Love What Matters

A friend wrote me yesterday after she saw my blog about her whole hearted love for her adopted grandchildren. I don’t doubt she does. I never doubted that my grandparents – all 4 of them – who adopted both of my parents, loved me as much as any grandparent ever could have. I can’t judge fairly my parents relationship with their adoptive parents. Certainly, it was our reality. And without a doubt I would not even exist had my parents not been adopted.

I will admit that at this point in my journey through life I don’t feel warm and fuzzy about adoptions – especially domestic infant adoptions from an unwed mother. I do understand that drug addiction results in children being removed from the parents and because I have experienced a spouse with a serious drug addiction, most likely accompanied by alcoholism, I do understand. I do believe that as a society, we could do a much better job of supporting people so that they might recover from addiction (not all will and that too is a reality) and to preserve their families intact but we don’t and that probably won’t dramatically improve in my lifetime.

I accept that adoption is unlikely to go away in my lifetime. I can continue to highlight those issues that I believe need reform, as I continue to learn more about the situation overall. I will admit I don’t KNOW all either. I do know that EVERY adoptee, whether they are aware of it or not, has some degree of separation wound. A feeling of abandonment and/or rejection. It is unavoidable. Sadly, some children are harmed and/or wounded by the parents who conceived them and/or the mother who gestated and birthed them. I won’t argue about that with anyone.

So this is simply an effort to clarify where I stand on the related issues.

The Damage Done

I came of age in the early 1970s. I will admit that I have way too much life history with drug use. In fact, addiction was the primary cause of my first marriage’s failure. So many children are removed from their parents due to addiction issues. The money that should be feeding and housing and providing all the basics for their family goes into drugs. I understand. I remember food and housing insecurity because of that in my first marriage. Today’s blog was triggered by this story of a foster care child.

My 11 year old foster daughter is (understandably) having an incredibly hard time coping with feelings of abandonment by her mother. While I don’t agree with it and have advocated otherwise, she is not allowed to talk to or see her mom until she takes a drug test. Mom has refused and my foster daughter is feeling unloved and abandoned. I’m at a loss for how to help her cope. She often asks me to validate her feelings by saying things such as “If she loved me, she would just go do the drug test, right?” or “She must be on drugs. She loves them more than me, doesn’t she?”. She wants me to answer her yes or no. I don’t know how to answer to help her. I don’t want to speak negative about her parents by agreeing with her but I don’t want to make her feel like her feelings aren’t valid by saying something like “She loves you but drugs are powerful and affecting her choices.” I have reached out to mom and tried to get her to take the drug test so they can have contact and let her know what is going on with her daughter. She always says she is going to but hasn’t yet. It has been over a year now.

She ends with this request for advice – Those who have been through similar situations, how would you recommend I help this child?

The first answers are good ones. Is she in therapy? She needs somewhere to process feelings and learn about addiction. Does she have a therapist? If not, that would be very helpful. Someone who is trauma informed, addiction experience, and foster care and adoption competent would be a good thing for her. Sounds like you and her therapist need to have a discussion about addiction with her.

I didn’t know about this person but it sounds like reasonable advice – I highly recommended listening to and reading Gabor Mate and as an addiction expert and particularly his compassionate, scientifically based approach to addiction. It will help you (and your subsequently foster daughter) understand with compassion rather that judgement, anger, exasperation or frustration.

Personally, I saw this perspective immediately and am glad this was said – Her mom probably can’t pass a test and doesn’t want to make things worse. I would start by explaining that. We wouldn’t make an illiterate person pass a reading test for a basic human right…sad. Being a child of an addict there is a lot of pain and hard days for sure but she should be able to see her mom. All the therapy suggestions are on point and hopefully the therapist can also advocate.

I had not heard of this concept (except from link below) but it also seems right to my own heart – I would advocate for safe use with the social worker on the case about safe use, and creating a safety plan. Passing a urine analysis doesn’t equal safety and not passing a urine analysis doesn’t equal unsafe. I don’t think “she loves you but drugs are powerful….” would invalidate her feelings. That statement and her feelings can both be valid at the same time.

