Reunion Repulsion – Let Yourself Get Disembodied if You Can. Float.

By: Rebecca Peacock Dragon

***CONTENT WARNING:  adoption reunion/domestic (for those who have not had, cannot have, or have had traumatic experiences with adoption reunion, this piece may be unsettling…for others, I hope this makes you feel seen)

               One of my Adoptionland besties, someone that I came into advocacy with (and also semi-retired with), recently had a secondary reunion with a biological parent.  Not my story, so you won’t read it here.  This is, instead, a transcript of advice and camaraderie I gave her while she was living it in real time.  If you find my advice maladaptive, dangerous, or just plain broken, please hang tight and keep reading.  Full caveat I am not a professional mental health provider in any way, but I would like to start normalizing this possible (and I believe common) adoptee experience instead of pathologizing it.

               First, the context of the conversation:  my friend, seeing her biological parent for the first time in almost two decades, having only met them once before, contacted me struggling terribly with wanting to escape.  She described a literal repulsion from them, even though they were nice, friendly, and respectful to her.  She was so panicked and grossed out that she posited to me, “do you think they could have abused me and I just don’t remember it because I was so young?  Why would I have such a strong visceral reaction to them like that?  It was like they were a threat to me.”

               I knew exactly what she was talking about.  It is the experience that I had with my biological parents in reunion, mainly my mother as that is who I had more contact with.  In fact, it was the central defining feature of my inner experience of reunion:  full body, emotional, and psychological repulsion.  Every cell in my body told me to flee.  The more loving and affectionate she was, the more I tensed up.  It got to the point that I would literally gag because I found her presence to be so grotesque, and found myself to be grotesque as well.  This wasn’t just in early reunion.  This feeling grew, exponentially, over the years that I was in active reunion.  It became so bad, so intense, that I ended all contact. 

               When my friend shared a similar reaction, here was some of my end of the conversation, transcribed from voice messages:

  • “I can relieve you of that hypothetical thought.  I mean listen, anything is possible, it could have happened (that he might have abused her), but I am going to lean towards he did not abuse you.  My biological mother never held me, she refused to look at me or hold me, and I had the exact same experience.  She came to visit and would come up behind me and rub my back and I would flinch and run out of the room.  I felt disgusting, I felt violated.  I hated her.  She would come into the room with me and the oxygen would be taken out of the fucking room.  I thought I was nuts.  I thought I was a bitch.  I was like why can’t I be a nice and normal person?”
  • “I was talking to my bio sister, and I was sharing with her how I felt.  I said, ‘I don’t know how to explain this but I just can’t share space with her.’  She responded, ‘what if you just relaxed and let her love on you?’.  She said it as if it was the easiest thing in the world instead of an aggressive threat, which to me, it was.  I immediately felt guilty, as if I wasn’t mature enough, kind enough, or well enough to do something so natural as letting your mother love you.  But how would my sister know?”
  • “It was that experience when I realized, that I am not like this because I am broken.  I don’t like that word, broken, anymore.  I am like this because I did what I had to do to develop in the best way that I could with the circumstances that they fucking handed me.  And I’ll tell you what, everything you’re describing is exactly how I felt.  I wanted nothing but to escape from her.  It was very easy for me to see fault in her.  Was she problematic?  Yes.  If I didn’t have this reaction to her, I would probably still be in contact with her because I am a fawner, and I tend to stick around.”
  • “I finally realized I had to preserve myself.  There was no way that I could be mentally healthy and share space with her.  I hate to be the bearer of that news, because I think it’s a load of shit.  This IS what adoption DOES to so many of us.  And then what do we do?  We retraumatize ourselves trying to do a mojo on ourselves: I just need to heal, I just need to find my fucking healing.  Well, fuck you.  THIS IS MY HEALING.  That reaction, my cringing, that running out of the room….THAT.  IS.  MY.  HEALING.  That is my medicine.”
  • “When I finally decided that I would allow myself to ‘be that bitch’ and cut and run, the decision wasn’t made because I was trying to protect myself, or that I was centering my mental health and well-being.   What I decided at that time, when I was still calling cutting contact ‘being a bitch’, was that I was going to embrace being evil.  Fine, I’m a bitch…I feel better this way then.  It took me a long minute of space from her to realize I was actually protecting myself, and that I am better off without her.  She did that.  She made that decision, and it’s the one that I am the most comfortable with now.”
  • “I can’t believe I am going to say this, but I feel like I can to you….for my biological and adoptive mothers, when they pass, I will have a sense of relief along with any grief I might have.  I am actually afraid I won’t have any grief. I already had that, I have lived it my whole life. I don’t wish death on them, not at all.  It’s because they have a dark vampiric cord and hold on my life.  The only way that I can not feel that evil sucking cord, even if they are the nicest people on the face of the planet…even if, even if, even if…  The only way I can NOT feel it is to be nowhere near it.  And that’s it.  Thank you for my destiny ladies.  Here’s the consequence of it.
  • “I was never alone with her.  I even woke up a sleeping child once to make him come in the car with me to bring her back to the hotel when she was visiting.  The thought of being alone with her was an impossible thought, and I never once did it.”
  • “The one major regret I have about my really intense period of reunion was that I was so incredibly, emotionally, and mentally swept away from my children.  I feel like I lost the last precious years of their childhood.  (at this point, I start crying).  Because I woke up from this fucking trauma of reunion…I woke up from it finally…and they were teenagers and they were assholes and it was gone.  Their childhood was gone.  I hate reunion for that.  I hate myself for that.”

