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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Tethered….Are You?

Oxygen tubing...50ft...TetheredWhen I was thinking about writing this blog, I of course was focused on the fact that I am now

TETHERED

…permanently to tubing supplying my air. 

The definition of tethered is:

1. a rope, chain by which an animal is fastened to a fixed object

2. to fasten or confine, restricted by bonds

3. at the end of one’s tether=resources, patience or strength

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The subject of my words was to be my battle with Systemic Mast Cell Disease in order to educate. I feel all of those examples above. Out of the the last few months only a couple of weeks have been spent at home.  I was tethered in a hospital to more than one tube.  My goal was to describe my experiences of hospitalization and the reality of now requiring constant oxygen because mast cells have taken over a pieces of my lungs.  One more organ in combat with mast cells for survival.

IMG_4012IMG_4014This is life now.

Tethered in many ways.

A metaphor for life in general.

Tethered.

To beliefs, to thoughts, to emotions, people, situations.

It all relates to being attached.  This is my new normal.  Just as with each layer of trauma peeled away in my writing of the two memoirs…a new normal emerges.  It really is up to me how to live in this new place.

 It can go either of two ways: curl up on the couch giving in to the idea…or: adapt to life and living, only in a different way.

 To fight and grow and accept what is.  To learn to live around the coils of tubing or thoughts and beliefs and change what I can, when I can.

 I also relate this to living with the effects of trauma.  Adoption, abuse, rapes….  It all ties us to the pain of suffering and if we chose to remain tethered to the past or our thoughts about it and belief systems.

 When we settle into the present moment,

we can see beauties and wonders right before our eyes-a newborn baby,

the sun rising in the sky.

-Thich Nhat Hanh

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When you find your thoughts heading towards the couch, challenge them, ask if it’s really true or can we perhaps do one thing today, even if it’s getting off the couch and moving to the chair.

 

Is it true you are really tethered, or is it your thoughts that are confining you.  I’ve had a lot of practice with challenging my thoughts in the last few years. Adoption reunion, recognizing your deeply ingrained belief systems, pulling them up to examine them like roots on a tree, one by one.  It’s not easy work but then, being attached to something that causes you pain is the alternative.

Toni Bernhard in her book How To Be Sick quotes her favourite Zen Haiku Master, the eighteenth-century poet, Kobayashi Issa.  He suffered terribly with many losses and yet managed to write many haikus, some of which will always bring a smile.  She states, “Zen helps”.

The world of dew is the world of dew

And yet, and yet…..

The last line tells us what we constantly must remind ourselves of…nothing is certain.  Dew quickly changes before our very eyes and so does life.

For those of us that live in a physical or emotional state of being tethered…

Adoptees, Trauma survivors, Mom’s of Loss, anyone suffering…know in the world of Zen there is always…

And yet, and yet, and yet….

Yes, Zen helps.

“dew” can be illness, adoption, trauma…..and yet, and yet….

 

Triggers…Who’s Really Pulling Yours?

  “Ideas pull the trigger, but instinct loads the gun.”

Don Marquis

I’ve reflected on the last few years and my reactions to people and events..how many times they have been exaggerated and unpredictable.  At times totally out of context to the situation at hand.

Triggers consist of thoughts, feelings and events that seem to “trigger” an automatic response from us.  The word “trigger” is important here because our reaction occurs automatically.  It might seem as if the reaction is involuntary but the truth is…this reaction, like everything else, is a choice.  Learning to identify our personal emotional triggers is the first step to taking control over how we choose to respond.

Living as adoptees, adults of abuse or rape is especially challenging.  Not only for ourselves but for those around us who take the brunt of our reactions.  I’ve been told it’s like walking on land mines or on eggshells never knowing what “trigger” might be stepped on and the fragile shell come crashing down.

When I was first in “reunion” I was so triggered I was someone I had no experience with, a stranger.  I had no control over my tears, my body, my thoughts, my grief….nothing.  For someone who had been so tightly held together for decades every emotion exploded at once.  The grief, the deep..deep sadness was almost unbearable, yet no one, could understand, as everyone around me, had their mother.  Added in to the mix was that my Mast Cells were heading over the abyss in to Hell and I didn’t recognize, nor did anyone else, the physical aspect to my crash and burn.

Until we know how to correctly identify our triggers they will continue to rule our emotions.  It’s an ongoing process of learning for all of us.  The strengths that have helped us succeed are also our most significant triggers.  If you feel someone is not honouring that strength, emotions are triggered and in an instant we react.  Perhaps with anger or fear. Of course we immediately rationalize it so it makes sense.

The Key is to catch yourself reacting when your emotions are triggered.

