Full show notes: http://www.adopteeson.com/listen/103
Episode Transcription by Fayelle Ewuakye. Find her on Twitter at @FayelleEwuakye
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Haley - You’re listening to Adoptees On, the podcasts where adoptees discuss the adoption experience. I’m your host Haley Radke, and this is a special episode in our Healing Series, where I interview therapists who are also adoptees themselves, so they know from personal experience, what it feels like to be an adoptee. Today we tackle implicit memory. Let’s listen in.
Haley - I’m so pleased to welcome back to Adoptees On, Dr. Julie Lopez! Welcome Julie!
Julie - Thanks so much for having me!
Haley - I’m so excited to chat with you again! I just finished reading your brand new book, which is amazing. And I want, oh I’m so excited. I really want adoptees to read it. And I’m just gonna like, go off a little bit on it, sorry. But it’s so, you speak so kindly to adoptees, you’re so gentle about our stories and the pain that we have. And yet it’s not like, strictly for adoptees. And you talk about implicit memory which is what you’re gonna teach us about today and all the ways we can access it, and you’ve taught us before about brainspotting on the show. And you talk about a couple of other techniques that we’re familiar with a little bit, EMDR and neurofeedback. But you’re book is so easy to understand, but it’s not like dumbed down or simplified. You just have a really accessible way of describing these very important ideas and scientifically proven techniques to the reader. So I’m just so grateful, thank you. Thank you for writing it. And I’m excited to learn more from you today.
Julie - Thank you so much! I’m really excited to share this. It’s very near and dear to my heart as an adoptee, as a healer, as someone who is very committed to understanding my life and the different things that have been challenging for me. And I guess it’s been two and a half decades of really immersing myself in this world of psychology and emotional health and wellness and wellbeing. And to be able to share about implicit memory, it’s not a mainstream word, most people, even in thinking about the title of the book, I wanted people to pick it up and read it. It’s called Live Empowered, but it really is a primer and a resource guide on implicit memory. Because especially for us adoptees, a lot of the things that are challenging or puzzling, can be found in a very understandable way, and compassionate way in the coding in our implicit memory. And coding, I mean C-O-D-I-N-G. The rules and messages that are deep in our unconscious that drive how we feel, what we do, how our body behaves.
Haley - And you call it, I love this, the brain’s hidden control panel.
Julie - Yes, that’s my metaphor. It’s my metaphor to make something that’s super complicated and complex, more simplified, conceptually. Because it’s, you know way more complicated than our most sophisticated supercomputers. But it holds these many layers of codes, that then inform what our bodies do. So a hidden control panel felt right. A lot of really intelligent, smart, brilliant people want to have control over that. And they wanna control it with the front part of their brain, this analytical intelligent part of their brain. And it just doesn’t work that way. It’s the land of sensory input, visceral data, sight, sound, smell, codes that tell us to have our heart beat faster, or have our throat close up. You know, I could go on and on I'm sure we’ll get more into that. But as a concept, it’s super important in terms of making substantive changes in our lives. For adoptees or otherwise. But I did make special mention in every chapter about the adoptee experience.
Haley - And you even in your dedication, may I read it? It’s really powerful.
Julie - Yeah. Don’t read it too slow, I’ll start crying.
Haley - I’ve had it up here because I wanted to read it in your episode, and every time I do, it is kind of moving. It’s not kind of moving, it is moving. I’ve felt, I’ve felt the tears well up. And these are your words, ok. “This book is dedicated to my people. Not those of my heritage, but rather those without say or consent on the drastic U-turns of their lives. U-turns that cause invisible ruptures, but countless visible symptoms.” So, I love that you wrote with us in mind. So let’s go to implicit memory versus explicit memory. What’s the difference and just give us like a super basic primer so we can kind of see where we’re going here.
