Please welcome Shelley Calissendorff as our guest blogger this week. Shelley is an adoptive mom and Founder/Executive director of Smile at Your Baby! You can find her on Facebook at Smile.At.Your.Baby. Here is her personal piece and metaphor about adopting and parenting a child with attachment disorder.
By Shelley Calissendorff
If you have any questions or comments about this blog post, please contact Shelley directly at her email: firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone at: 509.592.5626
I was out walking in my forest one day and discovered a fire. I was the first one there and was all alone. I started throwing water on it as fast as I could. I called in for help – lots of help. The help would come and go and some of the helpers worked hard and did a great job. Some of them tried to help and although well-intentioned, used the wrong techniques and actually made the fire worse.
I put on fire-retardant gear, studied books and websites about fire, and talked to experts on forest fires. I got better at fighting the fire and made some progress. But then a big gust of wind would come along and feed the flames. I called fire jumpers—experts–and begged them to help. They told me no. Finally I walked around to the other side of the fire and found some other fire jumpers who said they would help. I rejoiced and we all got to work.
I stayed with the fire every single solitary day and fought it day and night for seven years. I got singed. I inhaled smoke and got ash in my eyes. I fought it and fought it until I was physically exhausted and it nearly killed me. I was forced to take a break from fighting the fire to literally save my own life. So, I stepped back and let some of the other people I had called in “take over.”
I went back to the fire a few times each week to help out as best I could. Yet, I was still trying to recover from the injuries I sustained when I was there every day. I was still weak and couldn’t help out with the same fervor and dedication that I once had. The fire jumpers started asking me questions about why the fire had grown larger and hotter. I told them that as hard as we were all working, the fire still continued to burn. It kept finding more fuel. This was a fire like most of us had never seen before. We could only make educated guesses about how to fight it.
The very first helper I enlisted stayed by my side for six years and finally just couldn’t take the heat anymore. He felt he had no choice but to abandon the fire. He was strong and dedicated for six years. He took several other helpers with him when he left. That hurt our efforts but he had to do it. He couldn’t take the heat and felt he had no choice. The heat bothered me too but I said to myself, “Too bad – suffer. This is important.” There are a limited number of fire fighters. There’s a limit to how much funding we can get to pay the fire jumpers. They don’t work for free for the most part.
Some of the help I brought in found more help and brought them to help too. One of their helpers started asking me questions and accused me of making the fire worse because I took a break to save my own life. She said I was making the fire worse because I wasn’t there every day fighting it with the fervor and dedication she thought I should. She didn’t know the whole story.
Before long, the fire jumpers who came in to help told me they wanted me to leave the fire fighting and never come back. I was upset. After all, I had made lots of progress. I brought in cutting-edge fire fighting equipment and was more dedicated to fighting the fire than anyone. I stayed with the fire far longer than anyone else. Yet, they wanted me to throw in the towel and let them figure it out without my help. They actually insisted I leave! They said they had a plan for putting out the fire—or at least for maintaining it, but they said they had seen me fan the flames! They said I was making the fire worse!
Yes, there was a new lead firefighter who was dedicated to putting it out and she had done a great job for a year and a half. But she wasn’t there in the beginning. She didn’t find the fire or nearly die trying to put it out. If it wasn’t for me, none of them would be there working to put out this fire—all of them were there and dedicated to this fire being extinguished because of me.
I spent thousands of dollars of my own money trying to get help to the fire. I even neglected my friendships and my marriage and lost my house to fighting this fire. I gave until I had nothing left to give but kept going back to help. Some days I had to crawl or limp to get there, but I did it. Some days I had planned to be there and had to apologize and opt out because I was just too ill from the long-term injuries I had sustained fighting the fire. I knew I was too weak to be of any help and figured the effort would be better off without me in the way. And yet, I was criticized mercilessly for being late some days or for not being there at all some days. The helpers blamed me that the fire continued to grow and get hotter, even with all the help I brought to fight it.
Some people said that I knew about the fire and took responsibility for it. They said I should be ashamed of myself for not staying with it every single day. Yet, I had no idea what kind of a fire I had found. I had no prior experience putting out fires. But I learned as I went and became a great fire fighter. And still the fire was bigger than me!
I DID accept responsibility for this fire. I could not have known how big or how hot it would get. I would never have guessed that some of my recruited helpers would actually accuse me of making the fire worse and ask me to walk away from it. I am still dedicated to putting out this fire!
I love the trees and the plants and the flowers and the rivers and the animals that live beautifully right where the fire burns! I can’t walk away! I won’t walk away. I never fanned the flames. After seven years of full-time, unrelenting dedication to fighting this fire, how could I possibly even think about making it worse? I haven’t the slightest idea of doing so. I felt horribly guilty about having to take a break!
Even though I didn’t plant the forest where the fire was started, it was given to me. The forest entrusted me for its care for as long as I live. It’s the most beautiful forest I have ever seen. I love everything about that forest. I worry everyday about how the fire damages the beautiful forest. I refuse to let the fire totally destroy it. I will keep recruiting, bringing resources, and proving my dedication. I will not stop until every single fire jumper knows that I am this forest’s number one advocate. I will not waiver even though it hurts to be judged, to have assumptions be made about me, and to be told to leave. One way or the other, I will persevere. No matter what.
It’s as if they think I started the fire. They know I didn’t, but I get treated like an arsonist anyway—I guess because most of the forest fires they’ve come in contact with are started by arsonists. That may be true, but it doesn’t make me one. I’m innocent. I found the fire that somebody else started. I wish they’d stop treating me like an arsonist—I haven’t yet figured out how to convince them that I’m not to blame for this fire. I will not give up trying.
To learn more about reactive attachment disorder and hear from families at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development, please see our Videos & More page.