Adoptees and Codependency

OK, let me rephrase that…ME and codependency. ¬†I can’t speak for other adoptees, although I know from listening to many of you that you struggle with the same things.

From Unwelcome Inheritance by Lisa Sue Woititz and the late Dr. Janet G. Woititz (I didn’t mention on my last post that she is the founder and author of Adult Children of Alcoholics so she has some cred, ūüėČ ) — she’s quoting Melody Beattie from Codependent No More:

A codependent person is one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.

also (her own words, no longer quoting the other book):

This is the nature of codependency, where a person is so preoccupied with the other that they are distracted from their own life.

Let me preface my thoughts by saying I am the adult (adopted) child of an adult child of an alcoholic, who may or may not be an alcoholic in his own right…I still haven’t figured that one out. My adoptive mother is definitely codependent, well, when she’s not waffling between that and stonewalling hostility.

Soooo…I may have picked up a lot of these behaviors not due to adoption but because of my home life.

But I think adoption played a huge part and here’s why — the adoptee as an infant and child has a biological drive to be kept, or die. Paraphrasing Paul Sunderland, they are thinking “what does a person have to do to get on around here…I’ll do that” and “that was traumatic, I’m bloody well not going to let that happen again.”

If codependency is a preoccupation with what others want to the point that their own lives get pushed back, I think adoptees fit the bill.  It would take a very special, highly aware parent to even notice this was happening, let alone try to stop it.  Adoptees often morph their behavior to please their parents, cater to their parents needs over their own.

In my own life, I was a super good girl. Any time my parents were mad at me, I was in a total panic and truly felt like I was going to die. ¬†My parents derided me for being so sensitive, but shoot…who wouldn’t cry if you were worried that the C you got on your report card might just be that final thing that got you sent packing. ¬† It definitely wasn’t a conscious thought, “I’m going to die” but looking back I can remember how my body would react. ¬†Severe anxiety, heart pounding, that feeling like your going to wet your pants. ¬†I thought that was just how people felt when their parents got “that look in their eye” but I don’t think all children feel that way now!

So of course I didn’t WANT to feel that way and walked on eggshells around my parents to avoid it. I was obsessed with their behavior, I was codependent. Since it was since I was a tiny baby, my sense of self is nil, I’m always just “whatever the other person wants.”

Unfortunately I’ve taken this into many other relationships. ¬†Trying to climb out of that mess now.

Do you feel this way as an adoptee?

Your Fault

(Warning – sexual assault triggers and book spoiler alert)

“It’s a catch-22,” she says. “You don’t want to think something as violent and horrible as a rape¬†is out of your control. If it’s out of your control, it could happen again, couldn’t it? So you tell yourself you were in control. You’re the one who caused it. You went down the wrong alley, or trusted the¬†wrong guy, or you weren’t wearing your lucky socks. That’s why it happened.” …

“But then,” Jen says, “if you make what happened your fault, what can you do with all the disgust and anger you feel? All that negativity turns inward. Because if you were in control — if you’re the one who didn’t stop it — then the rape must be your fault.”

Your fault, says the voice in my head. Your fault!

~~ from Elena Vanishing by Elena Dunkle

Replace “rape” with any trauma. Let’s say…relinquishment. ¬†ALL kids naturally make what is happening around them into something about them, even more so with trauma. ¬†So you don’t want to think that something as awful as your whole family abandoning you as out of your control, because if you have control it is less likely to happen again (i.e. because it was “your fault” and “you won’t let that happen again”). ¬†So you make sure to cover all your bases and stay in control, become extremely people pleasing….because hey, people stay with people who meet all their needs, right?

But being abandoned by your entire family is a traumatic and, well, honestly deplorable thing (no matter how society tries to paint it into being selfless gift…I mean seriously, no one in my large, loving extended family could have stepped up and made it so a tiny baby didn’t have to be left with a series of strangers forever? No one?)¬†So what do you do with that terror, anger, shame, and disgust at the situation? ¬†You turn it inward, since if you were in control, it must be your fault.

Bad baby. Bad baby. ¬†It’s no wonder nobody wants you.

Dear ones, if you are reading this and feel this way, I am SO SORRY.  And, I get it.