Julie - Yeah, so explicit memory are the things that we remember. They have a time stamp, say oh yeah, remember that time when I was five, and I went to the candy store and got a lollipop. And it’s concrete, and it’s specific. Implicit memory is stored in a different part of the brain and an umbrella term is in the unconscious, but there are actually three different types of implicit memory. But implicit memory doesn’t have a time stamp on it, and it’s not encoded with sentences or linear thought. But it’s very much alive and well. And is responsible for some of our reactions to things that we’re not even tracking consciously. You might slow way way down if you’re in a meditation practice, or you’re trying to be more mindful in your day to day. You might say, huh, I was feeling really well until I stepped into this store. And I’m not sure why, but I’m starting to feel lightheaded and it could be that something in the store, a sense that you took in, something you saw or something you heard reminded your system of something else that was familiar. And this is all outside your conscious thought. And those sensations then elicit a whole host of experiences and you don’t know why. So let me see if I can give an actual example. So if you see a friend who says, I really wanna be in an intimate relationship, I really want a life partner. And they say that and they believe that and they want that consciously. But every time they start to get close to someone, or they start to feel connected, there could be a code within their system that says, vulnerability or intimacy equals heartbreak. Now I’m telling you this in a linear format for the purposes of the podcast, but it’s not actually even encoded that way. Their system starts to feel vulnerable, so then a whole fleet of protective mechanisms start to come online within our systems and we find ourselves avoiding time with someone that we’re getting close to, or we find ourselves sidestepping or even unconsciously sabotaging something that’s really important. And so this is why implicit memory becomes really significant for creating bounty in our lives. Because if you can start to find those codes, there actually are more sophisticated ways of changing them.
Haley - I love that you explained it that way. Because it’s so, I don’t even know how to describe it. But it’s so frustrating to think of all these repeated patterns that we have and often we don’t even realize it. You know and so especially adopted people, right? We have all these things. Even the relationship sabotage one that you mentioned. Just being worried that you’re gonna be hurt or rejected is a huge piece for us. Because we started out that way. And how do you come to realize that this is a pattern in your life when these things that you’re doing to sabotage are unconscious?
Julie - Right and so a lot of times, people come to those because they’re doing deeper personal work. It could be with a therapist, it doesn’t have to be. You know, it could be that you’re reading a self-help book and you’re committed to journaling, and you're looking at your patterns to start to gather clues of gosh like, huh, I keep doing this thing over and over and over again, it’s very mysterious to me. Because it’s not what I actually want or believe, but yet I keep doing it. And so this is one of the reasons why I'm really passionate about implicit memory is that, it’s one thing to understand intellectually and analytically, that I might have struggles with rejection and be like, yeah, that makes sense, okay, I can understand that. I don’t consciously feel it, but yet here I am, doing these actions, over and over again, and if I piece it all together, it does seem like I have some kind of struggles there, something that you know, makes me behave in a way that doesn’t lead to what I want, right? With the example of the relationship. Well it’s one thing to do that. It’s another thing to actually change the codes, right? So that as I get close, my throat doesn’t close up, or I'm not actually taking the actions because that code that told my body to do this thing outside of my consciousness is no longer activated. And that’s what’s so cool to me about implicit memory.
Haley - So normally, we might, if we see that pattern, we might try talk therapy for that. But like, that doesn’t necessarily work. So why not?
Julie - Well, it works for the analytical part of it. And it might actually work to learn and educate and start to get more grounded in the bigger picture of what your goals might be for therapy. But to change codes in implicit memory, you cannot do it verbally. It just doesn’t work that way. It’s like speaking a different language. It would be like me trying to speak to someone whose language is Chinese and I just am getting louder and louder in English. And the person who doesn’t speak English does not compute what I'm saying. So when you go down the path of doing all the analytics, that has a place and it has a value and it certainly can be very validating and grounding. But to actually change codes, you’ve gotta have other types of inputs, either through the body or through your senses to give a different belief system in a substantive cellular way to those codes in the implicit memory.
Haley - So in your book, you kinda talk about weaving those together, right? Like talk therapy for figuring out what’s sort of happening and then what are the, what are some of the available ways to access that code?
Julie - Oh my gosh, there’s so many. I use example, because there’s a lot of storytelling in my book, right? There’s a lot of stories that illustrate how it can work and what the difference is between knowing something intellectually versus knowing something in a more visceral, sensory way, in the way that you would know in your implicit memory. And so you know, there are three things that I've been trained in, that are brain based therapies, it’s EMDR, brain spotting, and neuro feedback that can change some of that coding. But those are by no means the only ways to change that. And I have a very full appendix in the back of my book with links and websites to look at different types of nonverbal input that can change and shift implicit memory. Things ranging from mindfulness based practices, expressive therapy, so therapies that are nonverbal like, art, or music, play, dance, any type of modality that shifts you out of that analytical, verbal approach. There are a lot of body based therapeutic approaches like somatic experiencing or sensory motor psychotherapy. But the list is pretty extensive. And some of it, you know, there’s trauma sensitive yoga that can actually shift the way things are held in the body by shifting and moving the postures and the cells. So there are really a lot of ways to get at the material. I think the important thing is that you’re not gonna find great gains analytically. And this can be really frustrating, especially for people who are achievers or who are like, put my nose to the grindstone and I’m gonna get results. And it doesn’t work in that format. So I think that’s really important or something that I would want people to know who feel like a failure, like I checked all these boxes and did all these things, but I'm not actually getting the substantive results that I want.
