Undones, Do You Have Them?

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Having faced death several times myself and recently experiencing the deaths of two very special people, I find myself preoccupied with loss.

Adoptees tend to do that of course. Our beginnings in utero had already started the prewiring necessary for our survival which was begun with loss of our mother.

Of course, I’d like to be thinking of sunshine and rainbows, but the reality for all of us is that death is inevitable. It could be tonight even.. It will come whether you’re ready or not. That is a certainty and we don’t have many of those in this life.

My life has been filled with loss as most adoptees are. The loss of our mother, our family, our heritage, our genetic markers, our family dynamics. Each future loss such as the recent losses I’ve mentioned open that old wound.

Then of course you add in the numerous losses one tends to accumulate over the years and suddenly life appears to hold nothing but darkness, silence, the sound of tears dropping, emptiness, loss of health. Living with an illness that could at any moment take my life brings it all to the frontline.

Being a practicing Buddhist I’m well prepared for the inevitable. I don’t fear death at all and in fact, at times would welcome it. Most people living with Mast Cell Disease can attest to that when you’ve spent days in excruciating pain, vomiting into a pail, fighting the anaphylaxis demons with epinephrine.

That in no way means I want to die. It means I believe one has to prepare for their own death in order to live. A close encounter with death can bring a real awakening, a transformation in our whole approach to life.

The Nature of everything is illusory and ephemeral,

Those with dualistic perception regard suffering as happiness, Like they who lick the honey from a razor’s edge. How pitiful they who cling strongly to concrete reality:

Turn your attention within, my heart friends.

The above is a verse of a poem by contemporary master, Nyoshul Khenpo. It clearly outlines the need to reflect deeply on impermanence. It’s very difficult to turn our attention within and so easy to allow our old habits, our set patterns to rule us! To reflect on this, slowly brings us wisdom. Watch how you repeatedly fall into the same old habits that always bring you suffering. Again, and again, and again. With observance and practice we can slowly emerge and change.

Your Undones…

Your undones are that persistent, niggling, feeling that is sent to you from The Universe, Your Higher Self, how ever you think of what is “out there”. It’s telling you that you have unfinished business. Business that will pester you, stress you and take your energy until you complete it. Mental nags are undones. They remind you that you have broken agreements with yourself and time and time again you’ll notice they rob you of your self respect. Creativity…gone. True joy…gone. Internal peace…gone. You are able to get back all of those things if you complete your undones.

Right now in your mind I’m sure you can identify several. I know I can. They could be unresolved conflicts, withheld forgiveness, appreciation not mentioned, love not given, goals not met, promises not kept. Your life is probably full of many more not mentioned. They come in every size, shape, and in each and every area of your life. Check your basement. It’s probably full of undones.

Let this sink in…You won’t find peace until these undones are completed. Just remember, life is short and very unpredictable.

GOT TRAUMA? Write it out…

Memory is the diary we all carry about with us.

Oscar Wilde

Last night I couldn’t sleep. As I lay there in deep contemplation of all that has happened in the last few years I thought about Finding Heart Horse and The Wall of Secrets and the traumas held between their covers. Many of them had been buried so deep and were so painful I couldn’t bare to think about them for years. If you are familiar with my books you  know about The Wall of Secrets.

wall-of-secretsI hid my secrets, my traumas in the drawers for years.  It was the only way to survive. To disassociate until I was able to deal with the immense amount of pain I knew was wrapped around each trauma. I didn’t know if that time would ever come or if I would be strong enough to push through to the other side. I did and I was.

I’ve been a practicing Buddhist for a long time and mindfulness is one of the most important practices Buddha teaches. Also, one of the most challenging.

Sati-Buddha chose this word for Mindfulness meaning “to remember”

There are two kinds of memory:

implicit: which is learning a skill and remembering automatically, like riding a bike.

Explicit: narrative memory, functions through self-awareness accessed thru thought, not body

Trauma is implicit memory. Fight or flight. It encodes itself in the mind and body.

Mindfulness is not only being aware of present but also how trauma embeds into our daily experience. Re-remembering also means bringing that which is disassociated back into the self. It’s recognizing , rejoining something into consciousness that has lurked outside our awareness.

First, I was set afire by the process of finding my birth mother. The primal wound was let out of its cage. I found myself curled up in fetal position many times howling like an injured animal. A guttural sound coming from a place i didn’t know existed. I didn’t understand then what was happening to me. The drawer that held that first trauma had been opened and one by one the rest were beckoning me to open them.

