In April, tired and frustrated, I decided to look for an adoption-competent therapist. It’s a thing, adoption-competency. Who knew? The first time I’d heard of this on an Adoptees On podcast earlier this year. Searching the Internet for a local therapist experienced with adopted people, I found several sites for foster and adoptive families but very few for adoptees, and none local to me.
About that same time, I saw a gal through work’s EAP (Employee Assistance Program) for job coaching regarding a difficult employee. At our follow-up meeting, I asked for therapist recommendations and she quickly produced a short list of local practitioners. Three of whom she highlighted as “wonderful” practitioners; one of whom she gushed was “a brilliant therapist and a fantastic human being.”
I went with that last one.
Funny thing: Starting therapy is a lot like the day you go to get your hair cut: amazingly, your hair looks better than it has in weeks and you wonder if you’re not making a rash decision based on a few bad hair days. The morning of my first appointment with the “brilliant” therapist, I felt better than I had in ages. Upbeat, clear-headed, happy and caring very little about the issues that had – until that morning – been making me miserable. As I entered the office, I second-guessed myself as to whether I really needed – or wanted – to delve into another therapeutic process, slosh and wade through the pain and discomfort I’d learned to live with…or did I just want to keep ignoring the fact I was in a suffocating amount of pain? That was the alternative.
Gavin practices IFS therapy or Internal Family Systems therapy, a talking therapy developed fairly recently. It helps identify and understand, and heal, specific parts (sub-personalities – don’t freak, we all have them) that have been damaged and hurt. At the very least, it begins to heal some seriously deep pain, primal wound sort of deep, relatively quickly, much more so than traditional psychotherapy.
During our fourth session, I was able to identify a part of me that is about four-years-old. I found it hiding in a dark and lonely place, under the stairs in a small, forgotten closet. It had not lived there always; at first it/she lived in some light, with love and endless hope and anticipation that someone was coming. When no one came, she began asking “Is anyone there? Are you coming back? Where are you? Are you there? Areyouthereareyouthereareyouthereareyouthere….where are you? Why aren’t you coming back? What is wrong with me what did I do why did you leave what have I done are you there are you there are you there i am here i am here i am here i am wanting someone to come…” endless wordless yearning so painful and lonely and primal. A stream of emotion. Asking asking asking.
Most of this first encounter was wordless; I could interpret with simple vocabulary and a large amount of self-compassion. The therapist guided me to interact with it/her and, eventually, it turned to face me but had no idea who I was or why I was there or that I could help it leave the closet under the stairs. She had lived there for so long and managed for an eternity to take care of herself without help that she was not able to trust me or what I told it/her. Before the end of the session, it was suggested I ask it/her where she wanted to go, where she felt safest, and to invite it to take me to wherever it felt most happy, and it/she chose the beach. Specifically, Cannon Beach, Oregon. So, in my mind, this small wounded but lively thing/she and I went to the beach where, at the end of my session, I left her in safety and happiness to dance and play. Safe, happy, out from that awful tiny pitch black closet under the stair.
I have no idea what that part of me is, yet, but I know she is as old as I am now even though she’s only four-ish, and that she has been with me well before I was a person. I know when first encountering, it/she had no gender, though the therapist referred to her as a “she” and continued to do so at our most recent session, the one that followed meeting this first part. I know, too, that she suffered the deepest of trauma and rejection to the point she wanted to die rather than survive alone. But, she did not die.
So, healing is possible. Part by part.