Therapeutic cycles

I’m afraid I repeat myself a lot when I talk or write about adoption. In part, this is because I’m still trying to figure things out. Most of us are. Last summer, I read Matthew Salesses’ This is Not About Adoption. Actually, that took me most of last year. I’d read one or two posts and take a break for a week because he was so honest about the confusion about what is adoption-related and what isn’t, and whether it matters when you’re dealing with life. I’d recommend it, with the upfront caveat that it’s a hard read, so give yourself time. It’s worth it.

I know that one reason I have been writing for years and not openly or outwardly is because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say. Now I know that, in part, I want to say that I’m an adoptee, in my 30s, in partial reunion for a few years now, and I still haven’t figured it all out. I thought I would, but I didn’t, and I’m starting to (slowly) accept that. More than anything else, what seems to be true for the majority of adoptees is that adoption is complicated. It’s a lot of other things, and that varies by person, by day, by season, but it’s pretty much always complicated.

I made first contact with my first mother in March, we met in person in June, and I went through a bout of not-directly-adoption-related personal issues in about September. I was in denial about how raw every emotion and nerve was that whole year, and with some friendly advice and direction, got off the couch long enough to find a therapist in about October. It took a few tries. I talked to a few by phone, talked to a few more office managers, and went to 2 first appointments.

Finding anyone with experience dealing with adoption was hard. I found no one specifically with experience in dealing with adopted adults. The first “adoption experienced” counselor spent half of our introduction telling me how my first mother was “brave,” my adoptive mother was “selfless,” and I needed to recognize those things and “be grateful.” I did call her back after she made a follow-up call to tell her I didn’t think we’d be a good working pair, and she was not particularly gracious. The second therapist I still see, and the time I spend with her tends to smooth out some of the mountains of shit I’ve created.

But just this past session, she recommended that I scale back my visits with her and see another practitioner in her practice that she thought would help. We keep hitting roadblocks when it comes to my frustration with myself for not “getting over” things faster, as well as with a general block against productively processing anger of any sort. I’ve done much better with sadness and grief; maybe I’m more familiar with those, but they are also better written about in adoptionland online. Validation of these emotions that I’ve denied for years has been key to bringing them up.

When I was a child and I would get angry, especially with my father, the frustration of not being able to express myself or make my point or DO anything productive very often lead to frustrated tears or full-on sobbing. He hated this response, and rather than understand it, he would punish it. I learned to control my emotions, sometimes, because I was ordered to. I’m good at learning things, even destructive things; I am lousy at unlearning. So I’m seeing someone new who deals more directly with this type of processing.

Our first session was the day I called to make the appointment. She had an opening, and I took it, which left me next to no time to prepare myself in any way. As she described cycles of emotional response, defense mechanisms, and awareness, and asked me questions about why I was there, I was more and more and more anxious. She was confrontational a few times, in a way that was not cruel or unwarranted, but it ramped up those feelings. She had me describe the physical sensations of anxiety, the tightening, the shallow breathing, the mental judgement of myself.

Honestly, it was incredibly unpleasant, and yet, cathartic, and the describing technique is something I’ve already used a few times since the appointment earlier this week. I am not sure I like her, because of all these really unpleasant emotions, but I also think that this is already incredibly useful. It’s not as though avoiding the mire of negative thoughts and emotions has made it go away or anything — it seems that maybe going through it, step-by-step, may be the only way to lift its hold on me.

I can’t say I’m looking forward to it, exactly, but I do want to move forward.


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