Sunday, September 26, 2010

One Life, Two Minds

Just recently my friend Robin at Motherhood Deleted mentioned dissociative disorder on her blog. I was thinking about that same thing.

"Dissociative disorders are so-called because they are marked by a dissociation from or interruption of a person's fundamental aspects of waking consciousness (such as one's personal identity, one's personal history, etc.). Dissociative disorders come in many forms, the most famous of which is dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder). All of the dissociative disorders are thought to stem from trauma experienced by the individual with this disorder. The dissociative aspect is thought to be a coping mechanism -- the person literally dissociates himself from a situation or experience too traumatic to integrate with his conscious self. Symptoms of these disorders, or even one or more of the disorders themselves, are also seen in a number of other mental illnesses, including post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder."

When I was in the maternity home I wrote letters home to my folks. I have those letters now. My mother saved them and gave them back to me just last year. What an odd feeling. When I read them it was like I was reading the letters of a stranger. I didn't recognize the handwriting, I didn't recognize the words on the page, I didn't know the person who wrote them. It was like I was another person altogether. It was also interesting to me to note that on papers that I had written on previous to going to the home and after the adoption, my handwriting was completely different. In those letters I was telling my family what they wanted to hear. They wanted to hear that I was okay. They wanted to know that I was handling things. They were the only people in my life who actually knew where I was and why I was there. I didn't have anywhere else to go afterwards but back to them so they were my safety net. I had to keep them in my world and on my side, where else would I go if not back to them?

Over the course of the years when I looked back to the girl I was at that time and the situation I was in, I know intellectually that I did the only thing I could do but there still remained the thought that I beat myself up with - the thought that I was 19 when I got pregnant and 20 when she was born and why couldn't I stand up to everyone around me and say - stuff it.... I'm keeping my baby! Why wasn't I strong enough? Do other mothers have this residue of guilt hanging around like some guest who's overstayed their welcome by about 20 or 30 years? Now as a middle aged adult (ok, slightly passed middle age) I know that going down the road of shoulda/woulda/coulda does nothing but hurt me.

Looking back now is like looking back on two people - the girl I was inside who was scared, sad and out of options and the girl who was working to make it to the other side. It was like I had divided myself in two in order to protect myself. It was a defense mechanism for my psyche. I was in survival mode. Understanding this and knowing that I did what I had to to survive helped me realize that I could let go of any last feeling of guilt that was hanging around. I could allow that I was young, naive and believed what I was told. Under those circumstances I did the best that I could with the experience that I had. It's easy for so many of us to look to the past and say... well, I would've done this or that. It's really easy for other people to tell us what we should have done. I've learned so much over the years about not only myself and how to heal from the damage done, but also about the adoption industry and the damage it does. The me of now needs to let the me of then off the hook. Does that make any sense?

The mind is a fascinating thing.


  1. I so identify with this post.....I have journals that I kept before and after, written to my daughter....perhaps never to be seen by her.(I am still not reunited, still the ever weary searcher) and I look at how I changed. I started out so hopeful, and sure that someone would come to my rescue, then I started "toeing the line" and telling even myself that I had to do what they said, then finally it was almost like resignation to the fact that nothing was going to change the outcome, so I "merrily" told the social wrecker, my parents, and all who knew that I was happy with it. Funny thing, as I look at the old journals I see myself as the so young, scared, 22 year old college grad, who could have, should have, would have made it, if only one person had supported me emotionally or financially...instead I let them take her away, and the guilt is strong, even today when I am 61 years old and much wiser. I understand now, and I am trying to forgive myself for their weakness in not letting me be the Mother I should have been. To the daughter I love forever...I hope you dance....always, Jenny

  2. Oh Jenny.... I have tears in my eyes as I read your comment. I completely understand. I too would have been fine raising my daughter with some support but I can't focus on that anymore, only look forward. I also thought the letters I wrote my daughter might never be seen by her. They were finally. She just read them last month! There's always hope. Please continue on your search, never give up and my thoughts are with you.

  3. Carlynne, you were threatened with the loss of your family. I can remember just wanting to be accepted back into the fold, feeling lost, set adrift, abandoned. That is when you are at your most vulnerable. It's almost a slam-dunk for the social wreckers when they get a mother who is in that emotional state. I don't think there are many among us who don't know that all it would have taken would have been a little loving support from our families. Please don't beat yourself up over what you couldn't control.

