Past, Present, Future -- Seeking Your Collective Wisdom?


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Woke up to this epiphany and seeking to learn some new wisdom from you all on it.....

FUTURE --- I've gotten pretty good at not getting/staying too entangled in future events re: difficult child. Not always, but waaaaay better than I used to be.

PRESENT --- I've also gotten pretty good at not getting/staying too entangled in present events re: difficult child. Again, not always, but waaaaay better than I used to be.

PAST --- Here's where I sometimes vacillate (which I find terribly ironic, because to me the past should be the no's already happened, why get entangled in it?). I conclude there are 2 reasons I can sometimes get entangled in the past re: difficult child:

1) PTSD --- Traumatic past events sprout big tentacles which can grip tightly if the right trigger is found to bring the emotions of certain events racing back. We've all been there.....there have been hugely traumatic events in all of our lives re: our difficult child's. That's why we're here on this website seeking and sharing wisdom.

Beyond cognitive reasoning alone, our Limbic Systems are a WONDERFUL inner emotional system that biology/nature gifts us all to warn of impending danger to be avoided for our survival. That Limbic System is supposed to be in our brains -- It may bring PTSD long-term, but it also saves us, short-term.

2) Boundaries --- It occurs to me that the vast majority of our boundaries (husband's and mine) are based on PAST events. That's pretty logical and wise on many levels. Makes sense.

So, here's my question to you all......

**** How can we hold onto the PAST (for boundaries) and let go of the PAST (for PTSD) at the same time?

I wish to view the traumas of the PAST more as a point of reference than a point of terror. Sometimes I seem to do this well, in an almost Zen-like way. Other times I do it poorly, in more of a PTSD-like way. Neither is a constant, I go in spurts....depends on how often I see difficult child or what triggers are pulled.

Can you all relate? Can you share your wisdom on this matter with me, please? Thanks!


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Are you talking about your PTSD regarding the behavior of your child or his PTSD?

I know my two youngest kids suffered severe PTSD (sexual abuse at the hands of an older child we adopted,,,I explained about him...he is no longer with us) and neither suffers bad behavior or mental health problems. They are great young adults. It has affected my daughter's life path...she wants to help others by going into criminal justice. She wants to try to reach young offenders before they get to the point that Adopted Son was at...or at least help as many young offenders as she can. My son's caseworker is aware he was abused because he doesn't remember much about it. If it comes up, it will be dealt with.

PTSD doesn't mean one has to take drugs, act like a jerk, etc. I think it depends on the resiliency of the person's makeup and his actual personality. Both of these adult children of mine are exceptionally wonderful people. I just realized I still have PTSD regarding Adopted Son Or, more accureately, Unadopted Son. I still shake as I write about him and am almost brought to tears.

Now PTSD caused by our difficult children to us is different. Every time my son calls me, I get a little twinge in my stomach, not knowing what I'm going to hear. And that impacts me still, although not as much as in the past.


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MWM -- Yes, I'm talking about MY PTSD re: difficult child. All those years of police calls to our home, drug dealers calling the house with threats, hospitals, etc. Every time the police were involved it was huge. We had numerous police incidents (often in our home).

Yes, I'm talking about that little twinge in my stomach. I went 3-4 months with-o hearing from difficult child and it felt like too long. However, now that he's in rehab, he's calling pretty much daily. He does sound better (in the PRESENT) and I am proud of him this week. However, yesterday husband and I agreed not to answer the phone if he called because we both felt our triggers (from the PAST) arising due to his sudden frequency of calling.

Same here, it doesn't impact me as much as it did in the past. But it does still impact me.

What do you do to cope with that intermittent sensation?


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I struggle with this. I tried therapy for ptsd from events tied to abusive difficult child's father and from difficult child related events. It was somewhat successful. I still have flash backs to past events triggered by my son's physical resemblance to his bio dad and things that my son has said or done. I try really hard to not project the dad issues onto my son. I know that my reactions are in self protective mode and are skewed because of the past. I hope someone comes along who can share insight into how to effectively deal with this painful issue.


