February 22, 2013

When Adoptees Want to Die

 I was born in 1966.

Even if it would have been legal, my mother told me the night we reunited that aborting me was never even a thought in her mind.   

This nullifies the notion that was proposed to me on quite a number of occasions: “Just be grateful your mother didn’t abort you.”  Or, “aren’t you so glad your mother chose life?” 

 I was so in the fog that I even used to get up and testify in church, thanking God that my mother chose life.

But, abortion was never even a factor in my adoption. 

So thanking her for letting me live was a moot point. 

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This realization was one of the things that accelerated my journey out of the fog.
The Heavy Weight

I turned to God early on. Still, at times throughout my life the identity wound was so much to carry, I asked God to just make things easier by removing me.   He obviously didn't like that idea. Maybe because if He agreed to it there would have been nobody left to change the toilet paper rolls. The primal wound coupled with all the unknown was just huge.  During some low moments, I let the Lord know it was perfectly fine with me to just give me my heavenly mansion early. Request denied, And here I am, still changing toilet paper rolls, and cleaning the bathrooms to boot. Just sayin'.

When my adoptive parents got divorced it was a triple whammy -- identity wound on top of all of the unknown, (living in what adoptees know as the "ghost kingdom"), along with the only home I ever knew, dissolving.

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Many adoptees believe their wound is unspeakable, which adds tremendously to it's weight. What vexes our soul is something many people disagree with or even discount completely.   I have a number of adoptee friends, some who write professionally, who tell me they long to write about their life as an adoptee. But fearing fallout, they don't. They are afraid of the reaction of their family or others in their life who just don't agree or understand. Why do a lot of adoptee bloggers write under a different name? One reason is because they have received the message (sometimes by unwritten memo) that their wound is simply not an acceptable one, and are  told it is something they actually need to be thankful for. 

A Look at Reality...

The suicide rate among adoptees is higher  and ongoing studies are being conducted about it. High profile cases emerge, such as Marie Osmond’s son.  Yes, I know he had a drug and alcohol problem. What led him to that? I find it interesting in his case that not only was he adopted, but his adoptive parents subsequently divorced.

Not a week goes by that I don't hear about another adoptee suicide.
Many times I get private letters from adoptive parents saying they wish they would have realized their adopted son or daughter's pain before it was too late.

My Reality...

I often tried to work pain away.
To perfect it away.
And, to eat it away.

Those things are all temporary bandaids for a deep problem.

And if they are going to sustain you at all, you have to do them at an insane pace.

I did.
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There were times I worked 90 hours a week.

I went to great lengths to try to “be perfect” in many areas. There were no illusions that I was perfect, only heartache that I could never measure up no matter how hard I tried. But try, I did. Over and over.

I would attempt to perfect pieces of my life to make up for what was missing.  I would attempt a perfect song, a perfect event, or a perfectly clean house. I controlled what I could control, even if it was something as simple as arranging the papers on my desk.  

I also dealt with shame for praying such a prayer in the first place. So I asked God's forgiveness. 

Good Help is Hard to Find...

I dared to express the pain a few times, to people. Unfortunately I never opened up to anyone who was had an understanding of the trauma and significant loss present in adoption and was trained to help with post adoption issues.

When going to Christian counselors who were licensed, yet not trained in post-adoption issues, I was simply reminded that life is a precious gift, and that I had a whole life ahead of me. I was admonished to think positive, or "renew my mind." My gifts and talents were mentioned, as well as all the people in my life who needed me. Honestly, the first thing that came to mind was, "If life is such a precious gift, why does it hurt so bad?" and "Yes, I do have my whole life ahead of me. That's what scares me so much. I fear how long into the future this may hurt..." And "Yes I'm gifted, and I use those gifts to work very hard at numbing the pain..." And, "Yes people need me...and I'm still hurting while I help them. But thanks."

Reunion Utopia?

I thought this would all go away after reunion. In fact in our early days of marriage, I told my husband, “if I can just get to reunion, this will settle down inside of me and it will all be solved.” And to be certain, a part of me did settle down.   But reunion doesn’t solve everything, as any adoptee in reunion knows.   

So, where are things now?

I can say with confidence that things are different now.

Photo Credit: Deanna Shrodes

Not perfect, but different.
I love life, even though it's hard.
I have help that I didn’t have before. 
I have community. 
I have "Jesus with skin on."
I’m out of the fog.
I allow myself to fully feel. Even when it hurts at first.
I respond differently than I used to.
I’ve opened up fully to God to allow the hurts to be mended by Him, surrounded by a community that understands what it's like to be me.

