Monday, July 19, 2010

The Sadness That Sometimes Comes WIth Happiness

Throughout my life, I have found myself dealing with some heavy stuff.

I would count our experience trying to adopt from Haiti as the MOST heavy, although it consumed the least amount of space on the "heavy shit" timeline. It remains alarming to me to think that something that should have been so meaningful could leave such an acrid taste in my mouth.

At the same time, in the end, we did indeed bring our children home and they have brought us pure joy and love.*** In many ways, this happy ending has kept me from exploring too deeply the psychological and spiritual wounds inflicted upon us during the adoption process. Instead I have put the brunt of my energy into parenting and all that that implies. I have also tended to ruminate on my distant past when working towards healing, most likely because it took up more time than the adoption process and came at a much more fragile period of my life, that being girlhood. Lately, though, I have found myself in a space where I need to resolve some grieving -- about our adoption experience and about some of that other aforementioned heavy shit as well.

Experts agree that the typical trajectory for any grief process starts with denial and isolation, travels then to anger, stopping next at bargaining, then depression, and finally, acceptance.

I have spent a lot of time in anger. The good news, however, is that I have an incredible sense of humor and "funny angry chick" has taken me rather far in life. "Funny, angry, self-depricating chick" has taken me even further. It helped me fit in during those sardonic college years, got me through some seriously heinous post-college, pre-career jobs, helped me bond with equally dramatic teens when I worked in youth ministry, pushed me through graduate school, and gave me a bit of an edge as a pastor.**** 

Alongside the instantaneous love we felt for our children upon meeting them, it was also a primary factor in my ability to survive our adoption experience.

Parenthood did something rather alarming to "Funny, angry, self-depricating chick", though. It forced me to a place of compassion for those who had been a part of the very hurtful experiences from which I was trying to heal. It knocked me off my ego and propelled me into the next stage of grief, bargaining. Bargaining looked somewhat different to me than what I would have expected. Basically, instead of negotiating my way out of grief, I attempted to prevent any further grief. This, as many may already know, causes anxiety -- lots and lots of anxiety. There were some positive elements of this stage, though. I stopped glossing over humiliating and degrading interpersonal exchanges, excusing them with humor, and instead walked away from them. More importantly, for the most part, I did not parent out of anger, but from a place of compassion. These are good things. But still, all that anxiety, that middle-of-the-night-tossing-and-turning-anxiety, that avoid-any-reminders-of-pain-and-sadness anxiety, that my-heart-is-beating-so-fast-I-must-be-dying anxiety, that it-was-so-hard-to-bring-these-babies-home-and-I-can-never-let-anything-hurt-them anxiety. It was by far the most difficult stage of grief.

Lately, though, preceded by a lot of talking and writing through the anxiety, I have just begun to FEEL the sadness. Yep. I'm sad. Not depressed. It's not all consuming. In fact, it is rather preferable to anxiety. A wave of sadness comes, prompted by a memory, a look from one of the kids, a reminder of events, and I just go ahead and FEEL it. I cry. I mourn. I cry some more. Then I go about my day.

Today's sadness was prompted by my son's loveliness. He competed in a bike race yesterday. It was the first thing in which he has ever competed. Before the race, I inquired as to his racing strategy. He responded thoughtfully, "Well, I'm going to cheer on all the other racers with me because I want them to do well too." When Facebooking this (because what parent wouldn't Facebook this?), I wrote that he was born this way. The truth is that I don't know how he was born. I wasn't there. I do know that he came home to us this way. He has been sweet and kind and a team player from the very beginning. This prompted sadness because it made me think about how much my little man feels the pain of others, how profoundly he wants to help, and how sweetly he tries to intervene. How did he manage to develop these qualities in that terrible place run by people who did not have the children's best interests at heart? How much did he hurt for himself and others when he was there? How aware of suffering was he? How might it have been had he been allowed to come home earlier to us, had there been no unsavory delays in the process?

All that is sad. At least it makes me sad.

And that's not a bad thing.

***That is, pure joy and love combined with a relatively minimal amount of inevitable frustration and a pretty sizable lot of broken appliances, toys, furniture, etc.
****Trust me, I could never claim that "Funny, angry, self-depricating chick" has been just what everyone needs. I'm sure many people more greatly appreciated my other role, "Funny, good-listener lady". For some, I am sure "Funny, angry self-depricating chick" was a relationship deal-breaker (I could check with a few old crushes and find out for sure).

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