It’s About Being Divided In Two

Two Forms (Divided Circle) 1969
by Dame Barbara Hepworth

At the bottom of this blog, I’ll link the Adoption & Addiction, Remembered Not Recalled video by Paul Sunderland but first, for those who don’t want to watch for almost an hour, I share a few snippets.

The issue of adoption is all about divided attention, it’s all about 2 sets of families. It’s all about the conflicting feelings of wanting to belong, yet fearing belonging. (As the child of two adoptees, I’m certain this has filtered down into my own soul. I have never felt that I added up to be as much as the golden people I surround myself with – whether in social online networking communities or in my writer’s guild up in St Louis – those are just two examples but it probably goes back into my childhood as well.)

Adoption is a pretty weird word because it’s about the only condition that doesn’t really describe what has happened. Talking about adoption is a denial of relinquishment. The relinquishment wounds can be seen as a developmental post-traumatic stress disorder.

The word adoption is a cover-up. When we think about the adoption triangle, we think about the 3 parties in adoption. The adopted child, there are the birth or natural parents and there is the adoptive parent(s). Sunderland’s focus in his lecture is mostly about the adopted child. And as the title of his lecture suggests, his lecture is also about the apparent addition of addiction to that adopted child.

(And I do believe it is in struggling with an abandonment that one is lead into addiction. As an aside, we watched the 2008 Will Smith movie Hancock last night. He is an alcoholic and it seems to me that his alcoholism is due to similar issues of not knowing who one is at the core and feeling abandoned but not knowing by who.)

Back to the Sunderland lecture, he says that when he encounters birth parents in a treatment setting they usually say, “Not a day goes by when I don’t think about what happened.”

Adoptees are massively over-represented in treatment. And that leads to a question, Why is that ?

He has met quite a few adoptive parents, particularly as cross-cultural adoptions have been so popular. It is clear that many are feeling like, this is just not what we signed up to do.

Sunderland’s perspective is that there are NO adoptions without trauma. What he is talking about in his lecture is an enormous grief. A baby who has been waiting 9 months to meet somebody that they are not going to meet. It is about a mother who cannot live with having her child because society has told her that she cannot do it. Relinquishment goes against her biology.

And very often, the adoptive parents come into adoption carrying their own enormous grief due to having been unable to have a child of their own, naturally. One of the problems that Sunderland has with the word adoption is that it covers up the adoptive parents own grief.

So often, an adoptee will be told that they were chosen but the reality is that child has entered into a family that does not genetically fit them and given an impossible job description. They are forced to be someone that they can never actually be to fix the wound that the adoptive parents have. Infertility is an enormous disappointment for a couple and adoption tries to cover that up.

For an adoptee, the issue of abandonment is life threatening. There is nothing worse than to be separated from the one person (your mother) who you needed most at the beginning of your life. This is preverbal – it can’t be recalled – however, it IS remembered.

The word adoption tries to suggest that it is going to be a happily ever after situation. The human brain begins working before it is entirely built and experience is what programs the brain. If the beginning is a trauma and separation, then this is the experience that is wiring the neurons in the brain of the infant. For an adoptee there is a constant desire to attach accompanied by the conflicting sense that it isn’t safe to do so. There is no pre-trauma personality in an adoptee because there is no normal to compare this experience to as there would be for other traumatic events (war, car accidents, etc).

Being born prematurely and placed into an incubator is another kind of relinquishment when the infant leaves that containing environment. If a child is placed into foster care, that is also a relinquishment. Each change of foster family is yet another in a series of relinquishments. And second chance adoptions, where an adopted child is given back, is another relinquishment. In some cross-cultural adoptive situations, the child is born into such poverty, they are separated from the mother into an orphanage.

The bonding of an infant with their human mother actually begins 2 months before birth, while in utero, as proven by multiple experiments. Adoptees will often share that they have heard stories that they cried and cried. And I think of the mention of that in my mom’s adoption file via a letter from her adoptive mother to the Tennessee Children’s Home about the train trip upsetting my mom but that the doctor had her settled down now (and I always think – they drugged her, though it is not said directly). And I can understand now that my mom was relinquished twice because her mother took her to Porter Leath Orphanage in desperation for TEMPORARY care while she tried to get on her feet because her lawfully married husband had abandoned her and did not respond to a letter that the Juvenile Court in Memphis had written to him about his obligations.

