Saturday, November 27, 2010

No One Likes To Be Afraid

We are working with our new dog, Dolly, another Rat Terrier, who has many fear-based issues. She started off our Thanksgiving gathering by sharply nipping a 3-year-old who ran up to her and frightened her. Now it's muzzle time whenever she is in a group of people. The point is, she didn't bite because she's mean. She bit because she's afraid. She has been traumatized and suffered a lack of socialization and it shows. One of her first fears that we have conquered is fear of men. As you can see, she isn't afraid of my husband. Of course, there are a lot of other men out there.

There is a very sweet little pooch under all that fear, so we called a real-life Dog Whisperer in and he gave us some guidelines to follow and exercises to do and a lot of good input on what we were doing wrong. He figures it will take months, consistent work and determination to bring out the real Dolly. We can already see the progress and I have found that the stronger and more supportive her "Daddy" and I are, the more content she is.

Of course, I had to think about parenting and feeling secure and it instantly related to the pain of surrender and to being adopted. I went to my parents because I needed the support and strength of my "pack leaders." They reacted with fear of what people would think and how I may have ruined my life and my family's as well. So I became fearful that I could do nothing right, that my child was going to be taken from me and that I was not a very good person. My children felt fearful that there was no permanence in parental love or consistent support without working hard for it. After all, their child-brain processed the surrender as being unwanted.

I became eating disordered. I know other mothers who struggled with agoraphobia, panic attacks, drug and alcohol dependency, relationship problems and over-protective mothering based on the fear of losing more children. Fear is a powerful, powerful thing. It can take perfectly good people and turn them into biters. I know I carried a chip on my shoulder and could turn and growl with the best of them. Regaining self-esteem and confidence that I could face the harsh waves in the sea of life and ride them brought out a better me. Oh, I can still nip, but only when it's appropriate..*wink.

Many of our sisters still live in that fear that was instilled in us when we were isolated and coerced into surrender. Some of the older Moms also struggle with the social mores of our era, the idea of "sin" and fear of the loss of what they have built over the years. Many also fear having to revisit a very traumatic time in their lives. Many who fought to regain their "respectability" fear losing it again. That fear can make them behave in a very unnatural way to their adult child. That adds to the adopted person's feelings of being unwanted and abandoned and it becomes a vicious cycle.

The Alcohol Anonymous Big Book identifies fear as one of the primary enemies of the addicted person. Fear, in and of itself, is another emotion that is a part of life. Where we mess up is when we, like our little Dolly, act out of fear. A brave person is usually not without fear. Responding with courage in spite of fear is real bravery. Doing what is right takes a lot more courage than doing nothing or doing something easy (wrong). For instance, we could continue to avoid all those situations that bring out Dolly's fear, but she would make zero progress if we did that.

I think we could use some "Reunion Whisperers" to tug on the leashes of fearful adopted people and mothers, poke us and say "hush" when we show our fear in rejection, blaming, whining, demanding, hiding and other such actions.

While we want a lower-maintenance dog out of this experience, what we want most is for Dolly to feel safe, self-confident and to face her fears and overcome them. We want her to relax and just enjoy being a dog.

I wonder what it will take for us to relax and just enjoy being reunited mothers and adult offspring?


Lori said...

Robin, if you ever figure it out, let me know. I could use the help.

Real Daughter said...

"Reunion Whisperer"- aint that the truth? Poor Dolly....she'll get there.

ms. marginalia said...

I wish so much this could be true for me. There's nothing I can do for my own nmom except give her more space and time--probably until she dies. In the meantime, I have to live with what I have and love someone else unconditionally, like my dog.

Finn, my greyhound/Deerhound rescue has his own issues, including not wanting to be touched with he's sleepy or on our bed. We are working with him slowly and desensitizing him to contact. It's a long road ahead, but he loves us and we love him. It's worth it.

At some time I have to say enough to my nmom; she really does have to meet me halfway and stop poisoning the rest of my nfamily against me. If I could figure out a way to be more acceptable to her, I would do it, but she's pretty much told me my choices are either to stay away from her entirely or to die.

A Reunion Whisperer might help both of us find a path through a landscape that now seems impassable. I am sorry that my nmom's shame and shattered sense of self preclude my presence in her life. I will never quite understand this, having given birth to two children of my own; they are part of me and always will be. And yet I have no choice but to abide by my nmom's limits. I do feel angry at being controlled, as she controls everyone else in the family, but again--sadly, c'est dommage.

Thanks for an excellent post, Robin.

Best of luck with Dolly!