4 Years Home and the Anniversary Reaction

4 years ago we brought Sofie home.

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August 1st we met her in the orphanage and spent every morning and afternoon with her until August 4th when we took her out of the orphanage doors and she was ours forever! We had to spend 9 days waiting for paper work to come from the embassy and got home on August 14th after the most hellish 24hrs of travel we’ve ever experienced. Sofie only slept 2 hours of those 24 and not all in one chunk. She was hyper aware of everything and her little body could barely handle it.

Even though these 2 weeks ended in the best possible outcome for Sofie, a family, they were traumatic. She had never been outside the orphanage walls except once to go get her passport photo taken. Usually she wasn’t even out of her crib. Everything was new. Nothing was familiar. Everything was terrifying and too much to comprehend. She was in fight or flight mode and when she was overstimulated she would retreat into herself. It was heartbreaking to watch. She handled it all as best as she could but she had absolutely no tools to be able to process her new experiences and she was further traumatized, which added to the abuse and neglect she suffered from the orphanage.

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Meeting Sofie August 1, 2011

Every year since August 20111, a switch seems to go off in Sofie on August 1 and her behaviours are magnified between August 1-14. It’s a fascinating and frustrating phenomenon. Her bad behaviour happens more often and worse. She hits and yells more. She seeks sensory input way more by touching everything she walks by. She can’t sit still. She throws things more. More impulsive. More tired. Less ability to make good choices. She is in fight or flight mode again. And the kicker… poop. She ALWAYS has a poop smearing incident, or nine, in these two weeks.

I have always just known it to be how trauma works. My sister would get sick every Christmas because Christmas growing up had more stress and fighting than peace and love. My husband would get grumpy, tired and irritable every year in the weeks leading up to the anniversary of his father’s death. I had never really looked in to the research behind it until a friend asked me for more of an explanation.

There is an actual name for it! It’s called the Anniversary Reaction or Anniversary Effect. HERE is an article Huffington Post circulated that does a decent job of explaining it.

“Anniversary reactions are considered the re-experience of a prior traumatic event — a death, a disaster or an individual tragedy. They are triggered by a specific date or event that strikes a chord deep inside our minds, which can be a traumatic portal to the past. A birthday, a notable date or a holiday can link to an earlier moment in our lives that was full of trouble, hurt or conflict. When they do occur, a person who may be highly functioning can be overcome and feel powerlessness, even immobilized.” – Mastering the Anniversary Reaction

I would push this Anniversary Reaction theory a little further and include the theory that our cells can actually hold memory… though I couldn’t find a good article to reference in my quick 5 minute search.

The Anniversary Reaction can improve. Over time we heal. Jon no longer is depressed for 2 weeks leading up to his father’s death anniversary. My sister no longer throws up at Christmas. Sofie’s “trauma week” (as I call these two week in August) are much more mild than they used to be.

These 14 days were once filled with countless poop smearing episodes, hitting, screaming, throwing, destroying, pulling hair, anxiety, silence from Sofie and crying from me. It’s not like that anymore.

This year, year 4, is better, but still bad. Sofie being unable to sit still or handle too much stimulation for the first 4 days. She was extra tired at the end of each day and would touch and hit everything for sensory input, not to hurt people. She did trash my mom’s house the first day but didn’t actually destroy too much. After day 4 she calmed down. We only noticed extra rocking (the ‘orphan stim’ rock she occasionally does) and teeth grinding. I thought I was in the clear this year! I thought we had healed enough to bypass any poop incident!

Unfortunately I thought wrong…. We are on the last day of “trauma week” and woke up to the pungent smell of poop. It was epic. I should have known that a final climax might be in the works. Our last 24hrs 4 years ago was trauma for us all, but especially Sofie. It was the climax back then and it is again this year.

Sofie is healing. I hate what being an orphan did to her. I hate what she had to go through. If I sit and think about it too much I get so angry and sad. Thankfully, each year gets a little bit better. We have a mantra each day that I go through with her in ‘trauma week’. I tell her that she is safe and then we go through all the people who love her, and she is SO LOVED! I think it helps.

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4 years ago we started the most amazing journey. I can’t imagine our lives without her. I would be quite bored I think. Her Anniversary Reaction is completely worth it for all the smiles, dancing, hugs, hair playing, joy, and love we receive the rest of the year.

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Cuddling on the couch a few days ago Livi gave Sofie a big hug and said “I would definitely not be this happy without Sofie.” Queue my heart melting…. until she followed it up with “who would I watch movies with?”

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Sofie’s 7th Birthday!

Sofie is 7. How the heck did that happen?!
(I did start this on her birthday but have no time or energy to blog anymore! Hopefully I can find time for it again.Sorry it’s so late!)

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The frail, sickly 3.5 year old that we brought home has vanished.

She is alive, vibrant and triumphant! She is such a wonderful, vivacious child. I’m so blessed to be her Mommy!

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Her personality is infectious. Going places with her is kind of like being in the company of a rockstar. Livi has learned the meaning of the word ‘popular’ because of her. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing…

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She is loving school and works hard at her words and writing but it is slow coming right now. She can now trace and verbally spell her name though! She goes in to the classroom with her thermos almost totally independently now, hanging up her jacket and backpack on her own. She still needs help with her shoes and some prompting but it’s coming! Socially, Sofie is doing great! She has real friends and has a best friend at school who is a complete little gem and Sofie loves her. It warms my heart. I was so worried about her making friends.

