Full episode transcript
Suzie Sherman (00:00:14):
This is And The Next Thing You Know. It’s a podcast about how our lives go exactly not as we planned them. I’m Suzie Sherman. All our lives continue to be derailed by COVID-19. Heading into this holiday season I urge all of us to be as safe as possible. Stay outdoors if you can, stay distanced, and stay masked. Enjoy eggnog or latkes or light the Kwanzaa candles together on Zoom. And let’s all rejoice that Cheeto Hitler is getting tossed out into the cold on January 20th. This episode is classic #nextthingpod. When I pitched my guest, Shawn, about coming onto the show, my original idea was just talking to her about her career change from being a lawyer to becoming a psychotherapist. She counter pitched me a story that I couldn’t resist.
Suzie Sherman (00:01:05):
She said, and I’m paraphrasing, “Let me tell you about that time I drank from a lucky fountain.” And from here our story departs. This conversation is about several consequential events in Shawn’s life. The subjects are emotionally heavy, but there is so much joy and levity and emotional wisdom that Shawn brings to her story. This conversation just glows. It’s a story about how emotional experience can move from black and white to Technicolor. This is my conversation with Shawn. Thank you for taking the time to be with me.
Oh, my pleasure.
Suzie Sherman (00:01:49):
It’s been a long time since we got to chat.
Suzie Sherman (00:01:52):
Indeed, and of course the last time we chat was way in the before times.
Yep. Way in the before times.
Suzie Sherman (00:02:02):
What’s life like during lockdown for you? How has it been?
You know, it’s been far more manageable for me than for lots of people for a variety of reasons. One, my work hasn’t changed in its volume really. I mean, I went from seeing almost everybody in person to basically seeing everybody through a computer screen or on the phone.
Suzie Sherman (00:02:28):
But the pace of work hasn’t slowed down. In fact, it’s probably sped up a little bit with people who were not in therapy coming back to therapy and people who work every other week bumping up to every week for a while. And just with all of the stressors. I’ve also been really lucky. I don’t have enough space or privacy at home to do therapy from home. So I’ve kept my office and I come to the office to do the sessions, which has kept work and home separate and means my partner and I aren’t on top of each other and still delighted to see each other at the end of the day and that kind of thing.
Suzie Sherman (00:03:15):
That’s a really, really good thing.
And where I live there’s a nice outdoor space where I grow vegetables and there’s a creek in the back that I tend to, and that has been a real blessing during this time. There’s a good wide space. It’s more than six feet across path walking in the hills that we can do. And all of that has made it much more manageable, and having someone at home who I like, and I’m not as I said again, we’re not on top of each other. So we haven’t experienced stresses in the relationship because of the pandemic, which is also lucky.
Suzie Sherman (00:03:56):
It seems ideal.
Yeah. The smoke has put a dent in those outdoors ways of staying sane.
Suzie Sherman (00:04:10):
No for sure. It’s and it’s one thing on top of another, it’s like one biblical plague on top of another.
Suzie Sherman (00:04:17):
Yeah, no, it’s been really hard to manage with that. I mean, because going outside and taking walks has been the only salve for a lot of us during this time. So yeah. It’s a lot to hold and cope with and figure out other ways to cope once your primary way to cope is taken away from you again. And this smoke season seems, I mean, I don’t know each, even the fact that in California we have to say we have a smoke season is horrifying, but now this is three years in a row of really severe smoke season. And it feels like it’s, there’s been some little remitting times, but kind of some days are worse than others, for sure. Depending on the way the wind blows-
But it’s been a pretty long block, though. Yeah.
Suzie Sherman (00:05:12):
Yeah, it feels longer. I think it was, it felt really shocking last year when it was a solid two weeks of smoke. I think in, I don’t remember if it was August as well, but this feels longer. I’m not sure objectively if that’s true.
I think we’re in week three now. So yeah.
Suzie Sherman (00:05:35):
My partner, Emily and I moved in together in June, so in the middle of all of this.
Uh huh, uh huh!
Suzie Sherman (00:05:41):
So we’ve started living together in the COVID era and I feel really grateful that we’re both really on the same page about having connected times and having time to ourselves and-
Yeah, it’s so important.
Suzie Sherman (00:05:56):
And we have really different interests in terms of what we like to do with our time as well. I do a lot of tinkering in my podcasting studio and she does a lot of yoga and hiking and stuff. And then we’re able to take walks in our neighborhood together and sometimes some longer walks in nature. And it’s a little bit of a crucible for a relationship. I mean, we’ve been together for four years, but just starting living together in the COVID times.
Yep, yep. Yep. Every added stressor amps up the complexity.
Suzie Sherman (00:06:34):
So we’re talking about, we decided that we’re going to talk about a time in your life when you found yourself at a magical lucky fountain.
Suzie Sherman (00:06:43):
When is this in your life? When did you find yourself in Spain in Asturias?
I was there because my brother was getting married there. My brother who’s have many siblings. This brother is one year older than me. And so part of the little sibling pod of three that I actually grew up with and he was getting married to his long-time partner, who is from Spain and they lived in Madrid, but wanted to get married in Asturias where she was born, where there is this very famous church. And you can only get married there if you’re actually from there. And she qualified for that, so they wanted to get married there. And so that’s why I was going there. And you know how it is, you have to kind of think about what else was going on at that time. How old was my son to sort of figure out when it was? So my son was born in 1999 and he was probably around three years old. So probably like 2002. And at that time I was working as a family law attorney at a domestic violence, an agency that worked with survivors of domestic violence. So I was doing-
Suzie Sherman (00:08:16):
And you were in Hawaii where you-
And I was in Hawaii on O‘ahu.
Suzie Sherman (00:08:19):
And this was in Honolulu and yeah, that’s the job I was doing. And I was partnered to the person who gave birth to our son and we were living outside of Honolulu. And so I was about 36 years old probably. And my partner at the time was pregnant with what would have been our second child, and my three-year-old son and partner, pregnant partner opted not to come with me to Spain, Just seemed like it was a little too much to undertake. And so I went by myself and it was a really sweet time.
I got to stay with my brother at the hotel before the wedding. So we got some time together, which was already unusual for our lives at that time. And part of the family, the Spanish side of the family wanted to show us around the highlights of Asturias. And so we got to see a lot of the beautiful scenery there and eat the famous fabado (sic) I think it’s called, sort of a bean and sausage stew that’s very famous from there. And another thing they did was to take us to this site of this famous fountain and the fountain it’s like you’re standing on a bridge and looking away is this fountain by a waterfall. And the fountain isn’t immediately accessible. If you want to get to it, you have to climb down off the bridge and sort of inch your way up along this little ledge to get back to where the fountain is-
Suzie Sherman (00:10:15):
Yeah. The fountain has seven spigots coming out of it. And the legend is, or so I was told at the time, the legend is if you drink from all seven spigots, then you’ll have phenomenal luck. And so I decided to do it. I was the only one amongst the group that decided to do it. And I went and climbed down, get wet and drank out of all seven spigots. And didn’t think too much more of it right away, enjoyed the wedding and came back.
Suzie Sherman (00:10:54):
What is the landscape like around Covadonga? What are you seeing around you?