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I don't know. I really wish I did. Right now even with difficult child living with me and things being pretty normal I still don't feel I can be myself and relax around her completely. It seems like every time I do I wind up dealing with a difficult child explosion.

Same thing with my parents. I dread calls from my mom and only make them to her when I have to. They either leave me angry, depressed, or feeling guilty. What does it say when a good outcome from the call is depression or feeling guilty? That twinge in the gut is the norm.


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Pasajes4 & dstc99 -- Thanks for sharing your stories with such candor. My response can be similar to yours. It's definitely a work in progress. I think we're in all in the same boat here -- varying degrees, but same boat.

My response is usually to know which boundaries I'm comfortable with around difficult child. I go back-and-forth at times between feeling TOO hard on him and then TOO soft on him. Messes me up inside if I let that pendulum swing too far in either direction.

I do know that for me 2 things are pivotal:

1) Time --- I can only spend so much time with difficult child, even if it's going well. I always prefer to exit "wanting more" than "wanting less". Just seems to work better for us all.

2) Sanctuary --- I have to know that my home is my sanctuary. After spending all those years not having it that way (while difficult child was growing up), I have just learned how critical it is for me to have my home as a peaceful sanctuary. Not willing to give that up again.

I really prefer that Zen-like state of "radical acceptance" (I forget who said that in here, but I liked it a lot!) in the middle. Expressing gratitude usually helps me get there or stay there. But not always.

It's funny.... When difficult child calls, my inner response goes like this:

-- Oh no....Caller ID says it's difficult child on the phone. Do I answer?
-- If yes, I hold my breath until I hear his tone of voice. Calm or angry?
-- If angry, I tell him I'm hanging up and I do.
-- If not angry, I am suddenly so happy to hear his voice without anger. I relish the next bit of chat -- especially if we laugh.
-- After 20 min max, we usually have no more to say to each other and call ends.
-- After I hang up I exclaim, "Whew! Successful call!"

Then peace resumes.....until he calls again. Then it's rinse-lather-repeat all over again.

And that's just a phone call. When we're face-to-face with him (especially in our home -- which is rare these days), I hold my breath a lot.

Sometimes that makes me sad, though, because I really do love him. Yesterday someone who knew him when he was in Kindergarten said he always "sparkled". He did. And when he's stable, he still does. I just never know who's going to show up for long and sometimes I miss that "sparkler" for a very long time.....months.

Thank you all for listening and sharing your thoughts. Much appreciated. :)


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dstc99 --- Re-read your last sentence. "That twinge in the gut is the norm."

The second time I read your sentence, I got a new slant on it. It is indeed the norm.

Soooooo.... If I can't change the twinge itself, maybe I can change my response to the twinge.

I like feeling like there's some way I can empower myself in changing response. If it's natural (given raising difficult child's), maybe I can find a way to view it as a "hiccup", rather than an all-out assault on my senses? Hmmmm.... Still thinking...

dstc99 -- Thanks for that sentence! It may be a paradigm-shifter for me and of great help! Thank you!


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Staff member
I think what you're talking about is probably pretty prevalent here.

For me, I've had to work at it. There is a good book you might want to read called Waking the tiger, healing trauma by Peter A. Levine. It was helpful to me in letting go of trauma.

In addition, any book by the Buddhist nun Pema Chodron helped me a lot, she seems to understand how to live in uncertainty and chaos and has good insights. I read ALL her books and found them very soothing. Books by Brene Brown, Daring Greatly in particular and she has a wonderful video you can access on Youtube, just look for Brene Brown, the one on Shame is fabulous. Very helpful.

I look at it like this. When we repeatedly feel fear, we actually dig a new neural pathway in our brain. We have to actively dig a new one to combat that first one or every time we feel a tinge of fear we go full force down the fear highway straight in to HELL. So, how I've been doing that is by trying to retrain my responses, my reactions, my thought processes. Getting kicked in the gut repeatedly with fear from our difficult child's behaviors keeps us in that fight or fright, which is very damaging to our systems over a long period of time. I have approached this damage in a number of ways.

