Love letter from the universe

Yesterday was emotional. I had an intense and somewhat disturbing dream to begin with.  In the dream I was in my late teens and I was on some kind of field trip.  During the field trip, I was persuaded by an attractive young man to get naked and shower with him.  I felt terribly shy but excited, and later in the dream I was devastated to find that he didn’t consider the event significant at all.  He was just being opportunistic and had no intention of pursuing a relationship after the field trip ended.  So far it’s quite an ordinary kind of dream, perhaps only moderately upsetting.  It was when I changed perspective in the dream that I got really upset.  In the dream I became aware of a man, someone who was in charge of the operation surrounding me.  I realise that it is all a grand manipulation.  This man’s job is to make sure that the younger me doesn’t wake up, doesn’t realise that her reality is being manipulated.  I am incensed, and I try to understand the purpose of this story, but I can’t.

My dream ‘guru’, Robert Moss, suggests that the first clue to a dream’s meaning is in the feelings it evokes. I felt angry, deceived, betrayed, hurt.  This is what started the crying.  I took myself out for a walk soon after breakfast, in the hope that nature would be soothing.  It worked.  While admiring the colours of tree bark, I had the a-ha moment of recognition about the dream, head and body together.  ‘Well der’, I said to the trees, ‘of course I know what it’s like to live a false life.  I’m adopted.’

It’s extremely hard to explain to people who aren’t adopted how much being adopted affects you. You spend all your life with the knowledge that there was an alternative reality.  An alternative life that could very easily have been your life.  Instead, you’re in the life you are in, which society has told you and continues to tell you is fine and tries to prevent you from questioning your reality.  So when I say ‘false life’, what I really mean is the collusion of silence that accompanied adoption practices in the era that I was born in.  Adopted children weren’t encouraged to talk about their feelings, or to ask questions, or explore what adoption meant.

I finished my walk, got a coffee and sat in the children’s playground that is at the end of my street, enjoying the soft fall of rain. They echoed my tears.  I am gradually getting better at letting these feelings rise and fall in me.  I’ve spent my life being trained not to feel my feelings; my anger, my confusion, my pain.  Also, I’ve realised that that training also means I don’t feel positive feelings very much either.  I feel like renter’s beige most of the time.

A child is a love letter from the universe, or it should be. I’ve never felt like the universe is a kind and welcoming place, and that’s probably because my first experiences of it weren’t particularly kind and welcoming.  It was that thought that sent me off on my afternoon’s activities.  The (paraphrased) saying that other people’s karma is what they do to you, but yours is how you react has been attributed to Wayne Dyer.  If I were to be a good historian I’d go and check the source, but that would detract from the story.  The point is that I spent the afternoon trying to live it.  I may not feel like I’ve received enough love in my life, but that doesn’t prevent me from giving it.  Here’s what I did.  I went home, kissed the Iron Paw, and had a cleansing shower.  I pulled out my box of collected stationary and with my loveliest pen, I wrote a letter to a perfect stranger.

It began ‘Hello stranger, This is a love letter from the universe’. It went on to remind the reader that he or she was perfect whole and complete as they were, that they didn’t need anything to fix them because they weren’t broken to begin with, and reminding them to breathe, to relax, to be kind to themselves.  It ended with a whole hearted wish for their peace and I signed it with a big heart from the universe.  I sealed the letter and took myself off to my nearest major shopping centre.  Feeling surreptitious, I pretended to browse its bookshops, whereupon I slipped the letter inside the cover of some appropriate book.  Then I went and had a coffee and went home back to bed.  Job done.

So often I have spent my days stumbling around wishing the universe would send me a sign. Some completely incontrovertible sign of being meant to be here, or of reassurance, hope, or guidance.  I’ve written a little bit about this before, the day I met Aristotle on the front lawn.  I can’t believe I’m the only one stumbling around in some kind of deep fog wondering why the heck I’m here and desperately needing an extremely large neon sign.  So my quiet, in-the-rain moment of revelation was this.  Start a trend.  I imagined love letters from the universe lurking in all sorts of places, taped to the door of public toilets, randomly dropped in mailboxes, or tucked under the windscreen wiper or random cars.  A better find than a parking ticket wouldn’t you say?  I imagined people who were scared, or lonely, or lost receiving a message of love and support just when they needed it.

So, what do you think of my attempt to live out that quote? Hopefully, the person who finds my letter will pass it on.  Or write their own.  And hopefully, one day one will find its way back to me.    Perhaps you will start the trend in your own city.  If you do, the only thing to keep in mind is that it has to be applicable to anyone, regardless of age, gender, creed and faith.  Keep it short, keep it simple.  And please, let me know if you do.

 

Changing the sky

Some Buddhist writers I have read like to use an image of the sky and the clouds as a teaching metaphor.  The clouds are our moods, ceaselessly coming and going.  It doesn’t matter how dark and stormy or how light and fluffy the clouds are, the sky remains constant and blue behind it.  It is a teaching which is supposed to give comfort in times of turmoil.

I get the idea and I think its nice.  I just feel it’s the reverse for me.  For me it’s the sky that’s the problem.  My sky is black, and the clouds give me relief.

I’ve been doing a lot of research lately in the effort to find a therapist.  Someone who can actually help me reverse the order of nature.  It is, in fact, the research that is the cause of current lack of cloudiness.  Having had no income since April and with the current government’s policies, little prospects, I was compelled to take the only thing that’s come my way.  Unfortunately it happened to be about adoption.  I thought I’d be alright.  Really, I did.  But I’m not, and I don’t know what to do anymore.  On the positive side I can afford to replace my dangerously bald tyres and keep the Iron Paw in the style to which she has become accustomed.  On the other hand, it’s all come back.

