Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
You are a female who moves into a home where the adult son of one of the roommates will beat you occasionally depending on his mood. Do you stay or run like heck? Do you call the police to haul him away and press charges? How do you defend yourself? Do you fight back?
Now picture you are the step-mother who moves into a home where the adult son of your husband will beat you occasionally depending on his mood. The complicated difference is that this is a marriage and newly formed family with an adult son who has a severe disability. Running away is not an option. Having him hauled away after major behaviors is not an option for us personally given our specific circumstances (your circumstance may be different). Defending yourself? YES. Of course! But you have to be careful in how you react to him during a physical altercation. Best practice in our situation is to try and block him away from you and evade-escape-clear the space.
Through the last few years, Graham has flourished since we began implementing the strategy of triggering his behaviors instead of avoiding them (allowing us to teach him appropriate ways to respond to his own anger, frustration), giving him ultra clear boundaries, and consistent, consistent, consistent consequences.
While the frequency of his attacks has SIGNIFICANTLY dropped, I (we) still carry those traumatic experiences around. I can’t just forget how he’s hurt me or hubby. And part of the kicker is that while you can block him from trying to hurt you, you can’t physically “fight back” with him. So in that moment, you have to keep your head cool and hold back on your very basic and natural instinct to fight back. And after it’s all over, after he’s de-escalated, after he shows that he genuinely feels bad and apologizes, you can’t angrily argue or fuss at him (that would cause another attack because broken relationships are a trigger –I’ll explain his cycle in a later post).
How do I deal with that? How do I get up each day and face him? How do I not hate him?
One day early in our marriage, I was sitting in our peaceful backyard thinking things through. It was during the time when I started to trigger behaviors which meant that the frequency of attacks was relatively high. I think I had racked up enough of these traumatic experiences and started to feel angry and bitterness was just beginning to take root. But the anger and bitterness weren’t necessarily geared towards Graham. Surprisingly, it was more directed at Graham’s dad (my hubby), Graham’s mom, and the professionals in Graham’s life who should have dealt with his aggression when he was a young and SMALL boy.
God planted a thought in my head that has carried me through. I don’t think of him as Scott’s child. I don’t think of him as his mom’s child. He is God’s child. And he is now in my life and I am to care for him with that perspective. I have my own 2 boys who I pray for protection and blessings over everyday. How much of that would God honor if I kept a good heart-attitude towards Graham every day?!
But over the last few months, even though Graham has been at his best, I’ve found myself again needing to change my heart-attitude. I’ve racked up more of those traumatic experiences since that day in the backyard and I was feeling it. And it’s not even the attacks. It’s living with the threat or the risk of an attack. The moment he wakes up and opens his bedroom door until he goes to bed at night, I am constantly in a high alert state – high adrenaline, watching, assessing his moves, analyzing him, keenly aware of my surroundings to know what my escape route is, where my protective hat is. EVEN if he’s being great and there is no risk! It is my new normal. I’m never at a relaxed state and that is what has been building up.
While thinking of him as God’s child had been carrying me through now, it wasn’t enough. I realized I hadn’t properly worked through forgiving Graham. For me, I felt that part of being able to forgive him was to talk to him. Talk to him? Graham is non-verbal, he makes noises and squeals. He generally operates as a 3 year old always watching very young cartoons and reading his Dr. Seuss books.
But do you know what? I went for it anyway. I talked to him. I spoke trying to use simple words, simple sentences. Sometimes I spoke in 3rd person (“when Graham does this…it makes his family feel…” // ” Graham’s family wants to feel safe, can Graham keep his family safe?”). I used a soft voice so he could focus on my words and not feel like he was in trouble. I poured my little heart out to him as he tried his best to keep eye contact with me. There were tears.
I don’t know how much of it he understood, but before he went back up to his room, this autistic kid who does not naturally give long hugs or any hugs at all, wrapped his arms around me and gave me the biggest and longest bear hug as he burst into uncontrollable tears. And I simply said to him “Graham, you’re doing great, you really are! We are going to start fresh. You and me together, we’re a team, okay? We can do this!”.