It Gets Worse Before it Gets Better
If I could go back in time, there are so many things I wish I could tell myself. There have been so many lessons I have learned the hard way. I am often angry at how hard this journey has been-- but the one thing that makes me the angriest is that no one warned me that it will get worse before it gets better.
I was not a new mom when I adopted my son. I had fostered several very difficult children, children whose behaviors and diagnoses made my son sound like a cakewalk when I read his file. I had been through multiple trainings for foster and adoptive parents. I thought I was prepared. I knew it would be hard.
But in truth-- it wasn’t.
For us, the first year was easy. It was disturbingly easy. I had a 10 year old boy who did everything he was ever asked, never argued, never talked back… he rarely showed any emotion at all, but he was certainly never “difficult.”
We went to therapy to work on “grief” and “loss” -- even though he claimed he had neither, he was fine.
When the bottom dropped out-- it dropped hard.
I had heard of the term, “honeymoon” -- the concept that children will act fine for a while and then show their “true colors.” So, I figured, the honeymoon is over. Okay, I can deal with this.
Only it got worse.
We went from defiance, to yelling, to destruction, to violence. At each step I thought, “Ok, I can do this, and then it will get better.”
It never did.
It got worse. As it got worse I saw moments of truth-- moments where he talked about the abuse, the pain, the abandonment he had felt. Moments where I realized this child had survived more than I would ever truly know or understand.
Throughout all of this-- the “professionals” --the adoption caseworker, the therapist, the psychiatrist, the school counselor, the adoption lawyer, the skill builder, and the crisis worker-- Yes, we had them all, and I went to all of them for help-- ALL of them told me, “It will get better when you finalize the adoption.”
See, he was still technically a foster child. He still had his biological family’s last name. We were still waiting on paperwork and technicalities for our day in court, the day we would stand up in front of the judge and become legally a family.
Every one of our “professionals” sold me the “Happily ever after” line. And because they all agreed, and I was desperate, I believed them. I fell for it, and I thought that day in court would somehow cement in my child’s brain the fact that I loved him, that I was committed, and that I would never leave.
We had that day in court 2 years after he came to me when he was 12 years old. And then what I thought was the bottom fell out, and we fell into a pit so deep I could not even imagine a way out. I found myself dreading the school bus every day-- because inevitably the child that came off of it was angry, violent, and uncontrollable. I stayed up late every night because I knew every morning would find the same child. He literally woke up angry every day-- his eyes opened and he started yelling, stomping, and destroying things. Nothing I had ever tried worked, and those “professionals” had suddenly all vanished, choosing to believe that we were living their “happily ever after.”
I grasped at straws. I read every book in the library, I googled “adoption” and read everything I could find. I was blessed to find blogs of mothers who had children with similar issues. I reached out, and began to understand something that none of the professionals had told me-- this was ALL related to trauma and attachment, and I was not the only mom dealing with these issues. And then one day, I found this article.
And there it is-- everything I had experienced. The pain, the frustration, the anger, the craziness I felt on a daily basis-- there it was, explained in one little article. And you know what that article said?
It will get worse before it gets better.
I was, and still am, angry that no one ever told me that. It got worse. Every time I thought it couldn’t possibly get worse, it did. And at every step along the way I learned something new about the journey my son had been through. Every time I thought, “I can’t possibly do this any more,” and then did-- he got stronger.
Until one day I looked up and realized it had been a week since he had been violent.
And a long while later I realized it had been a month since he had broken something.
And in between that, when I least expected it, he was telling me things. Stories about his past. He began trusting me to carry part of the hurt he had carried his whole life. And each time he shared something-- things got worse. Old behaviors came back. Things got broken. And each time, we got through it, we moved on, and we got stronger.
It has been four years now, and we still have horrible days. But our good days now are good beyond anything I could have imagined on our worst days, and the worst day we have had this year is nothing compared to the worst day we had three years ago.
I reread that article regularly. It was published five years before I met my son.
Which means six years after it was published-- I was still being told by every professional in my county that things would magically get better when the adoption was finalized.
It wasn’t true then, and it isn’t true now. Things will get worse before they get better. The only hope any of us have is to weather the storm, seek professionals who understand, supportive friends, and hold on to the progress that we do see.