Message from an Angel

(Trigger warning: I mention sexual assault, not an actual one but a reference to that feeling)

This post may be a little too woo-woo for some, LOL, in fact it is more “out there” than I usually get even in my own  off-internet life.

I was reading a book that briefly mentioned talking to angels, and how to go about doing that.  I do believe in angels, but don’t think I’ve ever spoken out loud and addressed them by a “title” the way this book said to do (i.e. “Angel of Mercy,” “Angel of Relationship”, etc).  I also believe in demons (fallen angels) so I also spoke out loud that it should be an angel that worships God that I am addressing, just to be safe!  The last thing I need is more demons in my life.

Anyway, back to my life – I had a huge, overdue falling out with my adoptive father a few weeks ago.  Besides, or more like “on top of”  the relinquishment, his mental health (or lack of it) has been a big source of trauma in my life.   I spoke to the angel and said, “Angel of Relationship, I need help,” and rattled on about how being in any sort of relationship with my adoptive father was painful and being away from it was also painful.  And then I said something that has been mulling around in my brain lately, “He’s not even my father! I was forced to be in this awful relationship with him!”

My father, if I had to diagnose him, has borderline personality disorder with a heavy dose of narcissism.  He’s very possessive in his relationships, extremely clingy, and demands they run a certain way with a certain amount of attention paid to him (i.e. all of it, LOL).  His hugs are bear hugs that don’t let go when you are done, not until HE is done.   There is so much more but it’s not the point of this post.

I realized in that moment how much being in relationship with him felt like assault, almost like some kind of psychic rape, since it was relational, and painful, and forced.  I did not ask to be in a relationship with him, I didn’t WANT to be in a relationship with him — for 20-ish years I was stuck there, as I was a child, for 20+ more I stuck around because both parents had shamed me into staying and I had that underlying thought that A) I should be thankful to be adopted, and B) good people honor their parents.    I know biological children are also stuck with their parents, but the added stress of the adoption fueled the fire, primed me for relational stress, and it’s just *different*.

It’s different like this – think about getting a present, a nice new…I don’t know….expensive kitchen appliance you’d been wanting for years.  One with all the bells and whistles.   Getting it and finding it doesn’t work well is like having biological parents who are difficult.  Getting it, realizing your neighbor stole the one delivered to your front porch and replaced it with her broken one (and there’s nothing you can do about it) is like having adoptive parents who are difficult.  Not only does your kitchen appliance not work, but you wanted the one that was supposed to be YOURS, and you are angry at your neighbor, and feeling shaken up that something was stolen from you, and are worked up because you always thought that neighbor was your friend and now you’ve lost a friend.

So back to the “psychic assault/rape,” I had never thought about it in such strong terms. I think I may have an angel to thank for that. No wonder I feel sick when I  so much as see an email has come from him.  It’s been 40+ years of being forced to be relational with him, forced to be nice, forced to be his adoring (cough) daughter.  Shamed horribly for being anything less. Ugh.   I’m feeling sick just writing all this so I’m going to wrap up and hope someone can make heads or tales of what I’ve written.  If you’ve ever felt like this I’d love to hear your story.

 

My Own Acre

In Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, she states:

One image that helps me begin to know the people in my fiction is something a friend once told me. She said that every single one of us at birth is given an emotional acre all our own. You get one, your awful Uncle Phil gets one, I get one, Tricia Nixon gets one, everyone gets one. And as long as you don’t hurt any anyone, you really get to do as you please. You can plant fruit trees or flowers or alphabetized rows of vegetables, or nothing at all. If you want your acre to look like a giant garage sale, or an auto wrecking yard, that’s what you get to do with it. There’s a fence around your acre, though, with a gate, and if people keep coming onto your land and sliming it or trying to get you to do what they think is right, you get to ask them to leave. And they have to go, because this is your acre.

She was talking about creating characters for her writing, but I immediately started thinking about how this applies (or doesn’t) to my (adopted) life.

I do admit that the parenting I received made this all worse, but I believe even adoptees with perfect parents may feel a little like this:

I feel like I didn’t get my own emotional acre.

I got an acre that was supposed to be the acre of my adoptive parents’ biological child.  They tried for a child to put in that acre, and it didn’t happen.  They eventually adopted me, and put me in THAT acre, but because it had lain fallow for so long, and untended, it became overgrown with scrub and weeds.