It’s both mountainous and right by the sea. So it’s the kind of mountains, it made me think of Switzerland or something like that. But my travels around Europe are limited, but I think there’s probably mountains like that a lot of places in Europe, but the kind of mountains that have mountain goats on them, in crazy steep, precarious places, and a little bit of snow-
Suzie Sherman (00:11:30):
You didn’t get Sound of Music songs in your head while you were there?
Yeah. It’s that kind of place. It’s that kind of place. And simultaneously right there on the sea at the Northern coast of Spain. And while we were there, the weather was lovely. I actually don’t remember exactly what time of year it was, but it was yeah, very picturesque and very beautiful.
Suzie Sherman (00:11:55):
And this church … Oh, I’m sorry, go ahead.
Oh, I was just going to say also the vibe is very chill. You know, it was nice. It was one of those things of, oh, there are different ways to be in the world. There are different feels to the flow of life, the vibe of life. And it was very impressive in that way of not so hustle, bustle, everybody head down to the grindstone. It was just this flow of life where, people eat dinner really late.
They stay up really late. They sleep in a bit, they have rest at certain points in the day. And it’s clear that there are many more things of meaning than work. And this specific family member, my brother’s wife is a total workaholic, you know, it’s not that there isn’t tons and tons of work being done, but somehow, I don’t know, it didn’t have the same grip. Off course we were all there on vacation too, but I’ve been vacation lots of places and not felt that vibe coming through. So yeah, it was a lovely time.
Suzie Sherman (00:13:14):
And this Covadonga and this church and this particular part of Spain are important historically in a specific way. I wonder how that resonates with the people who are local there being one of the last strongholds to fend off the Moors and stay Christian, stay Catholic?
Yeah. Yeah. There’s a lot of pride in that I think. It’s famous across Spain because of that. And there’s definitely that element of pride and part of the reason why my brother’s wife wanted them to get married there. It’s a point of pride to be from there.
Suzie Sherman (00:14:00):
Yeah. So do you have a sense of the mythology about the fountain, the fountain of seven spouts that you drank from?
No, actually, I just took in what was the abbreviated and translated version of the fountain was just a story of luck, that it was a tradition. And to me, you know, I mean, there are traditions like that all over the world, the tossing a coin in a fountain or taking a drink from a certain spring or well, or that kind of thing. So I didn’t go any deeper than that at the time. In fact, I learned more about it in looking it up again for this.
Suzie Sherman (00:14:45):
Do you have a sense of why you were the only person in that party that day who decided to drink from all spouts of the fountain? Why was it you?
You know, I don’t know. I think there are lots of other moments in my life where it wouldn’t have been me. Where I would have not wanted to get wet or not wanted to clamber down something. Probably a lot of things coming together. Just the joy of being with family and specifically with my brother and being welcomed by the Spanish side of the family and wanting to try things, you know? You know, something about being outside of your home environment could make you feel more risk averse, but in this case it made me feel more game for everything. There were lots of things to try and do, and there were traditions that were unfamiliar to experience. And so, yeah, I guess it was just a moment where I was open, and so I did it.
Suzie Sherman (00:15:50):
So you drank from this lucky fountain.
I drank from the lucky fountain.
Suzie Sherman (00:15:55):
And in the midst of your celebration of your brother’s wedding, there’s also a lot of things going on in your reality life that you were soon to get back to.
Suzie Sherman (00:16:11):
And you talked a little bit about that in when we were sort of painting the picture of where you were in your life, but there’s a lot of things going on. You have a two or three-year-old kid with your partner, your partner is pregnant with your second child and in your law career at that time, was it before you left for Spain that you had applied for this judgeship job?
Yeah, I’m pretty sure I had not only applied for it, but I’d gotten through to the final round of interviews with the chief justice of the State Supreme Court, the final interview. So you apply, which it’s a lengthy application to apply for. I was applying for a family court judge position. And as I said, I was about 36 years old, which is very young to be applying for a position like that, but various forces in my life were really encouraging me to go for it. And I thought, “I don’t have the connections to do that,” but I sat down with someone who did have a lot of connections and it was kind of able to map out, it’s like the first interview is with a panel of lawyers and you have some recommendation letters that you can bring in.
Well, every recommendation letter is going to say just glowing things about every candidate, that’s what they do, right? So in order to this person helped me think of what you want to do is you want that letter to come from someone that they know and this person was able to connect the dots. Okay, I know these people on the panel and I know who they know, now who knows you? And we’re going to figure out the people that are at that point of commonality. And so that person helped guide me to think of, who’s going to write your recommendation letter. So that was something I couldn’t have done on my own. Anyway, did that, past the panel recommends a short list that then get interviewed by the chief justice. And I had done that and the interview seemed to go well.
And I think I was genuinely a contender. And so was going off to Spain, to my brother’s wedding, waiting to hear the news about whether I was going to get that job, looking forward to the continued pregnancy and arrival of my second child and the life that I was building there with my partner. And yeah, all those things seemed to be trundling forward in a positive path when I headed off to Spain.
Suzie Sherman (00:18:57):
Then you drank from a lucky fountain, then what?
Then I drank from the lucky fountain and then I came home and I don’t know exactly the order of the first two things. I did not get the judgeship, which wasn’t a harsh blow, but it was a reorientation. And in successive years I had another round where I came very close also, made it to that final round interview, but didn’t get that position and talk more about that if the conversation goes in that direction. I did eventually get to be a per diem family court judge for a year.
The other thing that happened in short order after I returned home was we went in for the first ultrasound in tracking the progress of this baby that was growing. And we were in the ultrasound. You get to see your baby on the screen and we’d had a baby before. So it was a little bit easier to decipher what we were seeing. And we learned that the baby was a little girl and I felt like I could see in her profile how much she looked like my son. So there’s this, an elevated level of bonding to this particular being that happens at that ultrasound. But then once we were done with the actual ultrasound, instead of being sent on our way, we were asked if we could wait to speak to a doctor.
So, that was the first inkling that something unusual was going on. And in fact, the doctor let us know that the baby had a very serious heart defect. And basically it’s this thing where the heart doesn’t fully develop. And while the baby is in the womb, the mother’s heart is helping to circulate the blood. So the baby develops normally because they have that support of the mother’s heart. But then once the baby is born, these were babies that were not generally still born, generally born all systems go, but then very quickly they would die very shortly after birth. And now in the era of ultrasound and more knowledge about these things, what happens for these kids is you have to be prepared for an immediate heart surgery immediately following birth. And probably several more surgeries, certainly one around the age of two and probably several more surgeries along the way.
And each surgery comes with a significant risk of brain damage and other things. So it’s really quite a journey you have to prepare yourself for. And so then there was a decision to be made about whether to carry the pregnancy to term or not. We had a second opinion ultrasound, sort of with a pediatric cardiologist to come and have a look. And we did that. And he told us that even as this particular birth defect goes, that this fetus had a particularly little heart to work with. So that made the odds for her life not look too good. And I think if it had been our first child, it would have been a different equation. We might have decided, well, we’re just going to do everything we can and see what happens. But at that point, there was also the thought of what we would be creating for our son as an experience if we had to devote so much of our bandwidth to what was coming.
