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Thursday, August 14, 2014

GUEST POST: Reactive Attachment Disorder by Levi Eagle Feather

Levi Eagle Feather (Lakota)

"...We're the evidence of the crime. They can't deal with the reality of who we are because then they have to deal with the reality of what they have done. If they deal with the reality of who we are, they have to deal with the reality of who they aren't." - John Trudell

This is the first in a series about Reactive Attachment Disorder 
By Levi EagleFeather

Reactive attachment disorder, what is it? Well... mine, is a sub-conscious and conscious reaction to the dark art [1] that has been practiced against my people, the Lakota, for the past two hundred years or more. The adoption experience is the specific part of that art which hit me.
Overall, everything has worked out quite well for it. In harmony with a multitude of other programs, projects, acts and policies our lives collectively have been totally altered and we now have to live with the confusion of that change. Needless to say, the affects of it all have been quite traumatic for a lot of people.
Many times, emotionally, mentally and spiritually we become lost and tired within the hubbub of it all. What else can we do but feel lost. As far as adoption goes the whole basic, being separated from the herd to which you belong thingy. Something which we all have experienced is pretty much the icing on the cake of it all. It not only disrupted our natural experience of familial roots and belonging which is the core of our birthright, but it screwed with everyone else's experience as well. It removed all of us at the same time from that first belonging which showed us and told us to whom and how it is that we belong. It's been very hard for me to square myself with that even to this day!
While the boarding school process and the relocation process do basically the same thing that the adoption process does as far as removing one from the herd. The adoption process intentionally is a more permanent barrier between you and your roots. When it is all said and done the adoption process literally redirects completely the whole flow of your life and for everyone involved. Redirected it from the original stream that was familiar and which flowed naturally to one that is not only unfamiliar, but to which your original flow must now undergo a lot of shaping and altering. People sense and understand this is happening while it is happening. We sense it and feel it emotionally and we develop memories of it.

The Mayo clinic has attempted to define Reactive Attachment Disorder. Under diseases and conditions it says that: "Reactive attachment disorder is a rare but serious condition in which an infant or young child doesn't establish healthy attachments with parents or caregivers. Reactive attachment disorder may develop if the child's basic needs for comfort, affection and nurturing aren't met and loving, caring, stable attachments with others are not established. " [2]

I think there are probably a lot of people like myself. That sub-consciously and even consciously realized as it was happening that they weren't experiencing emotional stability. Where ever it was that they got left. 

Knowing that belonging isn't there is easy to understand. It also is easy to understand why someone might be skeptical about wanting to have anything to do with who and what they are being redirected to. And it doesn't have anything to do with any wow factor or how cool something might be either. 

Naturally, situations like this will affect ones behavior. The Mayo clinic says that some of the signs and symptoms of someone experiencing a RAD condition may include:      
·       Withdrawal, fear, sadness or irritability that is not readily explained
·       Sad and listless appearance
·       Not seeking comfort or showing no response when comfort is given
·       Failure to smile
·       Watching others closely but not engaging in social interaction
·       Failing to ask for support or assistance
·       Failure to reach out when picked up
·       No interest in playing peekaboo or other interactive games [3]   

I was four when this all began for me. Since that time not much in my life has been acceptable to me. In a "feeling about it" kind of way. Something is always missing or just not quite right!
 The Mayo says that:

         To feel safe and develop trust, infants and young children need a stable, caring environment. Their basic emotional and physical needs must be consistently met. For instance, when a baby cries, his or her need for a meal or a diaper change must be met with a shared emotional exchange that may include eye contact, smiling and caressing.
A child whose needs are ignored or met with a lack of emotional response from caregivers does not come to expect care or comfort or form a stable attachment to caregivers.[4]

In my situation, whatever was to pass for loving and caring after I was removed from my family came from something else entirely different. Both, the attempts at affection and caring, were like gifts that were to be conditionally given based on performance, mine. Their conditions were based on and guided by the authoritarian principals of their church mostly and were backed up by what little understanding they had of my history along with what little they had of their own. This instead of any feeling that I belonged, or was truly wanted. And I knew this and lived with it every second of the eleven plus years I was there. People say that actions speak louder than words. Most of the time this is true, in this situation, my situation, it was.
Naturally, I reacted! From the original crying to whatever I brought with me that was me. Emotional, mental and or physical from that day forward was not acceptable and had to be shaped and molded. It goes from the first haircut to change the wild Indian, and on and on. There was a lot of punitive discipline along the way and not just corporal punishment but the good old fashioned psychological stuff.
As I grew older the corporal punishment thing in fact became sort of like part of a sick game we had to play. It physically hurt sure, at first. But as I grew older it seemed to hurt less and the fear I had of it morphed into something weird for me. It turned into more of "a bring it and fuck you" kind of thing. I remember I was around ten or eleven. Somewhere in there. And I was tied to the telephone pole in our yard with my pants around my ankles. My siblings all lined up in one of the flower beds against the house watching the old man beat me with a bullwhip. I don't remember clearly what it was all about or why I was there. Whether I deserved it or not. What I do remember was looking back over my shoulder and telling him "Fuck you, someday your going to get yours!" I'm sure that that beating hurt physically. It had to have. But what hurt me more hurt me inside. The embarrassment of being in front of my siblings probably the most.
So in my mind it was the psychological stuff which screwed with my wanting to belong the most. The blaming, shaming and shunning would work in time. Not like it was intended maybe, but it worked. It told me that I was unacceptable and that life for me and everything in it was unacceptable as well.  
In fairness, I'm sure that I was a fistful right from the beginning. I was a kid! What did I know about life and living. That doesn't account for what happened to me or how it happened, or make it right! In digging through and unraveling the negative effects all of this has had on me mentally and learning to understand and grow out of the emotional instability it instilled in me is part of that being right. I couldn't dream to wish this kind of right on even the best of my enemies! So throughout my experience I never got to any place in it where I felt comfortable enough inside to trust emotionally. Let alone want to belong! My belonging had ceased for all intents and purposes when I was taken and until my children were born I was alone even in a crowd. 

[Levi is a contributor to the new anthology CALLED HOME. His essay The Holocaust Self is one of the most profound in the book! ...Trace/Lara]


  1. Nothing you did at age 11 could justify whipping in this way!

  2. Nothing you did at age eleven justifies whipping in this way!

  3. This is NOT about the whipping or the punishment injustice! This is about the inner turmoil that Lost-Birds live, the forced unacceptable child's Forced indoctrination into the acceptable white-bread, the adoptive parent's conditioning, the false personality "adopted-child-role of pretending and with age the fighting against that forced role if the individual is not too spiritually broken to realize the charade and the life of being forever lost from the robbery of childhood and time.

  4. No child deserves to be treated this way. Levi did a good job on writing this. Thank you for the comments.


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