We’re honored to share the story of Nathan*, as written by his adoptive mother. To raise a child with reactive attachment disorder is lonely and extremely overwhelming. Most of the world doesn’t understand it. The more stories we share as a community who does “get it”, the more we educate the greater community. Thank you for your courage, dear mama. Your story will help advocate for children from trauma and their families worldwide. If you missed the beginning of this story, you can read the first part here and the second part here.
*Both the mother and child’s identities have been protected.
Nathan was raised by professionals. We are college graduates. We read books. We went to parenting classes. Professional social workers became our friends. Yet, why was life so hard living with this child that we thought was in God’s plan for us to parent? I remember praying before we adopted him, asking God if it was His plan that we adopt Nathan. As many things fell into place during the adoption process, I felt like God was winking at me. I thought it was painfully obvious that we were doing what God had set out for us to do.
After years of frustration, my mindset changed. It became, “Okay attachment disorder—so you feel unloved. Welcome to the world. Whatever happened to you before you were 3-years-old is not happening now. Time to put on your big boy pants and get over it.” I had to go to work. My husband had to go to work. We would deal with these conflicts when we got home, day after day.
I wonder what Nathan’s life would have been like had we understood reactive attachment disorder back then. Was it actually possible that the chaos, turmoil, pandemonium, and nightmare that had invaded our home was the result of RAD? If so, how different would his life have been had he really gotten the therapy he needed? How different would our life have been as well?
I’m not wondering what his life would have been like if he had NOT gotten appropriate therapy. I already know. Two months prior to his 27th birthday, Nathan was in jail. I went back to the file cabinet and once again poured over papers and reports that day.
The words – attachment disorder – were prevalent in more than one report by different doctors and psychologists. That’s when I really started researching RAD. That’s when it hit me. Although we had tried nearly everything, what we had tried had not worked. Reactive attachment disorder—once illusive words on a page—all became very real. I discovered what RAD looks like. Nathan, it looks like you.
Through my research I discovered we had lived with RAD and its effects for 24 years. For 24 years it was ever present in our home and in every aspect of our life creating chaos, friction, anger, and fear. The conflict, anger, and verbal abuse from our son had been so overwhelming for all those years. I remember looking at the timeline of my life at one point and asking God how much longer I had to endure it all. And, if He would just come for me then it would be a blessing—much needed peace.
That did not happen. I discovered hope.
There is a chance that intensive therapy can jump-start Nathan toward gaining control of his life. We were directed to Forrest Lien and the Institute for Attachment and Child Development for intensive week-long therapy for adults. I still wish I would’ve found the Institute decades ago, but I can’t go back now. Only forward.
Nathan is now out of jail. The judge has stated, as part of Nathan’s probation, that he must get intensive therapy for reactive attachment disorder. The judge has granted permission for Nathan to travel to Colorado for treatment. If Nathan is sincerely ready to accept treatment then we plan to make the trip to Colorado for an intensive session with Forrest Lien. I am hoping that a year or two from now that we will look back on this moment as the turning point.
I never had to rescue Nathan from a fire. I never heard the dreaded words, “Mommy, help me.” Or, did I? Were those words hidden in all of his actions of aggression and anger toward me? Were those words, begging me for help, coded somewhere in his rage?
I remember praying after he went to jail. I asked God if perhaps I had misunderstood His answer years ago when I asked if we should adopt Nathan. After all the turmoil, the anger, the disappointments, and the fear—and yes, one can fear their own child— I prayed, “Dear God, did you really intend for me to be his parent? It is so hard.” The answer I got back was not what I had anticipated. The answer I got back was, “You understood me. It is hard. That is why I chose YOU to be his mother.”
So, you are 27-years-old Nathan and I have not stopped trying to help you. It is true that I did not give you birth but I want to give you life. We will find the time and we will find the money to get you the help you desperately need. If you want this as much for you as we want it for you then you will rise above RAD. You will gain control of it and be a blessing to those you love and who love you.