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.

 

 

Personality

I’ve always wondered if my adoption and upbringing trauma changed my personality in big ways.  You know, like I would have been one thing on the Myers-Briggs but instead am something else because I became such a people pleasing mess that I’ve obliterated who I really should have been.

Do I really care deeply about people or am I just trying subconsciously to save my skin?  Am I really a type B or am I such a defeated perfectionist because for my parents I couldn’t even close the drapes right without someone coming behind me every night to fix it?  Am I really a peacemaker or do I simply know nothing else other than walking on eggshells?

Who am I?

As I try and try again to heal and find the real me, I do feel myself changing.

I’ve always felt like an extreme introvert, but perhaps it’s just been my way to stay safe, to chill after being mostly around people that truly didn’t care about me, didn’t want to hear what I had to say.   I have one friend now that is great, who cares and would truly listen, but I’d say even up until a few years ago even my husband was just kind of “not getting it” — it’s a personality thing (darn those INTJs who can’t ever be wrong, LOL!!)

Anyway, yesterday I finally had what I consider a “good day.”  A few things went right which is a few things more than usual.  I found a make up that covers a big scar on my face (trust me this is a huge deal!) and my daughter was unusually wonderful and “on” for her birthday.  And *I* was not internally melting down like I usually do on my kids birthdays.  So fast forward to that night and we are all playing a board game, one I thought would be difficult and stupid but was actually very fun. We were all laughing and I felt included. I was really *there* and *present* and it was good.  So it wound down and the game ended and everybody retreated to their corners like good little introverts….and I’m like, “Hey!  I feel like going out and doing something! Where is everyone I want to party!”

Huh??? Who *IS* this person?  I felt energized by being with people and when the game was over I wanted to be with more people!

Is there a closet extrovert inside me wanting to get out?

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! 🙂  )

…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.

Personality

…or is that “temperament”?

Heh, I just looked it up and wikipedia says: “Temperament is defined as that part of the personality which is genetically based. Along with character, and those aspects acquired through learning, the two together are said to constitute personality.”

So for this post, I actually mean both! 🙂

I just started reading the book The Temperament God Gave You. I’m only on page 24, but I have read enough about temperament/personality types, etc, to be able to post what I’m about to say. (By the way, the book is good so far.)

In taking various personality tests over the years, such as the Myers-Briggs, I have always wondered why I appear to be “in the middle” of all the available types, in kind of an amorphous way – I feel like I could be one type one day and another type another day (introversion/extroversion aside – I feel like I am always an introvert). The new book I’m reading posed a question: “Do I make decisions based primarily on logical principles, or relationships?” Their thoughts leading up to this question made me realize something — I think I was BORN one way, and was necessarily *changed* into something totally different by the adoption into my particular family.

Maybe this isn’t possible… but my parents (mostly my dad, but then by proxy my mom) were *extremely* perfectionistic, my dad to the point of being OCD about it. Most of what I remember about being at home as a child were my Dad straightening up behind me (i.e. I closed the curtains and he was a step behind me “fixing” them, even though I did it *just fine* the first time) and me needing to be very quiet all the time because my dad often worked at home. My dad liked (needed?) things a certain way, so my mom went along with it all (as I guess she should have) and I was not allowed to do much around the house to help because it just wouldn’t have been “good enough”.

I say all that not to evoke pity but to explain my next thought- being adopted, and the whole fear of abandonment, can lead people to become people pleasers. Due to the fanatical nature of my household, I had to become a people pleaser “to the extreme” — something that I think has held on to this day and translates into strained relationships in my own home, and a general sense of anxiety in me (I may post on that in a minute).

So how does this relate to temperament/personality? I think *maybe* I was born more of a thinker than a feeler, more of a logical prinicple person than a “worry about relationships” person. So that now, every time I need to “react” to something, one half of me is logical and thinks about what I perceive to be the truth of the world and how it works, and the OTHER half is frantically going “but NO NO NO, that will UPSET everyone, oh nooooo, what do I doooooo????” LOL One can necessarily see that that can cause problems in parenting and running an active household! I feel constantly *caught* between the rock (truth/logic) and the hard place (pleasing others). It’s even harder when one decision never pleases all people (we have wildly different personalities running around here). But that sense of needing to please others, just to *survive*, can be so strong! And then throw in the whole “you should think of others first and totally die to self” of Catholocism and I’m totally confused! Am I “people pleasing” or “dying to self”? And where does logic/truth fit into it all??

As usual, I don’t know what this means for me and how I should deal with it. I just came up with it a few minutes ago, lol. It explains a lot, though. It’s not all bad – in fact I think it helps me understand many types of people, and thus be more forgiving and less judgemental.

(first published Aug 2007)