Will You Party with the Grief or Choose to Be Happy?

Will You Party with the Grief or Choose to Be Happy?

I get that I’ve had a near-fairytale experience, as far as my son’s adoption has gone. Kathy wished me Happy MOTHER’s Day on Facebook – emphasizing the word “mother,” which I am blessed to receive as her acceptance of me simply as Eric’s Other Mother. None of the competition, aggression, anger, resentment, antagonism, or other low-vibration feelings that unfortunately so often seem to be a part of the birthmom/adoptive mom relationship – whether they are acknowledged or not.

I get that I don’t have the anger, angst, overwhelming sadness, guilt, anguish, or so many other negative emotions tied up in my feelings about Eric or any aspect of the adoption. OK – I was a little irritated not to hear from him for my birthday (a little over a week ago), but I did get a Happy Mother’s Day text from him that made me smile. Once upon a time, such a text would have made my week. Now, perhaps I’ve become complacent, because while I was grateful for it, it didn’t stop me in my tracks, make my eyes well up, or even really give me pause. Cool. He remembered. And then I moved on with my day. Or maybe it’s because I know I’ll be seeing him in just a few days, as I fly back to New Jersey for the party to celebrate his graduation from Northeastern University. Funny how when I lived out there, so many of my vacations seemed to be coming back here, to Arizona. This will be my second trip back to New Jersey in five months – so we’re in Opposite Land now. Point is – maybe it’s easy for me to be so preachy about the perils of holding on to all of those negative emotions because things have gone so well for me within the adoption space.

That said, I’m also generally not an overly emotional person. My sister’s death hit me harder than anything in my life – including the adoption. But it didn’t cause me to curl up in a ball or want to stop living. When we’ve lost pets, my husband’s grieved for many days. I tend to be OK a bit sooner than he does. We’re all made differently – and what I know about grief is that there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Everyone’s timeline is different. But I’ve been reading a few posts from birthmothers on this Facebook support group, and most of them are so disheartening. I have a difficult time relating to these women who are so beside themselves about Mother’s Day. I empathize, but I cannot relate to their feelings of inadequacy or anger or isolation because of a holiday made up by the greeting card, candy, and flower industries.

The description for the group reads, in part:

This is meant to be an UPLIFTING and SUPPORT group. Any down talking, hate, or trying to project your guilt onto others will not be tolerated.

But what it seems to be is a place to seek collaborators in misery. Or so I was thinking, perched ever so haughtily on my high horse as I considered removing myself from the group. And then I read two posts that broke my heart. One was from a birthmom who’s had regular contact with her daughter, now 6, since the little girl was placed at birth. However, the daughter is having trouble in school, and all evidence points to emotional upset about the adoption, as it seems difficult for her to process her birthmom’s place in her life. So the adoptive parents have decided to sever the contact … “for the time being.” Yeah – that one knocked me soundly off my lofty perch of self-righteousness, because I have no idea what I’d do or how I would feel in her position. I’m not a terribly emotional person, but I welled up as I read my poem “The Birthmother You Know” for our virtual get-together on Birthmothers Day this past Saturday. I couldn’t even tell you why I was emotional – given the generally positive experience I mentioned above. Somewhere, deep inside I suppose, I was still acknowledging the loss. So if Kathy and Bruce had decided, when Eric was 6, to stop sending photos and letters, that probably would have been torturous.

The other gut-wrenching post was from a woman whose daughter is now 12. The woman’s uncle was the girl’s adoptive father – and he passed away from cancer yesterday. The little girl came home from school and could not wake him up. Oh my god! That birthmom is in anguish, not only to have lost her uncle, but to know what a terrible loss her daughter is experiencing – complicated by the fact that she was the one who discovered his lifeless body. So sometimes there’s just loss – and the only answer is grief and tears and sadness. And this group offers these ladies a virtual hug whenever they need it. A place to come and vent. To cry. And, I very much hope, to laugh and share the good moments, too.

I was wondering, as I pondered writing this post, how many of those overwhelming negative feelings – the anger, guilt, shame, blame, and unending grief – come out of a sense of unworthiness. How many of those negative, super-disempowering emotions do we hold onto because we’ve simply convinced ourselves that we don’t deserve to be happy, that we don’t deserve to laugh and experience joy? Those are lies we tell ourselves, though. And birthmoms have a special reason to lie to themselves about their worthiness that most other people don’t have. They can opt for joy and celebrate the fact that they chose life for their children – or they can lay down and party with the grief every day and every night.

