Monday, December 14, 2015

The Only Safe Place He Had

This story first appeared in our State of Grandfamilies in America: 2015 report.

As a line lead for his job in the mobile canning and bottling industry, the farthest Chad Dingle has ever traveled is about five hours from his Oregon home. But, in life, he has traveled more than any 23-year-old should ever have to go.

With his mother and father trapped in alcoholism and drug abuse, Dingle spent infancy and his toddler years neglected and abused – memories that only came back in nightmares – until his grandmother could get full custody when he was 3 and she and her newly-wed husband could adopt him when he was 4, diagnosed with something not a lot of people knew about at the time: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“One thing I’ve noticed is that most people go to grandma’s house and get spoiled,” Dingle said. “But for me, it was the only safe place I had. I never liked going back to my parents’ house. Getting to live with grandma was like ‘going to grandma’s house’ all the time. I had more love there than anywhere else in my life.”

The journey toward wholeness continued through the PTSD, bullying from other children, anger, depression, cutting, suicidal thoughts and much more. “It was a tough position (for my grandmother) to be in. She wasn’t my mom, but she was. She dropped everything, including a good job, and became a stay-at-home mom for me – everything to provide the safest home for me.”

The years of learning how to navigate the complex legal, emotional, financial and physical issues have resulted in three books written to help families in similar situations. In her book, Second Time Around: Help for Grandparents Who Raise their Children’s Kids, Dingle’s mom, Joan, stressed the critical role that quality, professional counseling and support services play in helping grandfamilies succeed and thrive. Together, Dingle and his mom wrote Addiction & Families and the just-released Raising Children of Alcoholics & Drug Users.

“It took me a long time because I was a rebel as a kid,” Dingle said. “I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that (my mom/ grandmother) did save my life. She is the strongest woman I’ve ever known. I’m a complete mama’s boy. I know where my half siblings are now – really messed up – and that could have been me.”

Today, Dingle still grapples with residual matters. For example, he said he contacted his birth father two years ago and is still trying to figure out whether he wants him in his life. “It’s been a lot,” Dingle reflected.

Yet, any miles he travels will now include his wife. “We were high school sweethearts – went to separate high schools and had about five or six years when we hardly ever saw each other,” Dingle said. And, they will include the couple’s baby, expected with great excitement this year.

“Family doesn’t have to be blood. It really comes down to the relationships you can have,” Dingle said. “Whoever loves you, and you love, is your family.”

Learn more about Chad Dingle, Joan Callander Dingle and their books.

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