“The Spoon Theory” and Understanding Trauma

I have been thinking about this a lot lately, and as someone with a chronic autoimmune disease, I never thought of The Spoon Theory as anything but a metaphor for what it was like to live with an illness. I have been trying to find ways to better understand the traumatic experiences in my life, the trauma that people I work with have experienced, and what it is like to live with someone who has experienced trauma. I reread this the other day—with the experience of trauma in mind—and I really think this is helpful in gaining a better understanding of what it’s like to live with trauma.

The basic premise of The Spoon Theory is that everyone starts each day with a certain number of spoons. For most people, they are able to get through their morning routines without depleting their supply of spoons. However, for people who live with chronic illness, the weight of traumatic experiences, mental illness, etc., the act of simply getting out of bed and completing each step in their morning routine can feel extremely laborious and can cause the rapid depletion of their supply of spoons. If you have used up half of your spoons before even getting the kids off to school or before you have even made the drive to work, it is a struggle to figure out what you can realistically handle throughout the rest of the day. If you have meetings all day, you may not have the energy to make dinner when you get home. If you happen to have enough spoons to make dinner, you may not have any spoons left to clean up from dinner. You may not have enough spoons to make sure the kids get their baths that evening. Every decision you make and every battle you choose each day can make a monumental difference. The same goes for children who have experienced trauma. The rough mornings weigh on them as much as they weigh on us as parents. They may not have put their dishes in the sink, but they got out of bed and they are on their way to school, and some days, that has to be enough. When they have a day when they are really feeling the effects of the trauma they have experienced, they may not have the energy to verbalize what is going on with them and they may end up acting out, or say hurtful things, and really struggle with regulating themselves and controlling their impulses more so than usual. Every parent has days where they just can’t do it, and that’s okay. It makes us human. It’s important to also understand that kids have those days, too. They need to know that it’s okay to not be okay.

If you have some time, please take a few minutes to read The Spoon Theory with your experiences and your child’s experiences in mind. It may offer you really great and life-changing insight into what you, your child, and your family is going through. And, don’t forget that there are numerous communities of people—online and in-person—who have experienced foster care and adoption who understand and may have extra spoons to offer you—especially on the days when life is overwhelming and you feel like you just can’t do it anymore.

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The Walls My Heart Built

The walls my heart built are my protection and my prison.

I learned from a very young age that the people who are supposed to always love you and protect you may end up being the people who leave you and hurt you the most. I learned from a very young age that the people you want to trust—the people you should be able to trust without question—are not always worthy of that trust.

My heart broke for the first time at a very young age. I learned how to mend the broken pieces of my heart together, but it was never to be the same. The innocence that I once knew was gone and my ability to feel secure and love unconditionally as any young child should was overshadowed by my fear of losing more loved ones…my fear of feeling more pain. So, I built a wall around my heart. It was not a strong wall, but it gave my heart a protective barrier—one that could easily be broken down by those I felt secure enough to let in.

My walls have never been fail proof. They allowed some people in who should never have been able to inhabit my heart—even for a moment. They allowed pain and betrayal to seep in—some of which were so harmful that I never thought my heart would ever recover. These walls have also kept me from forming real relationships with people who opened their hearts to me—people with whom I could never allow myself to do the same.

With each heartbreak and betrayal, my walls become stronger and stand taller around my heart. I find myself trusting less and allowing fewer people in. I find myself hiding behind my walls, even with people who love me and people I know I should be able to trust wholeheartedly. As I grow older, I find myself being able to forgive, but never forget. If you have broken my trust, I may let you back in, but never in the same way as before.

The walls I built as protection around my heart have also become my prison. While my heart remains safe, it feels so empty…so alone. I am tired…so tired. I wish I could let people in without question. I wish for the day when I can let my guard down and show people who I truly am without worrying about whether or not I will be liked or accepted. I wish for the day when I no longer feel the need to run away or hide. I wish for the day when I can allow my heart to love fully and live without fear of pain and loss and broken trust and betrayal. I wish for the day when my heart feels whole enough and strong enough to break down the walls I built around it so long ago.