Sunderland speaks about the stability of a child being dependent on a mother being able to know herself (which certainly was a black hole, actually for both of my parents, that I had until I was well over 60 years old and began to discover my own adoptee parents origin stories). People who are adopted and end up in treatment, often present themselves as fairly well put together.

Sunderland speaks of “love addiction” as needing to have the positive regard of a significant other. Addiction is genetically proposed and environmentally disposed. The hormonal aspects of having been relinquished are similar to living one’s life on red alert. In an adoption, there is a slow loss of self. A belief that they cannot be them self and get along with the people with whom they have been placed. The hormonal aspects affect sleep and stomach issues (and certainly my mom had her share of gastrointestinal issues throughout her entire life). Real difficulties managing moods (I think of my dad’s underlying seething anger that occasionally popped out).

If you think about serotonin, it is a soothing hormone. Addiction is usually an effort to self soothe. Eating sugar is one such effort to self soothe. Both of my parents were seriously diabetic and myself to some extent (though I am trying to manage my own sugar issues without ending up on insulin). Serotonin also manages shame and let’s you know you are okay but if your levels are low, the answer is “I’m not okay.”

Some people are not given up at birth and that was certainly true with both of my parents who spent 6-8 months with their original mothers before being adopted. People who diet and then give up on themselves, often multiple times. The chemicals in the brains of adoptees who have early psychological wounds are very different from other people without this personal background.

Adoptees have a tendency towards catastrophic thinking, always expecting the worst. The original wound of being separated from their mother was a life-threatening one. Shame is an unacknowledged aspect that is the understanding that I am not good enough, the bad baby (I’m unworthy, unlovable, there is something flawed in me) because if I was given up by my mother, I don’t have value. People pleasing arises from this feeling. How do I need to be to be accepted ?

Being extremely self-reliant (if you want something done, do it yourself) is also an outcome. It is interesting to note that both of my parents’ mothers had early abandonment or separation wounds from their own mothers caused by the deaths of their mothers. My dad’s mother had the worst one as her mother died when she was only 3 mos old. When she discovered that she was pregnant by a married man that she was not married to, she simply handled it herself and he never knew. With my mom’s mother, she was in her pre-teens and had to become “mom” to her 4 siblings.

Shame and anxiety are at the root of all addictions. There is an attempt to manage anxiety by managing the externals out there. Addictions are attempts to put anxieties elsewhere and explain the inexplicable. And there is the belief that somehow it is your own fault. Up until about the age of 10, infants and children believe that everything that happens to them, happened because of them.

In life, it’s not so much what happens to you as how secure you were with your early attachments. Roots, the secure base. Without these, one is less resilient. Adaption is a better word for what is done, not adoption. Adoptees end up with two minds. Real difficulties making decisions. The limbic system – fight, flight or freeze – is what kicks in with the catastrophic thinking. It is the part of the brain that developed before the frontal cortex. If you have an attachment wound, you never learned how to become a separate person. Any successful relationship exists in separateness, not in trying to adapt yourself to be accepted by that other person. The erotic exists in the space between the two. The real challenge for an adopted person is to actually BE their own self.

Check Your Privilege

It is hard for some people to understand, what it feels like not to know what ought to be yours to know. Like what your family health history is, who you were born to, where and when, why you were surrendered to adoption.

If you weren’t adopted, you make have the privilege of not having this uncertainty in your life. If you are judging an adoptee for being angry/disgusted at the entire world, don’t tell them to “get help”. Chances are they already have seen some therapist or counselor. Most do.

Each of us can only do, whatever we can with the hand life has dealt us. For some people, it’s a really hard hand. It’s not your job to put someone else in the place you think they should be. Doing so tells others more about you than whoever you are trying to fix.

Why do people use the phrase “you’re so angry” as a negative connotation ? Maybe there is a good reason. Why does someone else having something to be angry about have to be their problem to fix ? If my anger affects them in some way, they best start looking within for why it is triggering them.