I’m sure everyone around me would tell you that I was an emotional disaster, reacting, reliving without recognizing. I also had a biological family that I so desperately wanted to fit in, yet had just met. It wasn’t until I completely crashed, partly because my mast cell disease had taken over my body and partly because I was so traumatized I was unable to function. No one recognized either, including myself. I had many labels cast in my direction trying to explain things, none fit.

Trauma isn’t held in normal memory because the feelings associated with them are unendurable. They never make it into the part of the brain that makes sense out of emotional experience.

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As the Primal Wound which is our first trauma is based on the neural pathways deep in the amygdala, they operate outside the influence of conscious thought. In an instant trauma can hijack our mind, destroy our awareness. It slips us out of time, no past, no future when one is overtaken by it. It feels like it is happening now. This was Buddha’s philosophy as well. We colour our experiences thru prisms of our own mind. Unresolved trauma waits patiently for opportunity to express itself. Unfortunately, it can be enacted with little self-awareness.

As I was writing, for eight years I lived, breathed every moment of my traumas. I was now in contact with biological  family that constantly reminded me of what I was not part of. The pain of hearing stories, seeing pictures knowing I was missing, had missed 50yrs of being a daughter, a sister, an aunt. For the books, I surrounded myself with visual reminders of old wall paper, pictures, furniture. I felt each moment. I smelled the smells, felt the pain. At times overwhelmingly so. I knew each drawer must be cleared out. There would be no more secrets. In order to find my authentic self, my freedom I had to walk, crawl through the world of traumatic pain to get to the side where peace lived.

As the Buddha taught mindfulness he was aware as psychotherapists are today that trauma encoded in implicit memory could become objects of meditation.

Mindfulness creates a container for our pain. By moving our ego’s to a neutral place of observation we can heal. As I wrote, I collected my dissociative elements and brought them back into self. It’s a very humbling experience but one of relief and healing. As I now hold my traumas in my awareness I can move forward in peace.

Write it out. Even if its for no one but yourself it’s transformative and healing. Come on. Pick up that pen, tap those keys. You can do it.

UNDER CONSTRUCTION; Mind, Body, Soul and Website

So, I know you have been wondering where I have been these last weeks. Right? IMG_5149Let me tell you.

I’ve been everywhere and nowhere.

Easy part first. Slowly I’m creating this blog into a better, more accessible, website. I did say slowly didn’t I?

Mast Cell Wise its been a rough time. Plenty of anaphylaxis, the insertion of a PICC Line which will lead to continuous medications via a CADD Pump and weekly hydration, not to mention the injections of Xolair monthly. My body is tired..very tired. The pain at times unbearable. I have hope that these new trials will provide a better quality of life. Hope is a wonderful thing,. even when you are clinging to it by your fingernails as we often do.  It keeps us going.

SOULSEARCHING

Life on a couch allows one plenty of time for contemplation, meditation and wonder. I have dates set up for readings at library’s, interviews being organized. I need to do these things because, as you know, the books are for Covenant House, Vancouver. The kids, my kids, our kids.

I get worried I won’t be able to honour my commitments and try to stay conscious and awake to my true feelings. Self betrayal comes easy for adoptees, well everyone, but adoptees especially. It can be a habit we don’t even know we have. As adoptees we were born without our truth which you need to be your authentic self. The discovery takes time, energy, search, fragmentation from reunion or discovery and then rebuilding on a stronger foundation.

What do YOU want for a change?

Go with your feelings. Ask yourself when and with whom do you swallow your truth. Why do you swallow your truth? Why do you hide your authentic self? Do you give in to others easily? Why? Are you not worthy of being true to yourself?

Having lived a life of search and discovery I see clearly now as my authentic self. That little whisper of a voice you hear, that sense of spirit, intuition…it belongs to you. That is what you need to tune in to, pay attention and listen to. Overtime, if you don’t follow that inner wisdom, you will feel a loss of energy, power and a sense of spiritual deadness.

Have you given up your own personal story for that of another?

Have you sold out yourself?

Behind that.. lies the voice of fear. Don’t let fear run your life. Ask yourself questions, face fear straight on.

People may judge but in the end it is yours to live, just yours. Embrace yourself and your story. Time passes quickly, life changes. Find your authentic being.

Live loud and strong.

As I contemplate my recent losses, my recent discoveries, my new normal in the physical/medical world, I know I’m now living from my heart and spirit.

David Whyte, the poet reminds us that the soul would rather fail at its own life than succeed at someone else’s.

Times will present themselves where you are given the option of which direction to go.

Which will you choose?

So What Happens Now?

 I thought someone stole my life. At the time it was real.

