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.

 

Blackfish

I’m watching Blackfish on Netflix. It’s mostly about Tilikum, a performing killer whale that has caused several deaths, and what might have lead to that behavior.

According to the movie, killer whales are extremely family oriented and emotional creatures. Separating babies and even older whales from their mothers/families results in very clear grieving behavior.  Creating an artificial “family” at a place like Sea World leads to all sorts of strange behavior and sickness.  One trainer said, “That’s not a family! You know. Come on.”

“You’ve got animals from different cultural subsets that have been brought in from various parks. These are different nations. These aren’t just two different killer whales. These animals, they’ve got different genes, they use different languages.” (from a different trainer)

Hmmm.  Society  understands (or at least these animal trainers, and by the way they were talking, assuming the audience did as well) you shouldn’t separate killer whales from their families, but it’s wonderful and celebrated when it’s human babies. Makes me sick.

Sorry, in a mood today. Tired of pretending.

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.

 

 

Today’s memory

Every year in high school our (awesome, ahem) marching band would take a trip to different cities to compete with other bands.  Usually it was somewhere in the US, but one year we went to Canada.

I don’t know what it’s like now, but at that time if you didn’t have a passport, which I didn’t, you needed to have a birth certificate to cross the border.  Maybe that was just for us kids in such a big group, I don’t know. All I know is that the chaperones collected our birth certificates and passports in case the people at the border asked for them.

Except, as a NJ adoptee, I didn’t have a birth certificate. I had a weird “record of live birth” that listed my adoptive parents on it and not much else.

So for the entire 13 hour trip to Toronto, I worried. I worried that my fake birth certificate wouldn’t be good enough.  I was worried enough to ask the chaperone, a parent I didn’t really know,  if they thought it would be OK, and what would happen if it wasn’t.  She didn’t know either. It was very unlike me to show my nervousness, and bring up my adoption, to another adult, especially a parent or teacher I didn’t know well.

What would they do to me? Would they ask me to get off the bus? Would they interrogate me? How humiliating with 400+ pairs of eyes watching me. How scary.  Would they tell me I wouldn’t be able to cross the border? Would my school leave me there? Alone? Or worse, would I hold up all 400 other people with us while they figured out what to do with the poor messed up adoptee?  People who had already been on a bus for 10 hours and were pretty sick of it already? People who didn’t “get it” and wouldn’t have my back?  If they dumped me at the border and my parents had to come get me, they would be FURIOUS. I didn’t want to deal with that either. I’d rather be abandoned! Truly. ‘Cause that scene would be ugly and I didn’t think I had the power in me to survive it.

Well, we made it through the border check. Did they ask for the birth certificates? I don’t even know. I just know I sat on the bus looking out the window, willing them to hurry up already, because it was taking too long.  Every moment longer made me think something was wrong, and that something was me. Getting through to the Canada side was not the end of the story though, I had to get let back in to the US!

Writing this out, I know it sounds a little silly to someone who didn’t live through it. But it wasn’t silly to 15 year old me at the time.  It was so NOT silly that I’m shaking writing it all down again. Adoption trauma is real, people, and it has far reaching consequences.

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.

Tell me again

I think we can all agree that soldiers coming back from war have the potential for some serious Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, yes?

Here’s an article that says soldiers with diagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are two times more likely to commit suicide than the general population.

Here’s another article that says adopted teens are FOUR times more likely to attempt suicide than the average person in the same age cohort.

I know comparing attempts vs. successful suicides is a little “apples vs. oranges” – but even if only half the soldiers attempts were successful and both adoptees and soldiers with PTSD have similar attempt rates, that still says a lot.  (And I’m guessing a soldier is more likely to succeed at his attempts than a teen girl, making the above stats more comparable.)

So, tell me again that adoption isn’t traumatic? That we’re all just a big bunch of whiners? Do you think the soldiers are a big bunch of whiners? 

It could have been so much worse

Adoptees hear it all. the. time.

“You should be thankful because you could have been a coat hanger abortion.”

“You should be grateful because you had a roof over your head when people in India are starving on the streets. That’s REAL trauma.”

Let’s say a woman, we’ll call her Sarah, has a husband named Jack, and four beautiful children: Justin (15), Jamie (9), Chloe (5) and Anna (3). On their way to their vacation, there is a horrible accident. Sarah is injured, and Jack, Jamie, and Anna die. Would you say to Sarah, “You should be grateful!  You have two children left. You can remarry. This is a non-event. Stop crying! You’re being too sensitive. You could have lost all your children. You could have died. THAT would have been real trauma.”  Who in their right mind would say that! OF COURSE losing her husband and two children in an accident was traumatic. No one tells her she should be thankful that she’s not starving on the streets of India.

Adoptees lose their whole family, their mother that is a biological and instinctual necessity for psychological safety, their name, their ancestry, their proper chemical and hormonal balance in infancy, their place in the family, physiological and psychological mirroring, often forced to fill a role that is impossible to fill, and to top it all off, they’re told to be thankful for it all. It’s trauma! And this is under the best of circumstances. Even if they truly are better off with an adoptive family (because of abuse,etc) it is STILL trauma.

Tell me again how losing a family member or two or four is traumatic but losing all that the adoptee does is not trauma?? Right, you can’t. You can only deny truth and change the subject.

Me: Adoption is traumatic to a child.

Random person:  No it’s not. (denial)  People starving on the streets of India. That’s REAL trauma. (changing subject, we were talking about adoption)

The person who hurts, hurts.  Just because someone else hurts more, doesn’t make the first person hurt any less!  If I carry around 70 pounds for an hour I’m going to be plenty sore and tired.  If you carry 100 pounds you’ll probably be more sore and tired. That doesn’t mean my 70 pounds wasn’t tiring and difficult. It exists as it’s own entity outside of what happened to you or anyone else carrying a weight.

To quote Paul Sunderland from his Adoption and Addiction talk:

“It’s not so much what happens to you in life that throws you, it’s actually how secure your beginnings are. It’s a bit like the storm analogy: you know, in a storm, the trees don’t blow down just because the wind is strong, the ones that blow down, blow down because the roots aren’t strong enough to hold them up.

They did a lot of research with the Palestinian children in the refugee camps… the psychologists thought, ‘These kids, they’re going to be in a real state!’ and they’re giving interviews, and banks of psychometric testing, and really wholly expecting these kids to be really distressed. They weren’t. And they realized the reason they weren’t is because they had people around them who said, ‘This shouldn’t be happening.’ There was a secure base. There were people there who were saying ‘This shouldn’t be happening, this is not normal, we’re all in this together, we don’t like it.’

Think about that, and then think about being relinquished and adopted into a family that might not actually talk about it. Because talking about it might involve an enormous grief.”

It’s called empathy, and I wish people would learn it!

Reading that, I get the feeling that the hungry child in India has the possibility of being more psychologically sound than the adopted child in America, if the former has loving people in their life telling them “This is bad and it shouldn’t be happening, we’ll get through this together.” and the latter has people telling them, “Shut up. You don’t hurt. Be thankful you weren’t aborted. Be thankful you were taken in and not left to starve.”

And by the way, TELLING someone they should be thankful never leads to true thankfulness. It leads an odd sort of “pseudo-thankfulness” based on shame and guilt, not a true positive feeling of gratitude.

/rant off