Monday, September 20, 2010

Light at the end of the tunnel and the long, dark tea time of the soul

Klaxons going off in my brain told me something was terribly, terribly wrong. Was it my return to work after four months of leave? Was it my relationship with Athena? Perhaps my diet, exercise, or lack of meditation. I felt ill. Deeply ill like something in my soul had died and was rotting away what was left. An important piece of who I am was gone and I couldn't remember what it was anymore. My worst nightmare was being realized. I was losing myself bit by bit but was only cognizant enough to recognize the loss. I couldn't do anything to curb it.

For four days I felt this way. Every evening, when I grew tired and ready to sleep, I would begin to panic in the throws of this loss. For a week the feeling lingered just potent enough to be recognized. I fought the loss as hard as I could. I fought everything. The sadness, the isolation, wouldn't beat me. I would win. Eventually Athena asked me "why are you trying so hard? What are you fighting so hard?" It became clear I was fighting against my grief. I wasn't allowing my experience to happen. The next day I took several long, slow breaths before beginning my day of work. "I will let myself be sad today. Today can be miserable. I can be a wreck and still be okay. I can break down and have a shitty day today." The day proceeded normally. Melancholy coloured the morning but my sense of relief took over the rest of the day. I was sad, but I was okay.

Two days previous I visited my son. Athena and her family were there to celebrate Festus' birthday. It was a grand day, though there were several culinary SNAFU's. The planned meal was fajitas. Athena doesn't tolerate wheat very well so we planned to make some spelt tortillas to bring with us. Ms Scarlet requested that we make enough for everyone. That meant making a triple batch. Additionally a second side dish was requested. We racked our brains trying to figure out what we could make in addition to the tortillas that wouldn't kill us. We decided on a batch of polenta with a random black bean and tomato topping I faked my way through. It was necessary to make something in the slow cooker as tortillas are incredibly labor intensive. I figured it would take around three hours of cooking time to make the 30+ I'd made dough for. After the first three failed utterly I realized something had gone wrong and another plan needed to come together. Something in the dough wasn't right and none of the tortillas were cooking correctly. Off to Meijer (for those not in the Great Lakes region, Meijer is a local antecedent to Wal-Mart, but a little less evil) for corn tortillas. While there I picked up a two bottles of my current favorite cheap Rose. It's a nice Spanish Grenache dry Rose. Very tasty. Back in the car and *ZOOM* we're off to see Prof Plum and Ms Scarlet.

The visit was wonderful. All the angst I'd been feeling for days melted away watching Festus crawl and stand. Hooting and chirping, squeeking and grunting were delightfully fascinating. We played and he laughed. I flipped him upside down and ate his stomach. He squeeled and giggled. Dinner was delicious and I, once again, had a great conversation with Prof Plum by the grill doing "guy stuff." We often talk about how funny it is that we talk about and bond over classic machismo items like his gas grill. Does recognizing it as silly make it less effective? We didn't bother thinking too hard on it and instead moved on to talking about theatre, college life (his two elder sons are both in college now, and I relate a bit working at a college), and my recent wisdom tooth debacle. Dinner was lovely. The wine was good and the pie was out of this world!

Eventually we all said our goodnights and headed to our cars. I felt much better than I had in days. My emotional keel had been evened and the mental weather looked clear to the horizon. The following day was a different story. Two more days of significant turmoil left me feeling as though I'd been tied to the whipping pole and left as an example to others. My eventual realization and emotional honesty was what I had needed all along.

The one year anniversary of an adoption can be a very difficult one. Strangely I'd imagined that Athena would have a difficult experience and I'd be the one supporting her. That fits my typical self image. I am the one who supports people. I don't ask for help because others need that help more. I was very surprised when Athena seemed unmoved by the gravity of the anniversary yet I was tossed like a skiff in a typhoon. I had been trying so hard to be okay. The hurt was so opaque to me that I couldn't see it was there. All my effort went into closing my eyes to reality. I suffered needlessly a great deal because of it. It was a very humbling experience. I don't have all the answers and even the little lessons that have been pounded into me again and again still get screwed up.

I have held onto many regrets in my life. I like to think I'm doing a good job of letting those go. When I was younger I often thought of my life as nothing more than a litany of regrets. If I could have gone back and lived differently I'd have changed everything. I wanted a different life. I wanted a different me. Countless hours and thousands of dollars in therapy have helped me work out the difference between things that have hurt me and myself. It sounds strange now to say that I confused the two. I can recognize the difference now. More importantly I know the difference between acknowledging pain and submitting to regret. When I look at Athena or Festus I no longer think of what I wish I could change. Instead I think of what I will do tomorrow. I have regretted many things. I have even regretted my decision to place Festus for adoption. But I have no regret for meeting and knowing my son. I don't regret the changes I went through nor the growth I had to push forward in making his adoption plan. I love my son very much. He is my best teacher. He tells me to keep looking to tomorrow when today sucks. He lets me love today even if yesterday was horrible. I can have a great morning and a terrible afternoon and that's okay. My son loves me. I love him. I don't want a different past. I want today.


  1. I appreciate your description of grief. Although my grief was due to different circumstances, I can understand the intoxicating, overwhelming experience that it is. (I actually just blogged about it over the weekend.)

    I also REALLY appreciate your blog every time I read it. Yes, men do have feelings; yes, men grieve; yes, men do care about adoption; yes, a man can feel a connection to a child he placed for adoption. Thank you for clearing that up for those who don't believe those things.

    Also, I'm going to share this post.

  2. You make some great points in your last paragraph. I need to learn how to "work out the difference between things that have hurt me and myself.", and also to "know the difference between acknowledging pain and submitting to regret."

    I'm glad you were able to celebrate your son's birthday with his family ~ how wonderful that he will grow up knowing your love.


  3. "I was very surprised when Athena seemed unmoved by the gravity of the anniversary yet I was tossed like a skiff in a typhoon."

    Obviously I can't relate on a parental/adoption level but I can relate to the grief and anniversary. I too feel no more or no less grief on anniversary dates. I've come to believe it's because my way of doing grief is a a little bit every day. For me, the loss is the same all the time. I support those around me on those anniversaries who are like you and feel a wham, but to me it's just another day. My people are just as dead as they were the day before and they'll be just as dead the day after. I'm ok with it being this way for me.

    I too am glad you were able to celebrate your son's bday.

    It's a great accomplishment to learn how to "want today". It's sad yet awesome how sometimes loss is what starts the lesson.

  4. "He is my best teacher."
    Isn't that the most profound life lesson? i.e., how we learn to grow through even painful experience, how once we are here and now, there is no room to look back.

    great post.

  5. Appreciate that youre out there blogging. Love to hear from the birthdads (or dads)... I'm an adoptive mom in an open adoption and we have visits like the one you described on a regular basis, and I have to tell you just so you know that it's also really emotionally difficult for the adoptive parents. I feel that my eyes are wide open. I recognize how hard it is for the birthparents to see their child with us. I also find it hard to see how much he looks like them and wonder all the time how he will feel growing up and how they will feel. I have had many many dark nights of the soul. I hope all the time that we will all make peace with our decisions. All I know for sure is that my son has a lot of love in his life.


What do you think? I'm curious.