Each hospitalization steals a piece of who I used to be, each reaction possibly  a death sentence. Between adoption reunion and a rare mast cell disease I feel like I’ve been fighting a war or working on one of those fishing boats being tossed around like feathers in an ocean of power.

 I still have a life only its very different from the one I had planned for retirement. Different from the one I anticipated as I worked my way down my “Places to Go Before You Die” list. Different from the strong, physically fit nurse running on concrete day after day. Different from my friends and family. Different

Thing is, I have a life and I am grateful.

SO WHAT HAPPENS NOW?.

How does one manage, adjust, accept and live in the new world around them.

ACT AS If YOU KNOW

A few years ago before I got so sick I was at a retreat where the teacher used that phrase frequently. If you were asked a question and were stuck for an answer the normal reply is,”I don’t know “Thats why I’m asking you.” He would slowly curl his lips up in a smile and say, “Well, I know you don’t know. but if you did, what would the answer be?’ Immediately, people felt a shift and an answer became apparent.  You had it all along. It’s that simple.

I have had many times, many major times in my life, that in an instant, my life changed. These major life changes demand adaptation. Until you get re-grounded, Act As If You Know.

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When you experience major life changes such as we do in adoption reunion, serious life threatening illness, anything that comes out of the corner swinging when you least expect it, there are a few guidelines I’ve found quite helpful.

1.Change is part of life. Feelings of grief, sadness, anger are normal when experiencing a loss. Give yourself permission to feel that way but with limits. A day, a moment, a brief accountable time. Sit with the emotions but don’t stay there.  There’s no adaptation if you don’t move forward. You stay in a place of helplessness  and personally, i’d rather be in a place of hope and growth.

2.Take off the mask.  You know the one.  The strong, independent fearless warrior we like everyone to see. Let people see the real you.  The vulnerable, the frightened you, so greatly in need of help. The you that wonders if you’ll make it through another day. Only when others can see the real you are they able to offer help. Through vulnerability comes courage.

3.Remember you aren’t the first person to experience change and you won’t be the last. You Are Not Alone You always have yourself and you are surrounded by the energy of the universe, spirituality and love. Open the door just a crack and you will find many others feeling the same way.

4.People aren’t mind readers. They don’t know what you need, what you want and many have no idea what to say or do in your particular situation. Be specific and you will find people feel relieved because they had no idea and will gladly support you. If they have to guess, they feel helpless, just as you do. Empowerment comes from knowing.

5.Change takes courage but our ability to adapt is incredible. You need to believe that you can adapt and you will. Now that I have O2 24/7, it’s taken a great deal of adapting, inventing, climbing over obstacles I could never have imagined. You will find solutions for whatever is standing in your way. We are survivors.

6.Don’t lose hope. I know there are days it seems futile and the dark places try to pull you in but don’t go there. There is something, no matter how small, that you can grasp like a rope of hope.  Hang on, the ride is wild but know in your heart it will be alright, just different.

7.This journey, be it illness, death, adoption, reunion, whatever it is, is traumatic and it will change you forever. It changes how you see life and deal with things and right in the middle is the learning, the knowledge, the courage and strength you didn’t know you had. What’s happening around us, to us doesn’t change us as human beings. Stay centred and grounded and remind yourself you are okay.

Start right where you are now, in this moment, just accept it without comparison to your past life. We adapt. We survive. A habit takes 21 days to form. Neuroscience tells us our brains have extraordinary capacity to rewire patterns so get out of your own way. Meditate, walk in nature, listen to music, write.  Do what you must so you can see what’s around the next corner.

ACT AS IF YOU KNOW

Interview by Karen Pickell from Lost Daughters

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 2015

We Are Not Our Story:

An Interview with Author and Adoptee Claire Hitchon by Karen Pickell from http://www.lostdaughters.com
I recently reviewed Claire Hitchon’s latest memoir, The Wall of Secrets, in addition to its predecessor, Finding Heart Horse (you can read those reviews here). Claire’s life has been affected by adoption in profound ways, and I thought she might be able to give important insight to those of us who continue to struggle with processing trauma from our own adoptions.

I am grateful to Claire for the open and honest answers she’s given to my questions on difficult topics. There is encouragement here for all of us. It is soothing to hear Claire’s words.

How did you become comfortable talking about the difficult circumstances of your childhood and adoption? What types of reactions have you received from others, both inside and outside of the adoption community?

I survived by disassociating at a young age from the pain of abuse, rapes, and street life. The Wall of Secrets was a real wall in my parents’ library. I carried it in my mind until my adoptive mother passed away and I found my biological family in 2003. I could relay my story to anyone and not feel anything, until then…then the drawers started flying open and my worst nightmare became real.

