Loving the Unlovable
Trip # 3 to the school counselor’s office in a week. No sweat. Right? Could I be in a worse hell?
I kept telling myself it’s okay and nothing should come of it. Good Grief! I am known in the community as PTA health and safety officer, Precinct Chair, State Delegate, youth leader at my church, substitute teacher in our school district, and I have 12 years with 2nd District Juvenile court. I help abused kids; I don’t abuse them. People who know me couldn’t possibly believe this. Never mind that every gossip in the neighborhood is having a field day at my expense. I see the telephone lines smoking with calls and cackling. My mind is running full tilt when I vaguely hear, “We think she might be a RAD child.” I come out of worried haze, “ It’s reactive attachment disorder, also known as RAD for short. Let’s wait for the others and then I can explain it better,” is the counselor’s reply.
This started five days ago. I came home after three days in the hospital planning on a month long recovery. Friends and family started filtering in with gifts and dinners. A few seemed to act odd but I figured pain killers skewed my perception. When two good friends hung back and said they needed to talk, I knew something was amiss.
Learning Bailey, my daughter, told people I beat her nearly sent me into shock. Bailey told a school custodian I’d hit her with belts and shoes and wooden spoons across the head, back, and legs the previous two days. Telling the story, she’d cried at the appropriate times, acted afraid, and seemed a credible victim. What makes it worse is her appearance.
Bailey is beautiful. At five- years old, she was the spitting image of Boo from Disney/Pixar’s Monsters Inc. She had the black, glossy hair, big round eyes, pale complexion and rosy cheeks to complete the image. To top it off, she was affectionate and full of hugs for everyone. Only family and close friends knew Bailey came to live with us only 22- months ago. She and her older sister came to our home and we adopted them after their mother neglected them . Our daughter count doubled, to everyone’s excitement. All four girls seemed happy with new sisters.
I reminisced about the last 2 years until I’m brought back to reality with the sound of the counselor’s voice. She assures us, my husband, the school’s principal, a representative from Child Protective services, and I, Bailey’s story has no credibility. Bailey couldn’t tell her a clear story. She found no marks on Bailey, and my hospital stay at the time of the alleged abuse provided me an airtight alibi. We listened as she explained the real problem, “What would prompt Bailey to concoct such a story, and how did she do it so effectively? After meeting with Bailey and running sensory and cognitive tests, I believe we may need to look at the possibility Bailey is a RAD child. RAD stands for Reactive Attachment Disorder and is difficult to understand. This is mostly because there’s not a concrete definition for it.”
As we listened, the counselor explained how RAD is often associated with kids in and/or from Russian orphanages with not much research available on it. She also warned,” there is no quick fix but untreated it’s dangerous.” She believed Bailey failed to “attach” to a proper “caregiver.” During infancy her cries for attention went ignored. Cries for attention turned to cries of fear then hysteria, but were still ignored. Because this happened when critical trust and care relationships normally develop between mother and baby, Bailey is incapable of trusting anyone. She feels she must manipulate to get anything, and will target anyone who tries to truly love her without conditions. Part of Bailey is mortally afraid of love. Even though she craves it, if she begins to get love, real love, and accept it, she is no longer in her comfort zone and will sabotage it. Now that I am her primary caregiver and had been for 2-years, I’d unknowingly began breaking down her hearts’ protective fortress, and she panicked. In this panic, her only known survival skills took over in an effort to get me as far away as possible. Physically, emotionally, Both? It didn’t matter; I must not be allowed to touch her heart. “Bailey feels if she allows you to love her, she could literally die. It will get much worse before it gets better.” I remember thinking “how much worse can it really get?”
The more I loved Bailey, the more she fought back. She stole jewelry, money, toys and anything she could fit in her pockets from friends, stores, family members, and teachers. In 1st grade a boy upset her; she ran across the room propelling a desk and tried to smash him against the wall. Her teacher, slower than the student, caught the desk with her leg. The injury resulted in two weeks bed rest. Bailey felt no remorse.
Another time, Bailey’s younger sister accidently toddled into Bailey learning to walk. Bailey’s retaliation plan: leading her to the top of the stairs, and pushing her down.
At night I’d sense someone standing over me. When I opened my eyes Bailey’s form would shock me awake. She stood over me starring. It started happening 4 or 5 times a week, and the look in her eyes grew more menacing.
Bailey ignored any instruction I gave. At our wits end, my husband and I sought out a counselor. Bailey went weekly for six months before he announced that she wasn’t making progress. He referred us to an “attachment” therapist. The new therapist met with Bailey for a year before reporting she was also incapable of “reaching” Bailey.
