February 25, 2013

Am I a Success Because of Adoption?

“Adoption is the reason you are a success today.”

I have heard this, a lot.

Many adoptee friends have shared with me that they hear this quite a bit too, as the reason for their successes in life.

Photo Credit: Mirimcfly, FlickR
Since I started this blog I have been contacted by everyone from attorneys to professors to extremely wealthy people...adoptees who, no matter how many material possessions they have or what they have achieved, are hurting.   They long for peace. All the while, many in their lives say, "Look at all that adoption made possible for you! You would have no success, were it not for adoption."

I have received an average of at least one letter a week about an adoptee suicide. Some come from adoptees and others from parents who are desperate to understand and help their loved one. When I posted,"When Adoptees Want to Die" I got a letter from a mother whose very successful, overachieving adopted son had just committed suicide. Many adoptive parents are fooled into thinking their children have no post-adoption issues because they are over achievers. Some find out too late...

I notice that when it comes to adoption, people who are happy with the current system and believe nothing needs to change put “successful adoptees” on a pedestal, citing everyone from Steve Jobs to Faith Hill. 

But let's look deeper...

Could it be that we succeed despite our adoption? Or that pain is actually the fuel for our success? Or both?

Photo Credit: TheTaxHaven, FlickR
Research now shows that "ghastly childhood trauma is the secret of business success."  

That's right...it has been proven that early childhood trauma often contributes to people's success.

  Terrance Fitzsimmons spent two years in research at the University of Queensland, interviewing corporate leaders. What he discovered was that almost all of the women he interviewed had one thing in common -- a traumatic childhood. Nearly all of the respondents had a challenging childhood where they had to take on adult responsibilities at a young age, often stemming from the loss of at least one parent.

If you want to learn more about the research on childhood trauma and it's relationship to the high numbers of successful people who experienced it, just Google childhood "trauma" and "success." I promise, you may start thinking new thoughts before you start attributing an adoptee's success to their adoption in the way that you may have before.

Years ago, I was in counseling for workaholism and burnout issues. In the first session, the counselor said, "Deanna, What are you running so hard for?"  He described me as a “Triple A” personality and said in all his years of counseling, he had never seen anybody running as hard as I was.  Although this Christian counselor possessed a doctorate in psychology and practices at one of the foremost Christian counseling centers in America, he was not trained to address post-adoption issues. Otherwise he wouldn't have completely ignored the fact that I was adopted.  In the first five minutes of our session I told him I was adopted. He just said "okay", and went on, like I had just said I take two tablespoons of cream in my coffee.  It is no surprise to me that I struggled with workaholism issues for many years to come, since we never got to the root of the issue.

I have not succeeded because our family was wealthy (we weren't!) nor was I handed any of my achievements without earning them.

I know many adoptive parents have a lot of money, that’s how they afford to adopt.  But as far as mine, no. My adoptive parents weren't rich. In fact,  now that I am in reunion and look at the situation with awareness of both families, I suspect my natural family had even more financial resources than my adoptive family. So it wasn’t about money.

The fact of the matter is, I've worked hard, literally all my life. 

Here's proof...

If I wanted something, I had to earn it, right down to banking every paycheck but two for an entire year, to pay for my own wedding. The other two paychecks I used for medical expenses, absolute essentials like soap and toothpaste, and honeymoon clothes.  After the honeymoon, I worked a second temporary job, giving out ice cream samples in a store to raise money to pay for our wedding photos. That's just one example. I could give hundreds more. 

If by being fueled by pain coupled with being required to work for absolutely everything people refer to adoption contributing to my success, then I can agree.

 Some Christians have actually said to me, "Well, if you weren't adopted, you probably would have never decided to be a Christian nor would you be in the ministry." Hmmm. That's an interesting theory. But, consider that my natural sister, who was never adopted is a Christian and she serves in ministry, and recently worked full time for Samaritan's Purse as a missionary to Haiti.  

I am thankful to have been raised in Christianity and particularly for the influence of my maternal grandmother who was and is the greatest mentor I will ever have. But many Christians who are not adopted have suggested that for the Christianity aspect alone, it's good that I was given up by my first mother. I don't agree. I don't believe children should be separated from their families simply because the family are not Christians. This has no bearing on the fact that I am very thankful to be a Christian. They are two separate issues.

My (adoptive) sister Kim once had someone wistfully tell her, "Your family is so ideal...it's like the Brady Bunch!" Kim laughed, thinking, "If only you knew..." 

Perhaps it is typical of what people view many Christian adoptive homes... but  our "Brady Bunch" doesn't even exist anymore. When Kim and I we were teens, it crumbled apart in dysfunction and divorce. So much for the idyllic Christian home.

The fact is that we didn't live a charmed life, at all. We had to be incredibly resilient to move forward after the compounded losses we experienced.

Some adoptees experience success because they are incredibly resilient. 

There are those who view an adoptee's situation or home from the outside and have no idea what life was really like on the inside. Even if they grew up with your parents, or went to church with them for years, or whatever.
Photo Credit: MiiiSH, FlickR

I succeeded at some things because of the grace of God.
And at others because I worked extremely hard. 
And with most - it was a combination of the two.

I say most because quite frankly there were times I left God out and didn't call on Him or follow His will, or His plan. (Just keepin' it real.) 

Many times, I worked hard for the wrong reasons.  
Some of it was ill-motivated.  

I am trying hard to not live in regret, as it doesn’t help. 

When people encounter trauma, they do one of two things. They either give up or they go up. If it’s too much for them to bear, some give up. Or, they decide to push harder, to compensate for their loss.  

This is absolutely the case for people like the late Steve Jobs. I wrote an entire post about how clear his post-adoption issues are to many of us adoptees, yet much of the world seems clueless about what a hot mess he was.

In my case, I pushed hard because of my pain. My first thought was, “I’ll prove my worth.” 

When I was in my twenties and resigned a job it was one of the most triumphant moments of my life when my boss told me seven months later that they still hadn't hired anyone to replace me. They said it was because they could find no one who even came close to what I brought to the table. "Yes!! I thought, "no one will EVER doubt that I'm worth keeping, EVER again!!" 

And my second thought was, “Working this hard helps numb the pain because I'm too busy to think about what hurts so bad…” And I ran and ran and ran, in an effort to increase self worth and lessen the constant ache. 

Adoption did drive me to a worldly definition of success.
Adoption was a catalyst for success.

But not in the way most people think. Pain served as the fuel for success.

And finally -- in this place of healing, the definition of success is no longer the same.