“I’m hungry!” she screamed as she tore through the refrigerator pulling out one thing after another.
She couldn’t stop. She couldn’t slow down.
I took a deep breath, calming myself and spoke only a few words, “Let me help you.” I offered a few favorite foods.
But she was too far gone. The rage was growing and she could no longer hear me.
Trauma impacted my daughter’s brain in her early years.
When she was hungry and deprived of food for long periods of time, she feared she would die.
Despite being in our family for years, despite having an abundance of food available, feelings of hunger triggered a deep fear of starvation.
It wasn’t logical, but this was not about logic. She was hungry. She feared she would die.
I understood this on an intellectual level. I studied early trauma and brain development, did therapy with my daughter and one of the best therapists in the country, and even traveled to TCU to learn from Dr. Karyn Purvis and her colleagues.
Yet, I didn’t fully grasp it until a terrible car accident shattered our lives and I experienced trauma on a level I never imagined.
My understanding of my children’s brains became personal.
Let me give you an example:
A few Sundays ago, my older son was driving the kids home from church. They were 20 minutes late when the thought flew into my mind – there is a shooter at church.
I could visualize people crouching behind desks and my son shielding children in the Sunday school room as a menacing form stood in the hallway with a gun.
The image lasted for a few seconds and was quickly followed by the thought, “this is not normal,” (and I need trauma therapy as soon as the kids are in school this fall).
Another (less disturbing) example:
Last week Russ took the boys to his parents’ house and they were two hours late coming home. The road home is a dark, winding, rural highway, known for having lots of wildlife, including moose.
I fought my fear they had been in an accident. When I heard the van’s tires crunching on our gravel driveway, I breathed a sigh of relief.
Since our accident, when the impossibility of losing a child in a car accident became our reality, my sweet spot of safety no longer exists. Tragedies seem highly possible to me.
Each time my family is late and then arrives safely home, my brain learns again that tragedy is rare. Over and over this pattern will repeat until one day the thought of disaster will come far less frequently.
Likewise, each time my child is hungry and I meet that need quickly, at the earliest signs, new neural pathways form, and I help my child overcome this fear.
Better still, I can run ahead of the need, and have a snack ready and waiting before hunger even hits.
We kept little bags of beef jerky in our daughter’s pocket and granola bars in her backpack so she didn’t arrive home from school already too hungry.
As children heal, they begin to realize, “I’m hungry – I am fed. I’m hungry – there is enough food. I’m hungry – I will not starve.”
Through this reinforcement, we give our children tools to help them cope with their fears, too. During an Empowered to Connect conference, Dr. Purvis told a story about a well-known actor who carried a candy bar in his jacket pocket to remind himself he never needed to fear hunger again.
As I wrote this, I looked back at old posts I wrote about Kalkidan and hunger/food challenges. This was an ongoing challenge for her, one I can say she made huge progress on through tremendously hard work.
I’m so proud of her – she was my greatest teacher.
I don’t want to end this post without saying that the greatest healer of all is Jesus, who heals my heart and mind a little more every day. He holds on to me as I stumble along through this grief process. He also continues to be my greatest hope for healing my children from “hard places,” and my entire family as we walk the road he places before us.
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Many blessings to you, friends.