If you can do that..you may discover the threat isn’t real at all.  Some of the most common emotional triggers, meaning that you react when you feel as though you aren’t getting or will not get one of these things that are important to you are in this group.

being included, acceptance, respect, be liked, be valued, be understood, be needed, be right, be in control, be treated fairly, loved, attention, 

Each of us has some that are more important that others.  Others may hold no emotional charge at all.  This list can be quite long and personal.  Having these needs isn’t a bad thing.  At some point in your life they served or saved you.  The thing is, we may become attached to these needs and when that happens your brain will be on the lookout for circumstances that threaten our ability to have these needs met.  At that point your needs become emotional triggers.

I can only speak from my place, where I sit now, in reflection of my past triggers and pain.  There was a time at the beginning of my reunion I was constantly in a flare.  A flare of Mastocytosis…yes…which plays havoc with my brain but also a place of such pain that the slightest threat to those above needs sent me into protection mode.  Especially, as I mentioned for those who have lived in the adoptee world or world of abuse where we needed to protect ourselves.  I grew up in the era where children were meant to be seen and not heard.  I had no voice in anything.  I had no say in even finding out who I really was, no rights, no love, no validation that I was meant to be on this earth.  I was abandoned at birth, abused and used.  Why wouldn’t I be filled with pain!

Remember when Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth exploded into the world?  It was all about Oprah and Eckhart then.  The online event that captured the world. Millions were brought together through Skype and cyber magic to work through this amazing book together with Eckhart Tolle and Oprah.

I remember the exact moment when I “got it”.  As many buddhist teachings I had been to when I heard the teaching put in a different way… I got it.

The Pain Body

I was going through a particularly difficult time.  My daughter had moved back to Toronto and my heart was broken….enter the pain body.  Huge trigger…abandonment, being loved, being needed, respected and heard.  You name it and IT was triggered.  There were also times in conversation I just lost it.  Pain body took control.  I didn’t see it at the time.  Again, mastocytosis and torn rotator cuff along with dislocated jaw disc created the feeding ground and the pain body gobbled it up and emerged the strongest.

When we have old emotional pain living inside us, as adoptees do, it’s called your Pain Body

This applies of course to anyone but I am speaking as an adoptee and survivor of abuse/rapes.  The pain body is an accumulation of painful life experiences that were not fully faced and accepted at the time.  It leaves behind an energy form of emotional pain and grows with time and experiences all energetic old emotion.

Pain body is the aspect of egoic consciousness.  When the ego is blown up by emotion of the pain body it gains tremendous strength,  taking over the situation.

The challenge is to recognize the pain body when it becomes active, when something triggers the strong emotional reaction.  At that moment, if it takes over your thoughts, the internal dialogue, which is dysfunctional at the best of times becomes the voice.  The actual event is coloured by old, painful buried emotion distorting everything.

For me, living alone gave my pain body the perfect feeding ground.  It gobbled up every negative thought, every painful moment and gained momentum and energy.  You know those times when you can’t sleep and the thoughts won’t shut off or you sit, thinking for hours about a specific hurt..The pain body thrives on those times.  It literally is eating you alive…just waiting for the next time it can emerge after a trigger.

Imagine then, if you are with someone who also has an unidentified pain body!  The ego/pain body loves other people, especially those who jump in and take part in the chaos of negativity.  It even pokes those people to trigger the response it needs to grow.  Of course, if you aren’t present in that moment and aware, you will immediately react….and now, there are two pain bodies feeding off of each other and loving the drama!

I started recognizing my own pain body and it then becomes so clear.  We carry so much unacknowledged pain even from generations past.  The challenge is, of course to acknowledge and recognize our triggers and where they originated.  A huge part of that is  being present.  Being able to step outside of ourselves and see clearly when the pain body is attempting take over.  Not an easy task but the more practice, the more awareness we have..the easier it gets and the pain body loses energy and power.

When you notice that you are emotionally reacting you have to shift your emotional state to think through what your trigger might be.

Relax…breath and release the tension in your body

Detach…clear your mind of all thoughts

Center…drop your awareness to the centre of your body, feel your breath

Focus…find one word that represents who you want to be or feel in this moment

Once you shift your emotional state, you are free to check if someone is actually taking something away from you or not.  You can then ask for what you need or let it go and move on.  Keep breathing and thinking of your keyword and you will deflate your pain body, your triggers and your patterns.

Freedom does exist

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Roots…

ImageYou see the one that I am, not the one that I was.

But the one that I was is also still part of myself.

Jean Amery

I have been feeling a little ungrounded lately. For me, I need to connect with Mother Earth on a frequent basis to feel secure, to feel stable and present. When we are feeling off balance or scattered it’s important to “reground” ourselves.

What is that really? I used it here as a state of being, but what is it really? Again, for adoptee’s there is a much deeper meaning to the words “roots”. For those of us who have grown without roots its a place of non-existence. A place of frequent change. A place that may collapse at any minute.

Everyone needs grounding and roots in order to know themselves and become whole. Our body needs that energy connection to the earth to function optimally but our genetic markers also need to be grounded with the matching set, that is our roots, our heritage, our tribe.

