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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Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Frankenfamily Part 2: The Terror of the 98th Percentile

Part 1

This is so hard to talk about.  I've tried before, but I've never found the right words.  Although as much as it hurt to be misunderstood, at least the misunderstandings helped me understand it better.

I hope that made sense.  It boils down to, "This is gonna be long."  This draft has taken three weeks to knock out, but prior versions have been kicking around for 37 years.

Growing up, I had three problems to deal with:  figure out the world around me, make friends, and since I couldn't "fix" my parents get someone to do something about their disturbing behavior.  By elementary school the first one was coming along nicely, but the other two were stalled out.

I'm not ready to blog about the third one today.  Suffice to say that I kept trying to tell trusted adults that something was wrong with my parents only to be told time and again that something was wrong with me for thinking that way.  Over and over again the adults I considered the best, the smartest, the most reliable, the most admirable, the most trustworthy told me that the problems I saw were not caused by something systemic in my family but were all in my head.  I was the problem, not them.

That betrayal of trust cut to the bone, especially in a child.  Most especially in an adopted child at a time and place where society  automatically assumed adoptive parents to be saints and adoptive children to be genetic "defectives" with sealed records preventing any possible refutation of that assumption.

***break for a bawling-eyes-out crying session***

Anyway, back to number two.

I tackled all three problems with the enthusiasm only a fresh-faced child can muster, but by elementary school it was clear something wasn't working in the "making friends" department.  I talked to other children, but they didn't seem to understand what I was saying.  My pronunciation was good, my grammar was excellent, but my comments only provoked silence or derision.  And nobody laughed at my jokes.  I soon became the object of everyone else's jokes.

And it wasn't just children.  I was starting to get the same response from grown-ups.

Even in my own family.

I tried to empathize with the other children, but that didn't work either.  I couldn't understand why at the time it was so hard for me to understand them and for them to understand me.  Looking back now, I can see that there were two separate issues standing in my way.  I was different from them in some ways, and my abusive adoptive family was different from their families in other, (literally) unrelated ways.  That didn't leave much room for common ground.

I learned not to rely on empathy or trust my feelings.  I learned to live from the neck up.

The people who understood I was being teased mercilessly (nobody used the term "bullied") told me they understood the situation and to buck up, it would get better over time.  But while they may have understood "the situation" they didn't understand me.  They didn't realize, or didn't want to realize when I tried to tell them, that the same thing was happening at home.  I didn't have a safe harbor to retreat to.  And it got worse over time, not better.

It wasn't long before I withdrew into the only place people weren't laughing at me, books.  I pretty much gave up on the rest of the world.  That decision hurt a lot, but I felt like I had no choice.

Not long after that I went from being an A student to being a straight-D student.  My parents didn't care, and as long as I had a fresh book on me I was what passed for content.  Books were my drug of choice to lessen the pain of alienation.  In second grade I started sneaking out of class to go to the library.  Picture books were too damn short.  I craved chapter books.  I needed worlds that wouldn't abandon me in a mere thousand words.

Fourth grade brought some changes.  I was diagnosed as "gifted", and placed in a special class with kids and a teacher I could actually talk to.  I didn't believe it at first, but when it didn't fade away like an illusion I started slowly coming out of my shell in fifth grade.

Mom had an even harder time believing it than I did.  First she insisted for years that the testers had made a mistake, or that actually my sister was the more better student and better child. Then I seemed to graduate into a sort of specialized servant/entertainer role.  I was allowed enrichment opportunities if they would either serve her, entertain her, or grant her social credit.

(Later I realized that she was complaining about me to outsiders who were pressuring her into giving me enrichment opportunities by threatening to withhold social credit if she didn't.  Decades later after I had moved away and had children of my own this dynamic apparently evolved into a vicious sport.  Her peers would threaten to withhold social credit if she didn't act like a "proper" grandmother, she got very good at avoiding doing things with or for my family, and her peers got very good at twisting the knife over her avoidance tactics.  That was pretty much our relationship up until her death.)

But I was still ten years old before I had anyone I could talk to on any level other than the most basic.

