Inside the Reptilian Brain of Adoption

birthday-present-headerMy mother is coming in today to celebrate Ella’s 6th birthday. She has been here for most of Ella’s birthdays. And every time she comes in I find myself in a chaotic swirl of emotions. You see this is my “first mommy,” as Ella calls her. She is my biological mother, the mother that, after being held by her for an hour on the day of my birth, I did not meet again until I was 23.

And her presence tends to awaken all sorts of old wounds. And when she is here for Ella’s birthday, that awakening is even more acute.

It was just this morning that I put some of the missing pieces into place. I woke up filled with a deep sadness. And, when I’m sad, my super sensitive little Ella tends to mirror that sadness back to me. So when she woke up this morning, on her birthday, crying and saying that she didn’t want to be six, I knew that it was time to get a grip on my stuff.

But how do you get a grip on stuff that is coming up from deep below the conscious level? How do you transform emotional content that is coming from a pre-verbal cellular memory? How do you turn off the infantile –literally in this case – fight or flight response to a 45 year old event?

Well, I’m still working on figuring that out.

And the piece that fell into place this morning seems to have helped. It’s a piece that comes from not quite so deep in my subconscious mind, probably not all the way down in my reptilian limbic system. It feels like about a 6 year old part of me. And I just now put that together with Ella turning six. Interesting how writing can help pull these pieces together.

It’s as if the six year old part of me is sad because Joan was never at any of my birthdays. And that part of me is angry and confused and, yes, even a bit jealous, that she is now showing up for all of Ella’s birthdays.

And even though this emotional content is coming from well below my conscious awareness, it is bubbling up into my consciousness in a way that I can connect with it. And once I can connect with it, I can begin to play with it.

So, without denying the truth of the sadness and anger and jealousy, all of which have their source in an old wounded place within me, I can begin shifting my focus to the present time. I can begin focusing on my joy that Joan has become such a constant presence in my life. I can focus on gratitude for the love that she shares with Ella. I can focus on Ella’s excitement and joy at turning six.

The shift doesn’t make the sadness go away. One of the insights I had on my recent Vision Quest is that the sadness will always be a part of me. It will always be present within me. But I am able to choose how much of my attention I devote to that sadness.

This morning, when I woke up, the vast majority of my attention was locked onto the sadness. And like a person with a toothache, who can’t stop focusing on the pain and poking and prodding at the tooth, amplifying the pain, I found myself unable to move out of that emotional stew.

But, slowly, step by step, I have begun to shift my focus, and move more of my attention to the present, to the joy that is here now. And as I do that the sadness becomes a softer presence within my awareness of the present.

It’s odd to notice that, as my awareness expands to include more of the world around me and within me, the sadness takes on a comforting tone. It’s like a “blankie” within me, something familiar and known and safe.

But just like a blanket this sadness can smother me, shroud me in darkness, block out everything else, and make it hard to breathe if I hold it too close and wrap it too tightly around me. But if I hold it as a part of my world, without having it become my entire world, it can be a positive, comforting presence.

So today I celebrate the birth of my daughter and all the joy she has brought into this world.

And today I also celebrate my birth and the knowledge that my mother was there with me, she was present for the most important Birth Day of my life!