Even when I was young and naive about such things I always returned to Mother Earth and nature in order to feel connected. Since I had no “real family” Mother Earth was the closest I could get to connection and feeling grounded.

As for adoptee’s in reunion or searching, what we look for is the energy connection that we have been denied and has kept us in that place of limbo regarding who we really are. A place of non-existence. I know it’s difficult for non adoptee’s to understand these concepts. You grew with roots, heritage, genetic markers. You grew because you had roots. Just as the tree’s need to have roots, just as the toaster needs to be plugged in, and be grounded, you grew.

You know when you feel off balance, uncentered. You get easily distracted, tense and fidgety. Your energy is low and your problems are heavy and covered in emotion. You need to rectify that with re-grounding. Whatever that process is for you.

In adoption, during search and reunion we walk a fine line, sometimes teetering over the edge, ravaged with grief and emotion never before felt. It brings forth all of the awareness that had been so carefully hidden. The awareness of what you have missed out on, what you weren’t part of and will never get back. It’s during these times we need each other. We need to remind each other that we need to take time to regroup, reground, regrow. We need to know we matter. We need to know we are enough and we are understood.

Reunion is only one stage of the journey in an adoptees life. It’s the place where we knit together the fragmented parts of stories we never had. Parts of ourselves we never knew. Stories and history that need to fit somewhere in the puzzle that has so many pieces missing. Quite often it’s the place where we feel more fragmented than ever, more alone, more frightened. This place of finding roots.

Of course, once you are there it’s much too late to turn back. At least you had a sense of control before. In this place of putting pieces back together there is no control, none. The universe takes over, the emotions reign supreme. It feels like being out in the ocean with a canoe and no paddles. You are tossed around by emotions you didn’t know existed, caught in the waves of a dark despair and depth of pain not known to the “rooted people”. An adoptee’s trauma is cellular. How do you repair that?

“Rooted People”, can you just for a moment, try to understand what that’s like. The turmoil, the pain, the confusion of reassembling your psyche after having it shattered into a million pieces? No, I imagine you can’t, because you see, you are rooted. You have a Mother who gave you roots. It would mean the world if you interested in understanding, of empathizing, of loving us through this period.

We know as adoptee’s, that it takes time and solitude a process that is usually out of our control. Our bodies and minds take the lead and usually crash, forcing us into a reclusive space to regroup.

When I was in that place, I spent a great deal of time trying to write through the pain and walking in the forests. I became obsessed with taking pictures of roots. I took the one above as I sat on a bench beside it, staring at the complexity of all that it means to have roots. A tree gets nourishment from it’s roots. Would I perhaps? A tree grows strong and extends its branches? Would I as well? Hours would be spent walking the forests looking at the roots and realizing how important they are to everything on this planet but especially to those who have none. I also clung to my spiritual practice as if my life depended on it, and it did.

In this age of the internet, finding your roots has become quite common and certainly much faster. It’s all the more important then for us to remain centred and to remember you are not alone. One of the most difficult things about hard times is that we often feel that we are going through them alone. But we are not alone. In the physical sense the internet provides reassurance that others are walking the same path and understand. I mean more of an internal knowing.

Our healing journey, our finding our roots is not always about overcoming the difficulties we’re experiencing, or about getting well, at least not completely. Sometimes, it’s about learning to accept more fully the way things are. We all have the capacity to heal and we need to discover what form that healing is to take.

I knew at a very young age as you will see in Finding Heart Horse, that my struggles were my path. I learned that grief and loss, suffering and pain, those dark nights of the soul, only got worse if I tried to ignore or deny or avoid them. I was always one to face my fears. It was the learning to work with them that took decades!

All in the name of finding my roots. My entire life has been about finding my roots and in order to do that i had to face the demons and difficulties head on. Life has made me stronger and I emerged more humble and grounded than ever before. The real tragedy is when someone refuses to acknowledge and respect their own suffering and instead, spreads it around unconsciously to others.

Yes, roots are important, very important. I continue to nourish mine so they will grow strong and hold me steady. The external knowledge and genetic discoveries were the foundation but it is my own gardening that is helping them to grow and branch out.

Nelson Mandela has been in the news lately. If you want to know how to survive, he is one of the world’s greatest teachers. One of his most precious teachings was about not taking anything personally. Because he was able to do that, he remained the kind, gentle and compassionate being he is. We all have that potential for wisdom.

To heal, remember your tender roots, the fragile, yet strong ones that held you up before your journey into the adoptee abyss of darkness and healing. There are no people stronger in spirit than the ones I’ve met on my Adoption Journey or in my Mastocytosis world. I’m sure there are other groups that have also experienced great suffering that have this resilience and strength as well. So, if you are reading this and feeling overwhelmed in your journey. You are not alone. Until your roots grow a bit stronger I am right beside you.

The warrior in your heart says stand your ground.

Feel the survival of a thousand years of ancestors in your muscles and your blood.

You have all the support you need in your bones.

Jack Kornfield