This fall at the ATTACh Annual Conference in Minneapolis, educational therapeutic placement consultant Gail Curran, MS, MBA, CEP, will present the session: Fighting the Fight or Flight: An Adoptee’s Journey to Healing.
Gail is a board member for the Association for Training on Trauma and Attachment in Children (ATTACh) and wrote her thesis on the topic of attachment disorder and childhood trauma.
Gail will appear with former clients Jessica “Jess” Larsen, 23, who was adopted from a Russian orphanage at 11 months old, and her mother, Carolyn, discussing their journey to healing. Their story is a heart-wrenching one with many painful episodes, starting with Jessica’s birth to a mother who was inebriated and her immediate journey to an orphanage. Jessica, who was underweight at birth and malnourished, was diagnosed as a baby as failure to thrive.
“This conference is for families with adopted or foster children, and for professionals working in the field of childhood trauma,” Gail said. “This is the first time that we’ve asked an adoptee to share their story. Jess’ story is very powerful and we hope inspiring to other families who have been affected by a child who suffered trauma in early development.”
Carolyn said Jess had frequent and intense temper tantrums from a young age, and she didn’t know how to handle it because Jess’ sibling behaved that way. She sought help when Jess was in preschool, but recalls the therapist saying, “I have a toddler, and my toddler has temper tantrums, too.”
At age 10, Jess fell out of a second-story window and severed her spine, leaving her permanently disabled. By the time she was a teenager, her emotional issues had grown more serious. “I thought emotional deregulation was a normal part of being a teenager,” Jess said. She realizes now that her experiences were far more extreme than normal teen angst.
“Anytime there was a boundary set up, it was her goal to bring that boundary down,” Carolyn said. “That became a huge issue, because if she didn’t get her way — watch out!”
Despite or perhaps because of the struggles, Jess found an outlet in basketball and track. She represented Team USA in the junior world championships in track in England, went to the Paralympic Trials in 2014, and was accepted to go to the Netherlands the following year, but Carolyn took the privilege away due to her behavior.
They also took away social media and texting and removed the door from her bedroom because of her behaviors. In high school, Jess was “totally overwhelmed and she shut down and was unable to function,” Carolyn said. “Everything was a high stressor for her. Every word you’d say wrong was a trigger for her. She didn’t know what to do, we didn’t know what to do.”
Eventually, Jess began running away time and again, and Carolyn and her husband, Guy, found themselves unable to keep her at home, so they reluctantly put her in a hotel in 2015. Guy had been told about Optimal Edu Options and called Gail.
Gail’s first visit with Jess was in the hotel room where a tenuous bond began. Gail guided Jess to go to an evaluation center, and eventually to a therapeutic boarding school. “Gail was the one person I felt genuinely cared,” Jess said. When she was in the center, she said, “It was always a warm, welcoming visit.”
Jess and Carolyn both trusted Gail and reached out to her throughout the healing process. At one point, Jess finally was diagnosed correctly with Borderline Personality Disorder. However, there were setbacks, and Jess ended up moving to Illinois, moving back into an apartment in Tempe, and getting hooked on drugs.
During one bad drug experience, she had an awakening in which she wanted her mom. “I was sobbing, but I couldn’t reach out to her,” Jess said. She got sober in September 2018 and has gradually worked to heal and develop her relationship with her mom. She has gotten treatment with Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and said she trusts it because “it was made for people with my diagnosis.”
She added that Gail “told me her experiences; she uplifted me; she reminded me how much potential I had,” Jess said. Gail wrote her thesis on attachment disorders in children who experience trauma, loss, and separation from biological caregivers, so she was acutely skilled in knowing how to communicate effectively with Jess.
Another major turning point was in September 2020, Jess said, when she had a bad stress-related episode related to her Borderline Personality Disorder. “It felt like the world was weighing down on me and it felt like a hurricane of emotions,” she said. “It was almost like I had no control over my own thoughts or my own behaviors.”
Jess was so terrified that it “kind of scared me straight,” she said, adding, “Ever since then, I feel like I’ve been doing the best I’ve been doing. I’ve learned so many coping mechanisms, more regulation tools than I’ve had in my whole life.”
She got her high school diploma and even spoke at her graduation, enrolled in acollege course, and has been grateful to her mom “for forgiving me for the hell I put her through in high school. For her to give me a chance and work with me, a lot of mothers won’t do that.”
Carolyn replied, ““She’s got a lot of great qualities that will take her far in life. She will get past this.”
Gail, Jess and Carolyn will present their program, Fighting the Fight or Flight: An Adoptee’s Journey to Healing, at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 2 at the conference.
Parents of adopted and foster children and professionals in the field of attachment and developmental trauma and adoption are invited to the Association for Training on Trauma and Attachment in Children (ATTACh) 33rd Annual International Conference, Together We Heal: Restore. Relate. Educate, from Sept. 30–Oct. 2, 2021 in Minneapolis, MN. Learn more or register here.
Optimal Edu Options is an Arizona-based education consulting agency whose experienced team has the expertise necessary to effectively support your family and child in finding the best educational and therapeutic options to meet your family’s needs. Reach out to us today for more information about our services and how they can help. We offer a free 30-minute consultation. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (602) 904-1282.