I’m having terrible dreams again.  Self mutilation, exposure till death experiments.  Fun stuff like that.  I’m experiencing a kind of dissociation.  I can watch TV, listen to people, do the work, run errands, all the while watching from other kind of vantage point.  My body is here.  I can feel it on the chair, the points of contact.  My skin prickling and sweaty from the unending heat.  But it’s like it’s also happening to someone else.  Am I here?  Am I real?  Does anyone care?  I scream at other drivers, I’m rude to waiters.  I just want the entire world to get out of my way.  I feel anxious in crowds.

I can count at least ten properly qualified therapists and quite a few other ones that I have seen since my undergraduate days.  In short, I’ve been bouncing in and out of therapist’s offices all my adult life.  All were good hearted, well intentioned people who did their best to help me.  But not one has ever truly been able to get to the core.  Here’s a clue why.  If you type the word ‘adoption’ into the Australian Psychological Society’s website, you get zero hits.  Despite three parliamentary enquiries and multiple apologies since 1997, the APS doesn’t appear to consider the experience of adoption as a problem.  It’s a common phenomenon, the myth of the happy adoptive child.  I think the profession owes me a refund, given the number of therapists I’ve educated…

The Australian Institute of Family Studies disagrees.  Their study is the most recent, largest and most rigorous study undertaken yet in Australia.  It found that more than two thirds of adoptees, regardless of how they perceived the quality of their relationship with their adoptive family, reported mental health problems.  At least I know I am not alone in being unable to get the kind of properly trained, professional help that I need.

At the core, I believe, of the black sky problem is the fact that the first trauma happened at the very beginning.  Adoptees have no pre trauma self.  There is no before and after the event.  There just is.  All my well meaning therapists never got that.  Some even attempted to run the chosen/lucky line on me.  Don’t ever tell me I’m lucky.  I could be unable to control my urge to punch you.

You see, now that I’ve met my biological mother, I rapidly came to understand that the government took me away from someone who was actually psychologically capable of being a good enough mother.  But she wasn’t married.  They gave me to a married couple who both came from less than well adjusted backgrounds.  It was an unhappy and at times violent house.  I have the broken bones and the scars to prove it.  This is what they call complex trauma.  If I’d been left with my biological mother, the first trauma of abandonment at birth would have been averted.  Secondly, while you can never predict or control the future, it’s unlikely that under my biological mother’s care I would have felt so scared or lonely or flawed.  She’s not perfect, of course.  But most of her problems came from the experience of having no other options except to hand me over the government.  She was, as she herself says, fine before that.

As I understand it, therapy for trauma victims in part relies on utilising memories of the pre trauma self.  The soldier before he went to war.  The rape victim before the attack.  My mother, before the adoption.  My adoptive mother, perhaps before the first baby died.  They have somewhere memories of a self who is happier, freer, something-er.  I don’t have those.  Black sky is all I know, relieved by cloudiness.  It doesn’t seem to matter how positive I can feel at times, it all comes back to black.  The older I get, the less hope I have of it ever changing.  I’ve invested thousands and thousands of dollars in trying to heal myself.  I have no more ideas left.  I’m tired and I feel broken beyond repair. 

 

The Market in Babies

Today I’m giving my impressions and initial thoughts on a history book on a topic thoroughly ingrained in me: adoption.  The book is called The Market In Babies: Stories of Australian Adoption by Marian Quartly, Shurlee Swain and Denise Cuthbert (Monash University Publishing, 2013).  The book is the result of an Australia Research Council grant project to investigate the history of adoption in Australia.  It’s a slender volume, but nevertheless it is a very good book and I would recommend it to anyone.

Why do I like it?  Firstly, and I never thought I’d say this, I found the scholarly and thoughtful tone a great relief.  Having done a PhD in history myself and struggled with the ‘scholarly voice’, I often find academic writing to be frustrating.  In this case, I was very grateful for the measured nature of the words.  The subject of adoption incites a wide range of emotions, and that can be exhausting.  I fully expected to be on the proverbial emotional roller coaster with reading this, and it was wonderful to be able to read something and be engaged and not overwhelmed.

Secondly, just because they strike an excellent balance with their choice of language doesn’t mean that the authors have shied away from the issues.  Their main title is evidence of that.  Adoption has usually been a flow of babies from poorer, disadvantaged or discriminated against unmarried women towards wealthier, more socially advantaged married women.  This book clearly deals with the assumptions about gender, class and wealth that have been main drivers of the practice of adoption. 

It covers the main phases of change in adoption practice, which is usually marked by changes in legislation.  Nineteenth century adoptions were usually privately arranged and informal, until the state moved to make regulations in the latter part of that century.  Since then, a successive wave of legislation appeared every few decades, each time giving favour to the rights of the adopting parents.  This began to change in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  The introduction of financial support by the Whitlam government in 1973 (three years after I was born) is perhaps the strongest marker of this change.  The ‘supply’ of babies for the market dropped dramatically, proving that the main barrier to women keeping their babies was economic, not moral.  From this point, the discussion turns to practices of intercountry adoptions and the emerging practice of intercountry surrogacy, again highlighting issues of class and wealth.

As I said, it’s a slim volume.  This means there’s not that much attention on the children.  It’s mostly about the competing sets of parents.  Its always been about the parents.  The rhetoric of adoption has been ‘in the best interests of the child’, but in my view that’s largely all its been: rhetoric.  The authors finish with a question.  Does it matter where a baby comes from?  Speaking from the point of view of a baby who is living the answer of ‘no, it doesn’t matter’ I’d like to say that yes, it absolutely matters, and the person it matters the most to is the baby.  The voiceless baby, subject of all those competing projections of adults.