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Sofie loves playing with hair, the longer the hair the better. I have very long hair right now and love relaxing with her while she plays with my hair. Most of the time she is really gentle 😉 She still loves dancing and music. We have dance parties numerous times a week. I think Taylor Swift is still her favourite but most Pop music will do!

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She has so many words now and we are seeing the beginning of conversations with her. Her EA at school works on sign language with her too. I’m not so great at it but do see it helping her communicate! As her communication keeps expanding I really see her maturing. A few months ago Evelyn and Sofie were developmentally equal but Sofie has jumped ahead again!

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Her favourite foods are tortellini alfredo and ice cream. She will eat veggies, and most fruit and nuts without a thought now so I don’t worry so much about her nutrition. That is a huge advancement over the last 2 years!

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Sofie is doing so well developmentally and behaviourally. It’s amazing really. She still has her days, a few a week actually, but we are all working hard and together 🙂 I can’t wait to see how far she’s come by next year!

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Happy Birthday Sofie! You are a miracle!

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Christmas 2014

Christmas is always such a magical time of year. Growing up, I remember the season being magical. The idea of wonder and excitement has always been there, but good Christmas memories are non-existent. For one main reason, I remember more stress then wonder. I think that’s one of the reasons it’s so important to me that my kids don’t experience stress at Christmas. I want them to live in the magic and remember that.   

This year Christmas was our most laid back one of all. All my shopping was done by mid November. We had extra time to make homemade gifts to friends and family which was a lot of fun for the girls. We made salted caramel for our circle and a few extras, as well as the usual shortbread. The girls had the most fun helping me make glittery snowman playdoh that smelled like peppermint for their friends. We packaged it with some pipe cleaner arms and googly eyes so the recipient could build a snowman
Our schedule wasn’t packed. Jon had a week of vacation he needed to use so he was home in early December as well as almost two weeks over Christmas and New Years. We took the girls to see Santa in early December. The older two girls where happy and excited to see him. Evelyn was fine with waving at him but wanted no part in sitting in his lap. So this happened…
We apparently traumatized her pretty good because she woke up screaming “NO SANTA LAP!” once and would say it at any mention or picture she’d see of St. Nick through the rest of the season. Hopefully she won’t remember for next year. 
The big girls also had their Christmas pageants. I need to brag here… With kids in a fine arts school you don’t have to suffer through their productions. They are actually GOOD! Like REALLY GOOD. Sofie is in Kindergarten and they had their own show singing carols one night. I was so proud when I got to watch her up there singing with her class and no teacher beside her. She knew all the actions and did amazing! I cringed/laughed my face off, when she went and patted the principal’s butt during the closing remarks. He didn’t miss a beat though, took her hand and let her say goodbye in the microphone afterwards. The timing of my picture was perfect…
Livi’s performance was at the Art Centre in town and in grade one to three kids, plus the whole school choir which is all grades and 100 kids. Livi’s sang in the back-up choir the whole show and each class was featured in a song. Her class was dressed as the toys, Livi was a stuffed elephant, that the elves were making. She was also chosen for a part during another song where she had to stand very still and get made by an elf. She was hoping to be picked for that part so I was really happy for her when she did 🙂 Of course she did wonderfully. She was a little nervous and told not to smile while she was being made, despite her Aunties best efforts in the front row. 

Our Christmas gatherings were spread out this year which was AWESOME! I think it was the first year in our entire marriage we didn’t have something on Christmas day. Boxing Day was free too! The Saturday before Christmas was my family get together. The crazies all together under one roof is never short on fun! 

The Sunday was our Friends Christmas brunch. These three boys were room mates in college and us wives have been close since then. I adore this group. They are my safe ones. They are very important to me. Our kids adore each other and I hope we can continue our traditions as we all continue to grow up together!

Christmas Eve was church and lights, ended with a house that has a hologram of Santa in the window. It gets my kids to bed so fast because they think he is so close. I am in awe of their pure, innocent belief in Santa. It is such beautiful, uncorrupted magic. Jon went out and rang bells and called “ho ho ho” when Livi was going to the bathroom. She is so excited when she hears him. I was given strict instructions to get to bed right away, because everyone knows Santa doesn’t come if you’re awake.

Jon’s mom slept over Christmas Eve and opened presents with us in the morning. I managed to get them matching pajama’s again this year. I love it. I will try to do it again next year! The girls got a few gifts each. I’ve mentioned how amazed I am by Livi’s care and kindness towards others. Well, Christmas morning she shone again. She was more concerned with assisting and making sure her sisters opened their presents than her own. We had to remind her to open her own. Pure love that kid. I think this was the first year that both Sofie and Evelyn were fully engaged with the Christmas morning festivities. It was so special to finally get here.

I love Christmas. It is just so magical and pure. We did a more homemade, relaxed, family focused Christmas this year. I need to do this more for my family. We gave out homemade gifts which were well received and we had so much fun making them!
I know this post is late. I wrote most of it a month ago but am just finishing it now. Merry Christmas to anyone who might still read this blog and I hope your new year SPARKLES!