Including there was no hospital on O‘ahu that could have done the surgery post-birth, so we would have had to go someplace else too. It probably would have been Oakland’s Children’s Hospital, really probably, but we would have had to arrange all of that just for the birth and the surgery immediately after the birth. So we decided that we would terminate the pregnancy. And much as they try to be neutral, all the medical folks who were there that day at the second ultrasound just, you could just see the relief on their faces when we made that decision. I think knowing more intimately what we would have been headed towards. And since then I have met just by happenstance I’ve met a family with a kid who had the same.
…condition and he has a lot of medical challenges, but of course they’re thrilled that they made the choice that they made, but it hasn’t been something that I’ve second-guessed in life. But it was really a super difficult experience, and my partner, at the time, and I began different paths or what showed our different approaches and capacities, I found that I was willing to talk to people about it, the people who knew we were expecting a baby.
And I remember actually a family court judge at the time called me about some bit of work that we were doing together, and I think he could hear in my voice that something wasn’t as usual, and he asked me how I was doing it, and I actually told him, I said, “This is what’s happened, and I’m just carrying that.” And then he told me that something similar had happened. He and his wife have three children. They had lost a child in something similar. It’s like miscarriages. It’s a thing that people don’t always talk about it, but it’s not as uncommon as you might think, and there’s something about being seen and being held in your pain about something and knowing that you’re not alone in having experienced it that I think is part of being able to recover from it. My partner had an opposite instinct, which was to withdraw more from her world of friends and this feeling of if you talk about misfortune then other people are secretly gloating that it’s not them inside, that kind of shame story stuff. Yeah.
Suzie Sherman (00:26:12):
Of course, that was the way that she needed to grieve as well.
Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Suzie Sherman (00:26:23):
But I’m glad that you were able to do what you needed to do to make sense of it, get support for it.
Suzie Sherman (00:26:35):
This is a particularly big thing that happened in your life. And I wonder how much this particular experience of deciding to terminate and losing that child, apart from your relationship dynamics, which we’ll get into a little bit more, but I wonder about this particular experience and how you hold it, how you’ve held it moving forward in your life.
I think that it’s so much a part of what is … There’s a bit more to the story, and it’s braided in tightly with all of that. So it’s hard to hold it separately, even though it had its moment of being the biggest thing that was going on. And I also had this moment with my son, my then three-year-old son where he’s wondering what’s going on.
Suzie Sherman (00:27:40):
And I’m hanging out with him one afternoon, and I’m grieving this loss and I’m feeling sad about it, and he’s asking me, “What’s going on?” And I’m saying, “I’m a bit sad. We thought you were going to have a baby sister.” And he’s like, “Yeah, now that’s not happening.” And he wasn’t-
Suzie Sherman (00:28:08):
In the way that three-year-olds can-
In a way that three-year-olds can do. His other mom is part Lebanese and speaks Arabic. I think he’s lost pretty much all his Arabic now, but he also said this expression in Arabic, which is basically like, “Oh, well, that’s the way it goes.” And there was a little part of me that could just grab on to that and be like, “You have a point there, right? You have a point,” not to dismiss the grief but also to just hold alongside it that’s not what’s happening. Something else is happening, and can I be present to life as it is?
Suzie Sherman (00:28:57):
And especially, can you be present for really the most important thing going on in your life, which is your three-year-old?
Yeah. So that also helped me, I think, almost instantly in that way that much, much, much later in my life as I was learning about love and kindness meditation and inquiry where you are in pain about something and you ask that beautiful question, what am I believing right now? And you realize that you’re believing something that you don’t actually think is true. The specific thing I’m thinking, my core wound is another whole topic that we may get into as I’m an adoptee, and so there’s the deepest, oldest wound and mystery comes along with some kind of shame sensation of I’m not wanted. And even though that now I know much more about the story of my birth, that’s not actually in there anywhere, but in my interpretation. So there’s this place that goes there to that, I’m not wanted, and I have had the experience as an adult, using mindfulness practice where I realize that that’s the story that’s alive.
And simultaneously, really see that, but that’s not what’s happening here. The moment that I have that realization, the intensity of distress just drops. It doesn’t necessarily go away, but it’s a really palpable, visceral experience. This was like that. I was hooked to a certain degree in the pain of it and whatever my stories were, and when he said that, it was just an instantaneous drop into a more manageable level of grief and-
Suzie Sherman (00:30:57):
And probably corresponding autonomic nervous system drop to a more-
Suzie Sherman (00:31:05):
…grounded place physiologically even, just like a relief, like a blood pressure salve.
Yep. Yep yep. And so one of the things that we did, this also fits into large stories of moving around and mental health, but there was always a reason to move in the course of this relationship. And this was another one of those of part of my partner recovering from her grief or dealing with her grief was that she wanted to move. And we had been living on the Honolulu side of a O’ahu and found a place in Waimanalo, just a three-minute walk from the beach, and people who know that part of O’ahu will know how beautiful that is, how lucky we were to find a place like that, just an apartment over someone’s garage. And so we moved there.
And shortly after that, that’s how I keep track of the timeline, so that was probably within a few months of losing the child. And I just want to say, just because the life experience, that that process and what my partner went through, that’s another thing. She’s going through a much more intense experience of having this child grow in her body and making this difficult choice to terminate the life of this child and then dealing with medical professionals, who looked at her as though…She had one round of really getting, you know, kind of side-eye from people in a medical office about why she was terminating a pregnancy at this stage. Because, and I don’t know how far in the first ultrasound is, but it’s farther than you would normally terminate a pregnancy, and there are fewer people who will terminate a pregnancy at that stage.
And in fact, the person who we would have wanted to do it was not … I don’t know if they were on vacation or they were someplace else. Anyway, they weren’t available to do it. And the first doctor’s office that we were referred to, she had that terrible experience at, and we ended up finding another doctor that she felt more comfortable with. And then there was the hurdle of she wanted the fetus to be euthanized before the procedure, and that shockingly was an unusual thing to ask for. And in order to have that done, she had to go in ahead of the abortion procedure and wait around for an ultrasound doctor to fit her in between other appointments, to inject the heart with saline, which is a humane way of stopping the life before the procedure to remove everything is done.
So she went through all of that. I went through it alongside, but it was her body that was having the experience and dealing with just the ways that her body was gearing up to continue caring for a child that then disappears, speaking of mysteries that our systems can’t resolve. So I just wanted to give that additional context to the difficulty of what she went through around that.
Suzie Sherman (00:34:49):
I really appreciate that you did.
Suzie Sherman (00:34:53):
It’s a fundamentally different experience for the partner who’s pregnant-
Suzie Sherman (00:34:58):
… than for the partner who isn’t pregnant. And both experiences, as you said before, about holding both the grief and holding the reality of the now. Both are real parts of the experience.
Uh huh (affirmative). And we don’t…part of my understanding of human beings, we don’t really hang out with uncertainty very well. We will make a coherent narrative if there isn’t one available, and we will answer the doubts and resolve the mysteries with whatever we can cobble together, which we can make some huge errors doing that. And we all do it as children, but here’s an example of an adult experience where I think there’s no way her body could make sense of what happened. So at some plane, there is this mysterious experience that needs an explanation, and then what’s there in your psyche, what are the pieces available to cobble together an explanation? And oftentimes, those are really not very friendly things, the building blocks that we have available. Yeah. And I understand that all so much better now than I did at the time I was going through it.
