Posts Tagged ‘healing’

Supportgroup

Yesterday, I made the brave and bold step to attend my first birth parent support group. It wasn’t that I had to be dragged kicking and screaming – it was that 1) I didn’t know groups like this even existed and 2) I haven’t allowed myself to think about my experience until recently.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am a birth mom. I surrendered my baby boy back in 1984. Notice, I say surrendered and not “gave away.” This was my first lesson I learned in my new group: how we phrase and choose our words reflects directly back on what we think and how we feel about ourselves.

I had always used the term “give up” in reference to my situation, because I felt powerless at the time. I was convinced my “mistake” (I’ll get to that word later) was no longer mine to own. As soon as the words “I’m thinking two months pregnant” came out of the doctor’s mouth, my parents went into damage control and I no longer had a choice or say in anything that was going to come next. I “gave up” my power that day and let others tell me what to do, where to go, etc. The one thing they didn’t allow me to do was “feel”. My feelings were irrelevant at the time – because I obviously wasn’t able to make good choices, right? So, I acquiesced and did whatever I was told to do, including remaining dead silent and hidden away, as I moved through my pregnancy.

Then, came the day to “give him up”. Another moment when I had to grit my teeth and, with my needs’ and feelings entirely irrelevant, sign the court papers and walk away — never to be allowed to  talk about it again, at least to my parents.

But yesterday’s support meeting was a real eye opener for me. I met other women who have been in this group for years and have dealt with and processed their feelings of anguish, anger, shame, guilt and a myriad of other emotions I am only beginning to draw up and out of me. Right now, shame and anger (close to rage) are the “Emotions of the Week.” I know I will eventually get through them, but I’m letting them fairly and deservedly wash over me and consume me until the tidal wave passes. Because, frankly, I fucking deserve the right to own these feelings.

The other word that triggered a reaction from some members was my use of the word “mistake.” I made a “mistake.” Sex happens. Pregnancy happens. Babies are not mistakes. While this all sounds so logical and agreeable, I am not yet able to remove that word from my vocabulary of words surrounding this situation. Once I can, I feel I can start to rewrite my internal dialogue and frame of reference and really let the healing begin.

But here is the real lesson I learned from yesterday’s group:

1. I am not alone in my experience.

2. My unresolved grief and feelings over this are authentic, genuine and should be acknowledged and expressed.

3. I no longer need to remain silent and ashamed to share my story — I have a voice and a support system of others who will stand beside me as I raise that voice.

4. I am saddened and angered to learn that so many women in situations such as mine were forced to remain silent and shamed due to outdated, sexist, religious doctrine that punished and threatened us instead of helping us when we needed it the most.

I am a birth mom. I surrendered a baby boy in January, 1984. And I’m no longer ashamed by this.

I matter.

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*If you are a birth mom who is still trying to process and heal from your experience, please consider joining a local support group in your area. It might be exactly what you need to help you heal.

 

denialbirdearthI just finished reading the book First Person Plural, an autobiography written by Cameron West, Ph.D. It is about his life and struggle with coming to accept his Dissociative Identity Disorder. Personally, I prefer to call it by its old term: multiple personality disorder.

I am fascinated by how the brain works. More fascinating to me is the way the brain deals with trauma, worry, stress, and lastly, denial. I chose the title of this post because of the metaphor I read in the book: denial comes to me in the metaphorical form of a gardener’s rake. It is used to push and pull the memories, thoughts, opinions, and feelings floating around in our head deep into our minds, so we can bury them — sometimes forever.

Denial occurs across a broad spectrum of issues: Addiction, Abuse, Behavior, Relationships. It can be wielded as a way to survive or continue existing as part of the status quo. But the problem with denial’s rake is that, eventually it becomes a useless tool because all the dirt underneath rises again to the surface. This can occur in a sudden earthquake of enlightenment, or slowly resurface like silty layers of earth, weathered away by a constant tide of destructive, self-defeating patterns.

tilth-rakeI used my rake over and over again, across a series of decades, to bury my feelings and reject my true self. My denial was planted and fertilized over the years through a plentiful supply of Catholic doctrine. I was told to act a certain way, believe a certain way and move through life a certain way. What wasn’t planted in me was the self-confidence to make my own decisions, my own choices, and forgive myself for the mistakes I’ve made along the way.

