Wednesday, December 28, 2011

It Is What You Make Of It

I have read so much recently about adoption and how it affects the adoptee. Some great stories, some not so great. It never ceases to amaze me how each person views the same subject differently. Of course we know that not everyone is happy in adoption and there may be many reasons for that. However, there is something that I think everyone forgets when it comes to life: It is what you make of it.

Sure, that sounds easy to say but in all reality it is true. Take me for example. I am not adopted, but I do know what it is like to live a life in a rejected state. When I was young, my father chose to leave our family to peruse a life that he wanted. It was 1973 and I was three years old when he left. I didn't think too much about it because he was in the military and I just figured he was gone because if his job. It was 5 long years before I saw him again and to be honest, I had no idea who he was. Once I figured it out, the rest of the day was spent looking at him and then trying to be the best little girl I could ... perhaps I was trying to impress him at my ripe old age of 8.

It wasn't until I was about 15 that the trauma of being abandoned hit me like a  hurricane bearing down on the East Coast. I had many issues that I was not sure how to deal with. I wanted to know what it was that I did that would have caused him to leave. I wanted to know why I was not enough to keep him with the family unit. I wanted to know who he was and if he loved me. Most of all, I wanted to know what it was that was so terrible that made him leave. I, of course, did not ask these questions of him because I was afraid that I would make him mad or scare him off. After his long absence, the last thing I wanted was to NOT know his reasons for doing what he chose to do.

After much heartache, self discovery and sleepless nights I finally went into counseling to try and help myself understand what it was that I DID to cause this immense amount of pain that my heart was feeling. 12 long years of heartache, unanswered questions and feeling less than adequate was starting to take its toll on my heart, my mind and most of all ... my soul. Then one day I realized, all this pain is in me and no one will be able to help it unless I help myself. So away with the bitterness and anger I felt for him, and in with the "it was HIS decision, not mine" mentality that would eventually lead me to the conclusion that what he did was done. There was nothing I could do about it all those years later, he left and life was moving along without him there. I figured out that if I wanted to sit and feel sorry for myself then I was never going to heal all the wounds that were left when he walked away. I realized that he had no bearing on the person that I was going to be, at least he would not have that power unless I gave it to him. That is what I had been doing for so long, giving him the power to keep me in the state that I was in.

I finally let it all go. I figured it was in the past and this was the present and why should I just sit back and let it run my life when I was worth so much more than that? I will give some of the credit to the counselor that I had. He was a great man who listened more than he lectured, and in listening he figured out the right questions to ask to help me think differently, to see it from a new angle. He helped me realize that it was not my father who had caused so much pain, but instead it was me that was causing myself pain by not moving past his actions. I was the only one who would be able to help myself. It took a long time to work though those issues, but eventually I did. The end result? I now have a respectable and happy relationship with my father.

I write all of this because I don't think people know the inner strength that each of us has. There are those that work through things and see the light on the other side. There are those that would rather place blame on someone else than to dig deep inside themselves to see what the real problems are. I don't write this to chastise those who have issues in life, I write this to remind all of you that life is what you make of it. We only have one shot in this thing we call life, and I think it should be lived to its full potential ... not wondering what it would be like if things were different.

Love yourself, forgive the flaws that you have and embrace the person that you are. In life we can teach ourselves so much and in the end it is us who makes the life we lead worth while.


Von said...

While life may be what you make it, sadly for adoptees so much has been imposed on us, so many choices made for us and so much taken away, that others take for granted. How ever much trauma non-adoptees suffer and overcome they pretty nearly always have the knowledge of who they are and where they came from.They know who they are related to, when they were born and where, in other words their real identity.Most adoptees do not and are denied that knowledge by others purposely in the lie that is adoption.
As adults we go through stages of dealing with what has happened to us, five according to Brodzinsky et al before we reach in later life some acceptance. That is with or without therapeutic intervention which of course can be helpful in dealing with trauma and loss for anyone if they find the right help.Adoption is never simple, it is complex, as is our loss and how we deal with it and how we are able to deal with it.

Rebecca Hawkes said...

This is a thought-provoking post, and I agree with many of the points you make. But (you knew there was going to be a "but," didn't you?) ...
For me the significant difference between your situation and that of adult adoptees of the closed-adoption era (of which I am one), is that our trauma was long unacknowledged, and even today we have to fight to have it recognized.

Here's a quote from Sherrie Eldridge's blog: "Dr. David M. Brodzinsky and the late Dr. Marshall D. Schecter, a psychologist and psychiatrist specializing in adoption, say in their insightful book Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self, that loss for the adoptee is 'unlike other losses we have come to expect in a lifetime, such as death and divorce. Adoption is more pervasive, less socially recognized, and more profound.'"

The "less socially recognized" part of this quote is really significant to me. And it's not just "society" (in some abstract sense) that doesn't recognize our loss. Our families don't recognize it. Our intimate friends don't recognize it. And in many cases, we ourselves go through much of our lives without recognizing it ourselves.

The process that you described, of moving through various stages of pain, anger, and loss, on your own and with therapy, and eventually having your ah-ha moment and shifting to acceptance ... that process is so essential. But many adoptees find it difficult to even get started on that process because of guilt and other stumbling blocks. And when we finally do start, we are often told to get over ourselves and move on.

You write, "We only have one shot in this thing we call life, and I think it should be lived to its full potential." I agree, and it is for this reason that I look back with such sadness at my younger self. Unprocessed adoption grief was a big part of what prevented me from living to my full potential. Because I had not processed the central loss of my life, because I denied that the pain even existed, there was so much else that I couldn't feel. I was, essentially, numb.
I'm in different place now, but like you, I had to go through a long process to get here.

Kelsey Stewart, Author said...

Thank you Von and Rebecca for your thoughts on this post! You are both right, what I dealt with IS different from what you experienced. I will not deny that at all. And I would never try to compare what my life was like to that of an adoptee. But I think you said it best Rebecca:

"Unprocessed adoption grief was a big part of what prevented me from living to my full potential. Because I had not processed the central loss of my life, because I denied that the pain even existed, there was so much else that I couldn't feel. I was, essentially, numb."

That numb feeling is what I can identify with. Numb to the fact that I was, for some reason, unloved by someone I so desperately wanted to be loved by. And it wasn't until I accepted that unloved part that I eventually moved past his actions and saw myself as a person of worthiness. Although I was abandoned by him, that feeling was not going to define who I was as a person... nor was it going to dictate the rest of my life. These are thoughts that I still need to get out and see for myself in order to keep growing as a person. I believe it is the journey, not the baggage, that defines who we really are.

Von said...

One last thought from a senior adoptee!! - we may only have one life but we do get many chances for change and growth, learning and x