So anyway, so we moved to Waimanalo, and shortly after that, we unexpectedly are offered a child to adopt. And this is because I work at this legal agency that works with survivors of domestic violence. In addition to all the lawyers, there are also advocates who work with survivors on a number of fronts, so not just in the family law but in the criminal law cases and in the child protective services cases. It was through that that people were aware of us. And there was this baby who … and this is still I think true. Where you go as a child into foster care depends on what they think is going to happen to you. So temporary foster care families are different than adoptive foster care families, which was part of the story of the beginning of my life as well, bouncing around based on the changing story of what was going to happen to me.
So this child was going to have to move from the foster care where he was to a new foster care, but they also really believed that he was going to need to be adopted. And so they wanted to put him with a family who was going to adopt him instead of needing yet a third move for him at some later point down the line. So there’s a really fast turnaround. There wasn’t time to think about it. It was like this can happen if you are up for it. It was maybe two days we had to decide.
Suzie Sherman (00:38:09):
Their best estimate of what the trajectory was for this kid, was that he needed a permanent home and they wanted to started that.
Yes, he needed a permanent home. Yeah, absolutely. And so it wasn’t a, “Will you take in this kid? We’re not really sure what’s going to happen for him. You may get to adopt him. You may not.” It wasn’t like that. It was like this is an adoptable … This child will need a permanent home. And so we said yes, and then things began to turn around. I think we probably had him for about three months, and the family, his birth family, was able to stitch together some help from extended family and have a family placement for him. And I don’t know what happened after that. I don’t know if he was ultimately reunited with his actual birth parents or stayed with extended family.
I absolutely see that now and at the time as a victory for him. I was happy for him that he was able to be reunited with his family. And it was yet another topsy-turvy experience in terms of bonding with a child, who then didn’t get to stay.
Suzie Sherman (00:39:35):
What was the timing between having to terminate the pregnancy and getting-
I feel sure it was all within six months. Yeah.
Suzie Sherman (00:39:49):
It’s a lot of change and loss and-
Suzie Sherman (00:39:58):
… big forces to reckon with, both for you internally and also between you and your partner.
Yes. So then at that point, I’m thinking, “Okay. Well, we’ve tried two routes to having a second child. Neither one has resulted in that second child. And now I think I’m ready to let that go. I am at peace with having just my son and kind of moving on with life.” And there was a way that my relationship with my partner was clearly under strain in hindsight and with my education in psychology to help me. I can see now how many things were going on in the mix of that. But at the time, I was just like, “Well, now we’ll be able to concentrate on our relationship and the family that we do have.” I thought it was going to be the beginning of a good new chapter, and my son was just sleeping in his own bedroom, and all of that moment of now we’re in a new era. No more diapers, no more breastfeeding, no more family bed every night. We can reorient our lives. And so I was looking-
Suzie Sherman (00:41:28):
What a seemingly realistic hope for the now.
Yes. And it just clearly wasn’t going that way. I think it was about October when the baby that we thought we were going to adopt went back to his family. And sometime in December, I was like, “Something is not right here.” And I said to my partner, ” We have to sit down and have some real talk. What is happening? What is here between us?” I don’t know what I expected to hear, but I could tell you it wasn’t what came out of her mouth. She told me that she realized that she was straight, not bisexual, mind you, which would have been easier to absorb, but straight. And I’ve come a long way in my growth away from my coping style, but I’m definitely, for those who use these terms, I’m definitely an endurer in terms of my coping, and very, very much so … This was before I had ever had a session of my own therapy, so nothing to interrupt the coping patterns at all. And so to give a sense of how chronically underwhelmed my affect was. When she told me this, my response was, “Well, it’s not what I would have requested.
That’s not how I saw my life going.” Yeah.
Suzie Sherman (00:43:28):
The very last possible thing on your mind was the thing that she delivered to you that she’s realized that she’s straight.
Suzie Sherman (00:43:42):
It’s not something that would have ever been on your radar for her to say.
No, I did not see that coming.
Suzie Sherman (00:43:48):
And your response was,
Suzie Sherman (00:43:49):
“I wouldn’t have requested that.”
I think probably she said something like, “Are you angry? Are you mad at me?” And that was to which I said, “Well, it’s not what I would have requested.” But I will give myself the credit that there was a period of just digesting that information. How is this possible? Part of how it’s possible is borderline personality, which I didn’t know anything about at the time. And I think I didn’t know, now I understand, I mean, there is borderline in the mix in this case, but that sexuality is far more fluid than we are sort of led to believe, and I think we’ve come a long way, many of us in our understanding of that now.
Suzie Sherman (00:44:55):
But at the time, the idea that someone would go from being queer to being straight as opposed to realizing they were bisexual, that was nothing … I never heard of that. I didn’t know that that was possible. And so yeah, it wasn’t anywhere in my calculus of life, speaking of things going differently than you expected.
Suzie Sherman (00:45:21):
And this is all … Let’s remind our listeners, gentle listeners.
Suzie Sherman (00:45:27):
This is all now maybe just over a year. All of this has happened inside of about a year-
All within a year, yeah.
Suzie Sherman (00:45:35):
… from drinking from the seven lucky spouts-
The lucky, lucky fountain.
Suzie Sherman (00:45:41):
… of the fountain in Covadonga.
Yes. And now tell your listeners what you learned about the actual legend of the fountain that I didn’t even know.
Suzie Sherman (00:45:48):
That’s right. So when we were talking about what we were going to conversate about in this episode, I was doing a little bit of research about the fountain of seven spouts in Covadonga and-
Suzie Sherman (00:46:03):
… found out that all of the luck in the mythology is about marriage and fecundity.
Suzie Sherman (00:46:11):
Fertility. It was all about marriage and babies. And you didn’t know that when you drank from the fountain.
I did not know that. And yeah, and that’s what really went sideways afterwards. So eventually, I absorbed this information, and my partner offered to stay. Marriage wasn’t yet legal, but we were legally domestic partners, and that she had committed to this partnership with me and raising this child with me, and she would honor those promises if that’s what I wanted. Good for me, even then, I was able to say, “No, thank you. You’re not actually that much fun to be around when you’re not happy. So I’m not trying to imprison you to something that’s not true to you.” And so-
Suzie Sherman (00:47:09):
Yes. Nor myse–well, see, now that, I don’t think I was there yet. I don’t think I was there yet. And in fact, I mostly processed … My distress around it was mostly about it wasn’t what I wanted for my son, to have his parents split up, and it was a long journey to realizing that, oh, it also matters what it’s like for me. That was a much longer journey. Yeah. And somewhere along about this time, I remember the fountain, and I just thought maybe you have to be Catholic (laughs.)
Suzie Sherman (00:47:53):
(Laughts) In order to benefit from that luck.
Maybe if you’re not Catholic and specifically, if you’re queer and not Catholic, you shouldn’t drink out of that fountain.
Suzie Sherman (00:48:01):
Suzie Sherman (00:48:06):
But… yeah go ahead.
