I'm a gifted adult survivor of child abuse by my adopted parents, who left me with chronic depression, PTSD, and a touch of autism for good measure. Here I examine the fragments of my past. It's enlightening but not pleasant. You've been warned.

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We Have Always Lived in a Homeschool my blog about homeschooling my three gifted children

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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Wrestling With Searching

I've got so many thoughts racing so far ahead, so many posts started, so many links and quotes I'm trying to keep track of that it can be hard to actually decide what to do next.  But I need to get this post out before I do anything else.

So, people wonder, you're 47.  You've known you were adopted your entire life.  You're friends with other adoptees who've successfully found their birthparents.  Why have you never searched?

Because I was convinced that doing so would be unethical, immoral, selfish, and self-destructive.  I believed it was the most awful and irresponsible thing I could possibly do.

Why would I believe that?

For starters I have chronic depression, low self esteem and PTSD.  At first why I had these conditions seemed a mystery to all involved, possibly caused by some internal defect on my part (my adoptive mom favored that theory).  While these problems are endemic with child abuse survivors it wasn't until I was 24 that I could bring myself to admit that I had been abused.  (In my defense I tried to tell many adults what my parents did to us as a child, but none of them believed me -- or at least been willing to admit they believed me.)  And while I'd always known I was adopted, it wasn't until I was in my forties that science could bring itself to admit that the vast majority of adoptees suffer from depression and low self esteem.

Also, as was common for closed adoptions of the Baby Scoop Era, I was told my natural mother had "gotten on with her life" and wanted no contact with me.  But why did I believe it?  I'm good at questioning what I'm told, why did this come across as true?  Because a good case could be made that no one else wanted contact with me either.  I had poor social skills, didn't know how to make or keep friends, and was very good at driving away anyone who may have wanted to be a friend while simultaneously being desperately lonely and yearning for companionship.  (Understand that I didn't fully realize I was driving people away; that only came about recently.  Like, last month.)  The fact that this lack of social skills is also endemic among adoptees is something I didn't know until last week.

 But the biggest reasonS came from a book I found in my early 20s at the Mobile library around 1990-1991.  Up at the checkout desk I found a YA book for teenage adoptees on adoption.  The YA category had only been created a few years before, and I was a little too old for it when it came along so I tended to look down my nose at it.  And with all the arrogance of a 20-something I was sure that as an adult adoptee I knew everything there was to know about adoption.  Still, I was curious to see what they were teaching the young folks these days, so with a curl of the lip I checked it out.

There were only two significant facts in the book I didn't already know, but they were doozies.  The first of  these was the bald statement that a far greater percentage of adoptees are abused than are children living with their biological parents.  I was completely blown away by that fact.  All these years of being treated as an utter weirdo, and I was really in the norm?  Why hadn't someone mentioned this earlier?  I walked around in a daze for over a week after that, so out of it I didn't even note the title or writer of the book, an unthinkable lapse for a hardcore bibliophiliac like myself.  This lack of provenance would prove annoying later on, as a number of people I told that fact to would go on to call me a bald-faced liar.  Adopted children had to be well-loved and well-treated by their adopted parents, they just had to!  The vehemence with which that statement was defended always made me wonder how much of a stake the defender had in believing it.

The second revelation concerned reunions.  Reunions were dangerous, full of emotional time bombs as long-repressed pain and anger worked it's way to the surface.  That sounded more like something you would do to a sworn enemy than to someone you might like, let alone someone you owed your life to.

Worse was the tendency of adoptees upon reunion to revert to the age they were when adopted.  Since I was adopted at six days old the very notion of reverting to infancy was absolutely terrifying.  I had waited too long and fought too hard for my newly won legal maturity to give it up so easily.

That fragility fed into the final fear:  rejection.  I had endured nearly universal rejection in my life up to that point, leaving me with.  Acceptance by anyone was still new and strange.  The very idea of searching for someone who had already walked away from me once and who might well reject me again at such a fundamental level was insanity itself.  It was an unthinkable madness to subject my tenuous sense of self to such a devastating blow.

Clearly there was only one ethical position for me to take.  This woman had given me life, and in good faith turned me over to people who were supposed to take care of me.  The fact that they hadn't wasn't an indictment of her intent but of the system.  She was getting on fine with her life without me.  There was nothing inherent in knowing me that had ever made anyone's life better, or so I had been taught at every step.  My finding her would only cause her pain.  That would be a reprehensible thing to do to a person to whom I owed my life.

Clearly the only ethical thing to do was to not cause her pain by not searching for her.  Indeed, to allow my selfish desires to lead me to hurt someone who had never intentionally hurt me would only reveal to the world that I really was the self-centered monster my adoptive mother accused me of being.

It didn't matter how I felt.  I  had to put my feelings aside and think of the feelings of others.

It was the only right thing to do.

So I thought for many years.  But gradually I began hearing that not all natural mothers were getting on with their lives.  Some were searching for their sundered children.  Some suffered from depression, PTSD, and low self esteem as a result of their experience.

My first reaction was consternation.  I'm good with the "empathy based on similar experiences" route, but this pain was still too raw to step away from far enough to compare it to anyone else's pain.  All it took was for my therapist to bring it up to reduce me from an articulate, middle-aged woman to a mute child with a face frozen in a paroxysm of grief.

Gradually, repeated exposure to the idea engaged my reason, or at least my conscience.  There might be someone out there who was suffering.  I might be the only one who could relieve her suffering.  This person had never intentionally done me harm and had  given me life.  If my reaching out to her was the only thing that could end her pain, then I had an obligation to do that.  It didn't matter how it made me feel.

Of course that resolution segued straight into the whole question of  "does the other party want contact or solitude, and how to deal with the different responses with grace and sensitivity."  But let's resist the easy distraction and stay on the path to the next hard question.  What do you feel?

I want my Mommy.

I know it's impractical.  I know it's presumptuous.  I know it's setting myself and others up for a potential world of grief.  I know all that.  But at this late stage in my life there is one thing I can do.  I can own the wanting.

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