I worked with a nutrition expert in finding vitamins, minerals and flower essences to relieve long term stress and fear. I meditate. I do relaxation exercises, or yoga, breathing exercises and definitely exercise on a regular basis. I eat well, avoiding sugar, carbs, gluten and alcohol. I've educated myself about what goes in to my body and causes inflammation which causes stress to the body. I regularly go to an acupuncturist, a massage therapist and a reflexologist.

I've learned, for me, that living with mental illness for most of my life and having a difficult child has taken an enormous toll over the years, so I have to put an enormous effort into ME, into MY care and MY well being. I've researched much to come up with my own plan of action and it works. Over time, my whole system has calmed down considerably so I just don't have those same responses. It's taken a lot of work and a lot of time, but my intention was very strong to feel healthy, whole and complete and not go barreling down the difficult child highway at top speed whenever the phone rang or I received a call from a jail.

For me it had a lot to do with shifting the focus off of my difficult child onto me and making me the priority. Being a reformed enabler, a codependent and a nurturer, this has been a big task, believe me, but it can be done. And, it ain't easy either. I required a lot of help and still do. I just yesterday signed up for a new women's group, lead by a psychologist.......the group is for women in transition. I like groups and get a lot out of them and I researched a lot of the local ones and chose this one because it fits what I am looking for and it's close to home.

It's a work in progress for sure, but it's literally changed my life in positive ways in every facet of my life. I was committed to make that change so my peace of mind would not be impacted by the choices or behaviors of others, that was my initial goal. I said that when I first came on this board, that was my very strong intention............I wanted peace of mind, I wanted serenity, I wanted to feel free of this heavy load. And, it all started with ME, not difficult child.

I hope that helps.
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Scent of Cedar *

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Great question, and great advice.

This site is amazing.

To what others of us have posted, I would add that I think our reactions are as intense as they are because, over time, the same kinds of traumatic events are stored away together in our brains. One trigger pulls them all out.
If we've had trauma in our pasts (and each of us has), that's there, too.

It isn't just the current problem, and it isn't just the difficult child.

It's every unresolved thing, screaming us into fight or flight or freeze.

And yet, we feel driven to respond correctly to whatever the situation will turn out to be for that child we love with our whole hearts, but cannot seem to help.

More trauma.

What if we say the wrong thing, somehow make everything worse?

So, we need to give ourselves kudos for our courage and bravery. And we need to marvel at the depth and quality of the love we hold for our children, and even for estranged family members.

If we didn't care deeply about them, If we hadn't believed they were capable of better than what we got from them, there would have been no trauma.

So the real truth here, impossible to see while we are in the heart of the battle, is that we are amazingly strong women responding to circumstances impossible to foresee without so much as a compass to tell us we're handling things well. We keep trying different tactics with all our hearts, and nothing works.

So we find it hard to hold faith with ourselves.

Over time, we lose confidence in our capacities to even assess the situation correctly.

We wonder what magical piece we are missing that other moms seem to have.

Before we can get a handle on any of it, we need to let that image every mom holds of her child as strong and filled with potential crumble a little bit.

Those are hard admissions to make.

When we first begin acknowledging what is really happening to our kids, we wonder what in the world is the matter with us for thinking that way.

More trauma, for us, and renewed efforts to find a better way to approach what is happening to our families.

And that stupid phone rings.

And it's night.

Everybody got a sick chill there, right?

Every bit of our situations is traumatic.

Even just trying to sleep.

We begin to feel like we are trapped in some diabolic maze where whichever way we turn brings some equally unforeseen worse thing.

It helped me to name the nature of the trauma. That's why I listed all that stuff above. We need to acknowledge the living horror of our situations. We are standing up and never giving up against impossible, unknowable odds.

Just like soldiers on a battlefield, we are scared.

That's okay.

We might say the wrong thing.

That's okay.