One day, my walls will come down. But, for now, my heart remains protected and imprisoned—waiting for the day when the feelings of security are able to calm the overwhelming fears and the feelings of pain and loss are no more.

But, for now, I wait.

The Importance of Learning with an Open Mind and an Open Heart

When I started working in the adoption world over 8 years ago, I was in a very different place in my life. I was a young wife and mother of a toddler and an infant, and I had never allowed myself to explore what it truly meant to be an adoptee. In my years of working in the field of adoption, I have had the opportunity to do a lot of introspection, to grow my passion for something that I live and breathe, and to grow in my understanding of the complexities of child welfare and adoption. The one thing I have found the most fulfilling has been learning from parents, youth, and young adults who have experienced foster care and/or adoption.

I have seen adoptive families struggle due to the lack of resources and support. I have heard stories of parents who are unable to sleep at night because their child is threatening to kill them and have already caused them great harm. I have heard from parents who share of the heartbreak of learning that their child perpetrated on another child in their family. I have heard stories of parents who have driven all over the state to find help for their child only to be disbelieved or turned away due to the lack of funding and resources. Too many families are struggling, and these issues are seen across the board—especially in foster care and international adoption.

Because I have not been in their shoes, I cannot fully speak to the thoughts, feelings, or struggles of adoptive parents. But, I can say that I have learned a great deal from them, and I feel that what I have learned has truly enriched my work and my understanding of the impact that the adoption journey can have on parents and families. Just as I know it can be difficult to hear adoptee perspectives, it can be equally as difficult to hear from adoptive parents. While I have heard parents say many wonderful things about their children, I have also heard parents talk about wanting to give up. I have heard them talk about not being able to understand their children. I have heard some say that they wish they had never adopted. These are incredibly difficult messages to hear—especially for someone who struggles with issues of loss and abandonment—but they are messages that I feel I NEED to hear.

I realize that it is easy to develop the impression from what I have shared through my blog that parents aren’t doing enough or that they are clueless. While this may absolutely be true for some parents, the fact of the matter is that I have seen parents fight with every fiber of their being for their children, and I have seen the incredible struggles that a number of parents have endured throughout their adoption journeys. I have seen parents who are eager to learn and want so much to understand their children who were not born to them—a number of whom have experienced a great deal of loss and trauma in their lives.

I won’t ever speak for other adoptees who are sharing their voices, as I can only speak for myself. I am not someone who shares her story to blame or shame anyone. I have a great respect for most adoptive parents—mainly because I have seen the impact this journey can have on them as well. When I share my story and the lessons I have learned through working in the adoption world, I do so in an effort to inform, inspire, and encourage parents to grow in their understanding of their children and what their children may experience at some point throughout their adoption journeys.

I was never good at expressing how I felt as a child—mainly due to the respect and love I had for my parents and the overwhelming fear I had of losing them if I said something wrong or misbehaved. This was the way I was wired and the way in which I viewed the world, but it vastly differed from the reality of the life my parents had provided for me. By sharing my journey, I hope to inspire parents to have open conversations with their children and provide their children with the opportunities to safely share their thoughts on being adopted and allow them to grieve their losses and not minimize what they are feeling.

This journey was never meant to be easy, but I want to share that there IS hope. I want to encourage you to celebrate the successes, regardless of how small they may be. I want to encourage you to keep learning and keep your minds and hearts open to the messages being shared—even when it hurts to do so. I want to encourage you to laugh and find joy in this journey—even when it feels like you have lost yourself and any morsel of hope you once had. It is okay to seek support from other parents and to seek help when needed. I urge you to not feel as though you are failing your child. Your willingness to open your mind and your heart to the perspectives of other members of the adoption triad in an effort to gain a better understanding of what your child might be going through may truly make a world of difference for your family.

A Letter from an Adoptee to Her Sons

To My Sweet Little Guys,

I am writing this letter not really knowing what to say or whether it will be something you will ever have the opportunity to read. We have had conversations in the past about my having been adopted, but I have a feeling there will come a day when you will have questions and will want to learn more.

