In a recent post I mentioned that my stepson, Thomas, has Reactive Attachment Disorder. Over the next month or so, I will make an attempt to shed more light on this diagnosis, but before I do that, I thought it would be relevant to share the following thoughts with you. I didn't write this, but it may as well have been me. It pretty much sums up the way I've felt for most of my life as Thomas' mom. However, at the moment, by God's grace and power, I no longer feel like I'm carrying around this "Bag of Rocks." It's hard to believe I once felt this horrible, but I did:
"When you carry a bag of rocks around, day in and day out, you will inevitably become tired. No matter how far you walk, how hard you work, how much you try, you are still tired. Even sleep is ineffective, because you are sleeping with your bag of rocks, and when you wake in the morning you continue throughout the day carrying the bag of rocks.
Some people would ask, "Why not just let go of the bag of rocks? Stop carrying it around with you, just put them down. Can't you see that would make it easier?" But, you see, I am afraid that if I let go of the rocks there will be nothing left. The rocks are all that I have, all that I have carried with me throughout my life, all that I trust. Certainly, carrying these rocks around makes me tired. But being tired is familiar, and safe. Would you let go of all that you have in the world, if you were not certain that by doing so you would gain more?
And yet (the irony is) we cannot have the certainty of more, until we let go of what we have. As long as I am carrying this bag of rocks, my arms are much too full for me to accept anything else. Even when you offer me a bag of feathers I don't dare to take it, for how can I trust that the load you are offering me is truly a load of feathers without opening the bag? Others have offered feathers, but given lead. How can I know that the bag you offer is not heavier than my current burden unless I let go of my bag of rocks, freeing my hands to open your bag? And I cannot let go of my bag, for if I put it down it might be taken from me. Or, even worse, I may find that my arms ache far too much for me to pick up the bag again, and then I would have nothing.
Can you understand why I would despair? You ask me to give up all that I believe that I have, all that I believe that I am, and yet I cannot. The fear of having nothing--of being nothing--is far too great. You want me to give up my hatred, my anger, and my pain (but most of all my pain, for the hatred and anger are mere masks for the grief and fear I hold inside). It will make me better, you say. And yet, how can I trust you, without first giving up all that I am holding on to? And how can I give up all that I am holding, if I do not trust you? Can you not see the confusion I am living with, the overwhelming fear that controls my actions? Can you not see why I push you away? Why I cause harm to myself, and to you? Can you not see why I am afraid?
Please understand, I don't want it to be this way. I do want more, I really do. Perhaps you may have noticed how hard I try, before the despair seems too much to bear, before I give in. If only I could give up these rocks, I would have peace. I would be happy. I want to believe it, but I can't. So I continue walking, dragging my bag of rocks, and wishing for something I can never have."
The mother of a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder wrote this in an attempt to explain to her therapist why she was holding on to so many of her destructive behaviors so stubbornly. She finally found the courage to let go of the bag and try something new--and yet at times she still goes back to that bag of rocks, because it is so familiar and safe, and the new ways are still uncomfortable and scary.
She hopes perhaps that this analogy can help parents of children with Reactive Attachment Disorder understand why it is so difficult for their children to trust, and why they fight so hard against what their parents can clearly see is best for them.