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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Talk Therapy for Trauma and Abuse

I’ve shared with you how some of our internationally-adopted kids are a never-ending verbal loop of loopy experiences. If you went through what they’ve been through, maybe you’d want to get it out of your system, too.

So, we talk. Or rather, they talk. Constantly. It always comes out when they are feeling relaxed and safe. Bedtime (also known as a stalling tactic), meal time on weekends when we’re not so rushed, or any time when Papa is gone and they have Mama all to themselves.

I’m an easy target. For these conversations, they jump right back into Russian and the words flow out. More importantly, the feelings fly out of them. This is a release that’s so tangible, so visceral, that once the floodwaters start, there’s no turning them off.

“Just a minute, Misha,”  I tell our pushy Scottie who’s been nosing me incessantly, letting me know that he needs to go outside NOW, no matter what type of talk therapy may be going on.

The girls have just been telling me about the hatchet being raised above their drunk relative’s head, which was after the man was chased out of their bed, and before the neighbors gave them milk when they had nothing to eat or drink. The hatchet would have to remain aloft while the dogs went out.

“Girls,”  I interrupt the run-on sentences. “The dogs have to go. Ya dolzhna eedtee. I’ll just be a minute, okay?”

“No problem, Mama.”  They take the next two minutes to happily drink their hot chocolate and eat their oatmeal.

Stepping back inside, they immediately swing into high gear, not wasting a spare second.

“And then….”

I’ve heard these stories a million times. The girls basically stay on track and stick to the facts. Although the accounts are wilder than any fiction accounts, my Lie-o-Meter tells me that they are true. I wish for their sakes they were not.

Pasha is another case, altogether, and makes up stories as though he’s related to the Brothers Grimm. Or the King of Siam. Each tale is taller than the next and I realize, I am becoming a Face Reader, one who could easily work in criminal investigations, interrogating the crooks and needing no polygraph paraphernalia.

“Stop lying,”  I tell him when his eyebrows arch up as though he’s Joan Crawford.

“Mama, I’m not lying!” he compounds the lie, wanting me to believe that he was walking through the park one day, and there beneath the birch trees and blooming bushes, was a cell phone that just happened to be keyed into President Medvedyev’s personal line, and then the two became chums, and because of that, we were allowed to come and adopt him after waiting for so many years.

(That was not the exact story, but close enough.)

“Pasha, Pasha,” I stop him. “Let’s get a grip. Consider this: when we called you in Russia and they put the phone up to your ear and we talked to you, do you remember how you could not even say, “Allo”?

He sheepishly acknowleges it.

“So IF you went to the park one day (very doubtful since your internat never let you out for one minute past the great, big walls), and IF you actually got away by yourself, and IF you found a cell phone, and IF it was in working condition, I sincerely doubt that it would be keyed to any Presidential phone number from your remote little Russian village.”

He looks at me, knowing the gig is up, he’s guilty as charged.

“But it would have been fun to find a phone, wouldn’t it?” I squeeze his arm and smile.

It’s a delicate dance. In the beginning we believed him. We didn’t know people who lied on a regular basis. That changed quickly.

Petya, on the other hand, has no need to talk about his past at all. Often, those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) refuse to talk, so it doesn’t mean that the need doesn’t exist. Occasionally, I try to bring up this or that, so that he will know it’s okay to talk. But he really has no interest in the past. We once took him back to Russia to meet a birth relative who kept him alive with stolen food.

“Do you have any questions to ask him?” we wondered.

“Nyet,”  he shrugged, yet still excited about the visit. It would be enough just to see him.

So we had tea together, a driver bringing him from a remote village to the next largest town where we were waiting. There, the relative told an awful story in rambling Russian, that again, rang true. The talk could barely be conceived by Petya who was only a pre-teen at the time, and had already been separated from starvation and deprivation for some years. We felt that this somehow had a healing effect on Petya, not that he had any visible need of healing, but it gave him a sense of closure, the fact that it was not just a horrible nightmare that he had imagined, but he actually lived through these terrible events.

In parting, the relative, just a few years older than Petya, gave him words of advice.

“Always listen to your parents. You have good parents who love you. Stay in school and do well. Get a good education so you will not become like me….”

Talk therapy. Our kids with backgrounds of trauma and abuse need to talk and keep on talking. We never force it, but we always open the door a crack. Some push their way through and others just stand in the doorway, peeking in. Either way, they hear our voices calling out to them, an empathetic audience, a reassuring embrace, an anchor in the storm.


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