So I was plopped down in that acre.  Since it was all full of brush and weeds, and I was just a little baby, I got very scratched up and hurt trying to climb around in it.

My parents could see  nothing wrong. “What do you mean it hurts? It’s a fine acre! It is perfect for a child of ours! We gave you a whole acre, what are you complaining about?  You should be thankful you even have an acre.”  At some point they realized it was better for them to take off the gate and lock to get in and out of my acre more easily.

I very, very slowly learned to hack at and cultivate my acre a little bit.  But I only had MY kind of seeds with me, and they developed a very different kind of plant than my parents expected.  They didn’t usually say anything outright, but often enough I would see disgusted looks and hear, “Where are your tomatoes? Your zucchini? All I see are potatoes and apples.” *grimace*

Once in awhile I asked to look for farmers that grew apples and potatoes so I could learn to grow mine better, because I felt I was doing a terrible job.  But my parents would wail and cry, “How could you do this to us?? Please don’t, please don’t look for potato farmers. We make good tomatoes here.

So I secretly learned to hate my potatoes and apples and grow tomatoes and zucchini.

They would often look over my acre lovingly and say, “What beautiful land. What beautiful produce! What a good little farmer you are.”

I hate tomatoes.

 

 

Shame

From Brene Brown’s I Thought it Was Just Me (But it Isn’t):

Her writing is in black. I’m going to comment as it goes along {in red}. Showing how shame and fear are part and parcel of even a so-called “good” adoption experience.

“Shame is all about fear.  As I wrote in the introduction, we are biologically, emotionally, socially, and cognitively wired for connection. For many, there is also a deep need for spiritual connection. Shame is about the fear of disconnection. {which is already inherent in adoption. We’ve been disconnected from *everything* we had. It’s a fact.} When we are experiencing shame, we are steeped in the fear of being ridiculed, diminished or seen as flawed. {these stereotypes are still very common in adoption, even today. We don’t have the rights of “normal people” (e.g. our own birth certificates or to know who our parents are).  We are the “illegitimate.” The mistakes. The ones who should just stop talking and be grateful that someone “rescued us” from abortion or poverty.}  We are afraid that we’ve exposed or revealed a part of us that jeopardizes our connection and our worthiness or acceptance. {Just being adopted reveals this.  The people pleasing adoptees, of which I am a card-carrying member, also turn this into an every day, every moment cross to bear. “I’ve got to be good, got to be perfect, no mistakes allowed…or I’m going to die.” Add into this any sort of poor parenting on the adoptive parent’s part, *especially* one that increases shame, punishes for mistakes, withdraws love in any way, and you have a very difficult time, indeed.}

This fear is fueled by the sense that we are somehow trapped in our shame. {We are/were trapped! We were babies and children! There was nothing we could do at that age to escape it. And we are still adopted even into our 50’s, 60’s, 70’s…you cannot “escape” being adopted and all that entails.}  This fear of being trapped relates to the way in which the shame web is baited with an impossible ratio of  expectations and options. First, we have an unreasonable amount of expectations put upon us, many of which are not even attainable or realistic. {We are expected to be “as if born to.” Impossible. We are supposed to fill a role of the child they really wanted (their own flesh and blood). Impossible. And this one may be self imposed, but no less real to us…We need to be perfect or we’ll be sent away. Impossible. We were children for **** sake!}   Second, we have a very limited number of options in terms of how we can meet those expectations.  (…then she starts talking about body image….) {We had NO options. Our job was impossible. We were children! We couldn’t just “leave” or have an informed discussion on our plight.  Most of us couldn’t even figure out why we felt like crap all the time.  “I must just be doing this adoptee thing wrong. It must be me.”  It’s not like body image, where *maybe* if you ate or exercised a certain way there was some slim chance you could look like the models you see.  There was NO WAY to be their real kid. There was NO WAY to make your first parents keep you. There was NO WAY to be perfect. None.  We had NO options.}

As you can see in the web illustration [in the book], partners, family, friends, and self are all drawn closest to the center of the web. We most fear disconnection from the people closest to us. {As I said above, this is inherent in being adopted. It is what adoption is about! And as kids and even adults we now cling to the new family we’ve been given, good or bad, already steeped in shame.}  In other words, shame is the most powerful when we enforce the expectation ourselves, or when it’s enforced by those closest to us…” {Natch.}

She then goes on to say how if we were raised in a family that highly valued the unattainable expectation (her example was a body type), we might continue to impose that expectation on ourselves even when we have others in our life who think we are going overboard. Then that brings up the problem of trying to please two opposing groups at once…impossible. Crazymaking. Well, of course we were raised in a family that highly valued the unattainable expectation – we were adopted! They wanted us adopted because they wanted us.