Regarding work...
Some roles, I fulfill because they are a calling. (I will keep doing that.)
Some I do because there’s no one else to do them. (I hope that changes.)
Other ones I do because I get paid. (We all like to get paid. It’s nice to pay bills.)

But I no longer work as an anesthesia. In fact the other day, someone asked me, “Could you ever be a housewife?” In the past I would have said, “Absolutely not!”  Now I can that say, yes, if I felt directed to do that, I could. As long as I could write! Simply because I love to. I don’t have to work to have an identity or numb unresolved pain anymore.

Photo Credit: Deanna Shrodes
Finding Real Help

I finally discovered a Christian therapist who has an understanding of trauma, significant loss and grief as it relates to adoption. I still have issues to work through, as anyone does, but the last big frontier I am tackling with God’s help is emotional eating. I’m learning it’s not about trying harder, it’s about surrendering more.

Things are improving a lot since I have been in community and reached out. The adoptee and first mother community have been a healing balm to my soul.

Some may think it would be depressing to read the writings of people who are healing from adoption, and interact with them privately on a daily basis. 

Actually it’s the most helpful thing in the world.  I only wish I would have done it sooner.

Going there on purpose

Instead of trying to “work it away” or “perfect it away” I go there on purpose. 
I cry a lot now.
And it’s wonderful!

One of my good friends is Amanda Woolston (The Declassified Adoptee) who is the founder/editor of Lost Daughters. We have deep chats about adoption and life in general. She is the one who taught me about the five phases adoptees go through. Many times during our conversations, my eyes run like a faucet. I think I used half a box of Kleenex one time on a single chat. Afterwards, I didn’t feel depressed, in fact a part of myself came alive that had previously been numb. 

 Amanda tells me that I won’t always cry as much. I will move through this phase. In the meantime I say, “Here I go bawling again. Sorry to be such a cry baby.” And she always reassures me that I’m not a cry baby and am reacting in a totally normal way.

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"Only eyes washed by tears can see clearly." ~ Louis Mann

What do I want people to know who have adoptees in their life? 

Don’t think that because your adoptee makes straight A’s, they’re okay. (I made good grades too, most of the time. I just realllly suck at math.)

Don’t think that because your adoptee is successful in extracurricular activities, things are fine.  (I was elected by my peers as president of my high school choir as a flippin’ freshman.)  

Don’t think because your adoptee family member excels at work, they are okay. (I have NEVER in my life had anything less than a STELLAR review at work.)

I was goal driven my entire life. My friends have often said they think I came out of the womb carrying a briefcase in one hand and a microphone in the other. Every goal I achieved for myself that I wanted to reach before 30, I did. Then I re-upped for 40. 

All these things were a big part of what I used to try to “create” my identity.  Outward success IS NOT a sign that everything is okay on the inside.  While achieving, there were times I was simultaneously so low that I pled for God to just take me so I could be at peace.

Don't believe your adoptee is fine just because they say they are. Many adoptive parents ask their son or daughter, "Are you okay with being adopted?" and of course the adoptee says they are fine...because they so badly want to please.

Adoptees are classic people pleasers.

Look deeper. 
Even if it's scary. 
Even if you'd rather just go with what's on the surface because it's what you were hoping to hear.

Please, do the adoptee a favor and look deeper.
Listen for what they're not saying.

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 At some point, your adoptee family member or friend may give a clue, even an ever-so-slight cracked window into feeling something other than fine.

What would it be like to go to the core of the issue instead of coming at it from a side angle? 

What would it be like to address their wound instead of reminding them of all the other people and purposes they have to live for?

What would it be like to refrain from telling them how wrong their feelings are, or reminding them of all the other people they affect, and find out…what’s gnawing at them inside? 

Maybe the loss that goes to the core of their identity is suffocating them emotionally. 

Perhaps they desperately grab at jobs, positions, titles and successes and or a plethora of other things in this life to try to satisfy them and give them an “identity” because their original one was taken away. 

 If a person needs heart surgery, taking their appendix out won't help.

When people are emotionally hurting we need to go to the area that hurts, not ask them to concentrate on what doesn’t hurt to try to block out what does.

Maybe what will help them isn’t so much hearing all the reasons you think a person should live, but finding out the reason they might not want to. 

Let's fix what hurts, please.