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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Loss…..When Your Heart Is Breaking

IMG_1488“Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form.”

Rumi

I believe that.  I’ve been witness to the magic of allowing yourself to believe.  Many times over.  In fact, those feathers and many more in my collection are just one sign that someone I loved dearly is close by.  How precious is that?  To know you never lose the ones you love.

Many of us, myself included have experienced Loss and Grief recently.  It comes along when you least expect it and grabs your heart and twists it wringing out the tears leaving you raw and open.

As a former RN I believe in the Kubler Ross grief cycle.  Not only for the loss of a loved one but for any loss.  For those of us with Mast Cell Disease, Cancer, EDS, any type of debilitating illness or injury.  Your life changes and with that..you experience loss of many kinds.

We all experience grief in our own way.  It may come in waves and toss us around like tiny birds on an angry ocean.  Or perhaps it sits there, hidden until something triggers it and then it grabs our mind and heart squeezing until the tears are forced out.

According to Keubler Ross the five stages are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and finally acceptance.  Not in any particular order, perhaps jumping back and forth for however long it takes to get to acceptance and peace.

As a Buddhist I believe in Death and Impermanence of Life.  It’s part of the natural part of life, however, death is not the end of life.  It’s merely the end of the body we inhabit in this life.  Our spirit remains and seeks out new life.

When we come to the last moment of this lifetime,and we look back across it, the only thing that’s going to matter is,

“What was the quality of our Love?”

Richard Bach

As adoptees we arrive in this world already burdened with the unbearable loss of our mother.  We spend our lives in a place of darkness and sorrow, sometimes not even recognizing the depth of pain we carry.

It doesn’t matter that you understood that your mother was unable to raise you or she thought she was doing what was best for you, or perhaps too young and under pressure.

 IT DOES NOT MATTER.

She let go.  The whole family let go. They all let go.

“They” will never understand.  “They” were never let go.

It becomes a family of pain.  My Mother shut down.  She carried “the secret” inside her tortured heart for years.  My heart goes out to her.  The pain must have been unbearable.  I felt it the moment I gave birth to my daughter 36yrs ago.  I looked in her eyes and immediately felt my Mothers pain.

Adoptees never completely heal.  Neither do their Mothers.  After search and reunion even if it goes badly we at least have the potential for growth.  We have a chance to move from the traumatized self to the revitalized and transformed self.

Tomorrow is my Mother’s birthday, five days before mine.  She died a short 9 months after I moved across Canada to get to know her.  I found my Mother and Lost her all in the same breath.  I was so filled with grief and pain from the first loss and the loss at her death my Mast Cells took over my body and sent me into the mast cell abyss from Hell.

Her family will grieve for her.  They will reminisce with each other of the memories that holds them together as a family.  I will grieve for the loss of what could have been.  For the loss of heritage, genetic markers, memories that bind, love that stays, family that never was.  It never goes away, this grief.

To all of us in the past weeks that have experienced loss,

I dedicate this blog to you and those we have lost.

Look around you…notice the small things..the wind blowing softly past your ear.  The butterfly sitting on a flower.  The soft rain hitting window panes.  The brilliant red leaf as it flutters slowly from the tree.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE

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Living with Mast Cell Disease….Coming out of the Closet

ImageI’m coming out of the closet.  Yes you heard me right.  Not only am I coming out of the closet but because I’m doing that inconceivable “thing” , I won’t be “invisible” any longer.

As I was just writing my adoption blog about letting go of who you thought you were, I realized I have an added dimension to the grief and loss and letting go.  Invisible, chronic, Mast Cell Disease.

I have had to let go of the life I had planned.  The life I had worked so hard to get to.

 You know the one.  Where you push yourself beyond the edge doing for others, providing for your kids, saving for retirement so you can travel and enjoy life.  Yes, that one.

 The one that will never come to fruition.

No one ever see’s me sick.  Well, except for my dear friend Susan, who witnessed my Delhi Belly from hell and was such a good nurse.  Other than that..oh yes, and the time I took my daughter to a Buddhist Retreat in Thailand in the middle of the jungle. Climbing a mountain in sweltering heat and humidity wasn’t such a good idea.

I swelled up like a puffer fish.  I thought I was going to explode my skin was so tight with pain that brings tears to my eyes even now.

 I didn’t pee for three days and my lungs were so congested I knew I was as close to dying as I could get in the middle of the jungle. I was prepared to just roll off the floating meditation floor into the lake where the 75kg Thai catfish lay waiting.  What better place to go than on a Buddhist Retreat?