  4. Carlynne, I've learned that lack of support and the threat of alienation can erode any of us at our roots, especially when we are in unfamiliar emotional territory. The year on the calendar is irrelevant to the reality of your situation.

    It doesn't matter if a younger first mom parented successful or if a BSE mom thinks you gave up too easily (yeah, I can tell it's been easy!); you made the best decision you could at the time, and no one can do more than that (in spite of what they may like to think).

    I hope you can really, deeply, fully let your younger self off the hook. You're an intuitive, sensitive, warm, loving, intelligent woman who made an excruciating decision a long time ago. Please be gentle with yourself!

  5. Robin and Sally, I appreciate both of you and your comments. Thank you. I think for me there were two turning points in finally being able to let go of the guilt. The first one was when I read the letters I wrote to my family and had no memory of them whatsoever and the second was when I learned more about the history of the industry and how it operates even now. Although I always knew I had no choice, the last couple of years have shown me that it REALLY wasn't my decision. I think younger me is finally off the hook. Now I just wish I still looked like her :)

  6. Hi, Carlynne.

    It's Faith from Adoption Under One Roof. I followed your link to check out your blog and was surprised to see your most recent blog entry was on dissociative disorders. I write about dissociative disorders a lot on my personal blog, which is for survivors of child abuse...different trauma but similar result.

    As you know from Adoption Under One Roof, I am an adoptive mother. I read the book "The Primal Wound" several years back after hearing that this is something that adoptive parents need to know about their adopted children. I was shocked to be reading a description that sounded so much like myself, knowing that I am not an adoptee. I kept thinking that the "primal wound" sounded so much like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is one of my diagnoses after enduring a childhood filled with ongoing severe abuse. Now, I see that a natural mother is writing about dissociative disorders as well, which is a more severe form of PTSD.

    I don't know how much you know about dissociative disorders, but they are always caused by enduring trauma, and they typically are caused by ongoing trauma (versus a one-time incident, such as a serious car accident). The book "The Myth of Sanity" by Martha Stout does a great job explaining it. Dissociation runs on a continuum. On the far left would be "losing yourself" in a movie and "forgetting" that you are in crowded theater. In the center would be PTSD. On the far right would be dissociative identity disorder (DID), formerly known as multiple personality disorder. Other dissociative disorders would fall somewhere between PTSD and DID.

    To put this in perspective, if a natural mother is experiencing a dissociative disorder, this is because the trauma experienced was even more severe than what many soldiers with a PTSD diagnosis have experienced. I don't like to "compare" traumas because all are bad, but I, personally, found it validating to recognize that the aftereffects of my childhood abuse traumas were more serious even than what is experienced by many veterans. That told me that I wasn't just "whining" or being "dramatic" -- that my child abuse really was THAT BAD. I hope that you find the same validation for your own trauma and pain.

    The good news is that anyone can heal from PTSD and dissociative disorders. It is an enormous amount of work (I have been doing it for seven years now), but it is well worth the effort. I find that blogging about my experiences is incredibly healing, and I hope the same is true for you.

    Take care,

    - Faith

  7. One more thing ... Please don't be too hard on yourself for not being "strong enough" at age 20 to stand up for yourself. This is something we talk about a lot on my personal blog for child abuse survivors. My mother had stopped hurting me when I was in elementary school and then started back when I was 17 after my father died. Why didn't I stop her? I was now big enough to fight back. Why didn't I?

    It is easy to judge ourselves through adult eyes, but we have to remember that we were not the experienced adults that we are now. Age 20 is still very young. Yes, you are technically an adult and old enough to vote, but you are still not an emotional adult at that age, which is why so many college-age people are taken advantage of by more experienced adults.

    Both you and I, dealing with different types of traumas, were still very young, and we did not have a way to support ourselves yet. We did not know what it was like to put a roof over our own heads, pay for our own clothing and food, etc. We were not adults, and the adults in our lives had emotional power over us that we can no longer relate to from an adult perspective. You were a pregnant teenager who did not yet have the ability to see the long-term big picture ... that comes with life experience, which you did not yet have.

