My husband was talking with me the other night about all the things we have learned over the years about Reactive Attachment Disorder. He shared with me what God had laid on his heart about this disorder and how it relates to us as Christians. I loved his insight and asked him to provide a guest post here. Enjoy.
Imagine you're a young kid. Old enough to have a sense of things but still young enough that the world is full of scary unknowns. You've been out to play a bunch of times and the sun has always been warm and inviting. One day, you go outside and as soon as you're in the full sunlight, your skin immediately starts to burn and blister. Even the skin under your clothes scorches under the rays of the sun that, on so many days previous, had been a warm welcome to come outside and play.
It takes many painful weeks for you to heal from this unexplained attack. Finally, the worst of the wounds close and you are left covered with faint scars. Most people don't even notice them but you do. You are confused and scared. No one around you can understand what happened. Why did the sun do that? What changed? Was it you? Did you do something? Eat something? Was it what you wore? How can you ever go outside again? You see other people come and go from the house and they seem fine. No one else around you appears to have been impacted by that day. But you were. The scars and a fear of the sun have burned deep into your body and mind.
Time passes. Your family and friends come and go from the house. Soon, they begin to coax you out. Being confined to the house is, after all, no fun for anyone. At first, you extend just a finger into the sun's rays and all is fine. Then your whole hand. An arm up to the shoulder is put into the sun's rays with no consequence and, finally, in one big plunge, you step out. Nothing bad happens. The sun is warm and inviting. Everyone around you tells you that it's OK. They tell you that terrible day has passed. No one can really explain it but they seem convinced it will never happen again. They tell you that you'll be fine now. Just relax.
Imagine being this kid and settling back into regular life. We all move on from tragedy eventually. After a while, you would go out and that day would not be in the forefront of your mind. School, friends, dating, all the trials of childhood would consume your daily thoughts. But would you ever forget that day? As you stood in front of the mirror each morning, would you ever not see the scars? Would there ever be a morning where you left the house and didn't, just for a moment, feel a knot in your stomach tighten as you step out? Probably not. At school, playgrounds, swimming pools and even out in your own yard playing, you would always keep one eye out for the nearest door, the closest shadow just in case the burning feeling came back.
If you ever could let that fear and vigilance go, it would not be easy. Fear is a very, very sticky thing after all.
Our kids came to us from broken homes and I've used versions of this story for years to describe to others what it's like to live with kids who display Attachment issues. These kids were burned, not by the sun, but by their parents. Adults who were supposed to care for them no matter what failed in that job and their families were blown apart. One by one, each of these kids had all of their possessions bagged into black garbage bags and were taken in the back of a police car to a temporary home.
Some of them were moved from one temporary home to the next after that. Eventually, each of them came to live with us. We've encouraged them from the very beginning that we won't leave. No matter what, we will be here. Foster workers call this the "Forever Family." This is a pledge that Mama and I mean down to our very core and all the kids know this about us academically. But have they ever really trusted it? When they look in the mirror, do they no longer see the scars? Have they stopped planning their exit strategy in case the burning feeling comes back?
A child health website describes the two versions of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) as:
Inhibited symptoms of reactive attachment disorder: The child is extremely withdrawn, emotionally detached, and resistant to comforting. The child is aware of what’s going on around him or her—hypervigilant even—but doesn’t react or respond. He or she may push others away, ignore them, or even act out in aggression when others try to get close.
Disinhibited symptoms of reactive attachment disorder: The child doesn’t seem to prefer his or her parents over other people, even strangers. The child seeks comfort and attention from virtually anyone, without distinction. He or she is extremely dependent, acts much younger than his or her age, and may appear chronically anxious.
We have textbook examples of both types of struggles in our patchwork family. Up until a couple of days ago, I thought it was a condition that our kids struggled with that I couldn't personally relate to.
It wasn't until I was making the "Transaction" post on my Instagram account that a big truth occurred to me. When it comes to my relationship with God, I am a RAD kid. I think we all are at times.
Re-read those descriptions in light of your own relationship with God.
Sometimes I'm withdrawn from Him and I don't want his comfort. Sometimes I'm aware of Him moving in my life but I don't want to acknowledge that I am a part of that movement. I sometimes push Him away and ignore Him. I get angry with Him frequently.
Sometimes I prefer the company of other people, someone, anyone, over Him. I seek comfort and attention from places and people I shouldn't. I sometimes do not act my age and can barely sleep at night for the anxiety rippling through my brain.
I am a RAD Kid. There's no question about it. Maybe it's because I didn't come to know Jesus until I was in my late 20's. By that point, I had so many scars and had developed so much distrust in myself and those around me. At that point, and even many days now, the idea of surrendering all I am to an omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent God of the universe was and is a very scary thing. I know what He says, what He did for me and I know that He keeps His promises. I know this academically. But true surrender, even to God, is a heck of a thing. I may spend the rest of my life learning how to do it, if I ever master it at all.
In the end, I have no advice for you. I have no prescription for getting back into the light of absolute trust in God's will for your life. I am still struggling too. For now, I'm going to keep praying and keep listening for His direction. I'm going to keep offering my broken love back to Him. I'm going to keep doing my best to move forward towards standing fully in the light, towards the Son, towards Him.
Maybe, when it's all said and done, that's all we're supposed to do anyhow.