Every birthmom – every human – deserves laughter and joy and love and the free feeling of simply being at peace in the world. But those feelings – even for that birthmom who’s temporarily lost contact with her daughter and the one whose uncle just died – are, by and large, a choice. We’ve got to believe that regardless of where we are in this moment, happiness is ours for the taking, or it will be, one day, soon enough. And then we have to do whatever it takes to grab onto that positive emotion and hold it close.

David R. Hawkins wrote a well-discussed book a number of years ago called Power vs. Power v force emotionsForce. In it, he explained this concept of lower- and higher-vibration emotions. The low ones are the negative ones I’ve been naming here, like anger and sadness. The higher ones are things like love and gratitude. You can think about it in terms of how you feel in any given moment. For example, do you have that person in your life who is so high-strung that his or her stress rubs off on everyone they meet? The second they leave the room, the air seems to lighten and everyone else breathes a collective sigh of relief? That’s a person who may be stuck in a low vibration. We’re all made up of energy – the question is whether it’s positive, negative, or neutral energy.

So, yes. These women – and birthmothers everywhere – are entitled to their opinions, feelings, and beliefs. And that means feeling them and expressing them and discussing them and receiving condolences for them for as long as they wish to do so. It is my opinion, however, that the longer they allow themselves to stay mired in the emotional muck related to their adoptions, the less likely they are to have more good days than bad ones. There’s no magic wand to whoosh away the pain. But there is owning it, blessing the people who’ve wronged you, loving your child – and loving yourself enough to move on and find reasons to celebrate again. Every birthmom deserves to be happy, regardless of her past.

deide-to-be-happy

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

Where Are You on the Happiness Spectrum?

Where Are You on the Happiness Spectrum?

In re-reading yesterday’s post on the subject of victim thinking, I can see how it might have come across as offensive. That wasn’t my intention. The fact is, I’ve been blessed with an optimistic streak for which I can take no personal credit. I realize that it’s a gift from God, the angels, and/or the Universe. I did nothing to deserve it and I couldn’t get rid of it if I tried. Which means I, perhaps, had a head start in dealing with the supremely challenging emotions that come with surrendering a baby through adoption.

And it’s not like I didn’t struggle with my own bout of depression following the adoption. My depression manifested through anger. For the entire first year of my son’s life, I was pretty much angry at the world. I remember being reprimanded at work by a manager for something not work related and I told her off something fierce. And my apartment was a disaster. My sister, Corina, came out to visit from Phoenix and we spent her entire visit cleaning – boy was that eye-opening. Eventually through meetings with my social worker and my birthmom support group, I found my way back to equilibrium.

Now, as I mentioned in a prior post, I did a lot of work to be OK. But you can only do the work if you know that doing the work will help. What is one supposed to do if they’re stuck in the mire of sadness and have no idea that talking to someone or exercising or meditating or praying or hiking or making art or dancing or listening to music or playing with a pet or gardening or doing yoga or watching children at play or cooking will help them feel better?

Some people’s brains are wired completely the opposite of mine. Their natural default is sadness, pessimism, and depression. I’ve only recently started to get a sense of how truly awful that must be and feel a lot of empathy for them. I can’t understand it, personally, and neither can I imagine bearing that burden day in and day out.

I mean, little things that would set off a lot of people typically don’t bother me. Missing a plane, getting lost, running late for an appointment. Perhaps it’s just that I’ve learned not to care what other people think. However, I tend to think there’s more to it than that. Not to mention that I’ve watched friends – people I consider incredibly spiritually grounded – get incensed over something like spilling food on an expensive pair of slacks. This isn’t to say that I’m an angel and never lose my cool – trust me, I’m embarrassed to recall the way I’ve responded in certain situations when I’ve been angry (i.e., depressed) or stressed out. It’s just not my normal baseline to be irritable, angry, or sad. And those are the little things. Imagine when it comes to the big stuff.

Corina was two years younger than I. We grew up in the same house with the same parents. Presumably, when it comes to the nature/nurture side of things, our nurture experience was pretty similar. But she was a grudge-holder. She knew how to nurture negative feelings, hold onto them, and sometimes turn them into all-consuming soul fires. She was pretty sure that’s what caused the cervical cancer that eventually took her life. And even as she knew that it was anger that ultimately made her sick, she was unable to release it so that she could properly heal. She started to recover – was even on an upswing. We saw the tumors shrinking and knew she was getting better. But then she let the people with whom she’d been angry back into her life, without having developed a coping mechanism for dealing with the still-unresolved anger. And before she knew it, the anger was back, and the cancer raged on.

