How it All Began
How it all started…
About a year ago, we (meaning Vale’s father and I) discovered that Vale was getting in an unhealthy and obsessive relationship with a girl at school. Initially, we thought they were just friendly with each other, because we have a no girlfriend policy for our younger children, so we tried to talk to Vale like a gentleman. The girl he was chatting with was the daughter of a friend of mine. The daughter had quite a lot of emotional problems and one of the manifestations of them was cutting. We told Vale about this, and cautioned him to be a good friend and not to lead her on etc. But Vale seemed to use this information against this girl in order to manipulate her. Well, at the time that’s what it seemed. He emailed her 80 times in one day. He talked to her about running away and living in the woods behind her house. He chided her for not telling him about the cutting, saying if she really cared about him she would have told him. We found this behavior odd and distressing. In fact we were so alarmed, we began to discuss therapy. We saw the behavior at the time to be symptomatic of a sexual dysfunction (there were other issues) and it seemed like Vale was going to grow into a disturbingly controlling person.
Vale had always been problematic. When he came to live with us he was rebellious, oppositional, difficult, abrasive. He was my one adopted son that I had to pray for to be able to love. He was not easy. I spent most of my time disciplining and redirecting him. He did poorly in school; he wouldn’t follow directions, complete the work, flip the page over and do the back. He was not affectionate, told our daughters how much he disdained girls, and was disruptive at every turn. Honestly, one reason we adopted Vale was that we knew he wouldn’t find a permanent home elsewhere, easily. He would be bounced from place to place because he was just so difficult. We were always very hard on Vale, because if you gave that child and inch he would use it to strangle you. Oh, if we only knew then what we know now.
We’re not big fans of secular therapy. We take our faith and the Bible quite seriously and often secular therapy is counterproductive to our belief system and world view. We looked for therapy, but on our own we started to work more intensely with Vale. In this time, Vale seemed to be very repentive of what he was engaged in with this girl from school which we thought was positive. He also accepted Christ as his Savior and seemed happier. In fact as we went along he became a more pleasant person, and a real joy to have around. He was spending time with his siblings and laughing. He would make fun of himself humorously and seemed to be so content. He started to smile, a lot. He has such a beautiful smile. It’s the kid of smile that when he does so, you have to stop what you are doing and just bask in it. We discontinued seeking therapy, because we saw such a change in him. We enjoyed him so much.
Just about 6-8 weeks ago, we caught Vale doing the same type of behaviors with another girl in school. Obsessive. Constantly wanting to be with her. Lying. Sneaky. This particular young lady was also problematic. She was more ‘emo’ and Vale thought he would help her. We reminded him that he couldn’t be a help to her when he was lying in order to do it. We stopped this whole situation. He began obsessing on thoughts about this girl and the previous girl. We didn’t understand this at all. So I brought him into my room to have yet another talk with him.
After chiding Vale for repeating the behaviors we saw last year, asking him why he would go back to behaving like that he started to cry. Then he said something that shook me. “I wish I could tell you”. You know I have seen people in movies with such anguish on their face, but in person, until this moment, I had never seen a person looking so completely tortured. After trying to talk to him and asking what he wanted to tell me and trying to speculate what in the world would cause him to have such a strong reaction, he told me about the cutting. I thought perhaps I was hit with a brick. He had been cutting since the situation with the first girl had ended, with a short period of abstaining through the summer. And not for the reasons I would have previously thought; because he was trying to get attention or be like her, he was punishing himself for the way he acted. I had no idea. No idea he was cutting, no idea how hard he took it. Then he showed me his arms. He seemed to disassociate throughout this disclosure because he asked me more than once if he was awake or was he dreaming. My son, you were awake in a terrible nightmare.
He seemed to attack mostly one arm, the left (he is right handed) and mostly on upper side. I could see the thin white scars of his previous handiwork. He enjoyed using a box cutter so the cuts were neat and rather orderly. After looking his arms over, I called his father to come into the room and shared with him my gruesome discovery. Both of us were so incredibly sad (that word seems so inadequate). I felt as if the world had split apart. I had so much…screaming inside of me I knew that I had to let it out. I took a few plates that we weren’t using much and went outside to scream and smash the plates. I had read about cutting. I knew what a difficult obsession it was to conquer. I knew it pointed to some very serious, deep seated psychological issues. I knew how badly it was going to impact the family.
Honestly, I didn’t know where to start to get some help for Vale. So I contacted our pediatrician. She is excellent and I knew that at the very least she could point us in the right direction. After her exam she pointed out to us that Vale hadn’t gained any weight although he had grown over the last year. Vale had not been eating as much, but honestly I didn’t think about it much. Children’s appetites wax and wane and Vale had always been so fit and ate so well that I thought it was the downside of a growth spurt. The tendrils of fear started to wrap around my arms and legs; inching it’s way to my heart. Then, later when Vale showed me his journal, which he offered to help further explain himself to me, I saw how bad the eating was. He boasted in the journal about how he kept himself from eating and how he hid it from us. Even then I didn’t realize how bad the damage was until I saw Vale without his shirt. Those tendrils, that white hot grip of fear, threaded itself around my throat. My formally athletic looking son looked scrawny, but nothing more. He was always lean and muscular, like a sprinter. Not hugely bulky, but he definitely had well defined muscles, but no longer. Shoulder bones jutted out like girders of a gutted building, developed muscles looked spare and thready. Panic rose like bile.
We knew that the other children needed to know. But how to tell them. The reactions varied, vastly. One brother grabbed Vale by the throat and threw him up against the wall, screaming why? One sister wanted to move out for a while because she was so frustrated by Vale’s choices. Others cried. Heads shook in disbelief. Our kids are pretty sheltered, they aren’t exposed to this type of issue at all. Honestly, they couldn’t name one other person that they personally knew who experienced this. They had read books, but now it was going on in their home. The other children would change their views and become incredibly supportive of Vale, but they couldn’t yet. One crucial piece of the puzzle, the enigma, that is Vale was still missing.
Our pediatrician suggested an appointment with an adolescent medicine specialist, and honestly, it was a quick appointment but it felt like time was standing still. We saw a doctor in a nearby teaching hospital who is a leader in his field. I had no idea what to expect. It was here that we would be given that last piece to the puzzle. Vale, after carrying the burden for 5-6 years, laid it down at the doctor’s office; he was repeatedly sexually abused in his previous foster home by two different boys. He would have been 6-8 years old at that time. A mother’s heart can break in more pieces than one could guess… or calculate. My. poor. baby. So much made sense now, so many things became crystal clear. If we had known, how we would have approached things, how we would have handled his behavior, how we would have provided, comforted, wrapped our love around him, which we wanted to do previously, but we would have insisted. And then the diagnoses started to become clearer:
- Post traumatic stress disorder
- Severe depression
- Eating disorder, NOS
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
We knew that the road we were going to walk was long, but with each dx I saw the road stretching further ad further.
Well this catches up our story to where this blog began. I had to tell the story, for me. For Vale. For other mothers who woke to a nightmare that they never imagined. But mostly, for the other boys.. you’re not alone.