Written by Mark Jones, Youth Network Leader
This is a story about an adoptee that comes in two parts.
Part one is my own experience of being blind to how crucial my adoption was to nearly every aspect of my life.
Part two asks why this apathy toward adoption seems echoed by society, and the impact this might have on other adoptees in understanding their own experience.
I was adopted at 10 weeks old and never felt its importance until forced to confront it through therapy. I struggled with my mental health in high school and university and was clueless to its cause. Any post-adoption issues I was experiencing were completely invisible to me. Through a lot of help and self reflection, I eventually came to understand that unresolved adoption issues not only played a role in what I went through, but they also affected nearly every aspect of my life, from relationships to self-identity. While I will try and show the unique impact adoption has on even an infant adoptee’s life through my own story, I do understand that this may be a controversial claim and is not one I am going to fully defend in this blog. I am rather introducing the idea that adoption matters to all adoptees, even if they are unaware of it like I was. I believe the reason post-adoption can be invisible for many adoptees comes from an unwillingness to distinguish adoption from the biological birth for fear of what it might mean. While post-adoption issues can be difficult to work through, I believe ignoring them completely is damaging for everyone involved.
I was lucky and found someone I connected with and trusted, someone that challenged me, that helped me take apart the pieces of my mind and look at them one by one. They helped me to dig deeper and deeper until I eventually hit something. It was my adoption.
For years, I have desperately tried to build an unhealthy identity by excelling at what I thought would grant me the most validation. I put enormous pressure on myself to forge the adult I thought I was supposed to be. I was going to be great, I was going to be special, I was going to change the world. I was going to be worth something.
I never questioned why this pressure existed. It just did. I lived in it, breathed it every day. I was a confused kid and never really made up my mind about what I loved to do. And when I neared the end of high school, those feelings were as strong as ever. I was distraught. I had to be better than what I was, I just had to. There was a feverish insanity to my desperation, but I never questioned why I felt that way. I assumed it was normal for me to want to excel. I can remember the feeling – the grinding of my jaw, the grip of my fists, the knot in my heart, the probing thought in the back of my head that time was running out and that I needed to find my path to greatness before it disappeared forever. It’s still a feeling that exists in me today.
I hit a wall in high school and I felt like a failure. Everything was crumbling around me. I had wasted too much time, and I wasn’t where I was supposed to be -- I wasn’t great enough. I started noticing how difficult it was for me to form relationships and I blamed my own lack of worth. My romantic relationships were toxic. It was like I was looking for someone to fill a hole in my chest I knew they couldn’t fill, but that didn’t stop me from desperately seeking their help.
I took a year off after high school to try and pull myself together, but found myself right back where I started once university came. And still, I didn’t understand what was wrong. I was desperate for a close friend to lean on, and a purpose to guide my life, to give me direction. Maybe then I wouldn’t feel so lost.
I started university, but quickly gave up on school when I started feeling the same callous anger I had in high school, those same feelings I still didn’t understand. I felt like I had hit my rock bottom. I was frustrated at myself for not understanding what was happening to me and I felt like I couldn’t do it alone anymore. Admitting to myself that I needed help was difficult and opening up to someone was the last thing I wanted to do, but I was scared of what would happen if I did nothing. So I decided to seek therapy. I was lucky and found someone I connected with and trusted, someone that challenged me, that helped me take apart the pieces of my mind and look at them one by one. They helped me to dig deeper and deeper until I eventually hit something. It was my adoption.
It took me months to admit my adoption mattered. I could not accept that my adoption had anything to do with how I was feeling and I was angry at my therapist for even suggesting the idea. It couldn’t be that simple. How I felt was so complex, so tangled in a knotted mess. I was my own person, I couldn’t be summed up by one word.
But my adoption did matter. It seemed to explain so much of my behaviour, my desperation in trying to prove my own self-worth and why I looked for validation in relationships I always believed would inevitably end. My adoption had been affecting me my whole life on such a deep level, and I had no idea. It was only once I started to understand the role adoption played in my life that I was able to begin to deal with the feelings I had toward relationships or forming my own identity. Knowing why I felt the way I did didn’t solve the problem or make the feelings any less intense, but it did help me manage them and begin to move forward.
My denial that adoption mattered in my life never really went away. Even now, there’s a resistance I feel to thinking about it. I don’t want to talk about it. Writing this is a struggle. And if I feel this way, there must be others who feel this way as well.
I started looking for opportunities to talk to people like me about what it felt like to be adopted. I was surprised to find very little out there focused on adoptees. Some groups helped with the reunion process between adoptees and birth parents, others focused on supporting the adoptive parents, and one group I found in Toronto organized some events for youth. But finding it was not easy, and to think that only one youth group exists in Toronto was unnerving.
I attended yearly conferences about issues in transracial adoptions, adopting older youth, sibling adoptions, or getting kids in care adopted. Race, culture, age and finding permanent families for children are all incredibly important issues, but they didn’t address the questions I was asking about my own experience. What about adoption itself? I had so many questions that I felt were going unanswered in the current dialogue.
I believe adoption itself isn’t talked about because it’s seen, at least subconsciously, as a non-issue. The only issues society sees is if there’s a disparity in race and culture between parent and child, if a child in care isn’t able to find a permanent home, or if siblings are separated from each other. Again, these are clearly important issues, but they are also ones that can be talked about separately from adoption itself. One can understand the importance of keeping siblings together, or staying connected to your cultural roots without understanding what adoption is and the primal connection a child has with their biological mother (for more on this idea see The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier). What about the effect on the child of being relinquished by their biological family and being taken in by another family? It’s not adoption plus something else I’m talking about, it’s just adoption itself.
The concern I want to address is for adoptees who don’t realize their adoption is important, who didn’t have a therapist to talk to, to help them see reality. Those adoptees who are still stuck suffering through broken relationships, depression or low self-esteem without understanding why.
Adoptees have a story, one that they may not even be aware of – one that I was not aware of. And it’s a story that other adoptees will understand far better than anyone else can. Maybe they want to tell their story, or maybe they don’t. What’s critical is that adoptees, along with their parents, connect with other people who have had similar experiences to them. That’s how I believe we can fight the invisible nature of post-adoption issues. I think there are a lot of adoptees out there who were like me, and are in denial of what adoption means to them. I’m not saying adoption affects everyone the same way, but I am saying that I strongly believe adoption has an incredible impact on those who have experienced it.
The concern I want to address is for adoptees who don’t realize their adoption is important, who didn’t have a therapist to talk to and help them see reality. Those adoptees who are still stuck suffering through broken relationships, or depression, or low self-esteem without understanding why. Read more...
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