Suzie Sherman (00:48:10):
When you kind of made that realization, or just sort of it dawned on you, oh yeah, that lucky fountain, a year, or a year and a half ago.
Suzie Sherman (00:48:19):
Did you, do you remember?
(Laughing) Thinking, like, “Well, fuck me. What the hell is that about?” Yeah.
Suzie Sherman (00:48:33):
Do you remember holding that at any particular way other than sort of the amusement of it? Did you put any stake in luck or kismet before that experience? Did you feel like there was any sort of cause and effect between drinking from the fountain and what had transpired in your life afterward to that point?
You know, just in a very, very mild way. I think it was mostly that sort of wry humor that I didn’t really believe in luck, or fate, or that kind of thing. I probably hold that my disbelief is more suspended now than it was then, let’s put it that way.
Suzie Sherman (00:49:19):
Say more about that.
Well, I think there was nothing, you know, here in the Bay, what we call woo. There was nothing woo about me back then, which I think goes along with the clamped down emotional system. People used to joke that I was like Spock, which people who know me now have a hard time imagining that.
Suzie Sherman (00:49:47):
But I was a very low affect person, so that kind of connection to the flow of life and mystery, and all of that, was pretty non-existent. And now I would say there’s a very gentle current of that.
Suzie Sherman (00:50:11):
Suzie Sherman (00:50:11):
Which is probably not hurt by the fact that I eventually came to see all of these “misfortunes” quote-unquote, as an important part of my life trajectory. You know, it’s not a stopping place.
Suzie Sherman (00:50:31):
And this is one of those life view, worldview, kinds of things, to realize how limited our perspective is in any present moment, and we really don’t know what’s bad news and what’s good news in the big, big picture, in the moment that we’re experiencing it. And to just… like that moment in the playroom as my son is saying, “Well, that’s not what’s happening.” Kind of like, to not grab anything too tightly. We really don’t know. It’s our human way to make a big story about everything that puts our present moment as the finish line, sort of.
Suzie Sherman (00:51:15):
That’s right. And also when you’re in the midst of all that upheaval, and in this case, there was a lot of upheaval over a very condensed period of time.
Suzie Sherman (00:51:25):
That was a lot going on in that year, or year and a half, and when you’re in the midst of it, of course it feels overwhelming and huge, and like the hugest thing that’s ever going to happen.
Suzie Sherman (00:51:38):
Until you have some time on it, until you can look back at it a little bit.
Suzie Sherman (00:51:45):
And also in those experiences, those huge experiences of loss, grief, disappointment, overwhelm, when you come through it, you also can develop a feeling of, wow, I survived that.
Suzie Sherman (00:52:04):
I got through that, I’m still here.
Yeah. And I learned things and grew from the experience. And that’s one thing, one handy thing about being a therapist is there is no misfortune that you can’t look at as making you a better therapist.
Suzie Sherman (00:52:25):
A better therapist, or also a better person having gone through those experiences, I’m not sure which.
Yeah, a more empathic person.
Suzie Sherman (00:52:32):
Yeah, mm-hmm (affirmative).
Suzie Sherman (00:52:35):
More able to relate to a broader set of experiences.
Suzie Sherman (00:52:40):
Mm-hmm (affirmative). This whole experience, you’ve come in to a more receptive place of being able to understand that life isn’t going to be what you thought it was going to be.
Uh-huh (affirmative), yeah, yeah. And as part of, I don’t think I had quite gotten there yet at the point that this was all happening, but I certainly, sometimes you get that question in a job interview, where do you see yourself five years from now? I’m really clear that I have no idea. I could make a best guess at looking, the trajectories that are currently underway, where does it look like they’re going? But I really have no idea what twist or turn or new bit of information is going to show up.
And I also, like many folks, I think, in my life, one of the long arcs is learning to tune into myself, and follow my own interest, my own spirit, what attracts me, what is interesting to me, to really let that be a major factor in navigating life. As opposed to all the external ideas that might be there that point you in a direction. I think as a younger person, I was very much on one escalator or another, and not able to tune into myself, and not able to make use of what was there to guide me, and my ability to do that has increased. And that, it opens the world to you more. There are more twists and turns available to you is where I’m going with that, I think.
Suzie Sherman (00:54:37):
Right, or you can make more use of the twists and turns, rather than being paralyzed by them.
Mm-hmm (affirmative), dismissing things out of hand, right, or having an idea that, oh, I’m not like that, or I’m not interested in that. But what if I’m actually listening to myself as it gets presented, instead of following my preconceived idea?
Suzie Sherman (00:55:03):
Mm-hmm (affirmative). I wonder, so as we get into sort of your life as it is unfolding, after all of these events.
Uh-huh (affirmative), yeah.
Suzie Sherman (00:55:13):
And it’s at this point, I think, or shortly after that you’re making some pivotal changes, that your life is really unfolding in much different ways now that you’ve ended that relationship with your partner, who you co-parented with.
Suzie Sherman (00:55:30):
And you’re moving from a career as a lawyer and a judge in Hawaii toward a career in psychotherapy.
Suzie Sherman (00:55:40):
And starting a new relationship, and lots of other stuff. So I wonder if, just in the way you articulated it just now, about your earlier life being more ruled by external factors.
Suzie Sherman (00:55:54):
Or moving toward goals that, maybe in a certain way, you allowed to be imposed on you, as opposed to following your joy, your instinct, your curiosity. Moving from becoming a lawyer to becoming a therapist seems like it might be a good example of that changed trajectory for you.
And I actually, in going back to this, what happens when you listen to yourself? My first, well, maybe not the first, but the big one of that happened when I was deciding what to do after high school. And I come from a military family, and one of the escalators available was a military career, and applying to the service academies, and to the ROTC scholarships, and I got into West Point and Annapolis and the Coast Guard Academy, and decided not to go, and that was a real gut instinct that I think was absolutely correct, and went to the University of Hawaii on a Air Force ROTC scholarship. Which was one of the things that, everybody who knew me, my actual peers were like, what are you doing? This is not you at all. But it was absolutely the family that I came from.
And I was sailing along in that direction until they wanted me to sign something saying I didn’t consider myself to be homosexual. And that was another kind of defining moment was that I refused to sign that, which is a saga in and of itself. It was many years before they dropped trying to get my scholarship back from me, but eventually that went my way. And so I had done that, those were big, scary things to do, in terms of listening to myself. And then I went to law school and I worked as a lawyer for a few years, and I made a decision to go be a musician. That was the biggest curve ball.
Suzie Sherman (00:58:01):
How radical of you.
Of listening to myself. Yeah, it was very radical. Yeah, another longer story about how I decided to do that. But that’s a difficult path, and so I did that for four or five years on the East coast. That’s how I met the woman who is the other parent of my child, so my child would not exist without having made that move.
Suzie Sherman (00:58:24):
And shortly before I turned 30, I decided to let go of the path of a musician’s life, because I wanted to have a kid. I wanted to be a parent, and came back to O’ahu and back to the practice of law, this time doing the domestic violence stuff, and there was that whole six, seven years, by the end of which we’re caught back up to our story, splitting up from my son’s other mom. And thinking about moving to the Bay for a relationship that I was in for long distance, almost two years.
