“I may be a lost cause, but I thought if you loved me, it needn’t matter.”John Osborne
M didn’t make contact with us for the next two weeks. By now M’s sisters were on the fast track to adoption.
We could have jumped ship at this point. Her worker told us that she had to post M’s profile on AdoptUsKids.org and that her pretty picture and glossed over description had people already nibbling, but in the worker’s opinion M was a lost cause.
My husband was understandably relieved that she was not in our home. We had all the excuses. But then she stared calling us again, asking us to come visit. The new facility was an hour away, so it was more inconvenient but even my husband had a hard time saying no. On many occasions we’d drive there only to find that M was terrified of to leave the building and her new caretakers. Her medications were still the same. Sometimes we’d just turn around and go home. One time she was really excited to show us the computer room the children shared. In the corner sat a young man hunched over his phone with legs sprawled out. He’d been hired to monitor what the kids were viewing.
M ushered us in and clicked through to YouTube as the monitor texted friends. M bounced in her chair, glancing back at us, trying to read our faces as we watched a Lady Gaga video with tons of sexual and just plain bizarre imagery. M was obsessed with Lady Gaga, yet she had terrifying nightmares about her too. As we stood there, I kept waiting for the man to intervene. I actually thought M was on the verge of self-pleasuring herself in front of us. My husband was inching his way toward the exit.
“Excuse me,” I could stand it no longer. “Aren’t there blocks on these computers?”
“What?” the man looked up disinterestedly. “Yeah, there are, but the kids find ways around it.”
“Well, I wonder if sexually traumatized kids should be watching this.”
“Probs not,” he said, sighing as he got to his feet. “Turn that off M.”
I kept thinking about the irony of this place’s name. Saint ——–.
Because M has complex trauma the therapists involved in her case from the very beginning have always sought to address the surface behaviors before delving into her deeper issues. It was funny to me back then that professionals saw no problem with exposing very young children (some were seven) to sexually explicit and violent content on all media. To this day M is constantly given access to things that she freely admits make her terrified and confused. She has spoken plainly about her inability to control her impulses when it comes to seeking out this content. But the staff like many parents use media to babysit children and give the kids whatever crap they ask for because it’s easy.
I don’t blame the young people hired for next to nothing. They are products of our overly violent and sexualized culture too. But you would think the people who run these places might understand. My husband and I came away from these encounters with a very clear understanding that these kids were cash cows and throwaways. Not every worker was terrible, yet there was no incentive to really help these young souls. They were very hard to help and in order to survive the job many workers just shut down.
One thing we found amusing was the constant talk about how M was at grade level in the school attached to the facility. I had been a teacher years ago. There was no way she was performing under a cocktail of hardcore drugs at “grade level.” So much of what gets said at these places is fiction.
“You’re damaged beyond repair that even if I wanted to fix you I couldn’t.”Ahmed Mostafa
Back to the therapy and complex trauma. The big take away after close to seven years with M is that most therapists reach a point when making lists of coping skills for M (like coloring or counting to ten or taking deep breaths) is not making any discernable difference. That’s when they tell me I need to find a new therapist, one more specialized in dealing with low IQ or one more competent in dealing with sexual trauma or just anyone but them. At many points M was referred for sexual trauma therapy but every time they said M was too unstable for it – despite the obvious connection between her instability and her unresolved sexual trauma. But to be honest I don’t really trust most therapists on even the mundane stuff let alone something as intimate as sexual trauma. Sometimes I wonder if most therapy does more harm than good.
Some people get it. The sexual trauma and abandonment issues make attaching to a family feel really unsafe for M. It leads her to run to strangers instead of parents or other truly safer people for help. She’s asked women at convenience stores to be her mom. In fact, anyone who is nice to her she wants to go home with. If a boy asks to feel her ass she says yes. If a girl asks to kiss her she says yes. If a person asks her to drink gasoline she says yes.
Yet if a parent or teacher asks her to brush her teeth, she suspects ulterior motives. She also senses when people are becoming aware of her need to manipulate. M is always the favorite with naïve workers and teachers – at least for a time.
(This is part 7 of an ongoing narrative about our family’s experience with a mildly disabled child we adopted from foster care.)