Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Soul Sickness

There is a new Facebook page that is about adoption healing. Two friends of mine have written books about healing from adoption. Many others seek counseling and other means to heal from the ongoing pain of the adoption malady. And yet so many say that no one ever really heals from the pain of loss and unnatural separation and lives lived with shame, fear, distortions, secrets and lies. They are right on the money.

There is a Latin Proverb that states, "The sickness of the soul will renew itself." There are too many reminders in  daily living for us to be free of the pain all the time. Just as memories of any tragedy will cloud your mind with sadness, so will the reality of the strange and incomprehensible life of lies and seekings and painful realizations take you to that place of bewildered grief. Many mothers I know have referred to this unhealable pain as an open wound. What scar tissue that may form is thin, soft and easily torn open.

When we lost my stepson to the illness of severe depression which culminated in suicide, we sought whatever help we could find. The best help came from our peers...other people who had lost loved ones in this horrific manner. It was at one of those group sessions that I first heard the words, "It's not something you get over. It's something that becomes a part of who you are and you learn to live with it." This was my husband's only child. But his response was a lot quicker and more sensible than mine. I sat in anger for a long time.

My husband, however, decided that the best thing he could do would be to make his life a memorial to his son by living it the best way he possibly could. He has done just that, and pulled me out of my fury to take the journey with him.

Oh yes, I was furious with my stepson for throwing away the life he was given, knowing how badly he would hurt those that loved him. With time, I learned that he was dealing with life the only way he thought he could..by ending it. He was in a place of darkness with no hope. He was blinded to the light at the end of the tunnel. And he had a fatal sickness of the soul. I know, in my heart, that he has found peace.

While my stepson's soul sickness was fatal, the malady that attacks exiled mothers and adoptees is more chronic, although there have been suicides related to it. Getting to the point where the pain is manageable and intermittent takes some drastic measures, chief among them being the acceptance of the truths of our experiences. For many, that is a big, terrifying step to take. Mothers and their adult surrendered children are often the queens and kings of denial. Accepting the unacceptable as truth was often how we managed to make it until we found some way to see through the fog without letting it overpower us. Then we have to learn how to live with it.

We mothers have to accept the fact that we were not in any kind of control of the "decision" we made and that the assurances we received....you will 'forget,' you will 'get over it', 'you will have other children that will fill the void'.....were all lies and illusions. While the joy I have in my raised children will never be diminished by anything, you cannot replace one person with another. Each child has their own place in our hearts.

We have to accept, when we reunite, that our babies are gone from  us forever and the adult we meet is a familiar stranger with our features and talents, perhaps, but with ideas formed of the lies they were told and the big lie they were forced to live. We have to expect that the people who raised them, the people they see as their parents, were not the ideal paragons described to us by the social workers, but flawed humans, just like anyone else. We have to look on the damage done to our children and deal with that red-hot rage at those who inflicted it on them and on us.

The adoptee has to struggle with the reality of what they find versus the lies they were told. They have to struggle with the feelings they have long harbored of abandonment, especially when they don't jibe with the truth. Hardest of all is acceptance of their adopters' roles in their experiences that have wounded them. Going from living a lie to accepting the truth is a huge and terrifying leap. The adoptee harbors fantasies about the mother, as well. One mother relates the attitude of her reunited adult child who opined that it would have been better had the mother, with whom she reunited, been a drug addict or slut. For some reason, that would have made it easier for her to accept her separation from her mother. That is one of the most telling of the soul sickness symptoms...the clinging to a lie.

My own adult child asked about her father, quickly letting me know that it was all right if I didn't know who he was. Well, I was floored. OF COURSE I knew who her father was. The fact that she thought such a thing might be possible was an indication of the lies she had been told and the assumptions that separation of mother and child create.

There is the undeniable fact that both the adoptee and the mother exist with the presence of living ghosts, hovering just beyond the veil of separation. And when reunion tears that veil and the vision is cleared, it is earth-shattering.

All those are symptoms of the soul sickness of adoption separation. There are too many to list. I have laid a couple of my own symptoms to rest..those of shame and guilt. I medicate myself with life, with truth, with work, with facing the beast, even to baiting it in its own lair. And I realize that, like those suffering from the soul sicknesses of alcoholism, addiction and depression, that I can recover but am never cured. I can be gentle with my soul and strict with it when I need to be. And I can follow my husband's example and make my life count for something. Which brings to mind another Latin Proverb.

Live your own life, for you will die your own death.” When my time comes, I want to know I did the best I could. Until then, I live with what was and what is and make the best life I can make.


Anonymous said...

So true, Robin. The trauma and pain of adoption loss, never leaves us. All one can do is learn to manage it, and move forward, broken wings and all.

Anonymous said...

You address the adoptee's question "Do you know who my father is ?" succinctly. When my son asked using those exact words, I thought, "How insulting ! Of course I know..."Then I realized the adoption myth he'd been living with...just as he told me he''d drive through the "bad" section of town and see the prostitutes on the corners and wonder if any of them were his mother.

Sandy Young said...

Outstanding blog post, Robin. I have seen and done the conventional and accepted methods and found that they worked....for a while. However, as the only person that I am not able to escape, I must do what works for me instead of what works for others. I learned to listen to my inner voice, trust my instincts and enjoy the times we had together and focus on myself during the times we were apart.

I cannot heal my son. He must do that himself. I CAN help myself, however, doing the best I can with what I have. Some days are more successful than others, and life has a way of throwing monkey wrenches into the works more often than not, but I manage, I cope and I find that I like ME a whole lot better when I put myself first.

Von said...

The effects and damage of adoption never leave us, but like you, we all have to find our way out of recrimination, anger, hurt, the lies and find our truth in order to survive and live as good a life as we can.Adoption treated us badly, it is up to us to treat ourselves well.

jenny81271 said...

As always, I love reading your blog, and "know the feeling"......

Robin said...

Well said, Von.

maryanne said...

I have found that my son's finally responding to me and having a relationship very healing, even though it is not everything I would wish, it is more than I ever expected. I genuinely do not feel traumatized any more, and am very relieved. I know this is not true for everyone, as we are all different. What works for one may not work for another and as someone said we all have to live with ourselves and what works for us.

I do not feel my soul is sick any more, although it was for too long. My son I feel has a brave soul and had endured and prevailed over the adversity in his life to come to a good place as well.

Robin said...

I am happy for anyone who has found peace, Maryanne. I found it my way, because we cannot always count on the good relationship or it lasting forever. In the long run, I, personally feel that peace and happiness has to come from within. To each their own.

maryanne said...

Yes, we all find peace our own way. I am very fortunate to finally know that my son is not badly damaged and has a happy life. I was very concerned for him before I knew that, and focusing on myself did not help. I do not know if I could have forgiven myself if he was permanently damaged in some way. If he had not turned out to be ok I know I would feel much worse, and I really feel bad for all moms whose kids are seriously troubled.

It has helped me to see it as more about him than me, and to finally let him call the shots in reunion. I am pretty ok with myself, I've done some bad things but am basically a decent person with a decent life. That my son is too, and that he has let me into his life speaks volumes to me. I just got an email with his new running training schedule, including blood pressure, heart rate etc. Who but a Mom would be interested in that detail:-)