn't know how to do it any differently.

through a story involving my kids, i wrote last year about what healthy boundaries look like, for me.  i didn't know healthy boundaries yet at the group home.  i had truly believed that if i was good to the teenagers, and loved them, they would return that with love and kindness toward me.  they would change, and blossom, and understand.  and know that through my love and ben's, we were projecting the love from God.  and when it didn't happen, i felt like i had done something wrong and was being punished for some reason, and closed up.  

i know now how i could have taken better care of myself during my time in an extremely stressful situation.  a year of therapy has taught me that. 

i'm still not convinced that i would want to go back and do it all over again.  i definitely wouldn't do it if i had to bring my own kids into it.  

but if it were just ben & i?  and i'm lynsey, 2011?  

i don't know....maybe.  i know that the year at the group home forever changed me.  as a mother, as a wife, as an individual.  as someone who has the potential to be able to become a mirror to hold up to another who is broken to reflect God's love for them, whether they choose to see it or not.

but i have also learned that i am someone who needs a peaceful living environment.  there is happy chaos, which i can do, and there is angry chaos.  the angry chaos is something that at least right now, i cannot sign up for.  but to not actually live there?  to be able to clock in & out?  return to my own sanctuary?  i'd consider it.

i think of these kids often....the 10 year old girl who screamed that i was raping her in hopes that someone walking by our home would call the police on me. that same girl only a mere 4 hours later, hugging me tightly, apologizing as tears streamed down both of our faces while we said temporary good-byes through the glass on the 4th floor, the psychiatric unit of the hospital.

the unintentionally hilarious 15 year old boy with the desire to excel, whose autism and intelligence was a gift to our home, with the long unkempt hair, the grey sweatpants he refused to change.  he was so easy to be around, so likeable.  and when we got through his unemotional exterior, and he expressed his love for us, i felt like i had been handed one of God's greatest gifts.

the 12 year old boy with the big brown eyes that could melt your heart, even as you watched him light cigarettes on the burners of the stove in the kitchen and blow smoke in your face.  who ran away after only a month and a half, having friends in all the wrong places who hid him for months.

the 11 year old, whose past i only knew fragments and pieces of.  his thin frame, his enormous eyes missing the eyelashes he had pulled out.  he was the one that all of the employees worried most for, the boy who could unsettle my insides with just his gaze.  the one we feared would end up on america's most wanted someday, with a rage inside of him that startled and disturbed even the most seasoned psychiatrist.

our other 15 year old, with almost no impulse control, bringing a 6-inch blade to school, climbing up to sit on top of the roof of the house, throwing the barbecue grill off of the back porch.  the boy with the purest heart, who brought us all to tears as he announced through choking sobs that he had been saving money for ben and i for months, with the intention to give it to us so we could afford to buy a house of our own, so we would stay in north carolina after our year contract was up.

and the 16 year old, with his freckles and chewed off fingernails, and his furious blinking as he stood statue-still, flipping me off with both hands.  who left the home with his head hung low, those same hands handcuffed behind his back, never to return. that same freckled boy, whose pants accidentally came off when he had to crawl under the porch of the house to retrieve an escaped baseball, and we laughed with him for 20 minutes straight.

2 weeks after he left the home, he called us, and apologized.  and my heart knew what to do, even after i thought it had shut down, even after of the chaos and damage he had incurred, the holes in the walls, the shattered dishes on the floor, the drops of blood slowly dripping down his arms....even with all of that, my heart opened back up, and loved him.

they haunt me, these memories.  in an achingly hardbutgood way.  now that i am through that year, and have evolved to be able to only give pieces of my heart, i can easily love each of them, being able to pull myself apart from those oftentimes traumatic days and exhausting nights, knowing deep down now that they were not about me. and i know that what we had in that one year is an experience that i could never put into actual words.

i wish that i had been the person there that i am now, but i can't live in reverse.  and it was a stepping stone to getting here, to lynsey 2011.

the things that i learned, the ways that i changed.  after that year, i will never be the same.

*name changed to protect the innocent

***i've been working on the "fear cycle" and have learned so much about anxiety and control and surrendering.  i'm thinking i might write about that one next.  


ohmylanta said...

Wow Lyns. I didn't realize you had that experience. That would be so SO hard. I too am studying the fear cycle. :) I've been reading all about 40 ways to defeat your fears.

Which outlines some very interesting techniques - many of which I can't see myself using. But a few, think I might be able to entertain!

You know we only have anxiety because we are NICE. I just read that Niceness is the cause of anxiety! So Ha! The next time I am having a moment, I'll remind Trev that it's because I am too nice. :)

ohmylanta said...

BTW. Do you know Emily Johnson? She was a Davis Dart. She is a great blogger (a lot like you) I love both of your blogs so much and have often thought that you would really like her postings. Just wondered if you even knew her????

Rachel Chick said...

Just read this again, Lyns. You are incredible. I love you so much and feel truly privileged to call you my friend. Thank you for sharing yourself and for sharing your experiences. You bless my life so much! I love you! -- more than I could express with just those three little words.