Now that the earth inside my brain has shifted, and new, fresh layers of consciousness are rising to the surface, I feel like I am finally moving out from under the power of denial’s rake.  I am tilling my own soil and removing all polluted  traces that came from living a life according to others, who lived their lives based on outdated religious doctrine and beliefs.

I can already begin to see the shoots of new flowers rising slowly to the surface, waiting to burst through and bloom into a field of colorful wildflowers ready to dance and sway in the breeze; unfettered by the rake of denial that held me in its grip for so long. And, I am becoming the butterfly that joins them in the dance.

butterfly on wildflowers

The watershed moment happened in an unlikely place – the hall corridor of a hospital — and was tipped off from an unlikely person – a little old lady in a hospital volunteer’s uniform. I was searching for the grief therapy group I had signed up to attend in order to process my parents’ deaths, and nobody at the main hospital could tell me where I needed to go to find it. As I became more and more frustrated and angry, the tears began to well in my eyes and spill out over my lower lids (much to my determination not to let the public see me cry). Out of the blue, an elderly angel comes up to me and says “Oh honey, do you need a hug?”

I am not a very outwardly affectionate person. I don’t hug and kiss my close friends every time we see each other. I never enjoyed kissing my in-laws (a definitely huggy-kissy bunch) and I felt extremely uncomfortable safe hugging my students. So, I was definitely conflicted about getting a much needed hug from this elderly stranger. I decided to go for it.

In between sobs and hiccups, I was able to choke out “I’m here for the grief therapy group, but I can’t find it!” I must have sounded near hysterical at the moment, so she quickly stopped heading wherever she was going and immediately brought me back to the information desk and told them to get the hospital chaplain down here so I could get some emotional support. And after an extended chat with the chaplain where I divulged some pretty heavy duty material about the events which have occurred in my life, she said something that was the most thought provocative comment I’d ever heard anyone tell me: “You have never learned how to ‘feel your feelings'” Wow.

Looking back on my childhood, I see a long pattern of emotional invalidation  I had never recognized before this year: from my non-nurturing father, in the form of Catholic guilt from my mother, and through relentless teasing and bullying from my siblings. I was never physically abused or sexually abused, but the invalidation of my feelings caused me to question my very own sense of self. I was constantly being told by an overwhelmed father of six kids: “Stop spinning your wheels, Scooter” “Stop crying, you have nothing to cry about” “You have no idea what you’re talking about” – comment after comment where everything I said was doubted, discounted and dismissed. In order to stop having to hear it all the time, I just shut down my feelings and refused to share them with anyone — because to do so would put me at risk for judgment and further invalidation.

My one coping mechanism was to turn to intellectualism. If I couldn’t show people my value through my emotions then I was going to show them all how “intellectual” I was. I became fascinated by everything and anything — a knower of many things, a master of none, so to speak. I could debate and discuss virtually any topic that came my way. I could even discuss topics that weren’t of interest to me provided I was given enough time to research them first. I absorbed information like a sponge. I was determined to prove my worth through intellect, not emotion. The beauty of being intellectual is that it is a fact based function. Facts can’t be argued, discredited or disproved. There is nothing there of any emotional substance, therefore I wouldn’t get judged or invalidated — again. A brilliant alternative and safety net.

And I have been doing that since the day I walked into the hospital chaplain’s room and she told me to stop. It’s hard to change learned behavior when you’re about to turn 50. But, I’ve begun regular therapy to help me. I’ve found a wonderful psychologist who has been slowly assisting me in getting back in touch with my inner child, who is so much more damaged than I ever realized. Together, we are rebuilding my emotional self, and I’m just now starting to take emotional risks and recognizing how others’ comments and actions affect my feelings.

What I’ve noticed lately is the amount of feelings I’ve repressed and how I’m processing them now. Instead of pushing them down (like I did when my parents and brother died), I’m acknowledging them, putting the appropriate label on them and dealing with them accordingly. Whenever I start to feel “something”, I will say “sad, it’s sadness at this moment” or “anger, this is what anger feels like” and then I take a moment to let it wash over me. Unfortunately, the angry feelings are very strong – I’ve been snapping at a lot of people over the simplest things. I’ve had to tell my loved ones not to take my overblown reactions too personally – it’s all part of my therapy. Those poor folks.

I have a long distance to go in getting myself back in balance between intellectual and emotional health. But, with the continued help of my therapist, I see myself coming through this a much happier, much more enjoyable person to be around.

I know I can do it – because I feel it can be done.