July 15, 2013

Why I Chose to NOT Go On Medication for Post-Adoption Pain

Disclaimer: What I share today is my personal journey and choice, and is not a statement that I believe everyone should follow the same path.  Please consult with your physician and therapist, to determine what course of action is best for you.
Photo Credit: Deanna Shrodes (Yes, this is my neighborhood...)
While out on a walk in the neighborhood I met a woman who had experienced the loss of a family member in the previous year. As we talked she shared that she had not really allowed herself to let go and release her emotions and fully express the grief. She told me she had not yet even allowed herself to cry. There was a fear that if she released her emotions she may have a nervous breakdown, the pain inside her was so great . “I’m afraid if I start crying I’ll never stop…” she said.

I responded that I believe the people who have nervous breakdowns may be those who hold it all in as long as possible and finally have a breakdown because they’ve never released what was inside and finally they break down. I'm not a therapist but that is my theory.(We have enough therapists who read here that hopefully I'll get corrected if that's not right and I do welcome their correction.) 

Grief Homework

When working with me on post-adoption trauma, the first assignment Melissa, my therapist, gave me was to grieve. She instructed me to “sit in the sadness.” I was encouraged to do this as long as it took whether months, a year or more.

On some weeks, this was easier than others, with the schedule I kept.  I tried to fulfill my homework assignment to the best of my ability. There were whole days I took to sit in the sadness, but most often I did it for a few hours at a time. One day I went out to plant rosebushes in the yard and cried the whole time. For a week I stopped wearing eye makeup and just cried whenever the moment hit me and never tried to stop or hold it in. I just let it go. I cried in the tub, in the shower, working in the yard, riding my bike, outside walking, during devotions, pretty much anytime the moment struck. I did need to hold it together while I was leading at church or traveling to speak.

The Things I Grieved

I grieved my childhood which was gone. I couldn’t go back. It's impossible to go back. So I needed to grieve what was lost during that time and would never be gained back in the same way.  

I grieved growing up not knowing my first family.

I grieved the losses experienced in my adoptive family.

I grieved my original mother not responding to me like I wanted her to.  

 I grieved the pain between us at the present and the significant losses incurred there.

There were more things that I grieved but these were most important among them.

Once I fully embraced the pain, the difference was remarkable.

Photo Credit: Comedy_Nose
 Grief Build Up

On one particular week in May, I hadn’t sat in the sadness as much. But it continued to build up, inside me. Therapy homework wasn't the priority as I was overwhelmed with work assignments and travel out of town to speak most of that time. While I was in the midst of that, drama with family issues continued unabated.   I was overwhelmed as the weekend approached. I had returned to Tampa and woke up that Friday feeling so sad I couldn’t keep makeup on my face. I showered and made every effort to make myself presentable and  leave for therapy. The tears kept flowing like a fountain and washing all the makeup off. I finally gave up on the  making myself presentable part, and decided to go with no makeup. On this day, I chronicled how I was feeling here on the blog.

My blood pressure had been high for a few days. I explained to Melissa that I didn't sit in the sadness as much the week prior because of my heavy travel schedule so I had held back. But on that Friday throughout the day and into Saturday, I finally released what was inside me. 

When I shared here on the blog about this, Karen Caffrey, LPC, JD, one of the therapists who reads here, had this comment: "Deanna, you have visited what I describe as the bottomless abyss of pain, where grief and loss feel unbearable and unending. There is, somewhere, a bottom to it from which we can rise. But the finding of the bottom is an agonizing journey."


I dared to go to that bottomless abyss no matter how intense the pain was. And make no mistake, it was intense.

My friend and fellow adoptee blogger Laura Dennis can testify to the fact that on the day I came home from therapy, I cried profusely for almost 24 hours straight, sobbing until I felt not one more drop could come out of my body. I was thinking that perhaps my blood pressure would be high after all that intense grieving and crying. Imagine my surprise that without twenty four hours, my blood pressure went from 160/90 to 117/80. 

Almost immediately I started to physically feel better.

Emotionally I became regulated. 