You know in your heart what your intentions are.

For every parent in our positions, that is the only thing you do know, for sure. Other parents bask in the reflected glow of their successful children's accomplishments. They are able to pat themselves on the back and hold themselves and their parenting skills up as examples for everyone to follow.

That actually happened to me.

There was a time, not so long ago, when I thought we had pulled everything together after all. I would be all "Oh yes, my child blah, blah, blah."

I wasn't so quick to mention my children at all when it all fell apart one more time.

All these things are eating away at the heart of who we once believed ourselves to be.

It helps me to remember that it is the situation that is bad. Not me, and not my difficult child.

However this happened, it was not my intent.

Nor was it my difficult child's intent.

It is what it is. There may not be a solution. That doesn't mean I am not going to do my best, either to turn this thing around, or to accept that it is what it is and go on from there.

It helps me to say a little prayer before I pick up the phone.

Annie Lamont, one of Recovering's favorite writers, says there are really only three prayers:




Know that, as you always do, you will do the best you know.

Keep a gratitude journal. You will be surprised how deeply that simple practice will change the trauma response.

Last thing.

We really are under attack, here. There is no way that I know of to stop loving, or to stop wanting to protect, our children of whatever age.

It gets to be about choosing to survive it. It gets to be about trying anything and everything to give ourselves strength and courage to face whatever comes next, real joy, and real rest in the present moment.

It's hard to get there, though.

It's wonderful to have the site, and one another. That had been the most healing thing.



Active Member
What sorta drove me back here after so many years of being gone is somewhat like PTSD. Of course, now that we visit him in prison, sounds horrid I know, but I know where he's at, at least.

I think we (as parents) do have some symptoms of PTSD - its been almost a year since he was arrested...that night tops all the nights that we've had with our son!

However, I've come to realize over the years (our son is 29 now) that HE doesn't define US. Great conversation


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I said that when I first came on this board, that was my very strong intention............I wanted peace of mind, I wanted serenity, I wanted to feel free of this heavy load. And, it all started with ME, not difficult child.
This is why I came too. However because there has been no change on the part of difficult child I tend to follow, let go and let God - I cannot have contact with a liar and manipulator and have peace of mind. For me the two cannot co-exist.


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Come to think of it, maybe that's why I'm back, too. I'm trying extra hard to move on. Quit all the drama. He is who he is at almost nineteen. He seldom calls, but when he does it's because he wants something and all without even a "hi, mom". But I miss him.......and so wish he was normal....


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Staff member
I think the final frontier is acceptance. Acceptance of 'what is'. I believe we suffer a lot when we want things or need things to be different then they actually are, and we're dealing with our kids, so we want them to be what we would consider to be happy, safe and healthy.........but, often that is not what actually 'is'.

It's a hard won acceptance too, it doesn't just show up easily, we usually have to work hard at it, there's so much to let go of, including our wishes and dreams for our kids, our judgements of their lifestyles and choices, our desire to "help" and often control, our fears about what will happen to them on the paths they've chosen, our sorrows over how it's turned out...........a lot.

I didn't want to let go in anger I wanted to let go in love and release my difficult child and I into our own lives with some kind of grace. That's been a challenge and I continually practice. The last go around was different for me in that I made a conscious effort to not judge my difficult child's actions. I recognized that her actions are not what I would choose, however, she is an adult woman who can make whatever choices she wants, as long as I am no longer living the consequences of those choices, I practiced staying neutral and not moralizing or judging or doing or saying anything at all, just loving her. It had its moments and yet, it worked out much better for ME. It is what it is, my judgements of her lifestyle or choices has a negative impact on me.

It would be more difficult if I were living with her as some parents here are, or if she and I had more contact, but the natural progression of late has been that my difficult child and I have less contact. That may or may not change, I don't know.

The quote by the Dalai Lama that I utilize as an affirmation or intention is "Inner peace begins the moment you choose not to allow another person or event to control your emotions." It's a choice. A tough choice for us parents, but still, a choice.