I don’t have answers. Those tapes that play in our heads can be so loud. ¬†With no pre-trauma personality to fall back on, it is all we know.

Know this:
I care.
I get it.
It is not your fault.
My hands are holding yours
and you are not alone in this.

Baby Girl Vanished

I’m almost finished reading Elena Vanishing by Elena Dunkle and her mother Clare Dunkle. ¬†(I know how it turns out because I just finished the mother’s book that tells it from her perspective). It’s a memoir of a girl struggling with anorexia.

(((SPOILER ALERT!!! But I’ll try to be somewhat vague))

I’ve just reached the part where she realizes that a trauma that occurred in her life at 13 really *was* a catalyst of her descent into anorexia. ¬†Until that time (I think it’s about 7 years later) she blamed many other things.

The title “Elena Vanishing” not only refers to her getting thinner, but also how her personality, the Elena that she really was pre-trauma, disappeared until she was a shell.

The realization I mentioned above seemed to be instrumental in her getting a handle on her anorexia. She was able to remember who she was and revisit this person and somewhat piece her back together. She had memories of love and connection and a strong life force.

This, my dear readers, is to me one of the most difficult and terrifying parts of being an adoptee …let me rephrase that, being an adoptee out of the fog of denial.¬†¬†(I know many adoptees who swear there is nothing wrong but hold their lives together with a super tight obsessive control of the details of their days, or in any number of other ways. “Oh, I’m just a control freak, that’s all…” Yeah, right.)

The adoptee who feels like an alien, who feels like a piece of driftwood, a pulled up sapling in a forest of deeply rooted people, one forever treading water…the adoptee given up early on in life has no pre-trauma personality.

That “shell” that Elena became after trauma? It’s all we know. ¬†We feel not just vanishing…but vanished. There’s no “me” to look back on to put the pieces back together.

I have a theory that so many adoptees contemplate or attempt suicide to put to rights that cognitive dissonance that occurs when they realize that they feel dead inside, a shell of a person. ¬†They want to make it whole again…either all alive (but how, when no one gets us and screams at us to be thankful for how we feel??) or all dead. ¬†(Dear readers, please please get help if this is you…)


I wrote this post, like I said, before finishing the whole book. In the last few pages, it was revealed…

(SPOILER ALERT! ūüôā ¬†)

…that her mother almost died in childbirth and was unavailable to really parent much for an ¬†amount of time as she recovered. ¬†The therapist in the book suggested that Elena’s mean¬†“inner voice” was actually something that took over when her mother was unavailable, and that once her mother was “back” that Elena had, as a tiny baby, decided she “didn’t need her” , became hypervigilant, because she had gotten along without her and, I’m adding, she didn’t want that abandonment to happen again!

So that kind of pokes a hole in my using this book as an example of a pre-trauma personality for this post, because her initial trauma WAS at birth, with another trauma later. I’m keeping it though, because while my example may be flawed, I’m sure if I had time I could find another book or story with a correct example. ¬†Plus, the rest of the book makes sense in light of our abandonment issues, and is a good example of those.

A strange occurance

(first published Feb 2012)

Today I got an email notification that there was a new comment on a post from another blog I had subscribed to almost year ago. “Amy has posted a new comment” it said. ¬†Well, the Amy was me, and it wasn’t a new comment, it was my one and only comment on that post. ¬†Feeling there are no coincidences when weird things like this happen, I decided to re-read the post and blog about it.

The blog talks often about attachment, particularly in a Catholic context. I knew if I had subscribed to the comments, it must have been a post that particularly resonated with me. Too bad there was no new comment, just my humble mumblings! ¬†Here is the part from the post that really hit at the heart of what I think is going on with me still. ¬†I don’t know how to climb out by myself, and I don’t have time or resources (i.e. childcare, etc) to find a therapist that could deal *well* with me on this. ¬†Seriously, a therapist that is versed in attachment and would understand a Catholic mom of many and what that entails? Fuggedaboutit.

