April 24, 2013

Adopted Reality
(A Conversation With Laura Dennis)

I recently shared about reading an awesome memoir, Adopted Reality, by my dear friend, Laura Dennis. This week we chatted about the book, and particularly about adoptee resilience and dealing with judgmental attitudes. We're sharing our chat publicly on both of our blogs today and invite you to join us in chatting in the comments. (You can read the other half of our conversation at Laura's blog, today.)

 On adoptee resilience

Laura -- You said something to me, “And after reading the book I am just totally amazed at what you have overcome and continue to, on a daily basis.”
To me, this was just some fecal matter that happened, that I had to deal with, to survive, because the alternative was potentially having another breakdown and ending up in a mental hospital ... possibly indefinitely. My adoptive mom feared they would have to do electric shocks. It was very serious. It’s only ten+ years later that I can see that some of the coping mechanisms and life experiences I had--well things could have been prevented.
Understanding post-adoption issues, coming to terms with the fact that my perfectionism was connected to adoption ... those things could have set the stage for a very different young adulthood.
Deanna -- Yes, they could have. But that would have required changes in the lives of those who surrounded you. We were brought home from the agencies that placed us and expected to fit into other’s worlds. Rarely do they make a move to fit into ours. It’s always been us adoptees, adjusting. And when we don’t the blame is most often squarely placed on our shoulders… “Such a pity that she couldn’t adjust…”
Laura -- Oh man, that’s something that rocks the adoptive world (my world! my world! my carefully constructed world ... it’s crumbling down around me!) ... the notion that adoptive parents, birth families, and others ought to be adjusting themselves to the needs of their adoptee.
This is even hard for the general population, I think. What’s the big deal? You have an amended birth certificate. Why are you so riled up? ... Because your birth certificate is supposed to say who gave birth to you. birth. certificate. [It doesn’t seem that complicated, and yet it is]. ... Because some adoptees can’t get passports, driver’s licenses, and security clearances without their original birth record. ... Because, simply put, it’s wrong.
Deanna -- Yes it is wrong. It continues to amaze me how some people don’t get that it’s wrong.  I especially don’t understand how Christians can be in agreement with it. A lie is a lie.  Maybe we need to reframe the question to: “what’s right about it?” How could it possibly be right to claim on legal papers that a person birthed another human being who didn’t actually do so?   

Dealing with judgmental attitudes

Laura -- Friends and acquaintances judging, ostracizing, rolling their eyes and gossiping. Then there’s family who stops talking to us, who backs away from the relationship. What is your view on openness and the price we pay for being true to ourselves?

Deanna -- Oh Lord…how much time do we have? LOL

We pay a huge price for being true and for going public. I can’t answer for other adoptees and whether the price has been worth it for them. For me, it is very painful but worth it. There is nothing that compares to living as your true self, and not having to hide.

I hate that we live in a world where it’s even a factor that we’re discussing this. In my dream world, adult adoptees will not have to fear sharing their story or their feelings. And equal rights won’t be a factor because we’ll have it all. In every state in the union. Without compromises! I want this so much for adoptees who are growing up now. We never had it but we need to keep pressing on for those who come behind us.

Laura -- I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently. I’m very hard on myself. I have to beat myself up about something for a while before I’m ready to admit it to someone else. So, for me to get to the point where I can talk openly about a difficult subject, the first step is to admit it to myself. I have to put it into words, even if it’s just self-talk: I’m ashamed of this, I’m sad about that, I’m angry because ... etc.

I find the moment I admit something to myself, it loses the power it had over me. I ask myself, why am I frustrated/mad/depressed in this moment? When I can figure it out (and I’m not 100% successful), put my finger on it, name what the problem is ... immediately, I let go. Ah ha. I have something to figure out.

And, this is what you’re talking about with regards to adoptee rights, to openness, to lack of secrets. Once we can name what makes us mad, we can point ourselves in a direction, a healthy direction. One borne of openness that can lead to healing, and yes, perhaps even positive change.

But you’re right, there is a price that comes with openness. For me, this is a constant challenge.

Deanna -- Truth be told it has to get worse before it gets better. To address pain related to adoption one has to let air hit the wound which means uncovering it and bringing it out into the open. It’s scary. Facing reality and coming out of hiding was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I told myself lies at times to cope instead of facing the hard truths of my situation. Dealing with the truth is painful but there is grace, hope and help on the other side. Friends like you have served (and still serve) in biding up my wounds as I’ve uncovered them.  One thing is for sure, I could not have faced the truth without the power of community.