Haley - Well one of those things I think, for adopted people specifically, is this expectation that, well once we’re in reunion with our first parents, that’s going to change things for us. Gonna answer our questions, and maybe give us some sense of grounding or like we belong and things that we might have been missing. And I've got a quote here from your book, “connecting with one’s biological parents does not change the mapping in a person’s body or undo any distressing loss stemming from relinquishment.” So can you tell us a little bit more on that? Like why that, why? Why wouldn’t that fix us?
Julie - I know, isn’t that a lovely fantasy that we’ve all, I’ve had that for sure. And I will say, because I am in reunion with my paternal and my maternal side of my family, it is grounding. I don’t even care the difficult parts, the ugly parts, the challenging parts, I appreciate all of it, because it does help me feel more grounded in my reality. But, you can’t undo the mapping that’s already been set just by that action alone. So it’s like, when we come into the world, we’re taking in data on so many different levels. Starting, well, actually infant psychologists and those who specialize in prenatal development would say we’re taking in data even while we’re in the womb, energetically. Infants don’t actually start to have concrete memory until they're three or four. But we are definitely taking in information about the world that we work in and that we live in. And so our systems are programmed to survive and if we’re taking in data that says we’re not wanted, or closeness is unsafe, or maybe even a conclusion that the way that we are gonna be safe is if we perform, just the experience of connecting with our biological families isn’t going to change the mapping that’s already been laid in and of itself. And my message is really one of hope. It can be changed, it’s just that act isn’t gonna do it because that’s an action and a present day piece of data that’s coming in and that action in and of itself isn’t gonna rewire all this data that may be foundational to the way that you’ve operated and survived in your life. And to be honest, the information we take in up til the age of 18 kind of through 25, depending on people’s developmental pace, is really foundational. So it just takes deeper work to rework some of those codes. Even with some of these more advanced approaches to working with implicit memory. And you know, that can be a bummer, because it does feel like gosh, once I find these people, whew, I’m gonna stop having nightmares. Or I'm gonna stop having this struggle with obsessive behavior or I’m gonna settle in with this anxiety or these panic attacks that I might have. And that can be really disappointing but I'm sharing it because I don’t want people to feel like they’re broken, right? Because when that doesn’t happen all of a sudden, it’s not that the reunion wasn’t good enough or that you didn’t do something well, or that ultimately gosh, I’m in reunion and I still have these problems. No, it’s that it’s stored in a different way and it takes different type of work to recode it. One of the examples I give like right from the beginning which I think is really easy to follow is that when I was in my 20s, I had a fire in my kitchen. I was cooking. I was by myself in my house, it was like the first house I’d lived in with a few friends. I was in my mid 20s. And it was a grease fire and I threw water on it. I just didn't know. And the kitchen you know, went up in flames. Basically it had exploded and it scared me a lot. And what was really frustrating for me is that, I knew that I hadn’t died. I knew I was fine, got through it. Yes we had to have some repairs and you know, there was some damage in the kitchen, but I didn’t die. But my body had taken in the sight and the sound and the smell and the terror and it stayed with me for a long time after that. And it was really frustrating. Because I wanted my body to catch with what I already knew. And I kinda illustrated a transaction I had with a friend of mine who was teasing me, because he knew I hadn’t died and he was kinda teasing me about my cooking skills or about what I did to manage the fire. And I was mean. And I didn’t like that. And I knew intellectually there was no reason for that, but my body was still on that very heightened way of being. And so some of the stuff was, part of that experience was stored in my implicit memory. And that was my introduction to some of these brain based therapies. And I think that has a parallel with the idea of reunion solving everything. Just ‘cause I knew I didn’t die, my cells and my coding inside my quote unquote hidden control panel, hadn’t caught up with that yet.
Haley - And so, you pick like, one type of therapy that you would use with a client to access that hidden control panel and kind of walk us through what that kind of looks like if we came into see you and realized that reunion didn't like, undo those little trigger things that we have.