It wasn’t until I began to write that I actually crawled into the places that hurt the most. I relived each and every secret. It was the most painful journey I’ve ever experienced. It was as if, once I found my birth mother the secrets had to be hauled out, one by one. I was already fragmented from reunion and all the secrets had to be dealt with in order to become whole and healthy. I went into seclusion, exhausted and physically ill. There were many times I wondered if I would ever reach the other side.

Each rewrite became a bit less traumatic and finally, the parts I had disassociated from were spread out in front of me in words, including the primal wound of adoption. Only then could I speak freely and without hesitation knowing I had dealt with, processed, and accepted all of it. The story that had been inside me, poisoning me, was now nothing more than words between the covers of books. I was no longer my story.

I’ve received various reactions, more positive than negative. You’re in a place of complete vulnerability when you share a story such as mine. I decided those that judged were not the people I wanted in my life anyway. Reactions have been from absolute horror and shock and being told, “Things like that are best left untold” from an older woman at a book reading, to tears of gratitude and validation that one is not alone. I’ve had women of my generation open up about their experiences with narcissistic, mentally ill mothers, comments from young adults about finding hope, to people unable to listen or read as it is a trigger, a piece of their pain not yet processed.
Have you connected with other adoptees who also experienced abuse in their adoptive homes? If so, have you discovered any commonalities in how adoptees who have been abused process that trauma throughout their lives?

I’ve been able to connect with others in various settings. I was an RN in psychiatry for over twenty years and many histories of patients held the secret of adoption in them. Most of us survive by disassociation from abuse suffered at the hands that were supposed to care for and love us. We tend to self-medicate when we get older with alcohol or drugs, not realizing the core issues of our pain. A disconnect keeps us from being re-traumatized or even loved. We live from a fear-based place. I’ve seen some that act out and then there are those of us who crawl up inside and just go on, carrying the pain until we are ready to look at it, if ever. There is a need for search even if it doesn’t lead to reunion for most of us to face our initial trauma, the primal wound. All adoptees begin with the initial trauma of loss. You can come from an adoptive family full of love and still experience similar issues; the abuse is just another layer to dig through.
As an adult, you cared for your adoptive mother for many years until she died, which seems remarkably compassionate considering her treatment of you. How were you able to reconcile your complex feelings toward your mother during that time?

I held on to the hope that things might change for many years. We all want our mothers to love us, adopted or birth. I realized nothing was going to change so I had to find a way to care for her without destroying myself. I had to work and I had a daughter to raise. I was a practicing Buddhist, yet finding compassion for her as my mother was beyond my abilities then. I had to look at her as a psychiatric patient, nothing more, just an ill person needing my care. I was an only child, there wasn’t anyone else, my father had died years before. I felt an obligation as one human to another. It wasn’t until years later that I was able to find forgiveness and also compassion for her.
Did you receive an explanation from your birth mother about why she relinquished you for adoption? If so, were you satisfied with her explanation?
Claire Hitchon
No, unfortunately my birth mother was quite ill and also emotionally detached when I met her. My understanding is that her mother insisted she give me away. This was in the early 1950s. She was twenty-five years old, not a young girl. She went on and had two more girls and a boy and kept them. Her mother even moved in with them to help. I have no words.
In The Wall of Secrets, you discover that your birth mother had two other daughters. What is your relationship with your sisters today? Have you been able to develop a close connection with them?

Yes, she also had a son. The two sisters and I share the same father although she wasn’t married at the time. I grew up, as I mentioned, an only child. To find siblings was beyond my wildest dreams. So many synchronicities and similarities we immediately connected. (This is so very painful to even think about.) Unfortunately, trying to integrate into a family after fifty years of absence is difficult. I looked at reunion as a chance for the whole family to heal and grow together. I found my birth mother and lost her. I found my family and now they are lost as well. The second and third rejection only magnifies the pain and loss of not growing up with them. Adoption affects everyone. History won.
What advice would you give to other adoptees who have experienced abuse or disconnection from their adoptive families? What has been most helpful to you in coping with and recovering from the trauma of your early years?

Understanding that it wasn’t your fault is huge. To know that all babies are born innately pure and none of us deserved the pain handed down from generations past. As adults, we have to take responsibility for re-parenting our inner child, healing the wounds and discovering that we are not our story. We have to break the cycle for our children. You must clear your life of toxicity no matter who it is. Leave the negativity behind and create the life you deserve. One filled with love and acceptance of self.

Thank you Karen Pickle from the amazing website http://www.lostdaughters.com for this interview.

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It’s Alive !!