So here’s the quote (bolding mine)

Another very significant way in which a child may become imprisoned within himself is through the shame that is the terrible consequence of toxic rupture.A toxic rupture occurs when the child experiences himself as rejected by his primary attachment figures (parents, older siblings, extended family members, teachers, coaches, parish priests, etc.) and must retreat to deep within himself to hide what is valuable and vulnerable. This is a prison of abject loneliness where he has locked himself away to defend against the onslaught of an affront to his littleness that is too much to bear. When these kinds of ruptures occur too frequently, a child can soon become imprisoned for life within a dark, small, empty cell that even he eventually forgets. Hidden from the light of day for too long, maturation and development into a healthy, holy adult is stunted. So long as he remains in this prison he will never know joy, peace or love. But a merciful visitation after such a rupture, a humble reconciliation, can free the child from this prison of isolation so that he can re-enter society and grow in knowledge and virtue.

Not to beat a dead horse (LOL isn’t that what this blog is all about?) but my life was one toxic rupture after another. My biological parents, my foster parents (yes, I was young, but still…)…then my parents’ parenting style involved giving me the cold shoulder when I did something they didn’t like, even if they told me it was OK first, even if it was out of my control. ¬†Love ya Mom and Dad, but that parenting style really wrecked havoc on a sensitive, young adoptee. ¬†I remember the *one time* my mom really and truly sympathized with me after some high school friends were cruel; it was such a balm to my soul I can recall it clearly to this day.

I was the kind of introverted kid who only had one or two good friends at a time, but I gave them my heart. ¬†For some reason, God only knows, those few friends also had a “weird” style of showing friendship…I guess like children and especially girls are wont to do — they would stop talking to me for weeks at a time, for no reason I could discern. ¬†Then “come back” to friendship like nothing had happened. ¬†Most other friends have fallen away as our beliefs diverged – it seems like nobody likes a Cruchy Con like another crunchy con – and I didn’t befriend those growing up (because I didn’t know ANY, lol).

These things taught me to ALWAYS guard my heart, to ALWAYS walk on eggshells. ¬†My husband (SAINT, I tell ya!!) will attest to this. Almost 18 years of marriage and I still only barely trust him. Which grieves him greatly, I know, but I don’t know HOW to trust. ¬†We were married when I was 25, so I’ve had 25 years of “weird parenting/friendships” to get over, and only 18 years of marriage to make up for it. Maybe when we’ve hit our silver anniversary things will change. Hope springs eternal. ūüėČ

The above quote talks about how to remedy it in a child. I wonder if there is a fix in an adult who is long past ¬†the damaging events, long past the days when growing up is one’s job. ‘Cause the pain is still there.

Perfect love casts out fear…

(first published Aug 2007)

I’ve been thinking today about love and fear, and how that plays into my relationships with my family and friends.

It’s my guess that many adoptees (or at least those with any “issues”), whether they realize it or not, are living from a position of fear rather than love.

Let’s face it. You know deep down that the person who should have loved you the most, the woman that conceived you and carried you in her womb for nine months, was able to walk away from you and give you to someone else. My adoption was through an agency, so I feel like I wasn’t even given to a hand-picked couple like you can do now, I was simply left to the agency…hopefully they had someone who wanted me.

If that person who should have loved you so much was just able to leave “like that” – what is to stop anybody else from leaving for any little reason?? (I hear birthmothers groaning all over the country – I know in my head it isn’t anything “just like that” – but my heart still aches and growing up you really don’t understand just how hard it might have been for the birthmother)

As with other adoptees, I think I put up walls from an early age to avoid getting hurt again. I *seemed* (and still seem) to be a totally well adjusted adoptee. Smart, friendly, a good daughter, a good wife. It belies that fact that I often feel totally dead inside…empty. There is little love. There is fear. Fear that no matter how much I did, how perfect I was, how good my grades were or how well behaved I was – everyone could just pull the rug out from under me at any time and say, “You know, this isn’t what we bargained for, we’ve changed our minds.”

It’s funny (in a dreadful sort of way, lol) that as a child, you think that if that happens you will be left totally alone, to be eaten by wolves or something. Maybe in my heart I knew that was the equivalent of finding out I was not loved, again. Maybe it didn’t matter than in my head I knew there would be another family out there to take care of me again. Who cares when you “know” you are unlovable?