Who knew?  Mast cell disease did that.

 As it’s done with many things in my life.  Surgery to remove the endometrial nightmare in my belly caused me a three months stay in hospital with pelvic abcess, peritonitis, bowel obstruction and DVT’s.

 Who knew? Mast Cell degranulation of course.  Oh, and the time I was admitted to ICU with cardiac issues and eyes like the ones above.  Throw in a standard diagnosis of pericarditis and a stay of 2 weeks.  Kounis Syndrome.  Who knew?  Mast Cell Disease yet again.

 I could go on and on.  I can identify each and every event that relates back to Mast Cell disease.  Only then, I didn’t know.  How unfortunate for me because every “flare” caused just a bit more damage to organs that had already taken a beating from my “FINDING HEART HORSE” life.

This week has been a tough one.  The eyes that I can’t bear to touch and struggle to see the words on the computer.  The unrelenting pain of a total upper body spasm that woke me up last sunday night.  it was as if an elephant was sitting on my chest and I couldn’t move to do anything about it. The accumulation of fluid outside of my cells called  3rd spacing that is so painful.  A whole week spent in agony.  Who knew?  No one.  Not one single person except my “masto angels”.  That’s invisible…

I shouldn’t be like this.  There are thousands and thousands of us out there.  Not just mast cell patients but many such as Lupus, Fibro, CFIDs.  If it was the big “C” or a broken leg people would see. People would be bringing tuna casseroles and apple pies because thats what you do when someone is terribly ill and can’t manage.  Isn’t it?  It’s what I do when I know someone’s ill.

 I haven’t had a tuna casserole since I was seven.

We have to change the way people think about us, the invisible ones.

 That’s why I’m coming out of the closet.  To educate.  To give visuals.  To answer questions.

 To say..hey wait a minute..I’m in pain here.  Just because I don’t look sick  (well, except for the eyes this week) doesn’t mean I don’t exist.

 That we don’t need a help now and again.

 That the medical system doesn’t need to provide the diagnostic tools our doctors need.

 That the medications we need should be available, the emergency rooms aware of what we need done when we arrive in anaphylaxis.  So many more needs I could list.

And then, of course, just how does one live with an illness like this.  One that no one knows exists.  One where alot of the time you don’t look ill on the outside but your internal body is wracked with pain and your mast cells spewing out chemicals causing havoc with your systems.  Your liver, your kidneys, your spleen.  Every part of you, brain included has mast cells that can degranulate and cause problems.

It’s not an easy place to live..this mast cell hell.

 Priorities change.  Friends stop asking you to go places.  You can’t eat out. Your energy is gone before you have your morning coffee.

Your goal is to keep your mast cells stabilized and the slightest change may bring about chaos.

Attitude is so important.  As I was saying in the adoptee blog post…You have to let go of many aspects of who you thought you were.  

Expectations of others has to be released or you will only find disappointment.  It may take the rest of your life but letting go will ease the frustrations.  None of us are perfect.  

Weed out your friendships.  Surround yourself with supportive, caring people who you know you can depend on.  Illness gives ground for prioritizing friendships.  Our energy only goes so far and we need to spend it wisely.

Don’t become your diagnosis.  Believe it or not, inside this illness lies blessings.  Perhaps you haven’t found them yet.  Don’t stop looking.  Find the things you used to love and perhaps you can change things to enable you to do things, just in a different way when your energy allows.

You still have talents and skills even if you’ve had to stop working.  Inside those skills lie things you were never able to bring out before…find them.  I thought I was never going to be able to hang up my Nursing Cap.  I loved my job.  Now, I write books.  I hope to be able, energy willing to do some talks with youth when the books are ready to be signed.  I would have never been able to do this before.  I’m not saying I don’t have days, sometimes more than one where I can’t get off the couch but I hold the possibility of tomorrow being better close.

One of the most valuable talents you will find you have is simply relating to others who are in the same place, with the same illness or even another.  No one understands what we go through except someone else who is going through it too.  Its the same with adoptees.  We can be great support for many, for each other.  Don’t ever discount the importance of that.  

We can choose how we deal with this illness.  We are also allowed to have our couch days.  We have to learn to be as gentle and supportive of ourselves as we are with others.  Throw the guilt away.  It uses up too much needed energy and gets you nowhere.  We are in this together.

Come on…get out of the closet and stop being so invisible.