Traditionally, the substance use field has focused simply on substance use and ways to measure, prevent and treat negative consequences. This has led to a continuum of laws, policies and services that runs from restricting supply to reducing demand and, for some, continuing on to harm reduction.

Various versions of this simple continuum have been used over time, all of them beginning with a focus on a disease or harm that must be avoided. While this may seem completely sensible at first glance, it makes less sense when considering that many people use psychoactive substances to promote physical, mental, emotional, social and/or spiritual well-being. In other words, people use substances to promote health, yet substance use services focus on how drug use detracts from health.

Health promotion begins from a fundamentally different focus. Rather than primarily seeking to protect people from disease or harm, it seeks to enable people to increase control over their health whether they are using substances or not.

Since many people use drugs often or in part to promote health and well-being, health promotion along these lines involves helping people manage their substance use in a way that maximizes benefit and minimizes harm. (Indeed, this is how we address other risky behaviors in our everyday lives, including driving and participating in sports.) It means giving attention to the full picture—the substances, the environments in which they are used and in which people live, and the individuals who use those substances and shape the environments.

Someone else shares their personal experience – My kids (adoptees) parents have issues they go through and are not always on the up and up but we make time together happen. It’s always (right now) supervised etc. However soon my daughter will be 16 and she will likely want to drop by their house when she’s driving etc and I have helped her understand enough on ways to stay safe emotionally and legally by going to see her family and having open discussion with her on addiction. Some may not agree but they eventually grow up. I prefer to help her work through it now than stumble more later. She has a therapist who is mainly focused on addictions as well.

One more from personal experience – I would probably say screw the social worker’s orders and let them have a visit. My adopted daughters’ mom had the same type of demand and I followed the rules. Their mom died, and it had been so long since they’d seen her in person. I frequently regret not breaking the rules. Life’s too fucking short and unpredictable. Using drugs doesn’t automatically equate to being unsafe. It’s going to be way harder for this mom to get clean and sober if she’s not allowed to see her child.

Addiction is a VERY complex issue. My heart breaks for the young girl.

Without Us

It is difficult being a woman.  It is difficult being a mother.  It is difficult being a wife, a daughter or a sister.  Sometimes it is difficult having women friends.  Today is International Women’s Day.

I was in a difficult romantic relationship with a dangerous man. He lived in dangerous ways and he was dangerous for my own self to be with. More than once he physically hit me. I’m not denying that my own behavior may have pushed him over the edge those times but I also know that whatever holds a man back from harming a woman, if he is able to break through that barrier even once, the risk then exists that it will be easier for him to go through that same barrier the next time. So eventually I left his physical presence. I planned my leaving carefully to be able to safely go. I saved money from what was allotted to me for groceries by buying wisely over a long period of time and I left without saying goodbye. After I was safely at a distance, I notified him that I wasn’t coming back.

It took that courage of leaving to put me into alignment with meeting my husband, so I could live in this deeply nourishing place where I feel very safe and am contented. And it took other actions too, like being brave enough to place a personal ad in a weekly entertainment newspaper in St Louis, without which I would have never come in contact with the man I married a little over a year later. Traveling through life is a lot like being in a car where I always know that I can never actually get truly “lost”. All roads eventually go somewhere and one can always backtrack and find a “somewhere” that we recognize. Leaving can be like backtracking to where you were comfortably confident in your own self, after the damage an abusive relationship can inflict upon a person. I know that all experiences – the good and the bad – end up somewhere else eventually. In that there is a great deal of comfort and a real confidence for living through it all.

My family supports the regional women and children’s shelter.  They support women and their children to survive domestic violence and end up in a better place.  They help keep mothers and their children together.  If you have the opportunity to do anything that will keep a mother together with her children, please consider doing so.  The future of our humanity depends on us being here.