My blood pressure has been normal since that day two months ago, whereas it had been consistently high for over a week.

I had it checked yesterday and it was 120/80.

I have stopped crying the "waves of grief" type crying. I still weep at times over post-adoption issues, but it is not as intense, just a few tears here and there. And most important, I am coming from a different place as I do. I now come from a place of empowerment, peace and resilience.

The most recent phone call two weeks ago with my original mother was extremely disappointing, actually it was hell, yet I didn't even shed a tear and still haven't. This is because I have already grieved her inability to give me what I long for.

"Archbishop William Temple once said that one of the mistakes Christians are fond of making is trying to be more spiritual than God. When Jesus was in pain, He didn't try to squirm out of it; rather, He embraced the pain. He let it happen. He experienced a sense of God's absence. He cried out, "My God, where are you? Why have you forsaken me?" To be spiritual is to confront our pain, rather than make an enemy out of it."
 ~ Sue Monk Kidd, When the Heart Waits

Photo Credit: Dean812, Flickr

To Medicate, or Not?

I didn’t want to go on medication during my recovery.

Would it be easier to? Yes. Much easier. I craved immediate relief and medicating my pain would have made things more bearable almost right away.  I know this because I have taken medication before for circumstantial depression, and it was effective. I have no regrets about that.

For those who need or choose medication there is no judgment and there certainly shouldn’t be a stigma. I hate that there is often one! I’m not against using medication and was on it for a period of time a few years ago when going through some challenging circumstances in the church. (Yes, ministry is a whole other issue.) I did not have clinical depression at that time – what I faced was circumstantial, and my doctor helped me with a prescription during that time to get through what was a temporary situation.

Adoption trauma is different.  There’s nothing that affects a person like a primal wound.  Being adopted is forever. One does not ever wake up, unadopted. So the circumstance is not one that ends, and an adoptee will always be navigating the differences between oneself and non-adopted persons whether consciously or not. It is incumbent upon each adoptee to find a way to survive, and hopefully thrive.

My thought was, "If I medicate this and refuse to face the full impact, I will just have to keep medicating it for life. Because I will be adopted for life and will always face different ramifications as a by-product of my adoption -- things out of my control."

Could I have just resolved to go on medication and stay on it forever? Yes. And I know my physician would have been agreeable to a request for medication.

My thought was -- are there some things we medicate that, if we take alternative measures to get better, may not have to be medicated? 

Weighing My Decision

I thought that maybe if I was willing to fully process grief and pain,  I could move forward without medication. (I believe it is important to note that if I could not move forward without medication I would not have hesitated to take it.)

For me, moving forward entailed going to the most painful realities of adoption I had chosen to block out.  For so long, I had detached for survival. In addition to sitting in the sadness, Melissa informed me that my behavior for most of my life had been to detach, so I could survive and ultimately succeed in life. But getting better would require me to stop that behavior. I would need to fully face and embrace my pain.  Even God cannot (or perhaps I should say will not?) deal with what we refuse to bring to Him. For Him to begin to do something about my pain I had to fully acknowledge it.

My Ultimate Choice

I chose to feel the intense pain for a shorter time so I could be free for a longer time. 

The journey is different for everyone and I don’t judge those who have taken another path. I simply offer the idea that embracing grief rather resisting it worked for me.I believe this is something valuable to note whether a person chooses to take medication or not. This post is much more about making a choice to embrace the pain and process grief than it is about medication.

It is scary to release the cry in your spirit, to let go all the way not knowing when you will stop crying. I never realized that I could cry for days without stopping, except for intermittent sleep. Crying for a prolonged time and sadness was exactly what I needed, to be free. This flies in the face of what a lot of people out there tell you, to just "choose to be happy" or suck it up.

Reality is, when you have experienced significant loss and trauma you will never heal by choosing to be happy or sucking it up.

My friend, I encourage you that if you do let go and fully grieve, you will not always grieve.

The crying stops. 

And when it does, you’re at a new place.

Still adopted, yes. 

But stronger, with a new set of survive and thrive skills to move forward.