Vacations and Reactive Attachment Disorder… the Devil! It hadn’t been a week since my older daughters and I returned home from California when I got the Facebook message. One of the awesome parents who follows much of what I write, wondered if I noticed any relationship between bad behaviors, vacations and Reactive Attachment Disorder. I didn’t Lol. I snorted.
At the end of last year my oldest daughter barely slid under the door to make her behavior goals so that she would lose none of her Christmas presents, or privileges to participate in extra holiday and family activities. It didn’t take two days after the blessed event for her to create the metaphorical train wreck. We spent the next several months putting things back together.
She was working toward a huge goal. If her behavior over several months merited it, I would take her and a younger sister who had just finished high school to California for a few days of hotels, beaches and rollercoasters. We made it! Even the first days of the vacation were stellar. The crack in the dam only began the last evening before we left for the trip home. My daughter was furious when she didn’t get to choose the restaurant, even though over the course of four days, she had chosen the food far more than anyone else. After a series of very real threats that she knew I would carry out, she backed down.
She went right into “two steps back” mode just as she had in the past when we dared to combine vacations and Reactive Attachment Disorder.
I thought that was it. Oh, don’t worry… even though I write about our family’s experiences with attachment disorders regularly, I’m still just as surprised as you are when my child’s most recent accomplishment is not the beginning of near-perfection. Needless to say, that wasn’t it. Upon returning home, she went right into “two steps back” mode just as she had in the past when we dared to combine vacations and Reactive Attachment Disorder.
That’s ok. I’m a big boy. I have Tylenol. I have caffeine. I have profanity. I can deal with it… (voice wavering at the end, there).
I had warned my older daughter that if “big things” like the trip to California resulted in bad behaviors, that we would simply not do “big things” like that anymore. That elicited the promise of perfection even before we left. In fact, that’s what dragged her out of the temper tantrum about the restaurant as we prepared to go home. Still, upon returning home, her behavior slipped. My daughter would act out right up to the point where things would become critical. Then she’d ratchet back one notch only to begin again, speed toward the behavioral limit line, and screech to a stop on the line. She never really crossed it but she never left a safety margin, either. It took her several weeks to get a handle on things again.
What is it about these blessed blips in routine that are so incompatible with Reactive Attachment Disorder?
The message from my Facebook friend made me sit down and take stock. There didn’t seem to be an exception during nine years of having at least one person in the family who suffered from RAD. If everyday life with these family members could be considered as life with occasional dynamite explosions, vacations, of any kind, were worse. Summer vacations, Christmas vacations, Spring breaks, Fall recess, unexpected family getaways, and anything else that anyone might call a vacation were Krakatoa by comparison.
Vacations are supposed to be fun. They should be rewards for the days of hard work, stress, boredom and drudgery that we tolerate in between. These breaks in our daily routine are what we have come to rely on as lights at the end of proverbial tunnels. So what is it about these blessed blips in routine that are so incompatible with Reactive Attachment Disorder?
In analyzing a typical vacation for our family, and comparing it to situations that agitate our children who suffer from RAD, I have isolated three things that are difficult when vacations and Reactive Attachment Disorder are combined. The first sensitivity comes with a disruption to the child’s ability to be effectively hypervigilant. Another complication comes with overstimulation. Lastly, the break in routine, “inconsistency,” goes against everything we have tried to re-teach brains that were improperly programmed from their earliest moments in dysfunctional families, and on for months, or even years.
Understanding these incompatibilities can help us to reduce the negative effects we typically see between vacations and Reactive Attachment Disorder. But combining burning matches and gas results in the gas going up in flames. The best we can hope for during family vacations and holidays is a controlled burn.
Read Part II: Hypervigilance
Read part III: Overstimulation
Read Part IV: Inconsistency
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