I know an adoptee who actually loves to touch and cuddle with her biological mother. They lay in bed together, snuggle, and watch movies. Good for her. But you know what? Good for me too….because I am the human that relinquishment and adoption created. There isn’t anyone else I can be . I can choose to embrace who I am, or I could look at that adoptee acquaintance of mine and punish myself with guilt over the fact that she has something that I don’t. Ultimately, I am used to not having what others have, most adoptees are. We grew up in genetic isolation watching the matching families around us, so I am familiar with the separated-by-a-shop-window syndrome.

Let me pre-empt the “I hope you find healings” and all the other well (or not so well) intended responses.  Those will come from a place that is judging my experience, my reaction to my own reunion, as somehow flawed or wrong.  I won’t have it.  I am done trying to fit my adoptee brain, psyche, and developmental outcomes into external narratives and expectations.  I embrace this person that I am, who I have become because of and despite adoption. 

I have realized that this reaction of mine, this state of being that cannot share space with my mothers, is not intellectual.  It is visceral, physical, and something I can no more control than allergies when the hay is cut.  Applying thoughtful rationale, like “knowing my mothers’ stories” or “understanding their traumas” can no more cure my aversion to mothers than understanding pollen and histamines can cure my allergies.  It’s hocus pocus, and has no palliative effect.

That part of me that is intended to bond to a mother was obliterated. A bomb was dropped on that fertile ground long ago, leaving a gaping impassable chasm. Mothers present to me a threat of falling into that endless hole, not security and solid ground. So, I have a choice to make: I can spend the rest of my life trying to patch up that hole, even though it can never be repaired…or….I can build my home around it. I choose the latter. I have built a beautiful home, with my own hands, even though I wasn’t given the proper tools. I built a mansion with a matchbox. And the big gaping hole in the center of it, that void of being unmothered? It gets smaller and smaller the bigger the life of my own making becomes…or at least, it appears smaller in perspective.

I do not regret reunion, mostly anyway.  I needed it to happen.  Some adoptees were never in the fog.  Some find joy and connection in reunion.  Good.  Their reactions are right for them, and mine are right for me.  I am sharing this hoping to normalize this full-body Reunion Repulsion for other adoptees; so they can feel seen and not so alone.  Adoptees:  we don’t have to try to fit the mold others expect of us anymore.  We really don’t.  Let me know if you too are coming along this ride to self-normalization with me, even if your outcomes differ.  If you support #adopteeautonomy, the inherent right of the adoptee to experience their life and express themselves honestly about it, I want to know you, and I want to uplift your voices.  It’s sorely needed. 

And please, if you have not had reunion yet, or reunion is impossible for you….I am standing with you as well.  I am sorry if my words rubbed salt in that wound.  It’s cruel to not know your own context, to never look it in the face, even if sometimes you find on the other end a whole new trauma.  The not-and-never-knowing is an experience that we all need to sit and listen to.  You were robbed, in ways that the reunited take for granted.

In the moment of pressure, when my friend was IN the space and feeling her worst in the face of her parent, I told her, “Let yourself get disembodied if you can.  Float.”  And when I said it, I remembered my own dissociation, that sweet oblivion that became my best friend when I was left to my own devices as an infant without physical contact in the hospital, then warehoused and drugged in the foundling home, then made to adapt to something that I did not choose and was inherently strange to me, then navigating a reunion.  That precious annihilation, that floating… it was….and is….a gift.

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