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 PART I OF NATHAN’S STORY, YOU CAN READ IT HERE.
*Both the mother and child’s identities have been protected.
If people had told me that Nathan could end up in jail one day as a result of untreated reactive attachment disorder, I wouldn’t have believed them years ago. I would have thought it was hype—just another tactic to get us to take him to one more counselor and give him more medication. I just remember thinking, “Thank God he doesn’t have bipolar disorder.”
These three words—reactive attachment disorder—on Nathan’s psychological reports had something to do with lack of attachment due to insufficient love and security from an early age. That was my understanding. So, logically, if lack of love and security caused this disorder, love and security would certainly cure it. Right?
Nathan’s bedroom was upstairs. I told my husband that my greatest nightmare was that, should we ever have a fire, that some big men—and it would have taken some big men—would hold me back from going in to save Nathan. I knew I wanted to go in or die trying. The most awful words I could ever hear as a mother were the words, “Mommy, help me!” and lacking the ability to do so.
If love could have conquered it, reactive attachment disorder would have never had a chance.
Reactive attachment disorder was the elephant in the room. It was ever present and causing chaos. Yet, our untrained eyes couldn’t see it. It started out small and unnoticed but grew larger. It was rather like a hidden picture within a picture—when one picture is obvious at first and then something else comes into view.
While we couldn’t see RAD itself, I now realize that the consequences of RAD were most definitely visible the whole time. The disorder left footprints—lying, stealing, arguments over responsibility, and destruction of property. A slashed waterbed dripping water through the first floor ceiling, quilts cut up, car windows broken, our favorite belongings disappearing, fires started, supplies coming home from school that were not purchased in a store, and notes from teachers. Yet, well-meaning friends and relatives dismissed the behaviors and said, “Boys will be boys.” One friend said, “Our son didn’t become responsible until he was 30. Kids aren’t perfect.”
And the aggressive behavior continued. Turmoil invaded our home. The elephant got larger. Car grills were kicked in, the front door destroyed, belongings taken and sold at pawn shops. He hurled hateful speech at those who had tried for years to ease the pain of the trauma of one small child. The words Nathan used toward me hurt my heart constantly.
Could these behaviors have something to do with reactive attachment disorder? That never occurred to me. The elephant got larger still. In retrospect, it was as though we packed for a trip and ended up in a place we never intended to go—a place filled with anger, destruction, and lies.
To more knowledgeable people, Nathan’s behaviors would have been signs that danger was ahead—like icebergs in the ocean. My husband and I were not knowledgeable, however. Reactive attachment disorder was merely a term in psychological reports. Instead, we thought if we just did more, gave more, and worked harder that love would prevail. We’d make everything right. Or so we thought.
We frequented the counselor convenient to our home location and that fit our insurance plan. The psychiatrist continued to increase medication dosages and types. By the end of Nathan’s senior year, in fact, we were all on medication as a result of the turmoil in our home. We had to laugh. It’s all we could do. My husband would call before he left the office at the end of the day to ask, “Has everyone had their pills?” We would chuckle but, in reality, he wasn’t kidding and we weren’t laughing with joy. Rather, out of survival and disbelief of what our lives had become.
Read part one of Nathan’s Story
Read the final chapter of Nathan’s Story.