The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say,

but what we are unable to say.

Anis Nin

I’ve been away for awhile….again.  Those uncontrollable mast cells have gotten the better of me lately.  I had planned on topics for several blogs in relation to the first memoir Finding Heart Horse.  Many exciting things are happening.

Today I realized as soon as I sent the final cover edits in…the book went live!

Today the cover reveal

If you haven’t read Finding Heart Horse, memoir of Survival  you need to.  The Wall of Secrets, memoir of The Almost Daughter is the sequel.

THE WALL OF SECRETS

MEMOIR OF THE ALMOST DAUGHTER

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It’s THAT DAY again….

ImageI want to wish that little girl Happy Birthday today.  I want her to have a cake with candles, friends and presents.  Balloons and laughter.  I want her to have a family that loves and celebrates her birth.  I want her to have all the things I never had when I was “her”.

Birthdays are supposed to be a happy time, but they represent a day of loss, rather that celebration for most adoptees.  It’s usually a day of celebration of birth and it should bring joy, but it doesn’t.  No matter how old you get, its a reminder and a connection to the past, to the loss of the birth family.

My birthdays were never really celebrated as a child.  The only criteria for a cake was if a relative happened to be coming for some reason and then of course…what would they think, if there wasn’t a cake at least.

When I ran away at 15 yrs i never told anyone when my birthday was.  Not a soul.  I would disappear in to a drug induced sadness and hide  somewhere in a back alley and cry with the pain of loss and aloneness.

In my isolation i would wonder, if she was thinking of me.  if she even remembered giving birth to me and wonder why she wasn’t looking for me.  Part of me wondered why I always sunk into the depths of despair.  Why couldn’t i let it go and just forget “the day”.  Nancy Verrier calls it “an anniversary reaction”.  Why on earth would one want to celebrate the day they were separated from their birth mother?

Most of us didn’t talk about “the day” or what it meant until we found others who also felt the same way thanks to the internet and books written about adoption.  I mean, really, if you don’t feel you exist to start with….what’s a birth-day?

I celebrated my daughter’s birthdays with great joy and special themes and parties and it was wonderful to see her and her friends laughing and celebrating the day she was born.  I tried to imagine how that felt.  Having no reference, it was impossible.

It wasn’t until a dear friend who knew my thoughts about birthdays decided to have a 40th party for me.  With great reluctance and a few shots of reinforcement, i arrived to find a banner strung around the room with all of the celebrations I had never experienced.  Birthdays, graduations, baby showers, Xmas‘s.  The normal celebrations that people enjoy every year.  I was overwhelmed.  To see in writing all of the celebrations i missed was the reality I had avoided.  On the other hand, to know someone was trying their best to make up for my years of loss made my heart warm.  It was only with alcohol’s disinhibiting effects that I could laugh and celebrate with the people who were there.  They didn’t know i was crying on the inside.

The pressure society puts on people to celebrate these events is huge.  For adoptee’s who try to accommodate the societal expectations. or familial expectations it brings great anxiety and depression.  No one would understand the need to hide.  I recall many attempts at celebrations as I got older and the more pressure…the more i wanted to run.

We tend to minimize celebrations with “oh,  it’s just another day”  “I don’t care” and yet the pain lives on in our heart stemming from the primal wound.

When you begin to search, the healing begins.  During the process you give birth to yourself and it isn’t so much the end result, as the search itself.  When I found my Birth Family I discovered my Birth Mother‘s birthday was only five days before mine.  I gave much thought to that wondering how that must have been for her.  I can’t imagine.

 When I moved across Canada to be close to my new family our birthday’s arrived within a month of my arrival.  The expectation by everyone was that I would be thrilled to celebrate this years birthday.  If I close my eyes, I can see the looks and feel the anger and confusion when I didn’t want to participate in dinner and cake.  All I could do was sob.  Sob with grief over the birth not recognized, all the birthdays lost.  All the celebrations missed and the years spent without a family.

Years have passed, healing takes time.  Slowly, year by year I have been able to acknowledge my birth and all that it meant.  I have been able to celebrate in small ways for myself.  I no longer avoid the day and lay in fetal position wracked with grief of what never was.  It takes time, lifetimes perhaps.

This year, I am honouring all that  little girl above went through,  I am lighting a candle for her and reassuring her she is loved and wanted on this earth.  Each birthday she never experienced I will feel with compassion and love.  She does exist.  She deserves to be loved and celebrated.

Happy Birthday to all of the Lost Daughters and Sons

Wholeness is not achieved by cutting off a portion of one’s being…

But by integration of the contraries.

Carl Jung