Guest Blog post: Is There Life After Custody Relinquishment?

Date: 2013-03-04

Is There Life After Custody Relinquishment?

Custody Relinquishment. It's not as uncommon as the general public would like to believe.

The idea of being forced to decide between the custody of a child and accessing critically needed services for a child with severe mental illness is unspeakable -- but a stark reality for too many families. According to the recent Surgeon General's report, approximately 5% of children have severe and persistent mental illnesses. Frequently, these children do not have access to the treatment and services they need. As a result, far too many families are forced to do the unthinkable - relinquish custody of their child to the state to access services to treat the child's mental illness.

How wide spread is the problem? Neither the state or federal government track the number of cases in which parents must relinquish custody to access services for a child with mental illness. Despite the lack of government data, a 1999 NAMI report shows the prevalence of the problem. In this report, twenty three percent (23%) of respondents to NAMI's national survey of parents and caregivers, reported being told that they would have to relinquish custody of their child to access services. Twenty percent (20%) of the respondents ultimately relinquished custody. (Source: NAMI- read more)

I welcome guest author, Kristi Paulsen this week with an insightful and inspirational blog post about her experience post-relinquishment of her adopted daughter. Her book, Disrupting Grace, is a bittersweet tale of reactive attachment disorder and how it can destroy a family. Stories like hers, ours and probably yours are not isolated. They are so raw to tell and even more raw to hear, but in our journeys come hope that resources will be put in place for families like all of ours. It is our hope that by retelling our stories we can help each other through the heartache of the bittersweet solutions and inform others to reduce the stigma. And with this, I welcome Kristi.

God never wastes pain. I’d always believed that truth until I relinquished my adopted child. For the first time ever, I questioned it. After five years of pouring my life into my adopted daughter in ways that exhausted my time, energy, and resources, I was faced with the impossible choice of relinquishing her. Reality was staring me in the face, and it forced me to admit to myself that despite my efforts, she wasn’t thriving, my other children were in danger, and our family was coming apart at the seams. Walking through relinquishment, I experienced a kind of pain unlike anything I’d been through before. It signified tremendous loss and the sadness was heartbreaking. I couldn’t imagine a life following such a painful time. I wondered, “What was it all for? Is there life after relinquishment?” We all seemed worse for the wear after those chaotic, traumatic years.

Would I ever move past the grief and feelings of failure? For five years, my life had been consumed with therapies, doctor visits, and evaluations. I’d been submerged in the world of special needs. What would my life be now that it’s over? Who was I, apart from all of these things?

It’s been five years since, and I’m thankful to say, there has been life indeed following relinquishment. What interesting twists and turns have come and gone since then. Life today is full and meaningful. Whole and healed, and blessed.

It’s been said that anything of great value comes at a great price. If that is true, it seems we’ve made many deposits in the bank since then, but what I’ve realized is, that every payment has been an investment.

Following relinquishment, much of my time was spent trying to heal, and healing meant facing all of the feelings of despair, grief, hurt, and pain. I wanted out from the pain, but the biggest lesson of pain I’ve learned to date is that the only way out is through. I had to look closely into the present wounds of my heart, open some old ones, and let them bleed out cleanly. With the help of God, therapy, friends, and family, I’d finally discovered who I am – apart from the labels and the circumstances that had surrounded me. I’d realized how much I’d defined myself by those things.

Parenting our adopted child and relinquishing her exposed how much of that was true. I’d reached a place where I’d believed that who I was could not exist without her, or the story of her in our lives. As I began to heal, the truths of who I am began to emerge, and I understood for the first time those truths could exist with or without my adopted daughter. Today I have a sense of self, one that can no longer be enhanced or diminished by anything or anyone outside of me. It was completely freeing to come into this new reality. Nothing earthly outside of me has the power to change who I am.

This reality came just in time. Two years after relinquishing our daughter, our family suffered more heartache when my then-husband decided he no longer wanted to be married to me anymore. In some ways it came as a surprise, although looking back the signs were there. Walking through divorce was interestingly not too unlike relinquishing a child. It went against the natural order of things. It was effortful, exhausting, and sad. But this time I knew that even in divorce, I wasn’t losing who I was. I no longer identified myself with the titles I’d had, so when I lost the title of “wife,” there was a peaceful knowing amidst intense struggle that there was loss, but I was losing only that which was outside of me. When you have a sense of who you are, life around you can shift and change, but you’ll find you can stand with your feet firmly planted even as a raging storm is swirling about you.

Pain’s been a good teacher. My other daughter said to my son and me last Christmas, “I’m thankful for what we’ve been through. We wouldn’t be the people we are today, moving together in the direction we’re going.”

I believe now that all of life has purpose and meaning. Tony Robbins says, “When you begin to understand that all of life isn’t happening to you, but happening for you, then all of life is a gift.” Life happens for us to teach, grow and mature us to becoming fully the person we were created to be. If we’re open to the lessons, they are there, waiting to be discovered and revealed. My daughter, son, and I are learning how to look at life from that perspective. When you choose to believe that life’s circumstances exist to teach you things about yourself and how to better serve those around you, it’s exponentially easier to accept and embrace what comes with open hands, than to live in constant resistance to what is, fighting and pushing against your present realities.

All of life is a gift, and my life and the experiences I’m having aren’t all there is. The larger grounding perspective that has also been healing is the reminder to be ever-aware, conscious of the fact that the life I’m living - the story of my life, isn’t even about me. It’s about something much bigger. My faith allows me to understand that we are all part of a much bigger story, one God is writing that will one day bring about His redemptive plan for the whole world. I get to show up in a chapter or two of His story, and my intention and goal is to play my part well. When I think of this bigger story, it takes the pressure off having to strive for impossible perfection, to have to have things result in a “happily ever after” ending. I live for something and for a purpose that is bigger than me, than my life, and what can be achieved in the time I am here.

I realize looking back how much of my life had been spent surviving, resisting, or pushing my way through. There is peace in allowing life to come, and it is in peace we find power. Healing takes many forms and looks different to all of us, and your pathway to getting there is unique only to you. Take heart, and may you be full of courage. Wholeness and healing are there waiting for you on the other side. And when you get there, you’ll discover what it really means to be living beyond your circumstances. “Life” doesn’t consist of what is going on around us, it’s our perception of it. The question I asked years ago, “Is there life after relinquishment?” has been answered with a resounding “yes!” There really is life – one with meaning and purpose, one that is full and rich and lovely, following whatever it is you are facing today.

About the Author

Kristen Paulsen is an adoptee and mother of two. She has a B.A in Social Work and lives in Boulder County, Colorado. She brings a passion for living in truth and community to each page of her story. Her first book, Disrupting Grace (www.disruptinggrace.com) can be purchased from Amazon.com by clicking here.

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