And that became this opening point of, if I’m going to be a lawyer in California, I have to take the California Bar, and I’m looking at the subjects on the Bar exam, and I just could not care less. There was nothing in me that was interested in doing that, the slog of sitting for the exam, the expense of it. And it would just have been a slog. There was nothing in me that was interested in any of that, and I thought to myself, what am I actually interested in? And I came back to psychology, which is what I would have majored in as an undergrad if I had not been on an ROTC scholarship.
Suzie Sherman (00:59:52):
If you’d maybe been able, for whatever reason, to listen to your inner voice a little bit more.
Suzie Sherman (00:59:59):
And it was just really strong there. So like, I am interested in this, at that point I was really interested in attachment theory, which I’d been learning about as a parent, and also getting curious about the ways that that, which I was a little ahead of the curve, I’ll say, on that, but I saw the parallels between what I was learning about disordered attachment in children, and what I was seeing in the domestic violence cases that I was involved in, in terms of adult attachment. So I was super interested in that. I thought I was going to teach psychology. I didn’t have an interest in being a therapist, I just was interested in psychology.
Suzie Sherman (01:00:41):
You were interested in it from a theory perspective.
Suzie Sherman (01:00:45):
Yes, yeah, yeah. Which again makes sense because at the time that’s the bandwidth that was available to me as a human being, it was all intellect, it was very little, the emotions were buried under a lead blanket for the most part. And it was in my first week at the Pacific Center, doing my practicum, I also started therapy for the first time as a part of that experience of doing the practicum. And I came back to the Pacific Center after my first session of receiving therapy and I said to the director, who I’m still friends with today, and who still jokes with me about this, that “I’ve just realized therapy is about emotional experience.”
Suzie Sherman (01:01:36):
(Laughing) Like, it’s not a problem solving, it’s not helping people think, you know? Which somehow never having experienced therapy…I mean, if I had gone to a cognitive behavioral therapist, and a cognitive behavioral school, and a cognitive behavioral practicum, I might never have broken out, there might not have been that moment. But I didn’t, I went to a psychodynamic therapist, and a psychodynamic practicum, and a psychodynamic school. So thus began the adventure of getting to know myself on a much deeper level, and I found that I enjoyed working with clients, and I still do
Suzie Sherman (01:02:24):
This experience that you had in all of those years of being in Hawaii still with your partner, who’s the other mom of your son.
Suzie Sherman (01:02:37):
And going through those really traumatic experiences, or I shouldn’t put the word traumatic on it necessarily, because it’s not a word you use necessarily, but I’m just thinking about you as a person, at least in the first half of your life, being a pretty clamped down person emotionally, someone who is really driven more by intellect, and then kind of coming into yourself well into adulthood, into your late thirties.
Oh yeah, late thirties.
Suzie Sherman (01:03:09):
Into your late thirties before you sit down for your first therapy session, when you’re training to become a therapist.
Suzie Sherman (01:03:18):
I wonder what went on with you at that point in your development, of looking back on those experiences and making sense of them, or looking back on those experiences and being able maybe to tap into more of the feeling of those experiences. Did you have kind of a cracking open?
Yes, and it’s a slow motion process, a lot of it. The relationship that I was in between the relationship with the other parent of my son and the relationship that I’m in now, that relationship began before I went to school for psychology, before I had my first therapy as a client, before I was working with clients. And that match was very much a match between who I was before all of that.
Suzie Sherman (01:04:19):
And therefore it wasn’t really suited to what I was growing into. It was me in a certain grip of coping, my lifetime’s coping up until that point, fit very neatly and very well with the person that I was with, that there was a way in which we were a great match, coping to coping. But as my-
Suzie Sherman (01:04:46):
And able to get through all those experiences in the way that you did.
Yes, yes, yes, yes. Yeah. And breaking out of that was an extremely painful process. So that was also about seven years, first time I have ever left a relationship, first time I was the one to pull the plug, and very much a, it’s messy, I’m sorry for how messy it is, I don’t have the ability to do this in a more graceful way. I can’t get to where I’m going from inside here, and so I have to leave. I can only go backwards in here.
It was really clear to me that I could stay, because a lot of my coping is also around being a good person. And what do good people do? And there was something I couldn’t yet reconcile, it didn’t feel like what a good person would do to end this relationship that I had committed to. And yet I could only stay by going backwards, and I knew that that would create depression. I’d already experienced some of that in the intervening years, and yeah. I’ve lost the thread of where we began, this question, probably because it was such an intense experience.
Suzie Sherman (01:06:28):
You’re talking about, I think, the emotional reckoning of being able to make the change that you needed to make.
Suzie Sherman (01:06:36):
I had asked really more about, now that you had some more emotion-based experiences under your belt.
Suzie Sherman (01:06:48):
How you made sense of it.
Those years when I was a practicum student, and then a trainee at the Pacific Center, and the initial years of being a private practice intern, those years also, where I am doing my own personal growth work, and bringing back online my ability to feel things and to let that inform me, we’re also really difficult years relationally, and part of what became the looking back of, it was a blessing not to have had a second child, because things were very complicated. The mental health picture of my son’s other mother is very complex, and there were quite a few years of great difficulty co-parenting that culminated in, just before my son entered sixth grade, it switched from me being mostly the visitation parent to me being the primary school year parent, and things got smoother from there.
But that was really hard, and then having my role as a parent get bigger and bigger in the life of the partnership that I was now in was also very, very difficult. So that person was not interested in being a parent, these are things that people contend with. Speaking of life not going as you… it wasn’t her expectation that I was going to be the full-time parent of my son, that didn’t factor into what she felt like she signed up for, and all of that. So there was so much to deal with all the time, there was just lots of intensity all the time, and I think that would have just been even more the case had there been two kids instead of one. And in terms of something that I think all parents can relate to, just for all of its gloriousness and all the reasons we choose it, parenting can be a very stressful experience as well. And just being responsible to feed someone else every day of the year, year after year after year, is actually so much.
Suzie Sherman (01:09:20):
And that’s just one little logistical thing.
Suzie Sherman (01:09:24):
Mm-hmm (affirmative), right.
So the stress on the mental health of my co-parent was not helpful, and that would have just been increased, I think, with two kids. So I hold that as actually a bit of good fortune now.
Suzie Sherman (01:09:46):
I hold the release from that relationship in the kindest possible way, and I continue to have a lot of compassion for my son’s other mom, and to wish her the best in every possible way, and to also be thankful that I have not been more tightly connected to the ups and downs and challenges of her life.
Suzie Sherman (01:10:15):
And if I had gotten the judgeship, I would probably still be a judge. Well, as the twist and turns go, who the heck knows.
Suzie Sherman (01:10:23):
Who knows, yes.
Who knows, who knows, but-
Suzie Sherman (01:10:27):
There’s some sense of maybe.
I love my work. I am endlessly fascinated by human beings and the human psychology, and emotional and spiritual terrains that are all things that opened up to me through things that happened in life after that moment.
Suzie Sherman (01:10:44):
And had I stayed in the legal world, which was such a nice, easy fit with that analytical side of me, and that hardworking and wanting to be a good person, and the caring about people that was already there, all of those things went into me being a good family court attorney and a good family court judge for the time that I was doing that. And nothing, it’s hard to see how the doors that opened to me in what I did instead would have opened had I gotten that job.