During the months of therapy Bailey’s behavior escalated. We grew afraid to take her anywhere. While shopping she screamed , “Help me! This isn’t my mom,” or “Don’t hit me!” and begin to cry. Strangers followed me around the store. Some yelled at me, and one lady called the police. If Bailey didn’t yell, then she was ran away the second our backs turned. Several times she made it to the parking lot. When a stranger found her crying she’d plead her case. Bailey relayed fantastic stories of abuse, forced pan handling, and abandonment. Because Bailey began the habit of hitting herself, picking scabs until they were infected, and ripping her clothes, her stories carried authenticity.
At Bailey 8-years old her antics spiraled out of control. She’d become a danger to herself, family and friends close to her. She snuck steak knives to school and threatened classmates. She stole food, and her lying reached outrageous proportions. Bailey lied about anything and everything. With drywall in her hair she’d scream and cry in defense, “I didn’t dig in the wall!” While I held her crumpled homework recovered from the garbage, Bailey swore it wasn’t hers. Flower garden destroyed and covered in dirt she proclaimed innocence and accused me of “framing” her. Consequences used thus far failed impact her behavior. Her sisters, scared and upset, begged us to “give Bailey back.” Criticism from family, friends, and strangers became vicious. The stressful situation manifested in my health. When my Dr. threatened me with respite care something needed to be done, and fast. Unwilling to “give Bailey back”, we devised a plan in final acceptance of the RAD diagnosis.
My husband and I began our research. We studied every article, suggestion, book, and website available. We spoke to parents of RAD children across the country greedily eating up suggestions. Everything learned, heard and suggested went into a file. Then we dissected the file looking for circumstances and protocols that fit Bailey. We discovered Bailey is “hard wired” – it’s difficult for her to process information. Because her thought processes weren’t cultivated properly, natural developing neural pathways failed to develop. Steps a child normally learns to use in completing a task, Bailey didn’t have a chance to learn in early childhood. After I ran water for her bath, I told Bailey to “go get in the tub”, she went and got in the tub clothes and all. Her lack of social skills surfaced completely. Bailey’s mind didn’t allow higher processing needed to understand the steps: A- go to your room, B- get undressed, C- grab your towel, D- got into the bathroom, E- now get in the tub. Bailey is an Einstein. Her IQ tests proved it. However, all her mental energy went into surviving, not learning.
The treatment which appeared most effective was also the most expensive; an inpatient RAD facility ,our insurance refused to cover. Refusing to give up, we took various parts from our research and pieced them together. Bailey’s Plan emerged. Resembling tough love on steroids, it intimidated us. The Plan’s tactic’s appeared severe, yet we’d found ourselves in a severe position. If anything could reach Bailey, this would. We would. We had too. Case’s we studied indicated Bailey was older than most children starting treatment. The quicker we began– the more effective the outcome. If we waited too long the result: Lizzy Borden. When Love is Not Enough: A guide to Parenting Children with Rad-Reactive Attachment Disorder by Nancy L. Thomas, became our Bailey Bible.
The Plan began with an alarm on Bailey’s bedroom door to stop her night roaming. She wasn’t permitted to leave her room at night from the time we placed her in bed until we opened her door in the morning. If she attempted to sneak out the alarm emitted a shrill scream waking everyone in the house. We stripped her room of everything except a bed, sleeping bag in place of sheets and blankets, an alarm clock, and a calendar. Dirt combined with the 20+ holes she’d kicked, beat, or dug in the wall white walls, exposing the vertical studs, her room rivaled prison cells. The image surpassed a cell after we removed the carpet Bailey urinated on daily to “make mom clean it.” Everything she’d formerly owned became a privilege she’d earn.
“I don’t know”, Bailey’s favorite response to questions, was no longer acceptable. “I don’t know” really meant “I know but I chose not to tell you.” We made ensured the choice to tell us was less strenuous the alternative. Example: “Why did you dig a hole in the wall we just fixed?” When she answered “I don’t know” I replied, “ I am sorry your choosing not to tell the truth, perhaps jumping jacks will jog your memory.” Bailey did jumping jacks until she chose to admit that destroying the wall because I fixed it made her happy. Vengeful? Yes! Admitting the truth a step in the direction needed for higher thinking? Mega Yes! Our creativity handling Bailey became boundless.
Bailey’s lying earned the” three strikes and you’re out” rule. If she continued past the third strike her lies were met our lies. Unsure, we told little lies at first as an attempt to evoke a real emotion in Bailey, “Sure, you can have a popsicle”, knowing none remained. “Sure you can go swimming”, then not unlocking the pool door. When she questioned the lies, we repeated the answer we’d previously received from her– “Oh, I guess I lied” , complete with shrugged shoulders and little giggle. When little lies failed our resolve hardened and we went big. We needed to get through to this kid! The day she believed a new bike awaited her in the garage, she vibrated with excitement. Discovering we lied sent her into tears, and made the emotional impact we needed for progress. My husband and I secretly cried together. We felt brutish and horrible but later, realizing the emotional progress her crying signified, our resolve to carry the plan through returned. In a child bereft of emotion real crying initiated the breakthrough we needed for real emotional healing. Bailey, albeit grudgingly, began to tell the truth.
