For the Children

Those of you catching my blog for the first time will soon learn what those who’ve been around awhile already do:  I am obsessed with animal advocacy.  This ISN’T what I’m going to write about today, though.  Not exactly.

I’ve mentioned previously the circumstances surrounding my divorce, and that those circumstances centered around my stepson’s abuse by his biological father.  The trauma and emotions and everything just destroyed my family. The divorce may have happened anyway, but the abuse and accompanying trauma was the trigger.

So, how does this tie into my affair with animal advocacy?  Well, I’d gotten a dog as a way of moving on and into another chapter of my life, and the more I loved my dog (and who couldn’t), the more I felt the need to be involved with animal rights.  It occupies a great deal of my free time, but I love it, I love doing it, I love being part of positive change.  I love knowing that I may contribute to the success of any given campaign.

But I often imagine my ex-wife asking me, “Why do you do all of this for animals, and you’ve never done anything for abused children, for children’s rights?”  I often ask this of myself in my own voice, let alone hers.  I feel guilty for not doing it.  Shouldn’t this be a topic even closer to my heart?

I’ve seen what abuse can do to a child’s life.  My stepson’s reality became daily and nightly rages that would require restraining him most days, for he couldn’t get himself under control and he was a danger to himself and everyone around.  He was diagnosed as having dissociative flashbacks as the cause of these rages, and obviously these are not remotely anything a 7-year-old can handle.  He usually couldn’t make it to bed without incident.  He couldn’t even make it to school a lot of the time.

By his 9th birthday, he was living in therapeutic homes and hospitals for children in such situations.  By that point, my wife and I had already separated.  We were back together, and then not, while he lived in several such homes for the next 3 years.  Having lived all of this and seen it happen to the child I tried to raise as my own, shouldn’t this be a cause I’d more eagerly join?

He still has the rages.  Anything can trigger them.  I don’t get reports from his mother as to how he’s doing most of the time, and frankly, I really can’t stand having to deal with her anyway.  My stepson himself isn’t going to volunteer the bad things that have gone on in my absence.  I still see him every couple of months, but I’m almost more of an uncle in a way at this point.  But when I DO get the news of incidents he’s having, I die inside.  He’s 13 now; He’s already lost his childhood, and now his adolescence is jeopardized.  I don’t know how to handle that, how to accept it.  It’s a crippling feeling.

I think this is why I don’t get involved in children’s advocacy, especially that for abused children.  It might be too close to home.  I see so many things daily on the internet doing animal stuff, like dogs being tied up and thrown outside to freeze to death.  Puppies who’ve had their eyes gouged out and then shot with BBs.  These things make me want to curl up and give up so much of the time.  There’s so much wrong, so much evil in the world strictly dealing with animals.  It’s hard to go on sometimes.  I don’t know if I can do this same thing and hear the stories of what’s happening to kids out there.  I already know so much of it.  Maybe it’s partially because MY OWN trauma is tied up in these things.  I don’t think I can handle seeing what I’ve seen happen to animals happening to children, but I still beat myself about not being involved.

I can only thank whatever powers might be, mankind generated and/or higher, that there are people out there who deal with those things daily.  Some of those folks are and have been involved in my stepson’s life.  There are so many programs out there that you wouldn’t know existed.  Maybe one day I’ll be able to stomach doing it myself; I hope it doesn’t make me a bad person that I’m not involved at present.  But for now, all I can do about it is what I did back then: cry.

      

In Better Times

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Flashbacks in Last Night’s Class

I was at my tai chi class last night (yes, I take a tai chi class), which is actually held in the basement of a church.  I don’t belong to the church, and  religion or lack thereof doesn’t qualify or disqualify anyone from going.  That’s just where it’s held.

I bring the church part up because the basement is a multi-purpose setting.  Meetings are held down there, other exercise classes, and plays and talent shows as well, since there is a stage.  The stage is the key to my story here.  The curtains were open, and various things were up there, including desks and chairs.  The one item that really caught my attention was a little red ball.

I’ve mentioned my dissolved marriage in this still-new blog, but not the reasons why it is so.  The fact is that my ex-wife and I found out my stepson was being abused by his biological father.  All of the trauma and stress that came from this revelation is what ultimately did us in.  I’m not saying we wouldn’t have ended where we are now anyway, because who knows, but that’s the way it happened.

This I mention now because once we got him away from his father (he lives in another state, there’s a restraining order, etc,), my stepson had violent episodes of lashing out, which is apparently common of victims once they are safe.  His violence was so bad (towards us and himself) that it was a miracle if he could make it to school.  This was our daily existence, walking on eggshells until something finally tripped the land mine.

He was eventually sent to a live-in therapeutic setting for children like himself.  My wife and I had separated by this point.  Ultimately, he was in a series of centers for three years before finally coming home.  It was the memory of his second such therapeutic situation that was triggered by this little red ball.

This facility is in Piscataway, and is part of the psychology and psychiatry program at Rutgers.  We would get two visits per week (My wife had come back to living with me and we were briefly together again at this point).  During our visits, we could use the gym on the campus, as long as it wasn’t already in use.  This was often a highlight to the visits.  My stepson loved the time since he’s very athletic and active, and we made up a lot of different games while there.

This gym also had a stage area, with curtains and all, and this, to get to the destination at the end of the winding road, is why seeing a ball on a stage sent scenes rushing back from the past to fill my head.  We were doing breathing and meditative exercises in tai chi class at the time, and as I was holding my pose, and focusing straight ahead, I saw the ball.  I had to stifle the urge to cry, and to remain in the present.

There will be things that will bring flashbacks of such memories, of course, though it happens less frequently over time.  But when they do, they will always come at a time when they’re completely unexpected.