Think about that for a minute.  Think about spending the first ten years of your life with no one who would talk to you beyond telling you what to do or caring for your most basic needs.  You can talk to them, but they either don't listen to you or react negatively towards you for saying anything.  No positive reaction to what you say or do unless you're being blindly obedient, and that's just an acknowledgement that you did what you were told.

No one to share with or care about your innermost thoughts, your authentic self.

That sort of isolation, of alienation, is a kind of Hell.  Some say Hell is other people, but that's not quite right.  Hell is other people -- who don't really care about you.

Some gifted kids learn how to  dumb themselves down in order to make friends, but I never found enough common ground with non-gifted children to learn the trick.  I don't know if it was because of abuse issues or if I was the gifted equivalent of the flaming queen trying to pass as heterosexual, but it never worked.  And what kind of friends would they be anyway if they didn't want to know the real me?

After it sunk in that the gifted class wasn't a trick, there were other people out there like me and I was going to be allowed to spend time with them, I was thrilled.  My exile was over!  With the optimism of youth I thought it could only get better from here.

But I only had a few minutes I could actually spend with kids like me, and it wasn't enough time to get to know anyone or make friends.  It was a taste, but a taste is not a meal.

But where else could I find people like me?  I didn't get out much, and the types of places that attracted smart, creative people weren't the types of places my parents would take me.  Still, there was hope, right?

About then we started taking the CAT test in school, which amounted to an unusual but innocuous diversion for me.  Then the results came in.  I scored in the 98th percentile.  Everyone went "Yay!"  I went "Yay" too, because everyone else was doing it.  But I didn't have a clue what it meant.

Turns out it meant I tested out as smarter than 98% of the people who took the test.  Okay, but what did that mean?

If I was smarter than 98% of the population, then only 2% of the population was as smart as me.

That meant there was only 2% of the population that I could really connect with.



That meant I had to be around 100 people before I could even find one single person to talk to!   Anything smaller, forget it.  And I hated crowds!

And that's just finding a person to possibly talk to.  There's no guarantee that person will be anywhere near my age or have anything like my interests.

And I'll have to actually find them in that crowd of 100 people!  And as a kid I was seldom in any group that size, and when I was I was usually under strict orders to stay with my handlers.

But more importantly, it meant this isolation and alienation were going to stay with me my whole life.  There was no escape, no end to my exile.  I was always going to be alone, with no one around who understood me.

And that's when I became suicidal.

I tried talking about this moment over the years, but other people didn't understand.  "Didn't you feel that way?" I asked a gifted woman my age.

"Nah," she shrugged.  "I just blew it off and went home to my family."

I wanted to smash my head through a brick wall.  She went home to her family.  Her family who were gifted like she was, who understood her, who comforted her and explained things to her, who provided her with a secure home base to strike out into the world from and a safe harbor to return to when she needed it.

I didn't have that.  Not only did I not have parents or siblings like that, I didn't have grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins like that to turn to when I needed them.  I had no tribe, and that lack left a hole inside me that nothing could fill.

Eventually I made it to college through brains and determination, but there I found myself handicapped by a lack of social skills.  There were finally people I could talk to, but I didn't know how to socialize.  Somehow with all the "surviving a dysfunctional household that refused to admit it was dysfunctional" rigamorole I never picked up basic people skills.  I didn't know what to do about that, and I was too ashamed to admit it to ask for help.

Once again I was alone.

The other thing that I lacked was trust.  That's common with both abuse survivors and adoptees, but nobody told me this when I needed to hear it.  I didn't realize what I didn't have or what to do about it.

I screwed up a lot of potential friendships.

*deep breath*

If there's one complaint I have with my biological mother, it's that she thought so little about her own gifts, her own self-worth, that she thought any random person could take care of a child that shared her genes.  I have paid the price for that low level of self-regard, and not only by being sold to a couple who were ill-equipped to rear me.  For if she thought so little of herself and even less of me, then logically how could I be worth anything?

Forty-seven years later I can sit back, look at what I have and at what I've accomplished, and say to myself, "Buck up, it's not so bad."  But the thought still slithers through the rubble of my memories.

All people are created equal, but not interchangeable.  Modern adoption practice is based on the premise that you can fit square pegs in round holes if you start forcing  them when they're tiny and soft.  How is that not child abuse?

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