I know my adoptive parents parenting style had something to do with this fear – if I screwed up, they stopped talking to me. And usually it was things beyond my control, or just a misunderstanding, or something where one parent said one thing and the other one freaked out because of it. I apparently had the power, by simply making unintentional mistakes (no outright defiance, mind you, I didn’t *do* that) to make them stop loving me.

Let’s fast forward to today, so I can someday make my point in this post! ūüėČ I have a problem, as I think I have mentioned, of being the martyr with my family. I sacrifice and sacrifice, and when no one else wants to sacrifice with me, get upset and cry and feel sorry for myself – and feel like nobody cares, nobody *really* loves me. I don’t expect thanks, I just expect them to *also* want to sacrifice for MY greater good just like I am doing for them.

Here’s what got me thinking of this today. I was putting away laundry. For some reason my usually sane husband now likes his underwear folded in his drawer. ūüėČ I have been perfectly happy throwing it all in a lump in the drawer like I do with my own. But he has been bitten by the decluttering and straightening bug (my fault!) and he likes the look of his neat “drawers drawer” now. ūüôā So I was folding them and putting them in the drawer today, thinking, “I am doing this against what *I* would prefer to do, and doing it out of love.”

Then I really stopped to think. Am I?? Granted I *do* love this man. He is the one person in the whole world ¬†I think I can honestly say I *feel* love towards – feel a connection, a tie, not a “puppy love” romantic feeling but a true deep love. But why am I doing things like folding his underwear a certain way, or watching only what he wants on TV, or a million other little things that are not my preference but his? Is it love?

OK, I’m totally weeping now (which isn’t hard, I’m 34 weeks pregnant, remember) – but I’m realizing it ISN’T. Here I was going along in my marriage thinking I’m doing all this sacrificing out of love, and I’m really not. It’s fear. Fear that if I don’t do things his way, he won’t really love me. I don’t want to be *tolerated*, I want to be loved, fully and completely. Now, I *do* want to make him happy, so I think there is a *little* love behind the actions. I know it makes him happy to have a neat drawer now, so I can do it because I love to see him happy. But the fear comes in when I realize I can’t NOT do it anymore. I *have to* do it. Because of the fear. The fear that if I don’t, I’m back with those wolves. Alone and unloved.

What’s the answer to this? Why don’t I ever know? LOL I hate ending all these blog posts without answers, without that “ray of hope” that is supposed to tie everything together. There IS hope that I’ll get through this, especially with Saint DH for a husband. But right now I’m not sure what the path is. First, I will let dh read this though. I bet he will have some good insights, he always does. Praying that I see each family member as God does always helps too, but the feeling doesn’t “stick” and I’m still left with my *actions* being out of fear even when there is some love in my head.

Anyway, dinner is almost cool enough to eat so I’d better run and feed my munchkins who are presently learning how to cook better than I can by watching their favorite Food Network¬†shows.¬†ūüėČ

One more thought

(first published Aug 2007)

Just one more thought brought up by the new book I’m reading (see below – no time to get all linky on you, lol).

They had some questions in the beginning of the book – one was along the lines of “how would you react if you saw a police car with lights flashing pulling you over?” I didn’t fit any of the answers. My first thought was, “I would think, ‘Oh no, dh is going to be soooooo mad at me!!!”

Now seriously, that was my first gut reaction, and it is my first gut reaction to almost anything that happens around the house that isn’t “perfect”… something overflows, dinner burns, I didn’t clean up enough before he got home, etc.

But HELLO??? My dh is one of the most laid back and loving people I know. He is SO wonderful! Yes, he gets upset by stuff, usually stuff that HE does wrong (i.e. he will get very upset with himself on the rare occasion HE gets pulled over). And he does get mad at me, usually if I am getting too harsh with the kids (and I deserve it).

Sooooo…why in the world am I reacting the way I am? I think I have put all that people pleasing angst (see post directly below) and thrust it all onto my dh. I *definitely* think I’m still reacting to the way I was raised, and putting those old “scripts” into my head. My parents really WOULD be SO MAD if I did something wrong … and it was never immoral/sinful stuff, it was usually accidents or not understanding my parents true feelings on something…

But I don’t live with my parents anymore! I live with a wonderful dh. I wonder how to erase the old scripts and live in my REALITY??