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Letting Go of Who You Thought You Were…

Who are you? Do you know? 

Who were you before?  Before what?  I would have to say, before many things.

Someone asked me the other day why I can’t just stop writing about the past.  My answer to that is that I never had a past before to talk about, well except for the one in FINDING HEART HORSE.  As adoptee’s we are void of history, void of a past and full of loss only.  Until….

Until we search.  Until we grab each piece of paper with bits of information on it and try and put it all together.  I’m sure all of us had a tin box in the closet like the one I had, or a shoebox that held tiny bits of information gleaned over the years.  If we are lucky and find our adoption papers or can apply for non identifying information we fill with anticipation in perhaps finding a bit more about who we are.

How can you let go of the person you used to be until you find out who that person is?

In writing FINDING HEART HORSE i went through layer upon layer of stories of who I thought I was only to discover after rewriting seven times….I was no longer my story.  The words between the covers now are the story, not me.  I was terrified for years that someone would find out who I really was and here it turns out…it wasn’t me at all.  It was just a story.

I wonder if I write another book on purely adoption if that would be the case  in the end.  Would I then not be my story.  The answer is no, nothing would change the reality of the primal wound and the damage done. 

If you don’t have the wound of a broken heart, how can you know you’re alive?

 If you have no broken heart, how do you know who you are?  Have been?  Ever have been?”  

  Edward Albee

We all have wounded hearts to some degree etched with at least a few of life’s scars.  If that is the case, how can we find peace”  How can we release our sorrow and move beyond negative memories and hurt?  How can we release our attachment  to the past?

One thing you never hear in adoptee groups is the prattle of well meaning friends who say things like “You need closure”,  “You need to move on”

Okay, I’ll get right on that.  Thank you!

I worked in Psychiatry for many years and I remember looking after a patient who had suffered great loss.  As we were discussing the stages of grief and closure,

I said.”Maybe it’s time to let go and move on.”  “Maybe it isn’t,” she replied..”Maybe i’m not done.”

I think of those words often especially in relationship to adoption loss.  Maybe in our case, we are never done.  All loss is painful but the loss of a mother in utero is one that goes beyond the normal realm of thinking.  It’s an energetic loss of self before we even enter this world.

When you suffer with PTSD… Adoption trauma , rape, abuse the grief is never “done”.  Mourning is part of the process as well as a deep and significant spiritual experience.  It drives us down into the core of our being, our authentic self.

There does come a time that we need to release the pain even tho’ certain losses remain with us forever such as in adoption.

 We need to regain balance by processing but the loss remains as part of our history.

That doesn’t mean we spend our lives grieving or living in our past.  We find ways to co-exist with our sadness.  We can embrace our pain and our losses and be greater and more authentically real for doing so.  We are never going to erase the deeply ingrained memory of our grief and loss and I don’t think it would be good if we did.  We would become unconscious beings

devoid of feelings and memories.

We do have to find peace and acceptance within the framework of our daily lives.  Finding a way to peacefully coexist with life’s losses takes courage, and inner strength and work.

It’s all Karma anyway.  Blowing in like the wind, in whatever direction it chooses.  We have no control over the blowing of the winds and the world around us but we are in charge of how we relate to those winds.

That’s what makes the difference.

If you want your life experience to be different, you have to do something different.

We all have choices.  We can change how we view the world.  Change is going to happen anyway so we might as well just embrace the idea and go with the flow of life.  Change allows for the constant regeneration and renewal of ourselves.  I’ve noticed its the times of crisis that have preceded the most growth and change for me.

Adoption has it’s own unique set of core beliefs, habits, protections, behaviours, attitudes, opinions and preconceptions.  Everyone has them.  Adoptee’s are just different, deeper perhaps and from a place that was hardwired pre-birth.

Once you begin to identify these and begin to let go, we begin to let go of who we used to be or who we thought we were.  With new vision and a new way of being we are open then to a new flow into that space now created by relinquishing those old beliefs.

Just imagine allowing all the positive energy that can now occupy a space once filled with such negative and painful beliefs.  You might even be able to say to yourself, that yes, I am loveable.  Yes, I’m worthy of good things and being happy.  Yes, I do belong.  I exist in this universe.  I may belong in a different way than I thought I would, but I belong…to myself.  Being at peace with …just being

‘There is no present or future-only the past….happening over and over again—now.

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That’s how we get through grief.”

 Eugene O’Neill

 

 

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