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 "VICTIM, SURVIVOR, OR THRIVER?"
OR

"WHY DO WE PUT OUR OWN SELF CARE LAST"
by Mary Miyakawa

After surviving parenthood of 6  “airplane” babies, (a term given to our family by our just adopted 11 year old daughter from the Viet Nam war), I can now give you the benefit of HINDSIGHT! The words, “victim, survivor, or thriver,” were first heard in the mental health field concerning adult victims of childhood abuse. The goal was to not only survive the difficult circumstances, but to rise above it and be a ‘thriver’ on life’s journey. Having raised our children from 1969 until 1988 when the last 2 graduated from high school, I have since had the honor and blessing of a private practice in clinical social work, dealing with many variations of ‘victimhood,’ and its pervasive influence on our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. It is clear that negative experiences perpetrated on us by outside forces can result in overwhelming powerlessness and the belief system of a victim. Therefore, if we are fortunate enough to survive, we often find ourselves in a mind state that promotes high stress body reactions the rest of our lives, preventing us from ever feeling that we are “thriving.”

  What I have noticed in myself, and many others, including many different adoption combinations, is the tendency, when the going gets really tough, to feel “victimized” by our own decisions. I thought about whether we could be victims of our own decisions and that yes, we could decide on some pretty destructive courses and then experience the consequences, such as drug addiction, alcoholism, suicide, antisocial behaviors. Those negative types of decisions come from problematic thinking. However, when we decide to build our family from adoption, fulfilling our life long dream of being a parent, it is usually from a positive, upbeat, empowered position of understanding our goals in life and taking steps to fulfill these goals. Having said all of the above, the question remains, can we be victims of our own empowered, self determination?

   I believe the answer is no. We are not ‘victims’ of our own empowered decision making. So now that we are no longer victims, what do we do when it is so hard to be the ever-patient, ever-wise, ever-positive, ever-loving, mother, father, single parent, adoptive parent, handicapped parent, working parent, student parent, parent of twins, learning disabled, attachment disordered, FAS and drug addicted babies, older, high needs adoptees and more? The answer is: we deliberately give ourselves well organized, wisely chosen, joy producing, nurturing, energizing SELF CARE. How many of we who are continuously multi-tasking (or is it multi-taxing), find ‘putting our own needs last’ a very easy pattern to slip into? I did, and I still do.

   I’m one of those who has to learn by trial and error – meaning learning the hard way. Most of the valuable lessons in life I have learned from my children. For example, after morning after morning of engineering 6 children out the door to chase the school bus, with full tummies, hair combed, back packs and homework, and me left feeling like a wreck and thinking like a victim, ganged up on by various moods and spats, I soon learned to rise early, comb my hair, wash my face, brush my teeth, put on a specially chosen, beautiful bathrobe, and eat my breakfast before the first child appeared in the kitchen. I put 2 little reminders on the cupboard: “You can carry it like a burden, or do it like a dance!” The other one was, “Stay friendly but firm.”  Putting myself, literally, first, enabled me to have fun and be my best self in sending my children off to school with a happy vision of mom in their hearts. This may seem like a small, insignificant example, but it is one that remains with me as a metaphor of those years of child rearing. When I followed this
principle, I felt happy, energetic, and empowered. When I let it slip away, I found myself becoming more and more overwhelmed by stress. The best validation is the flight instruction to give the adult the oxygen first, and then the child.   

   Draw a circle with pie pieces that represent the time and energy you put in to each aspect of living. My guess is there would be a tiny sliver for self care. If you are doing QUALITY self care, you are including four main areas: physical, emotional and mental, social, and spiritual. You are exercising regularly, eating healthy food, staying away from smoking, junk food, too much caffeine (to make up for lack of energy); you drink lots of water and you take good care of your physical appearance. For your emotional and mental well being, you have special hobbies, you journal, you don’t shy away from mental health services when needed; you understand how to relax your body and mind, through deep breathing, yoga, being out of doors.  It is vital that you keep your social connections alive by actively participating with spouses, partners, friends, family, and networking with those with whom you have common interests. Not least of all we need to honor and fulfill the matter of our spiritual beingness.

  Challenges in life, regardless of whether you have adopted children, bring us face to face with ourselves and the choices we make. Why not follow the principles of Stephen Covey in his book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” (Especially, #7)

1.        Be Proactive.  You are responsible for your life. Decide what you should do and get on with it.
2.        Begin with the End in Mind.
3.        Put First Things First. (Devote more time to what’s important rather than urgent.)
4.        Think Win-win. (Have an abundance mentality.)
5.        Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood.
6.        Synergize. Seek ways to cooperate with everyone. Value the differences between people.
7.        Sharpen the Saw. Continually exercise and renew four elements of your self: physical,
        
  mental, emotional/social, and spiritual.

If you are one of those adoptive moms who throw up your hands and wonder how you will ever have time to focus on your own needs, let alone actually do ‘self care,’ it is important to remember small steps. Just try having a wonderful magazine on gardening or something on
women’s wellness handy to look at pictures or lightly read while waiting in front of the school, or gymnastic class, or a long stop light, or an escape to the bathroom when your home is chaotic.  Savor those small moments and then build on them. There is a difference between intention and actually doing. Set short term goals that lead to long term goals of personal fulfillment and joy.  It is very helpful to do this with a good friend, encouraging each other and reminding the other not only how important it is, but how absolutely necessary for surviving and thriving while we launch the next generation!