    I have had to learn to forgive myself for being human ... for being a kid ... for not being able to make well-informed adult choices as a child and young adult. I know we endured different traumas, but what we shared was dealing with very difficult traumatizing events at a young age. We need to stop judging ourselves for being human and develop compassion for that hurting girl inside.

    Take care,

    - Faith

  8. Faith, I'm so sorry for the abuse you had to endure as a child.

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments and the info on dissociative disorder. I've really just begun learning about it since it's only been in the last few years that I've put all the pieces together regarding the damage that the experience caused. Because it was a closed adoption and not to be talked about I had to learn how to cope and heal on my own just like so many of the other mothers.

    I understand what you're saying about validation. What we dealt with was trauma and just as you weren't whining, I'm not bitter because of a "bad" adoption experience. Adoption causes damage, that's the reality. Working on the painting series and now this blog is what I need to do, not just for myself but because it needs to be talked about in order for it to change.

  9. Hi, Carlynne.

    Something struck me about your last comment. You said that your adoption was closed and that you were not allowed to talk about it. This is such a similar dynamic to an abusive household -- "Don't tell." "Don't talk about it."

    In the world of recovering from child abuse, much of the damage comes from the abuse itself, but much of the damage also comes from the aftermath. You can have two children abused in the same way by the same person, but the aftereffects will be different depending upon how the family dealt with it (or didn't deal with it).

    If the family is supportive, gets the child into therapy, encourages the child to talk about the trauma, etc., then the trauma will still affect the child, but it is much less likely to derail her life -- the abuse history become more of a "bump in the road" that hurts from time to time, but the child grows into an adult with coping skills who believes that there are people who can be trusted.

    Contrast that with the child who never gets therapy, is told never to talk about the abuse, and is forced to shove the pain back inside and pretend like it never happened. That child is much more likely to grow into an adult with major trust issues, eating disorders, insomnia, nightmares, addictions/compulsions, etc. While the abusive incident(s) caused the initial trauma, the dynamic of the family continues the trauma by not dealing with it.

    I have never thought about applying this dynamic to a woman traumatized by losing a child to adoption, but it makes perfect sense that, just as the family dynamic can exacerbate the trauma of abuse, it can exacerbate the trauma in the aftermath of a crisis pregnancy and adoption as well. It is like the trauma of a crisis pregnancy followed by the trauma of losing the baby pierced your soul with a sword, but your family, instead of removing the sword and healing the wound, kept twisting it and telling you to pretend like you weren't walking around with a sword in your soul. Of course that is going to make the damage much worse.

    Another great book on understanding trauma, PTSD, etc. is Judith Hermann's "Trauma and Recovery." One thing I really like about it is that it talks about the causes and aftereffects of trauma as a whole rather than by a specific cause. There is a section re: war veterans and a section re: child abuse, but the focus is on trauma, rather than on cause. You might find this resource helpful because all that you have written about here sounds like healing from the aftereffect of trauma, and this book does a great job helping the trauma survivor to understand why you feel and react the way you do. For me, keeping the focus on the diagnosis (PTSD) made it easier for me to process than on the child abuse, which I kept viewing as "not that bad" (which can be one of the symptoms of PTSD -- minimizing your experience).

    Take care,

    - Faith

  10. Hi Faith, the dynamic of recovering from child abuse and recovering from losing a child to adoption is similar because what I went through was abuse. We all know there are different forms of abuse and being forced to hand over your child is emotional and mental abuse which is just as damaging as the physical kind. I started to heal when I started to talk about it and decided I wasn't going to hide anymore.

    The problem with the overall attitudes toward adoption is that people don't recognize that this is what's happening to women. This is what the agencies do to women and they count on this type of brainwashing working in that it keeps women in the mental state of minimizing their experience. I certainly did that for a lot of years. The agencies even use the women who are still in the fog, who don't realy comprehend what's been done to them to encourage more pregnant women to hand over their babies. I fear for those women when they wake up and realize not only what's been done to them but what they encouraged other mother's to do.

    Although more adoptions are "open" now it doesn't change what happens to the mother or the child. The trauma still happens. Too many open situations close, it was just used as a way to get the mother to agree to the adoption. Those mothers will suffer the same trauma. The adoption industry is unethical and abusive.

    Thanks for the book reference, I'll look into it.