Should I stay or should I go?

A huge dilemma, always: am I in or am I out? I have worked hard at staying, sometimes in places that have not been healthy for me – workplaces, relationships, even living spaces (staying to appease or just because I did not know what I wanted and stasis was easiest) – but at the back of my mind is the thought of leaving, particularly this thought; the possibility of leaving first.

Of course I feel I want to leave first! I don’t want to experience that first traumatic loss of being given away; I don’t want to have my skin ripped off and my atoms scattered, I don’t want my brain to be so alarmed that I either shut down or let rip, and I certainly don’t want to leave the possibility of this happening at the mercy of someone else!

Leaving first – the mythical way to avoid pain, to avoid feeling any loss and to maintain that bigger myth; I am in control of what happens. All the thought of it seems to do – and I have years of practice here – is to create a life of living with one foot out of every door, every relationship, every experience. In reality, it has left me with a half-life, a life in which I have not been fully engaged, fully present.

Through much education, reading and therapy, my adult cognitive brain is very aware that living always with the threat of being left is an echo from my first experiences, a powerful echo but an echo nevertheless. I “know” I am no longer a helpless infant and cannot be left in a way that I have to fight to survive – I have many resources and certainly more agency than the baby who was on to her third mother at seven weeks old, but still the effects, the reactions, come; the emotional brain is not party to that knowing yet, although I am now trying to help it learn.

Anne Heffron, a wonderful advocate for helping understand the impact of adoption, writes in her blog about being caught in the effects of her own adoption, saying

I’m stuck with the brain I have until I’m able to crack the code. (I want to be relaxed! I want to feel safe! I want to believe I am loved! I’m trying! I’m trying!)

This is the work I am striving to accomplish too.

In a blog post that is one of the most moving pieces of writing I have ever read on adoption trauma, Anne says

It felt like I was dying, and it was so difficult to believe that an “accident” I had at birth was the cause of all this pain… I didn’t know how to listen to my body because it was speaking a language no one had taught me. The language of loss.

This is absolutely how I feel. The frustration of knowing that I can be overwhelmed by a feeling and being unable to stop it, much as it feels impossible to stop a runaway train. The feeling of reacting through the emotional triggering of the amygdala and being awash with the primal instinct to protect myself and defend against pain.

The learning to manage and hold the boundary, to form a response beyond the reaction is the work of a lifetime.

So, returning to staying or leaving. I hate the leaving – being left, the partings, change in circumstances place, people. I will endeavour to leave first, even in minute ways.

The leaving is a deep deep retraumatisation and its management is tough. The leaving is confusing and heart-rendering and constant. The weird contortions I use to mitigate – leave first, no goodbye but a “see ya”, quick parting, no looking back – can feel hurtful to others.  It is all a bit of a minefield.

It can also manifest as being distant and disconnected for a while before a parting, this is confusing for the others involved, but for me it is all about trying to protect my heart. An adoptee commenting on Anne’s post on loss describes vividly:

Oh yes, the crying. After goodbyes with those closest to my heart. Even when the time together has been wonderful, even when the separation will be brief – a few days. Even when headed toward somewhere I can relax and enjoy. The crying still seeps up from the solar plexus, lodges in the throat, and either escapes through silent tears or explodes into full-on agony groans and weeping. Even after 60 years, it’s still RIGHT.THERE. I’m sure it will be, as long as I’m alive. I can’t explain, trauma is wordless.