Guest post as part of our National Adoption Month series: Post by Paige May
I have been punched, but it didn’t leave a mark. I have had my ponytail pulled in anger, but I have a lot of hair. I have been lightly stabbed with a piece of glass, but he was just joking around. I have been cornered and had to push my way out, but I shouldn’t have stood that close to the wall. I have had countless things thrown at my face to either hurt me or be disrespectful to me, but they bounced off.
None of that hurts as much as the words. The words are worse. The words hit my heart and bury themselves there. Most abused women use these words to shape their identity. Slowly they feel less and less of a child of God and more and more of a complete failure. My abuse is different.
My abuse makes me put up a hedge of protection around my heart. The hedge isn’t so that the words can’t get in. They get in. The protection is so my love doesn’t get out. Every time I lower my defenses and let some love out, I get hurt and retreat. And still I am abused.
My abuse is against everything that I believe in. I purposely surround myself with affirming and respectful people. I use social media to condemn the hateful rhetoric that leads to this type of abuse. And still I am abused.
My abuse is counter-cultural to my marriage. For almost a decade my husband and I have worked hard to focus on Jesus in guiding our marriage to mutual respect. And still I am abused.
The strangest thing about my abuse is that I chose it. When we took a foster placement of my preteen son last year, there were no reports beyond “he isn’t good with women.” It was less than 48 hours before we recognized that was a huge understatement.
He called me “her” for months. I was always a pronoun, rarely a name, and never “mom.” We were in a meeting when someone asked what he called us and my husband said “mom and dad.” I learned that he had been calling him “dad” behind my back and had been calling us both “mister and misses” to my face. The day he said, “well mom made me do it!” was a milestone as it signified that he saw me as mom even in his anger.
He started with property destruction. He took my adorably decorated house and turned it upside down. Flipped beds and chairs. Poured cups of water and bottles of lotion out on the hardwood floor. Ripped frames off of the wall to smash them. For about a week he destroyed my office desk every night. He took a baseball bat to my car with no success, but destroyed my lawn chairs in a few swings. He found a pair of my shoes and purposefully put them in motor oil that had leaked out. The first few escalations we tried to comfort him. “What’s wrong? How can we help?” Shortly after that we recognized that was exactly what he wanted so we locked up all of the fragile stuff and ignored his escalations. The property destruction stopped almost overnight.
He moved onto physical abuse. He would grab my hands and manipulate them while I got out his morning medications. He would lean on me so hard that I would lose my balance as I tried to walk away. He would hit my stomach as if I was a punching bag. He bit my arm because I wouldn’t let him in my room. We had to call the cops multiple times to keep him safe. The agency decided to make us one of three families who were trained to restrain kids. Eventually we had to say that we would call the cops every time he hit us. It took one time for him to know we were serious.
He moved onto verbal abuse and we have been here for the past 9 months. Verbal abuse isn’t illegal and it sure is effective. Quickly he identified that I did not like to be talked to like I was of no value. He told me that he was going to kill me and live with just my husband because he liked my husband. He regularly yells at me for doing something I didn’t do. He will ask me for something and I will get it and once I get it he will yell at me for getting it for him at all. He will trivialize any interest I have in things. He will dismiss my feelings because they don’t match his own.
After months of verbal abuse driving him to school, I would regularly just stop speaking to avoid saying hateful things. I told him I was choosing to not speak and I hear “good, I like it when you’re silent.” It was as if his abusive father was sitting in my back seat.
I have to return to that thought; that I am not fighting this preteen, I am fighting Satan. Satan twisted the heart of the father that abused my son and I can’t let Satan use my son to twist my heart. I have to stay focused on my Heavenly Father. I have to remind myself that He doesn’t want me to stay silent. He doesn’t love my husband more than myself.
My son has an attachment disorder that makes attaching to me nearly impossible. His brain tells him that mothers are dangerous and he needs to push me away as hard as he can. My brain says not to love people who hurt you so much. Every time I think I attach to him, his disorder takes us back to the beginning.
When I give other people a snapshot of what I experience, they are shocked. “But he is such a sweet kid!” Over and over I feel like people nod and smile to my face and whisper parenting suggestions behind my back. If only I was more strict. If only I was more gentle. Attachment disorders are not the same as behaviors. His brain has been altered. This is not a battle of wills. It is a battle of a broken heart.
To the ordinary parent, I must sound crazy. Why would I put up with this less alone choose to adopt him? The answer is easy. God never told me to give up.
The hard part is continually running towards the Father so that I feel safe enough to lower my defenses and love my son in a meager attempt to mirror the unconditional love that He gives us.
I know that I am not alone. Neither are you.