Years ago, I briefly had not quite a boyfriend who would come to my house and rock me. It was one of the strangest relationships I’d ever had. He would come over and we’d go to the couch and attach to each other like two beetles and rock. We didn’t kiss; we didn’t say nice things to each other. We rocked. After a few minutes we’d decide rocking time was over and we’d get up and straighten our clothes. He always said, “I have no idea what that was about,” as he was on his way out. I didn’t know what it was about either—I just knew I needed it because whatever terrible agitation I’d been feeling before he arrived was, at least for a while, diminished if not gone.
But when things such as traditional dating events came into the picture: dinners out, drinks at a bar, our relationship fell apart. We had little to say to each other; we didn’t really enjoy the other’s company much when we weren’t rocking, so the friendship fell apart out of sheer confusion. We didn’t know what we were to each other so we became nothing.
Last year when I was in massage school, we were practicing a pin and hold stretch for the quadratus. I was lying on my side and the woman who was doing the move had her hand cupped around the curve of my iliac crest. I engaged the muscle and pressed into her hand as instructed, and then after ten seconds I let go so she could engage the stretch. She pushed, and I burst into tears. She was fairly new to massage, and my response scared her, but she kept pressing with her hand, and I kept crying and apologizing. The more my muscle relaxed, the harder I cried.
A month or so later I panicked as I was driving home after a day of practicing deep tissue work on the shoulder girdle. I felt like my arms were falling off my body. I finally realized the problem was I thought I was responsible for keeping my arms attached to my axial skeleton. I couldn’t remember being so relaxed that my arms were allowed to swing freely in their sockets. I didn’t have to hold myself together. Holy cow.
I startle easily, and I have always blamed my jumpiness on the father of a dear friend. How else to explain why I react like I am electrocuted when I see someone suddenly appear? Mr. Mitchell used to like to jump out and scare me when I was a kid. It wasn’t a big deal or something that happened all that often, really, just something the dad of a good friend did every once in a while. But I blamed him because I couldn’t blame anything else.
The other day an adoptee wrote to me and asked if I thought her startle reflex had anything to do with adoption. The lightbulb went off: all that I had read recently on adoption and the steady activation of the fight-or-flight reflex came flooding into my head. YES, I wrote.
Adoptees carry adoption in their body. I am reading Bessel Van Der Kolk’s book The Body Remembers, and not once in this 445-page book on trauma does he mention the word adoption, but I’m telling you it could be there at least 445 times.
Today is National Adoption Day, and for all the joy adoption brings to individuals and families, many, many adoptees are suffering unnecessarily. The more I learn about adoption and the effect it has on those who are relinquished, the more stunned I am that there aren’t Adoption Healing Centers all over this country.
I would like something to change in the upcoming year. I’d like to focus on parents who adopt children. I’d like to argue for open adoption. For increased communication. The problem is with people who adopt children and who think that everything is going to be all right because they, as parents, are enough to rock the child to a supported and strong life. The problem is with people who think it doesn’t matter if their children know their roots or even the names of their original parents. The problem is with people who adopt children who think their love is enough to balm the primal wound as written about by Nancy Verrier. The problem is with people like my mother who adopt children and then run from the room crying when their children talk about their origin. The problem is with parents who call adoption “a can of worms” and are too afraid to broach the topic over dinner. I am asking for these parents to work even harder to learn what their children need. Find therapists who specialize in adoption. They are rare, but they exist. I can give you phone numbers. Watch Paul Sunderland’s shockingly illuminating YouTube video on adoptees and addiction.
Don’t pay attention to your children when they tell you they aren’t affected by adoption. They are clueless. They are also terrified of hurting your feelings. When the children say “adoption” and they see their parents cringe, the body remembers. The child, the child sees, is trouble, and so he gets quiet, sticks “adoption” in a box buried deep beneath the surface, and then: hello, a whole lifetime of various troubles follow: depression, ADD, ADHD--all the creative ways the body and the mind go sideways when crucial parts of one’s self are hidden.
Not long ago I had a new massage client. He was in his early twenties and was slight and pale. He asked me to be careful of his wrist for, he said, it didn’t move laterally without pain. I asked why, and he said he had shattered it when he had punched a wall instead of a person and had hit a stud straight on. When he lay on the table he told me the reason his left side was less developed than his right was because he’d been in a wheelchair for a year and a half. When I asked why, he said he’d been slated to go to Stanford as a student-athlete, but the month before school started he’d gotten a terrible case of fibromyalgia and had ended up in a wheelchair at a local community college. I asked him if he had the same body type as his parents because I didn’t feel free to ask the question that was really on my mind. “I’m adopted,” he said.
I was not surprised, but I will bet you a million dollars none of his doctors had asked about this. I’ll bet you no one in his family thought that maybe his body carried the grief of his history. I’ll bet you not even this young man did.
I asked him if he ever linked his adoption to his body issues. He opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. “No,” he said. “Jeez.”
There are ways to calm the startle response in the body, ways to activate the Vagus nerve which is what helps our brain and guts relax. Rocking, of course, is high on the list as a way to activate this parasympathetic nervous system. As a way to stimulate calmness, focus, easy digestion.
We know what we know even when we don’t know it.
Have a wonderful year.
Love each other.