I am sad for my loss, so sorry that her life was cut short and that while she was here, her experience was so different from mine. I remember her telling me one time that her estranged husband – her daughter’s father – was probably going to disappoint her, so it was better to expect that and be right, than to hope for the best and be let down. She had impossibly high expectations, for herself and for everyone else, so she spent a lot of time being disappointed in people. And angry that they couldn’t give her what she thought she wanted or needed.

Even as I mourn my sister – it’s coming up on two years this February 12 – I know that her journey was her journey, just as mine belongs to me. We had different outlooks on life, different approaches, different coping mechanisms. I can wish all day and all night that Corina’s outcome would have been different, but it won’t change things. So I talk to her, I remember her joyfully, and I recommit to living my life well and happily. As I write this, I realize that anger seems to be the way my depression manifests – because I spent the majority of 2016 being angry at the world. I cursed at more drivers that year than I probably have throughout the entire rest of my driving life. And yet again, over this past year, I seem to have found my way back to my baseline of fairly happy and optimistic.

No doubt the same dichotomy that existed between my sister and me exists for birthmothers. We live at all points along the spectrum from happy to sad. Each of us occasionally waivers from our “normal” – but we all tend to come back to that place that is our natural state of being, of looking at the world.

How does one who is unhappy change things? That’s a complicated question I’m not in any way qualified to answer. People spend their entire lifetimes trying to decipher the scientific, medical, and spiritual answers to that question. I’m guessing it largely depends on the source of the unhappiness – if it’s a chemical issue, there’s one approach. If it’s physiological – brain wiring – there’s another approach. The thing that’s probably simplest to address is circumstantial sadness. Please note, I am not conflating simple with easy. Even for a typically congenial person, it doesn’t necessarily take much to get into a downward spiral. One negative thing happens, so you’re feeling bad about it, and then some other small trauma occurs. Then another. Even if you’re usually in a pretty good head space, you can get caught up with feeling like you’re on the merry-go-round to nowhere good.

I believe in the Law of Attraction – we get more of what we focus on. So if we’re heading down that path of sadness, anger, resistance, and victimhood, chances are good we’re focused on what we don’t want, rather than on what we do want. Please understand, I know this sounds easier than it may be to put into practice, but I swear to you that if you are in that negative space and you can find ONE THING to be grateful for, and focus all of your attention on that one thing, you can start to shift out of the negativity to at least a more neutral emotion. And chances are, no matter what your circumstances, you have many things for which to be grateful.

  • Did you sleep in a bed last night with a roof over your head?
  • Did you wake up this morning, able to breathe on your own?
  • Were you able to stand up and walk to your restroom with indoor plumbing on your own two feet?
  • Does the water from your tap run clean? Do you have easy access to clean drinking water?
  • Is there food in your refrigerator?
  • Is there one person in your life whom you love unconditionally – and one who loves you the same?
  • Do you have a pet or a plant you can talk to?
  • Do you have free/easy access to music?
  • Is the air inside and outside your home clean enough that you can breathe easily with no need of a face mask?
  • Do you have more than one pair of shoes?
  • Are you reading this on a phone, computer, or device you own?

You get the idea, right? Every time I stay in a hotel, I am reminded how blessed my husband and I are. There, in one room, we have more luxuries than most people in the world: carpeting, a nice bed, a closet with hangers, clean running water, hot shower, AC/heat, a fridge, a coffee maker, an iron, a TV, multiple pairs of shoes, several changes of clothes, toiletries…

Yet we can get in this place where we start to take life for granted, instead of being grateful for the small things. And if we are unable to muster gratitude for the little things, there’s absolutely no way to appreciate the big ones. Our culture teaches us that instead of celebrating the victories of others, we should envy them: if they win, it must mean we are somehow losing. For example, I heard the other day while in the Houston Hobby Airport that the person who recently won the $450 million MegaMillions jackpot was a 20-year-old kid from Florida. I mentioned this out loud to my friend, who was sitting across from me, adding, “Good for him!” I was sincerely happy that this kid is now set for life. The man sitting behind me immediately started to grumble, “What’s a 20-year-old gonna do with all that money? Spend it all and lose it. He’ll be sorry.”

I’ll bet if I asked that same man to name five things for which he’s grateful, he’d struggle to come up with them. Not because he doesn’t have anything to be grateful for – but because he’s become habituated to focusing on what he doesn’t have and what he doesn’t want. I’m no expert, but I think that before we can be happy, before we can even love, we have to learn to be grateful. It’s not just a cliché – an attitude of gratitude really can change everything.