Posts Tagged Family
I consider it a great privilege to be able to explore my black bag of shadow material (ala Robert Bly) with an experienced professional who has a lifetime of working with the ‘adoption triad’ and who is herself an adoptee. Like my sister and me, my therapist “Kay” (as I refer to her in this blog) was not told until later in life that she was adopted, which I learned in this week’s session. She said she actually considered this a gift. Unlike adoptees who know throughout childhood and inevitably cook up fantasies about their exalted biological parents, waiting at the curb for their real mom to whisk them to safety after every skirmish with their adoptive mom, this gets circumvented when you are not told until, say, forty. For me personally, it seems much more like a double-edged sword.
Never is this more apparent to me than when we attend to my favorite coping mechanism: shutting down when a hurtful zing sails in. Recently I have been more conscious and have managed to stay present to some degree. Instead of immediately going to “thinking” and relying on intellect to solve “the problem”, I am beginning to sit with my feelings. No need for reaction or even action; in fact things go better without that. It’s trite in this age of Eastern philosophical influences to say “Breathe and Stay Present”, but there is a reason the phrase is so often echoed. The view is much clearer from there.
I felt as if another epiphany was burbling up. I imagined my shoulders hunched over in a protective posture when confronted with negativity. I could see the mechanism as if viewing myself on a movie screen. Body in shamed demeanor, wondering what I said or did that was wrong, needing space and time to ‘think about what just happened’ and to weigh whether it was them or whether it really was me who crossed a line, impulsively grabbing the escape route from feeling my feelings and being present with them. For the first time I got it in my body: I’ve done this since I was a child.
I realize many children have their intuitive feelings invalidated by secret-wielding adults who tell them “No that’s wrong” when in fact it is right. Nor do I believe my adoptive parents’ denial of our adopted status was the only killing field of intuition from my childhood. One teacher in particular, the principal of the private parochial school we attended until high school, ruled her minions with an iron will. And she appointed me the official class snitch. I often found myself in her office facing the unsavory choice of telling her which boys were popping the girls’ bra straps at recess or who brought The Woodstock Story Book to school in exchange for release from the solitary confinement she threatened.
So it is that we must undo the sins of our ‘role models’ in order to clear the path.
I am truly unapologetic for writing another post inclusive of our new dog Blaze. The parallels between this guy’s anxious way of being in the world and that of many adoptees are so clear. There is the fear of trying new things (NO WAY is he pushing through that big chunk of plastic we call a doggie door; he has survived thus far without one thank you very much). There is the hyper vigilance (Where are my care-givers? Where are my care-givers? Where are my care-givers?), which is so often repeated in the literature as being characteristic of adoptees – along with the idea that while we do form ‘attachments’ to new adoptive care-providers, it is an ‘anxious attachment’ in that we do not see our true biology mirrored and reflected in subtle yet significant ways (and, we are freaked out about our last numero Uno vanishing into thin air!).
It’s an effort for Blaze to live large, free and unencumbered. Something always spooks him. He can’t feel reassured enough that his ‘primaries’ won’t bolt. Yesterday we left him for 6 hours – the longest stint alone in the house yet. And though his toilet needs had been cared for, he projected his pathology as a lovely Rorschach splotch on the living room floor.
Granted, I have never done that. But I feel his need to be safe and reassured.
According to Nancy Verrier‘s wonderfully enlightening books, one of the most common injurious dynamics set forth early in an adoptee/adoptive mom relationship is that of the grieving child exhibiting various unsavory behaviors and the new adoptive parent ‘reacting’ to this, taking it personally, being unconscious of the reality that their infant or toddler needs to process the harsh cutoff from biological mother that spooked him or her in a hard-plastic-doggie-door king of way, and then some .
It is up to the adoptive parents to stay present and give comfort when the adoptee is an infant. As the child gets older it is imperative that the separation trauma be openly explored and grieved, and that the adoptive parents do not get swept up into their own fears about ‘losing their children’ or their ego attachments to these beings as their personal possessions, as belonging to them now. My adoptive mother was still making comments such as “you got that trait from your father” after she knew that we knew we were adopted (which we did not know until we were in our forties). All of our lives she tried to snuff out reality by attributing both physical and personality attributes we possessed as being inherited from her, my adoptive dad, or another family member. These attempts to falsely stamp a child as your own flesh and blood resonate deeply with the adoptee as not just false but as unsound.
As I said to my friend Dennis, “There wasn’t a wet eye in the house.” Which was interesting. Reunions are practically synonymous with wild emotional displays. Not so for mine with Maya. And I am not entirely sure why.
What I do know is that since I found out relatively late in life that I was adopted, there has been no ‘lifelong anticipation’ of a reunion, no fantasy since childhood of meeting my biological people, no knowledge of my history. Meeting my mother at 52 years of age was a bit like picking up a new musical instrument I desire intimate familiarity with but have never touched before.
The importance of doing adoption differently is viscerally apparent to me now. Maya is my biological mother and she feels as if we’ve known each other all our lives. But she has known about me all of my life. How wholly clean for birth moms to have contact from the start. What an anxious life for a birth-mother, not knowing. And I can’t ever wrap my brain around the anxiety my sister and I internalized in the day-to-day lying that was sometimes explicit, always implicit. My adoptive parents also lived with this stress – and, they steered the juggernaut.
I hear the stories from other adoptees, stories of adoptive parents ‘moving to another state’ in fear of biological parents ‘reconsidering their decision’ and coming after their baby. Fear is the common denominator. And it is the lowest common denominator.
I may develop a close relationship with Maya. But when I chatted with our neighbors yesterday about the passing of our old lab Tucker, several months in the grave now, I couldn’t choke out a sentence. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.