I remember the first time Papa and I discussed adoption with you. I remember the silence that followed our telling you that I was born to someone other than Grandma and Grandpa. You asked me about my “real” parents and why I didn’t grow up with them. I remember explaining to you that Grandma and Grandpa are my real parents (as were my birth parents) and that my birth parents weren’t able to take care of me so Grandma and Grandpa became my parents. I remember you asking if my birth parents loved me, and my answering that I wasn’t sure, but I knew they loved me enough to bring me into this world.

While I seldom speak negatively about my birth parents to you—we rarely discuss them at all—the truth is that my feelings towards them change often. There are days when I don’t feel like I will ever be at peace with the way I feel about them. Other days are filled with a deep longing to know who they were and what fueled their decision to no longer parent me. I don’t know that I have ever had the desire to have a relationship with them—nor would it ever be a possibility—but I have always wished I had known something about them. They made life-changing decisions that have affected me and will affect you and your children as well. I will always feel guilty for not knowing my family’s medical history or what I have passed onto you and what you may pass onto your children because of me. I wish with every fiber of my being that I could fill those voids and answer those unanswerable questions, but the reality is that those are things I will never be able to do for you.

I want you both to know that by making that decision to adopt me three decades ago, Grandma and Grandpa truly changed my life. In a matter of a year, I went from being an orphan to becoming someone’s daughter. It is because of them that I have a forever family and a place to call home. They have given me a life filled with unconditional love, support, and amazing opportunities. They were the ones who were at my high school and college graduations and they were the ones who walked me down the aisle the day I married your papa. They will always be your grandparents and, God-willing, they will one day be great-grandparents to your children as well.

As you already know, I will never be a perfect mom. There have and will be things I say and do that I will regret immensely. However, I want you both to know that I will never regret bringing you into this world and being there to watch you grow and one day become the men and fathers I have always dreamed you will become. I will never forget the days you both were born and the overwhelming feelings that washed over me when I held you both for the first time. I will never forget the instant love I had for you both and the promises I made to do my best to be a good mom and work hard to make sure you don’t want for anything. Your lights shine so brightly in this world and becoming your mom has been my life’s greatest achievement. Your existence gives me so much purpose and I love you both with every fiber of my being.

It is an absolute honor and blessing to be your mom. Rocking you to sleep and singing to you and kissing your little fingers and toes when you were babies brought so much joy and love to my life. It may seem strange at times, but things like your birth stats and baby pictures and outfits will always mean so much to me, as I will never have those memories and mementoes from that period of my life to share with you. Papa and I love sharing stories with you of when you were babies and watching as your sweet faces light up with excitement and hearing your laughter as you try to imagine yourself at that age. We have so enjoyed watching you grow and experiencing with you the ups and downs of life. It has been a pleasure to share with you our values, beliefs, and traditions and watch as you take those little life lessons and use them in your interactions with others. Your kind hearts, your sense of humor, your zest for life, and your strength and resiliency are inspiring. We are learning so much from you and we are in awe of the young men you have already become.

I may have been one of the unwanteds, but I assure you that Papa and I wanted you from the minute we knew of your existence. We started forming our hopes and dreams for you the moment we heard your little hearts beating for the first time. Though we sometimes may do and say things we don’t mean, please don’t ever doubt our love for you. Regardless of the paths you travel or the choices you make in life, we will always love you and do our best to support you both through it all.

There may come a point in your lives when you may feel the effects of the missing pieces in my life. I promise to do my best to provide you with the answers I have to share with you and do what I can to help you fill in those empty spaces. I may not have a clear beginning to my life, but it gives me great pride in knowing that you will be the continuations of my life and my journey. Papa and I are so incredibly proud of you both and look forward to watching where your journeys lead as you continue to grow and form your own identities and strive for your own perceived successes in life. We love you for always and we thank you for making our lives and our family so complete.

Love,

Mom