Twelve-minute movie, adoption and a journey through complex trauma

My wife and I have seen plenty of powerful, uplifting movies. Films that chill us to our emotional core. That trigger so many feelings it can be overwhelming.

But none of them hit us as hard as a 12-minute online video where one very young girl opens her narration with 11 powerful words: “Sometimes someone hurts you so bad it stops hurting at all.”

The movie is called Removed. It chronicles the path of a young girl who is removed from her abusive biological parents and placed into the foster care system. The complex trauma she experienced at such a young age casts a huge shadow over who she had become and how she interacted with her foster families.

Maybe the story resonated so strongly with us because we adopted a young girl several years ago who has been truly been a handful. She, too, came from a very traumatic background. But knowing that alone – on the surface – wasn’t enough to help us navigate the minefield that had become everyday life for her and our family.

But the young actress in the Removed movie helps paint such a powerful visual. At one point, she says: “You don’t remember my story. You haven’t walked my path. You haven’t seen what I’ve seen.”

So many parts of the 12-minute visual experience hammered us in the gut. One in particular, later in the film, shows the young girl in a foster home receiving a dress. The foster mom gives it to her as an unexpected gift of love. Something most “regular” kids would accept with open arms and a smile instead sends this particular little girl into a tantrum.

Little moments like that can be so disheartening to a family who simply wants to shower a child with love. Why would they be so ungrateful? Why does such a simple act of love turn into such a negative moment for everyone involved?

The video then shows the young girl having a flashback – the dress triggers a memory from her abusive past – and suddenly the whole situation takes on a different light.

Ultimately, my wife and I have worked really hard to better understand our young daughter and find ways to better help her navigate some of the emotional roller coasters she experiences every day.

It can be so hard at times. People on the outside of our little family looking in shake their heads in disgust. They see our reactions to her out of context. They don’t see the whole picture. In many ways, our family could reiterate the comments from the young girl in this remarkable movie: “You haven’t walked our path. You haven’t seen (or know) what we have seen (or have learned).”

We continue to work with our region’s best child-based counselors. We continue to read and research issues about complex trauma and how it affects young children – and attachment disorders and how it can lead children to act so very differently around peripheral caregivers (such as teachers, church children staff, etc.) versus their direct family members. We continue to pray and ask God for patience, understanding and guidance.

Recently, my wife and I attended the inaugural Northeast Adoption Summit in Lancaster, Pa. Tons of seminars from the country’s most well-respected child-based workers – such as Karyn Purvis – shed some very powerful light on trauma, attachment and adoption in general.

We will share much more in future posts about this amazing weekend. A few highlights, to start things off, though, include the following:

1. One speaker made a bold statement … if you are considering adopting a child “alone,” than don’t even bother signing up. His point was that it takes so much more than just what one person or a devoted couple can provide. Specifically, it takes a strong connection with God and regular communication with Him as he helps direct us in helping rebuild connections with traumatized kids who so desperately need loving, patient families.

2. Complex trauma can affect children in so many profound ways. It starts at birth – how we respond to our infants set the stage for all future relationships.

See the amazing video showing just a few moments of “still face” response to a baby by clicking here. You’ll see very quickly how even a few minutes of non-response can cause lots of stress in a baby.

Just imagine how much more intense it is for babies and young children who have parents that never respond to them – or are disconnected due to drugs or severe depression. Worse yet are the moments when a child’s primary source for comfort in times of stress (mom and dad) also become a source of trauma … as in abusive situations.

All parents-to-be should be taught this powerful lesson BEFORE they take the parenting journey.

3. We learned that not only are we are not alone in dealing with these sort of issues – we got a better perspective of how much worse it is with some other children and families. In my wife’s one breakout session, a few of the parents couldn’t even list one moment that they had connected with their child. My wife was busy trying to decide which of many moments she was going to share. The conference as a whole helped show us the power of networking with others and how it can provide a better perspective.

4. There are so many hurting, traumatized children not only in the world – but even in our own neck of the woods. Some of the speakers shared powerful, inspiring stories of adoptions from China, Romania and other countries – but there is so much need right here at home, too.

As one speaker suggested – none of us can do everything, but we all can do something to help the problem. If it isn’t functioning as a potential adoptive family for a struggling child in need – perhaps it can come by creating an adoption ministry in your hometown church or volunteering time as a mentor to kids who need connection with a positive adult who genuinely cares.

Ultimately, we learned that while some others in our lives may seem condescending at times towards adoption or specific moments – if we rely on God to light the way and help us make a difference, than that is really all that matters.

The young girl in the Removed movie makes some important discoveries about herself during the story: “I am lovable. I am worthy of care. And that glimmer of light makes all the difference.”

We knew from the first time we met her that our daughter is lovable and worthy of care. There are hundreds of children across the state that are lovable and worthy of care despite their ugly, traumatic histories.

So, we ask God to help us continue to move forward even on the toughest of days. To shine his light and to help inspire others to get involved in any way they can.

When all else seems overwhelming and stressful, please give all of us the strength to persevere and be the glimmer of light that makes a difference.

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Posted on June 3, 2014, in Kids, Overcoming adversity and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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