Julie - So let’s use an example like that. Because I’ve already been on the show talking about brain spotting, I’m gonna do one where I’m using EMDR which stands for, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. And basically if it was specific about that, let’s just say someone said, you know my goal is, because I get very concrete with my goals, so that I can measure them and we make sure we’re making progress. So let’s say they said, I still would rank my anxiety level at an 8. And I'm really disappointed because I thought a lot of that was about not knowing who I am or not having these, this kind of biological mirroring among people that I know. And I would say it’s still at an 8 if not a 9, even though I'm in reunion now, I kinda thought once I settled in with the people that I’m related to, all of that would go away, so I'm frustrated. So I would start to quantify what made up their anxiety, we’d be looking at what the markers might be that showed that their anxiety had gone down. So let’s just, it’s a fictional person, let’s just say that you know, they had trouble falling asleep, they tended to be compulsive about cleaning their home and in general they felt like their heart was racing 80% of the time during the day. And so we would actually look at and work together to identify what the felt sense in their body was that was propelling all of that. And that might take a moment. Because again like the example I used earlier, where someone’s being very mindful, or they’re really slowing down, to ask themselves what’s the bigger picture, that’s a process. Because I have the benefit of the outside perspective that’s not, that’s trying to uncover what’s there in their unconscious. And I do talk about this a little bit with the PACT. In chapter 6 of my book, how you start to identify what’s there. And then we would actually use the body as an entry point. There’s a very specific protocol with EMDR, it’s an 8 phase treatment model. But for when I do work with adoptees, where I know as I get to know them that most of the material comes from an early preverbal, preconscious time period, like before they were 3 or 4, then there aren’t words that you would normally use with a normal protocol that’s gonna help get into the neural pathways and the neural networks that are holding the data. So I’d be looking more for the body. Like a felt sense, so let’s just say, in this fictitious example, this person noticed that their throat would close up or that their heart would start beating faster. So we would use that as an entry point, start doing the bilateral stimulation which is what you use with the EMDR to let the body open up that neural pathway and actually shift the way the coding is. I would, I could make up something for this fictitious client that maybe somewhere deep down in there, they feel like they're all alone. But like, dangerously all alone. Like I’m so alone, that I’m not gonna be fed or cared for, the way a baby would. Because that’s basically a death sentence for an infant, where we’re so dependent and we need the help of others and so if that’s what’s going on, we would be following that in a very nonlinear, deeper kind of cellular way until the body accessed more restorative sensory experiences to overlap with the other codes. And this may be getting to deep for all the listenership, but the bottom line is that, at the end of the processing, in a more substantive way, the body would actually have the shifts to know, what they already know to catch up with what they already know intellectually. Like I’m actually okay and I’m gonna be fine. And that could have lots of benefits in their day to day life, especially for this client, it had to do with obsessive cleaning and difficulty falling asleep, like their mind was still revving and their heart was still beating fast, because those codes control a lot of those biological responses. You know, we don’t tell our heart to beat faster, it just does it. And that’s the benefit of working more directly in implicit memory. I actually, can I tell you a story? This is highlighted in the book, but I wanna share it here because I don’t even think I share this as an adoptee story, but it was an adoptee story. And someone reading it, I think the words I used were like, she knew from her parents that some really difficult things had happened to her before the age of 2. So I wasn’t explicit with the story, but this was an adoptee client who I only saw for maybe three months. And she came in for a bunch of anxiety symptoms just like the made up scenario that I shared. And she was perfectionistic and had some social anxiety. We targeted that the same way that I just described with the EMDR. And it was awesome. First of all, she met all of her goals. All of her struggles around connecting socially or being able to have people over really dissipated. She could tolerate much more, didn’t have to be so obsessive and didn’t have a bunch of the debilitating symptoms. But what I think is really cool about our system as a whole and our brains and our bodies and how they work together, is that she had had psoriasis and had been treating it with a dermatologist for 30 years. And she would have minor abatement from time to time but nothing significant. And when we finished this work that was targeting her anxiety, her psoriasis went away. Which was so cool.
Haley - That’s amazing!
Julie - It’s an inflammatory skin condition but it went away and it was awesome.
Haley - Wow, that is quite a testimonial. It’s amazing, like you said, the implicit memory, all the things that our brain controls in the background that you’re not even thinking about, right? Like just breathing and you know.
Julie - Totally.
Haley - Our balance, our body is amazing. All the things that it’s doing at once just to keep us alive. And those little hidden things that are impacting it. Wow.
Julie - Yeah, you said something that I don’t go over in the book but is very common with people who have experienced trauma. And especially relinquishment trauma. That there’s repetitive struggles with balance. And or, you know with feeling off balance or like you're falling. And those can be treated. And I am a walking testimonial to that. Because I myself developed vertigo in my late 20s and with only a few sessions of some of these types of approaches, it went away. Completely. And that’s really debilitating. I mean, I couldn’t go up and down the escalator ‘cause I was so off kilter. And off balance. But you know, I don’t have the concrete story ‘cause it was you know really young early days, I was in an orphanage for a couple of months before I was adopted. But I can only imagine, theoretically, from what I know of infant psychology, that I probably felt very much like I was in a freefall without a real, you know not without a primary caregiver, with multiple people coming and going. And so you know, I don’t know that. I just know the theory behind it. But what I do know is that, that treatment really worked for me, in a substantive way, that changed what had turned into something very debilitating.