Suzie Sherman (01:11:25):
I have, regrettably or not, and I’ll just put this out there because I’ve learned through doing this podcast that just being a totally earnest person is really serving me well doing this podcast, so I’ll just throw out these two clichés, total clichés, that just came to me. One is, thinking about you moving from a legal career into a psychotherapy career, as you just described it, brought to mind the black and white to vivid color moment of Dorothy stepping into Oz.
Suzie Sherman (01:12:02):
Where it’s just, there were certain-
Suzie Sherman (01:12:02):
Suzie Sherman (01:12:03):
Where it’s just there were certain comforts of your life, being a lawyer and being a judge, and certain ways that your skills and your care for people were utilized, but once you decided to switch that path in your life and do psychotherapy, the world opened up into Technicolor.
Yep. Yep, yep.
Suzie Sherman (01:12:25):
Then the other piece that I’ve been thinking of that I’ve been sitting with as we’ve been talking, just about all of the huge events that happened in your life in those few years, and obviously as you’re describing it, and as we all experience it throughout our lives, we have these huge crisis points that change the course of our lives that generate all kinds of negative impacts, real material impacts and emotional impacts, that the beautiful trope that we’ve come up with of the phoenix rising from the ashes is also really apt because the burning down and the re-creation that comes from that, the re-creation that comes from the fertile ashes of all of that pain and all of that tsuris and all of that trauma can really rebirth us and make us who we are in the now.
Suzie Sherman (01:13:26):
It’s cliché as fuck, but I’m going with it.
Yeah, absolutely. It also makes me think of how many ways in which something has to completely crash and burn for me to step away from it, that if things were just a little bit better, I wouldn’t have got… like if they hadn’t tried to make me sign a statement saying I didn’t consider myself to be gay, right? If they hadn’t done that, I still would have gone to law school because I was accepted into the JAG track, but I would have become a military lawyer instead of… you know? Or so it looks, anyways. That was the only thing. That was the bridge too far. You know? I’m in the closet for you guys, but I’m not going to actually sign something that says, “I don’t consider myself to be homosexual.” That’s the line that I can’t cross.
Similarly, things could have been miserable in the relationship with my son’s other parent in a whole host of ways that I would have found a way to endure, found a way to make the best of, but I’m straight, I couldn’t get over that hurdle. You know? Similarly, without going into the details, if the relationship, which I really did need for my own growth to be out of, if that had not been so… I mean, it was a real shit show. If it had been any less of a shit show, I would have found a way to continue on in that longer, I mean, who knows how long? But it’s like, sometimes you just, unless it’s really bad, you’re not going to see what you need to see. You’re not going to make the move that you need to make. For me, anyway, it had to be that hard in order to help me to shift in a way that, looking back, I’m really grateful for.
Yeah, I’m having the interesting experience of just the relationship that I’m in now. Hopefully we can all say this about our relationships as we go, but it’s so much, qualitatively on so many fronts, so much better, and I couldn’t have been relational in this way at an earlier point in my life. I’m with someone who’s done tons of her own growth work, and we all always joke that we couldn’t have done this any sooner. If we’d met each other earlier, it would not have gone this way. You know? That’s also part of the beauty that sometimes you have a little glimmer of it would have been great to get here sooner, but also, no, we’re here now. You know? That’s where I put my attention.
Suzie Sherman (01:16:28):
For me and all the privilege and luck that I have at this moment in life of still having gainful employment for the moment during the COVID crisis and a roof over my head, and that I’m able to live with a partner who is loving to me, I’m grateful that if this crisis was going to hit just in my own personal narrative and my own personal trajectory, that it’s happened now in my late forties when I’m most content making chicken stock at home and noodling around in my podcasting studio.
Suzie Sherman (01:17:12):
It very much hit at the right moment for me. I wouldn’t have been able to cope with it if I were in my twenties or even my thirties. Probably I think it would have really altered my life in a big way. But this is a very much a function of privilege as well, of course, because I do have my needs met right now and I’m healthy for the moment. So, tell us, Shawn, about what your current projects are, and this touches a little bit into moving to the Bay Area and having your emotional world open up into Technicolor and your spiritual world open up into Technicolor, things are evolving for and your interests.
Suzie Sherman (01:17:59):
Do you want to tell us a bit about what’s going on for you now?
Yeah. I mean, including these elements that are utterly unforeseen that I would never have predicted, and the spiritual component is the last to onboard. It’s still very, very fledgling. I grew up in the Christian church, but in a very gentle form of that. The churches that my mom took us to were kind of just like one inch to the right of Unitarian Universalists, like very gentle, not super dogmatic. Nonetheless, mostly what I liked about it was singing, being in the choir and all that. There was a lot that just didn’t… even though there was nothing heavy handed in its presentation to me, it still just didn’t resonate, and I was just very naturally, or with the constellations of things that I was working with, just very agnostic. I don’t think human beings can figure it out, and that doesn’t really trouble me.
It’s more than I can grasp with my human brain, and that is what it is. That’s kind of how I went through my whole adult life, basically. And, one of the things that opened up to me in the relationship that I’m in now is that the person who I’m with has a very long history in a community of people here in the Bay Area that study energy work of various kinds. When we first met, one of the things she was talking about was actually the Reichian personality patterns or character styles, and Wilhelm Reich is this person that’s in the lineage of psychoanalytic psychotherapy, and also somatics and energy work and lots of things. So, there was an immediate overlap between the world of psychology and this world of energy work.
I wanted to have a shared language of talking about these things with my partner. So, I took the introductory class in this community, which is a two year commitment, and that opened the door to some shamanic practice stuff, which I won’t describe in a ton of detail, but I feel like it’s done in a way that’s respectful, a kind of core shamanism way where it’s specifically teachings that are meant to be available to everyone, with the idea kind of like we need all the help we can get here, regaining the sense of human beings as part of the interconnected web of everything and not standing apart from it. But as a result of that, I just got exposed to a whole bunch of teachings and experiences that I wouldn’t otherwise have had.
It’s allowed me to have different conversations with clients of mine that relate to that sort of thing, and, yeah, just brought me to different teachers. There’s a variety of ways in which I integrate that into my psychotherapy practice. It’s led me to be percolating now for three to four years on some kind of project to try to reach more people than I can reach in a psychotherapy practice without positioning myself as someone who is really a teacher yet of these things or is some sort of expert on them. It’s very near to launch. I think it’s coalescing in a project that I’m calling Your Fellow Traveler, which is going to be really a set of tools, mostly guided meditation style tools that I am recording for use in my own practice, but then also making it available to other folks. I’ll have some stuff that’s available to everybody through SoundCloud, and then I think I’m going to use the Ko-Fi platform to make a subscription service that’ll have a sliding scale that people set themselves based on their economic stability.
The tools come from all the places, from meditation teachers, from psychology, from core shamanism, from the energy classwork that I did, some exposure to something called Diamond Approach, which I think has a lot of cool stuff and isn’t quite a full fit for me. Someone named Judith Blackstone who does something called the Realization Process, which I also find really interesting. So, I’m kind of pulling pieces and Reichian breath work and body work. It’s a very eclectic, maybe integrated is the word that people use these days. Yeah. Just kind of the things that I’m finding useful and finding a way to share those with other people, whoever finds them useful in whatever way they find them useful. That’s kind of what’s… alongside (therapy) practice, which is still very full-time for me, I’m looking to build that out and to make it available to people. I’m hoping by the time this airs, I’ll have a link that you can share for that.
