Monday, July 24, 2023

Adoption Series: Psychodrama, thrown plates and the death of a Koi

Read Time: 5 minutes

He threw the first plate, and it hit the floor, exploding like a shotgun blast. Fear shot through my chest, and I froze.


Over my fifty-plus-year career, I’ve worked as an employee, manager, and owner. I’ve been an illustrator, designer, salesman, strategist, and marketer. And I’ve managed others in those roles. I’ve worked as a consultant inside global corporations and as an outside adviser to people in large and small businesses. Along the way, I’ve had remarkable successes and painful failures.

For the last fifteen-plus years, I’ve worked as an adviser to creatives. As an adviser, I’ve realized that I, too, need to know more about myself and why I am the way I am. Both are why I’m so good at some things and weak in others. To help, I engaged a therapist and spent hundreds of hours intensively focused on gaining self-awareness. It worked, and I feel not only more secure in my self-knowledge but also much better at understanding and helping my clients.

But I have more inner work to do. I’ve learned that group work provides insights beyond those gained through individual therapy, so I attended a day-long psychodrama session with a small group.

Becoming the protagonist

An edginess, instead of the calm I had experienced all morning, came over me. I ran through my mental list of challenges and found nothing new or pressing. I couldn’t fathom what was so unexpectedly troubling, given an experience that seemed to be going so smoothly. I heard my heart, though, stomping away in my chest like an army on the march. And I could smell my own body odor. What’d Robin call it? “Feeling sweat.”

I stepped outside to examine my apprehension, even panic. Feeling a touch of shame with my deodorant not up to the task. The trees were moving softly in the breeze. That was calming. I had no agenda other than the effort at hand. I knew what fear felt like; this was different.

Back inside, Bob asked me if I was ready to be the protagonist.

I said, “yes,” but I had my doubts.

He took my hand and said, “let’s walk together.” And we began to walk around the room in the circle defined by the others.

I felt my unease increase with holding his hand, then decrease as we walked. Not knowing where to start, I asked, “what do you want to know?” He asked me a question, which I don’t remember. I do remember thinking the plate-breaking scene was a life-turning point, so I pulled it up from the deep place where I hide things and remembered the experience. I must have been four, about to turn five, when my adoptive father began to break plates.

Experience renews memory

It was dim in the dining room, where I played under the table with my little men, when the first plate hit the floor. I liked sliding my little men down the formal table’s gently curving, dark wood legs. The legs had little metal caps that protected their toes. Were they brass? Maybe.

The kitchen was brightly lit. The light flooding through the open doorway cast shadows across my hideaway under the table as Dad’s voice grew louder. My imaginary world vanished with the fear of what Dad might do next. Mother stepped forward and closed the swinging door between us as Dad threw the second plate on the floor. And then the third. The plates exploded on the floor, and I heard the shards hitting the stove and the fridge.

That violent sound triggered my rise from hands and knees to running for the stairs and up into my bedroom on the second floor. Thinking, “I’ve got to get out of here. My bedroom isn’t safe. Not far enough away. But there’s no other place to go.” Onto my bed, pillow over my head, arms holding it tight. The rough wool blanket pressed against my cheek. I can still hear him breaking plates. Maybe he will sense my fear and stop knowing how much it scared me. I didn’t feel like crying, only about running away. My pillow blotted out the world outside but not the terror inside me.


The Psychodrama helped me see my young, frightened self. I revisited the fear and remembered my reactions. I also could see my adoptive parents’ reactions anew; my father’s rage and my mother’s effort to contain it. I don’t remember anyone ever speaking to me about the event then or later in life.

Recalling childhood pain in a supporting environment helped me understand where my avoidance of painful emotions came from. Then, no one cared about my emotional life. Today, when I search internally for reactions to my feelings, I can be guided by their reality and act on them. That’s been a massive change for me.

Here’s an example. My Grandson Bo noticed that one of Koi had died in our pond. These beautiful fish are over twenty years old. I was stricken with grief. I’ve felt an enormous responsibility for the Koi since moving here and inheriting them from the former owners.

I felt impelled to get this painful incident pushed away as quickly as possible.

My son, Eric, suggested that we bury the Koi in our garden, but with me being deep in my avoidance of pain mode, I overruled his suggestion and put the Koi into our garden waste recycling bin. I did honor him with a bed and blanket of leaves.

Not sleeping well that night, I realized I was deeply saddened. Sad to lose his ancient, beautiful self. Sad for his pond mates who’d swam with him his whole life. Sad that Bo, Eric, and my wife Robin had all experienced his death. We’d found him together, and we’d all loved and enjoyed him and his pond mates over the last two years.

When I woke up the following day, I realized that Eric had the right idea and that burying him in the garden above the pond would give him the honor his life deserved. And so we did. Together, Robin and I buried him in a spot overlooking the pond.

The event helped me see once again that feelings expressed and fully acted on can keep me from experiencing the lingering pain that avoidance has long caused me.

The psychodrama I attended was hosted by Bob and Marianne Shapiro. It was an all-day event I was one of seven participants. You can learn more about them and their practice here:


  • Ted, this is such a touching, courageous and generous story to share. I applaud you for doing so. The timing is uncanny as I grapple with my own pain, both past and present. It’s all very relatable. Thank you for this unexpected gift. ~ Keith

    • Ted says:

      Thanks, Keith, Well, you make a good point. I think the “grappling” is where we have a chance to figure out who and what we are!

  • Joanie Rehn says:

    Ted – Thank you for sending this my way. Your writing was deeply felt and inspiring. I think we can all relate to the loss you shared and your quest towards light and hope, something I strive for in my own life.

    • Ted says:

      Thanks so much for your comment, Joanie. Yes, I’m hoping to learn from these experiences. And I find that writing about them helps me understand and put some perspective on them. A process I know you are using effectively too.

  • Rob Lancaster says:

    Ted, what a touching letter.

  • Kris says:

    I wondered how you survived my uncle. Kind of like surviving my dad. Never to late to find peace.

    • Ted says:

      Thanks, Kris. They were mean. Both of them. Somehow damaged a long time ago. And they took it out on their wives and children. I’m in the process of writing a book for adoptees. The breaking plates piece will be chapter. I’m exploring why I am the way I am with the hope that it will help others think about their own past and how it has shaped them.

  • Margaret Brooks says:

    Ted, I truly believe that children only know what they are taught. They come into this world with a blank slate. Whatever will be written on that slate is what they will remember, be it kindness and caring or anger and hostilities. It must be brought into view that the same was for the parents and their parents, generation to generation and that cycle must be broken. Hopefully, there is just one somebody who can hold out a hand to rescue the child.

    • Ted says:

      Thank you Maggie. I agree. And many people have helped me from my earliest days. I learned through therapy, that without the kindness and love I received from my foster mother during the first five months of my life, things would would have been very different for me. I don’t know her. I have know way to thank her. But I can repay her by knowing what she did for me and by passing it along through the love and care of others.

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