I’ve been feeling a lot of anger from my oldest son lately. It is a frustration with life – not directed at anyone else and not hurting anyone else. If anything, he punishes himself which as a mom does hurt my own heart. A song’s lyrics keep coming to me and I don’t have the answer to the question it asks – maybe it is hormones and emotional immaturity still. Fooling Yourself by Styx.

You see the world through your cynical eyes
You’re a troubled young man I can tell
You’ve got it all in the palm of your hand

Why must you be such an angry young man
When your future looks quite bright to me

Get up, get back on your feet
You’re the one they can’t beat and you know it
Come on, let’s see what you’ve got

Mental health support is a human need and it is a privilege unfortunately. It should be accessible to anyone. Competent mental health guidance and compassion can be life changing. I googled Emotional Maturity – at what age ?

LOL

The term “mature” usually refers to a person’s mental state. Someone who is mature behaves in a way that is considered appropriately adult.  Emotional maturity is the ability to function in an effective, healthy way concerning one’s emotions. This means being able to express emotions accurately and appropriately, possessing some amount of self-control, and being able to think of others despite feeling strong emotions.

According to a study conducted in the United Kingdom, men do not become emotionally mature until the age of 43. This was not a scientific evaluation of maturity because that is largely dependent on social constructs. The study relied on surveys to determine what men and women considered mature, how they felt about their maturity, and whether or not they believed the opposite gender was mature at a certain age. Wondering what that surveyed age was for women ? Generally 32. This actually matches what is seen in school age children as well. Generally, the girls do mature earlier than the boys.

Emotional maturity is not a simple matter of checking off boxes. Some mental health professionals do not uphold the notion of age-based maturity. They assert that maturity has more to do with your background, values, and even biology than the number of years lived. How you mature, and the things you consider mature will vary based on the way you were raised, your neurological development, and your cultural framework. Some cultures value autonomy more than emotional depth, and maturity will be marked by the ability to take care of oneself. Other cultures value emotional depth, and dependence is not seen as a pitfall, but a lack of emotional intelligence.

Sometimes, it is anger that supplies the passion for change. I am very much the kind of person who puts up with stuff and adjusts my own self not to make waves. However, I can actually appreciate that dis-satisfaction can be the first step towards making a meaningful change that will make everything better.

For some adoptees and former foster youth, it was their well-deserved anger and fighting spirit that kept them safe in a lot of shitty situations. We have not walked in another person’s shoes and we can’t know what is going on inside of another person but we can be compassionate about the distress anytime we are aware of it or in proximity to it. Tolerance and patience helps, even for this mom.

Without Us

It is difficult being a woman.  It is difficult being a mother.  It is difficult being a wife, a daughter or a sister.  Sometimes it is difficult having women friends.  Today is International Women’s Day.

I was in a difficult romantic relationship with a dangerous man. He lived in dangerous ways and he was dangerous for my own self to be with. More than once he physically hit me. I’m not denying that my own behavior may have pushed him over the edge those times but I also know that whatever holds a man back from harming a woman, if he is able to break through that barrier even once, the risk then exists that it will be easier for him to go through that same barrier the next time. So eventually I left his physical presence. I planned my leaving carefully to be able to safely go. I saved money from what was allotted to me for groceries by buying wisely over a long period of time and I left without saying goodbye. After I was safely at a distance, I notified him that I wasn’t coming back.

It took that courage of leaving to put me into alignment with meeting my husband, so I could live in this deeply nourishing place where I feel very safe and am contented. And it took other actions too, like being brave enough to place a personal ad in a weekly entertainment newspaper in St Louis, without which I would have never come in contact with the man I married a little over a year later. Traveling through life is a lot like being in a car where I always know that I can never actually get truly “lost”. All roads eventually go somewhere and one can always backtrack and find a “somewhere” that we recognize. Leaving can be like backtracking to where you were comfortably confident in your own self, after the damage an abusive relationship can inflict upon a person. I know that all experiences – the good and the bad – end up somewhere else eventually. In that there is a great deal of comfort and a real confidence for living through it all.

My family supports the regional women and children’s shelter.  They support women and their children to survive domestic violence and end up in a better place.  They help keep mothers and their children together.  If you have the opportunity to do anything that will keep a mother together with her children, please consider doing so.  The future of our humanity depends on us being here.