• Mary Kalbach

An Overachiever Trauma Response

Updated: Jun 6



This post discusses how my partner and I created our family. Within the course of 13 years we had adopted 5 children - all with some sort of special needs, placed and lost 2 more adoptions, taken in a young mom and her son as our own, and given birth to 8 homemade children. As I've looked back lately on the progression of my own trauma symptoms and then recovery, I've found myself examining how the symptoms of childhood trauma affected decisions made in my adult life. This post is a part of that retrospective process.


We've been called many things over our adult lifetimes - heroes, blessings, superheroes - because, I guess, of the way we built our family. But, folks, this wasn't necessarily a good thing. I mean it worked out in the end. Our neuro-typical children seem healthy, happy and balanced, and our children with special needs are now adults - each one truly functioning to the peak of their abilities. Even so, such an immense undertaking still begs the question "what hole was I trying to fill by adopting and birthing all these children?"


And I have found a deep, deep hole. I see dysfunction, unrealistic expectations, patriarchal control, spiritual abuse, trauma responses and defenses and more trauma responses and defenses. It's not good, ya'll.


Yeah, we've done some good in this world. We've literally saved the lives of some of our children. We offered resources and love to children who would have otherwise been raised with much less. We've brought eight amazing creative, intelligent, kind biological children into this world. I get that.


But it came at a tremendous cost. Our adopted children came with an unexpected amount of trauma and medical needs which tapped every resource of time, energy, money, and sanity we had between us. And, at least on my part, it was driven by the forces within me created by a helter-skelter, highly dysfunctional, extremely hurtful early life full of traumatic experiences.


This family was me trying desperately to fill that hole within me that had an insatiable need to be seen, to matter in the world, to feel heard and validated. To save All The Children. I had an overachieving helper complex.


And in the process of saving the world I created situation after situation where I - and our children - remained unseen, unheard, invalidated, with needs going unmet, neglected and abandoned. Trauma begets trauma. My trauma, their trauma, new trauma created out of the vortex....


Somehow in the process of working it all out - doing the incredibly hard work to move the mountain of trauma into a place of safety, love and peace - that cycle got stopped. Ended. Somehow. At a tremendous personal cost.


So let's be real. We may have accomplished heroic things but only because our origin stories were full of difficult circumstances that caused us to sacrifice ourselves over and over again. We neglected our own needs with every decision made to meet the insatiable needs of others. I can't and won't recommend this life to anyone. Nobody needs to fight this many battles in life.


Everyone should get to make decisions mindfully, thoughtfully, with the best interests of all involved carefully weighed. No more leaving my own highest good out of the equation.


I hereby give myself permission to not have to always do the hardest thing in front of me. I give myself to permission to accept that the fucked up parts of this world aren't always my responsibility. I grant myself permission to screw up, and to screw off. I'm tired. I grant myself permission to rest. I don't need to save the whole world and if you need to hear this, neither do you!


I just came across this ancient blog post that chronicles the timeline of our marriage and building our family. At the time I wrote it many years ago, I was already wrestling with this question of "Why?" but I wasn't yet able to see the answer. I needed to piece together the objective details and facts in order to begin to get a long view of the weighty subjective experience.


I see now I had a pathological connection to timelines. I ran them in my head all the time. I counted how many children we had within the course of a year, the ages of our children under a certain age, how many degrees I could cram into the smallest space of time, how close in age all my children could get, how many things I could learn, teach, do within the course of a day, a month, a year.


I was pathologically connected to making up for lost time. I became a timeline Overacheiver.


I hearby renounce the timeline. Time for me must be circular or rambly or whatever the hell shape it wants to take. The only moment that matters is this one. And now this one. And now this one. And now this.....

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