Suzie Sherman (01:23:39):
Will do. For sure.
Suzie Sherman (01:23:40):
Well, Shawn, it has been an absolute pleasure to talk to you. I feel like we’re done. I wonder if there’s something that we didn’t touch on that you’d like to emphasize or revisit.
Yeah. There actually is something which is the sort of hidden cornerstone of it all in my psyche, which I touched on it a little bit, which is my experience as an adoptee. I think we’re in an exciting time in understanding the experience of adoptees, and so I think I would love to have a moment to just talk about that. When I talk about how emotionally shut down I was and how oriented I was to external cues about what does it mean to be a good person, that really stems from that original mystery of why am I not with the person whose body I grew inside of.
The most sort of intensely cathartic moments, the cracking open moments that I’ve had have actually been related to that, making contact with that overwhelming grief. It’s like when I made contact with it, it was shocking in a really beautifully cathartic way, but it really gave me this realization that my entire emotional system was built around keeping me away from making contact with that overwhelming loss. It was so effective that I did not know it was there. It’s kind of a shocking experience because what is there is so profound, is so intense.
Suzie Sherman (01:25:37):
If you were able to let it in at an earlier point in your life and your development, that realization could totally be shattering.
Yeah. I mean, it would have blown my circuits, I’m sure. You know?
Suzie Sherman (01:25:52):
Yeah. Your defenses, your coping mechanisms, your emotional structure protected you from that.
Suzie Sherman (01:26:00):
For a long time, a really long time.
Suzie Sherman (01:26:04):
And still probably are operating. Right?
Oh, absolutely. I mean, I will be working with that all of my life. You know?
Suzie Sherman (01:26:14):
It’s probably still not commonly understood that what happens to you in utero and in those first weeks of your life can have a profound, profound impact that will follow you. I mean, god, thinking about what has been happening at the border and the separations and all of that, it’s the impact on all of those lives is you can’t do it justice with words. What’s been happening in the world of adoptee knowledge is just to be able bring that in, that even when everyone would agree it was the best path for all of these lives involved for it to go this way, and in my life, that’s really clearly true. I know enough about the actual events and lives that were involved, in no way do I wish I had not been adopted. And, the impact on me as an infant of going from the person whose body I grew inside of to one foster care to a second foster care and then into the family at about age three weeks, which is really a very short period of time in the world of adoptee experiences, that experience underpins my entire life in such a profound way.
To recognize the grief that has to be processed and the inexplicable mystery it is to a baby to go through that experience, there’s been so much, and still is. I mean, there’s lots of folks that can’t make room for that. The idea that this is a grievous loss in addition to whatever gain it might be, but it needs room and it needs attending to, and that, for me, it’s really clear that that was the driver. The family that I landed in and their terrain and all of that compounds or allays certain aspects, but that is the pivotal experience for me, and it’s also a story of all those lives of things not going according to plan. You know? I was not expected to be conceived and it was not at all clear where I was going initially. So, twists and turns from the very beginning.
Suzie Sherman (01:28:46):
Your very being didn’t go as planned.
Suzie Sherman (01:28:53):
You’re speaking of it as a, and it is, a grievous loss that you have to process through many, many layers and years, and it’s a lifelong process to be able to hold that and stay integrated and stay whole in yourself to be able to process that. Also, on the other side of that loss is, I imagine, and I’m speaking just as a person whose father died when I was two. Right? So, I have also a very core, a little bit later developmentally.
Suzie Sherman (01:29:31):
But a very core loss that I’ve had to process lifelong in my life. Right? Which is, I think, the other side of that is the reckoning with this idea, and this is very different for someone who was adopted, very different and very similar in a certain way, which is that sense of, “Why me? Why did this happen to me?”
Suzie Sherman (01:29:56):
Was there something intrinsic about me that was repellent? Was there something intrinsic about me that was unwanted? Yeah, that irrational sense of, for me, I think more irrational, the sense of abandonment as if my father had any control over his death.
Suzie Sherman (01:30:19):
For you to have to hold that piece of it as well, not the loss, not just the loss part of it, but the being cast out part of it.
Yeah. Yeah. The why did this happen? Right? In some way, you’re confronted with that mystery as this young, young being. Again, we don’t just let it sit. “Oh, I don’t know. I have no idea. Maybe I’ll figure it out later.” We don’t do that. We’re just like, “Well, I need a narrative, so I’m going to provide one with the building blocks I have available to me.” As a young nervous system and a young mind, that takes you to, “It must be something about me.” That can be so buried, but yet it’s pulling the strings behind the scene.
Suzie Sherman (01:31:03):
Do you have a sense of what it’s given you to be more emotionally in touch with that core loss?
Yes. I think it’s allowed me to attend to it. This is the world of inner kid work in its various forms, but that has been powerful for me to think of there as being that infant still inside of me, and to attend to her, and the spiritual work and the shamonic work has given me the thought of a circle of grandmothers who is there with that baby whenever I can’t be directly there with her. It was a long time of doing that work before one day I realized that that baby was just frozen in there, that, oh, she never opened her eyes. She never moved. It was after that that I brought in the circle of grandmothers and began giving more attention in a different way.
We all have these parts of self, and I think I lived my life through a couple of kind of forward facing, speaking of earnest and doing good parts of self that I thought of as me, the whole me, and that making available the connection to these youngest parts of me has been part of opening up that full technicolor repertoire of emotional experience and of connection to myself and integration within myself. I think I’m a much more integrated person than I was at any earlier time in my life. There aren’t parts of me that are… well, I’m sure there still are, but big parts that are inaccessible to me or that aren’t available in the relationship with my partner. I’m much more coherently multifaceted than I was. I was much more two dimensional back when I was dealing with the aftermath of the fountain experience, for example. Yeah. Yeah.
Suzie Sherman (01:33:15):
Thank you for bringing that piece of you here with me and with us.
Suzie Sherman (01:33:26):
Wow. I loved that conversation. I feel like Shawn articulated the very raison d’être of this podcast when she said “It’s our human way to make a big story out of everything that puts our present moment as the finish line.” That just blew my mind. I often think about it as a looking back to glean perspective, but there’s so much we can do right here and now to remember that our thoughts and our feelings and our unforeseen experiences will continue to evolve from this present moment. If you’re interested in the therapeutic tools that Shawn mentioned in the episode that she was going to make available for folks, you can find her on the Ko-Fi platform, which is spelled K O dash F I, her moniker there is Your Fellow Traveler. She recommends starting with her public post titled Round One, Part 1. I’ve made a short link for that page. It’s bit.li/round1part1, bit dot L Y slash round, the number 1, part, the number 1, bit.ly/round1part1. The link will also be in the show notes for this episode.
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The banana peel is by Max Ronnersjö, music is by Jon Schwartz. Thanks everybody. We’ll talk soon…unless, you know, the lucky fountain has other plans for me.