“When it comes to the outer layers of the web, we may feel shamed by doctors, colleagues, or fellow group members. And beyond those groups, there are even larger, more insidious systemic issues that we have to confront. {like society at large that demands we be thankful for this hell. Like the multi-billion dollar adoption industry that goes to great lengths to keep us in our place as quiet, happy adoptees. *gag*}

********************

This was just one tiny part of her book. I’m going to stop here, because I think I will have a lot more to say. Too much for one blog post! 🙂

 

 

Feeling like Atlas

Today I was reading Unwelcome Inheritance: Break your Family’s Cycle of Addictive Behaviors by Lisa Sue Woititz and the late Dr. Janet G. Woititz.  The reason I’m reading it is another post for another day, but I was struck by one line in the introduction.

She says a particular chapter suggests that ” we ACoA [Adult Children of Alcoholics] expand our life view to include the other generations of our families. Doing this helps us to see ourselves as part of history, which takes us out of and beyond ourselves.” (emphasis mine)

I don’t know about you, but as an adoptee I have always felt the great burden of the lack of this in my life. I always felt dropped from outer space.  “Viewing other generations” of my adoptive family just felt weird, foreign, not mine. Hearing that the grandfather of my adoptive mother stowed away on a cargo ship to reach America was fascinating, but just as personal as if I had heard it about my friend’s great grandfather.  I care(d) about my adoptive family, so what was amazing for them made me happy, but I was happy for *them* not *for us.*

Being other in a family of not other made me stuck in myself, and not in a selfish way — I was not full of myself or thinking I was top dog or anything — but because it felt like my story began and ended at me, I felt everything was up to me and everything was because of me and my fault.   I say “felt” but honestly, I have a very hard time shaking this and it’s really still present tense.

This is a horrible burden for a child. Your family abandoned you, you have the weight of the world on your shoulders, you somehow have to “fix” it because it hurts, you have to “fix” your family because they wanted a girl and couldn’t have a girl and you’re it, you’re that girl it’s all up to you…and you’re seven.

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.

This

Robin Williams

I think this is one of the reasons us “happy adoptees” (i.e. as opposed to the kids who acted out) do what we do.  Part is the people-pleasing brought about by shame and terror of being abandoned again (however far buried inside us) and part is this. We know what it’s like, and no person should feel this way.

Gaslighting and Adoption

Based on this article about gaslighting.

“Gaslighting” is a term for a very unhealthy event (or series of events) to be the recipient of: according to wikipedia it’s ” a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity.” It is so damaging because it messes with your trust in yourself and your trust in reality.

I find gaslighting inherent in the closed adoption system (the only one I can speak about with any experience).

According to the article:

Gaslighting doesn’t have to be deliberate. 

Adoptive parents don’t typically set out to be emotionally unhealthy towards their children, but if “gaslighting only requires a belief that it is acceptable to overwrite another person’s reality” then the whole idea of a closed adoption IS gaslighting.  My reality was overwritten – my birth certificate was changed, my name was changed, I now have to call two strangers my parents. If one or more adoptive parents are not open to hearing the child’s feelings on the matter, this is made all the worse.

Glamour Gaslighting 

This is where the gaslighter showers you with special attention, but never actually gives you what you need. They put you on a pedestal, but then they are not there, in fact they may get angry at you, when you need a shoulder to cry on.

I see this so much in some adoptive parents and the whole of society in general.  The adopted child walks on water, is such a gift, is the answer to prayer, is soooooooo wonderful….until they complain that adoption HURTS. Then we get comments like “you’re a whiny self centered hag who should be thankful you weren’t a coat-hanger abortion.” (OK, so that is a compilation of three different actual comments said to an adoptee I know, but you get the idea).

It is normal for adoptees to become people pleasers, because they don’t want to be left again, but that leaves them (us) very susceptible to gaslighting in any form.