Haley - It feels like, miraculous. Like, I mean, it really is amazing, the results that you can get when you access this implicit memory. I'm really glad that you are teaching us these things and that you have written this book so it’s easily accessible for people to investigate further. You talk about how the brain works, you know in a biologically, and as an intro, and to help us like, kind of understand a little bit deeper. And I know we don’t have enough time for you to go into all that, but I wanna have you back. ‘Cause I wanna talk about how we can look at accessing that. And you mentioned it, the PACT method. And so we’re gonna go into that in another episode. But can you just talk, as we wrap up, about how the book is for mainstream people to understand implicit memory but you have such a heart for adoptees and you mention it multiple times in the book. I mean, you’ve got all of these examples of how adoption can impact people. And when I was reading that I was like, oh my gosh, yes, yes, it’s like so easy to understand. I mean no one can deny it when they read your book and they read those examples. But for us day to day, people deny that adoption has an impact on us all the time.
Julie - Yeah.
Haley - So can you talk about why that was so important for you to include in this?
Julie - Yes, I am so excited about that. And really want to encourage others to use this tactic to get the larger culture to change. I know there are a lot of people that are really invested in bringing awareness to the legal, ethical, emotional, psychological plight, financial plight, that our culture and our dominant narrative around adoption creates. Especially for the adoptee. And so, yeah, I feel really proud of this strategy because I ended up writing a mainstream book with the hopes that it would bring more awareness of this struggle to everyone. Because what’s happening right now is there’s so many books and resources and information that a lot of people would just not pick up because they’re not adopted or they're not part of that adoption triad. And so I’m excited that there, and I've already had people because I've had a number of advanced readers, who said I could put their thoughts into the book, who said wow, I just had no idea. And they’re like, oh my aunt did this and that, oh I wonder if this, I actually had a friend say, something in a conversation because the book, she was one of my advanced readers, it opened her eyes to some of these things. But she thought they were fictional. I said no, this is what is happening, these are real, these statistics are real, the struggles that adoptees have with mental health and with depression, you know, the overrepresentation and inpatient and suicide statistics, addiction treatment. It’s real. And so I'm really proud of that and I wanna encourage more people to think about how to weave it in so the broader public is aware of the problems with the way the system’s set up right now and the struggle that it creates for us adoptees. And frankly, you know, the biggest thing is I hate when an adoptee themselves thinks that they’re broken or that there’s something wrong with them and doesn’t understand that their body is doing the best that it can with the information it’s been given. And especially if it’s not mirrored by their family or by the people around them, back to them that they’re fine or that it makes sense if other people aren’t educated around them, it can be really dangerous. And the research shows that. So yes, I’m really excited about that, and I hope it becomes a platform for a broader audience becoming involved in changing what’s going on for us adoptees.
Haley - Wonderful, thank you. And so the book is called Live Empowered!: Rewire Your Brain’s Implicit Memory to Thrive in Business, Love, and Life. And where we can find it and where can we connect with you online?
Julie - Yeah, my website is DrJulieLopez.com and that’s D-R, doctor. And it is available for sale online at Amazon and there’s a Kindle edition and a paperback edition available. And I hope to help bring more people into the flock of understanding and celebrating all the promise that implicit memory holds for us.
Haley - Thank you, thanks so much.
Julie - Thanks for having me!
Haley - In just a couple weeks I hope to meet Dr. Julie in person. She is in Washington D.C., that’s where her practice is. I will be attending and speaking at the American Adoption Congress Conference, highlighting adoptee voices. And so if you’re coming too, I’d love to meet up with you in person. There’s a listener meetup that’s happening. And details will be over on the Adoptees On Facebook page as to where and when. So go on over to that and RSVP, I’d love to say hi to you in person. And just really, really excited. That’s one of my most favorite things is meeting other adoptees in person. And I wanna say a big thank you to my monthly supporters and I have a new, amazing, another podcast! Adoptees Off Script. And it’s available to Patreon supporters every week. I have another adoptee guest on the show and we talk about things that we might not talk about on the public feed for anyone to hear, but for our monthly supporters. Yeah, we dish. So I’d love to have you as a monthly supporter and that is my gift to you as a thank you. If you go to AdopteesOn.com/partner there are details of how you can access that Adoptees Off Script podcast. Thanks so much for listening, let’s talk again next Friday.