If Bailey chose to run off while we were in public, she chose to wear a toddler leash. If she chose to yell out, she chose to wear a sign stating, “I tell lies and cannot be trusted. Please ignore me.” If she chose to rip, color on, or ruin her clothes; she chose to wear them that way until they were too small. If she chose not to get up in the morning, then she chose to remain in bed all day until the next morning.
At www.attachment.org we found printable letters for teachers, family and friends who didn’t understand RAD. They explained Bailey in a way we couldn’t articulate. We printed them and met with her teachers. We discussed Bailey’s main goals; to triangulate me from all other adults and her manipulation of others. Reiterating information in the letters, we explained that although our methods appeared strange, they’d proven effective and we needed support not criticism. The school principle supported us. Her extensive experience with RAD in both her home and career helped. She looked over Baileys Plan, understood it, and approved it with two thumbs up. We devised strategies; working as a team Bailey learned her shenanigans wouldn’t work anymore.
Bailey refused to accept information, solutions, or resolutions unless she thought of them herself. Mindless work provided her the opportunity to arrive at the appropriate conclusions on her own. We brought in a large load of landscaping gravel. When Bailey needed to inner reflect her actions or burn off non constructive energy , she took a bucket and moved rocks from one pile to another across the yard. This menial exercise didn’t require thinking, leaving her mind free to reflect and reach conclusions. She had to realize consequences followed her choices. A good consequence or a poor consequence; the choice was hers.
Most importantly, we began to teach Bailey real love. She used affection as a manipulation technique. If she hugged me or told me that she loved me, she wanted something in return. The hardest thing we ever did: reject her affections. When and where she received our affection , to ensure they were manipulation free, are giving on our terms, not hers. We chose times daily. We started daily visits with Bailey; 5 to 10 minutes alone with either my husband or I, then the three of us combined for 10 to 20 minutes. We allowed her to control the conversation and get things off her chest or clarify things she wanted and/or needed to know. The questions and quality time provided necessary bonding experiences for Bailey and us. In day to day interactions Bailey wasn’t permitted to question or dispute our methods, instructions or answers. Similar to the National Boys Town social skills, when given an instruction or asked a question, Bailey was required to: 1. Look at the person 2. Say Okay 3. Accept it and/or do it right away. If she questioned why the decision or instruction was given she had to wait until the appropriate time to ask. Methodically this worked on two levels. One, Bailey learned a valuable social skill. Two, remembering the question opened memory pathways in her mind promoting higher thinking. Bailey needed help in both areas and this exercise helped tremendously.
Initially, Bailey attempted to manipulate the quality time, using the alone time to complain about the absent parent. We countered by ending the sessions early and explained when she chose to manipulate, she chose to not have quality time. Since she secretly craved this time the manipulation efforts ended quickly. Bailey’s behavior improved. She asked serious questions which helped us understand her real emotions and fears. “Do you hate me because I am like my real mom? When are you going to send me away? Why am I so stupid? Why was, I don’t know, not an acceptable answer when I…..?” In this free zone, answers were given honestly, fairly and sometimes brutally by both us and her.
Bailey couldn’t love herself and therefore believed no one could love her. As she received answers and understood she was ours for life, she began to feel secure. She started to seek our approval using her new learned social skills, telling the truth and accepting consequences; and upon receiving it she flourished. Her grades improved, she made friends. The better Bailey behaved, the more privileges she earned. She began redefining her comfort zone. In her own mind, deciphered through careful instruction, Bailey began to understand the control was, and had always been, hers.
Today Bailey is 13-years old and our daughter 9 years. She has been with us 9 years. Occasionally, she attempts to slide into her former and destructive comfort zone, and we act immediately with preventive measures. Bailey has a structured schedule that is written down to help her micro-manage herself. What we view as responsibility appropriate to her age, she views as control, and we’re okay with that. For a child denied control in her former circumstances, Bailey needs to know she can control things. She’s learning miss-used control is a poor choice; Bailey works hard to avoid poor choices because she knows that when choosing poorly, she is choosing to relinguish control. Her comfort zone is becoming less stressful and antagonistic for both herself, and those around her. Her teachers communicate with us regularly to discuss Bailey’s progress, and ask questions when they are unsure of what to do. Bailey Beams instead of sabotaging herself when receiving praise. She’s proud of herself! She carefully cleans and organizes her room. The walls are painted purple, decorated in butterflies and peace emblems, and have no holes! Her shelves display favorite books, toys, and porcelain collectables. Zebra print sheets are her favorite, but she’ll take leopard print in a pinch. Her hardwood floors sport a tye-dyed shag throw rug she loves to lay on to read.
We still have our days, but the good days are more frequent. Bailey’s beautiful, honest, and genuine smile gives us hope. Hope she will grow into the beautiful woman we know she is, and accept herself. Hope, Bailey truly understands she is lovable and we love her unconditionally forever.