By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
By Angelica Leicht
By Jeff Balke
By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
Two or three nights a week, "Ruth" woke up with her six year old daughter, "Lisa," standing over her holding a steak knife in each hand. Lisa broke her bedroom window a dozen times and punched holes in the wall. She stole the glass plates from picture frames, broke them into shards and hid the pieces in her bedroom. Whenever her mother told her no or made her mad, Lisa sliced her wrists.
Ruth adopted Lisa and her two older sisters when Lisa was 16 months old. A psychiatric nurse for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Ruth took Lisa to several psychologists and psychiatrists, who misdiagnosed her as being bipolar and schizophrenic and having attention deficit disorder. Lisa had several stays in county psychiatric hospitals before being diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder. "We didn't know how to help her," Ruth says.
Lisa was a teenager when she began therapy with attachment therapist Beth Powell. But by then, Ruth had had four heart attacks from the stress of her daughters doing drugs and running away from home and wasn't in physical shape to be a co-therapist.
"We couldn't do anything," Powell says. "She was too far gone."
Ruth's husband left her after 17 years of marriage. He lost his job and was dealing with his own depression and said he couldn't handle their adopted daughters anymore. Ruth met another man who included Lisa on dinner dates, movies and trips to the mall -- until Lisa told a CPS caseworker that he had molested her.
"That was the end of him and me," Ruth says. "Lisa's happiest when those around her are miserable."
She says Lisa later admitted that she had lied because she was jealous that he was taking her mother's attention away.
"She still makes up stories, makes up lies," Ruth says. "When she turned 18, she told me what I could do with myself."
In January, 19-year-old Lisa gave birth to a daughter. CPS took custody of the baby four days after it was born. Lisa's older sister wanted to adopt her niece, but Lisa put the baby up for adoption and relinquished her parental rights without telling her family members.
Ruth had hoped that her grandchildren wouldn't be in foster care and adopted homes like her daughters. "I wanted to prevent the cycle from coming around full circle," Ruth says.
"Sarah" broke into her mother's craft-supply cabinet and sliced drawings into her skin until her hand dripped blood. She purposely falls off her bike and skins her knee or slices her lip to get attention. When she needed stitches, she didn't cry. "She laid there and smiled when they put her skin together," says her adoptive mother, "Kathy." "It's really spooky, unnerving to realize how she can separate herself from pain."
Kathy says her seven-year-old adopted daughter is an adorable, charming, manipulative, defiant girl who doesn't trust or love her. Sarah won't hug her mother unless Kathy is sitting down, because her arms have to be on top.
"She wants to control and manipulate me," Kathy says. "The more love I show her, she gets worse. She's convinced that we'll get rid of her, just like everybody else has."
Homeless, Sarah's biological mother abandoned her three-year-old daughter at a train station. Kathy and her husband adopted Sarah two years ago. They already had two biological sons and an adopted Russian daughter who wanted a big sister.
Sarah once tried to leap out of a car going 70 miles an hour. Another time, Kathy had to tackle Sarah to keep her from running into the highway. Sarah refused to use toilet paper, then refused to use the bathroom at all, preferring to wet her pants.
Sarah steals Hot Wheels cars and Game Boy cartridges from her brothers and hair barrettes from her sister. She nabs teachers' pencils and crayons and hides them in her purse, beneath her bed or under her pillow.
Her temper tantrums used to happen once a week, now they're every day, sometimes several times a day. "Tantrums like a two-year-old would throw, only in a seven-year-old body," Kathy says. "She can throw a fit and kick and scream nonstop for two hours When she's kicking and screaming, I have to look at her with loving eyes. When she's wetting her pants, I have to look at her with loving eyes and not get angry. That's what's hard."
Lodema Miller and her husband, Continental Airlines pilot Jim Moore, adopted eight children with attachment issues. Six of them, Miller says, had full-blown reactive attachment disorder. One child threw a knife at her across the kitchen table and the butt hit Miller and gave her a black eye. The kids drowned a kitten in the pool, stabbed a hamster to death with a sharp stick and killed a frog when they spray-painted it to try to change its color.
"We didn't realize when we adopted them it was going to be so difficult," says Miller, who lives in Plum, about 50 miles east of Austin.
She took therapeutic parenting classes and learned about attachment and holding therapy. "I'm well aware of how dangerous it is and that some people think it's totally wrong and think it's child abuse," Miller says. "But I think it's very hopeful for these children. It's the only hope they have. Other methods do not work."