Friday, February 16, 2007

I See Dead Patterns

Recently, an especially ODIOUS person took time out from his very important day to chastise a young blogger - trying to come to terms with some serious nature-of-birth-identity-issues - and advised her to unstick herself from the past and just get on with her life.

I'm paraphrasing, but you get the point because, if you're adopted or a first mother or have a sperm donor Dad, you've heard it.

It occurred to me - last weekend - that reflecting on the past is CRITICAL, not because we want to wallow in it, but because we need to figure out how we COPED with it and discover if all those coping strategies are working for us today.

There are certain things I do that bug me. Really bug me. I had no idea where they came from, only that they made me uncomfortable. These behaviors could ruin an otherwise nice, family weekend. Keep me up at night. Send me into a non-productive frenzy in which I scurried around and got absolutely nothing important done. Or, took a nap.

One example:

When I meet someone new, I'm not me. I knock myself out trying to be nice and saying the right thing. Afterward, I'm drained. Like I made a major effort against my inner will. It's very Pavlovian. Meet a stranger. Act super friendly!

Why? Why why why???

Epiphany while visiting my adoptive Dad. He introduces me to one of the nurses in his dementia unit and he says, "Doesn't she look like a clown with that lipstick? Tell her it looks awful. She won't believe me."

So what did I do? Stepped in front of my Dad's wheelchair, in effect blocking him, and said in my brightest voice: "I LOVE your lipstick!!! What brand is it? Oh, MAC. I LOVE Mac..."

We then have a 5-minute chat about the virtues of MAC lipstick for us ethnic women.

Yes my Dad has dementia. But he's ALWAYS done this sort of thing, as far back as I can remember. When I was around 10, we were at a wedding and some old friends of my a-mom stopped to show off their baby. He was a big, bald, chubby thing. I'm already cringing, but it's no use. My Dad says, "Kinda looks like Kruschev doesn't he?"

I'll never forget the look on their faces. Wounded eyes and their shoulders sagged.

So what did I do?

I jumped up, declared the baby to be the CUTEST BABY EVER!!! and then, to prove it, spent the rest of the wedding carting Baby Kruschev around making the biggest fuss you've ever seen. Did I really want to do that? No. I wanted to run around with the rest of the kids my age, but I couldn't. Not lugging around a 25 pound infant.

Reflecting on the past helped me understand the patterns. Oh, that is what my A-Dad does. This is my coping strategy. I'm a fixer. Now that I know I'm a fixer I can retrain myself to STOP because I don't like fixing things and it leaves me emotionally drained and resentful.

Another case in point. I called my Dad at the appointed hour. He complains non-stop and, at one point, tells me he's so mad at "Bernie" that he's going to punch him. I tell my Dad he is not allowed to hit Bernie and threaten consequences like you would a pre-schooler itching for a fight.
Sure enough, the phone rings an hour later. My Dad is complaining of chest pains and is demanding the paramedics. Normally, I'd spend all evening calling him every half hour, call the nurses, have a lousy night's sleep with the phone next to my pillow and yammer at my tired husband about my manipulative Dad.

Last night I DIDN'T. I KNEW my Dad was pulling my strings. Besides, I wanted to focus on my 16-year old and HER mock trial competition which ended last night and she was in the mood to talk. So we did and I didn't think about my Dad beyond determing that he was having an anxiety attack and that he had settled down.

Now that's progress!!! That's identifying old patterns and coping strategies and being mindful of them and trying to move past them.

(The coping strategies mentioned aren't really adoptee related, but those linked to being raised by a narcissist without empathy or filters. I DO have adoptee-related-anecdotes but these are easier to explain and a little more entertaining. )

Every person - the adopted and non-adopted - have coping strategies. But it's arguable that adoptees have more...rooted in our reaction to loss and grief and trying to fit into a family of genetic strangers. We're dancing the Adoptee Dance, a fast and furious and sometimes exhausting jig.

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17 Comments:

Blogger suz said...

maybe i wasnt supposed to laugh, nina, but the way you wrote this made me chuckle. the kruschev comment made me spit my coffee out on my keyboard.

agreed with you as always.

1:37 PM  
Blogger Nina said...

Please, go ahead, laugh! It WAS kind of funny. In fact, I always thought my Dad needed his own sitcom. It was like living with Archie Bunker...except if Archie had tourettes. When my (dark skinned Mexican!) Dad sees an old Asian person, he does that little sing songy tune that Carlos Mencia does in his stand-up, except my Dad MEANS it. Considering that most of my friends were Chinese-American, you can IMAGINE my mortification. The only way I could get him to shut up was by humming a Mariachi song and breaking out in the Mexican Hat dance.

4:18 PM  
Blogger elizabeth said...

Great post Nina.

Narcissism and adoption breeds a special kind of hell doesn't it?

5:32 PM  
Blogger LeRoy Dissing said...

Nina...I think you would have been a "stitch" to be around. Of course, I would have loved to have pointed out at the time why you were doing what you were doing. You probably wouldn't have believed me and just hit me anyways - lol.

Seriously, sounds like you masked your grief with laughter. If you didn't laugh, you would cry and I am assuming you did much of that when alone - as alone and misunderstood you felt. Never anyone to talk to that would listen to the spoken as well as the unspoken words from your heart.

We'll we are listening now and glad you are speaking both :)

12:04 PM  
Blogger cloudscome said...

You are really amazing me with your insight and beautiful, thoughtful, funny writing. I am so proud of you for getting through all that to this point and pushing on for yourself... and I'm sorry you have had to live all this.

My personal/parenting/adoption blog is here: http://sandycovetrail.blogspot.com

3:16 AM  
Blogger chez said...

"When I meet someone new, I'm not me. I knock myself out trying to be nice and saying the right thing. Afterward, I'm drained. Like I made a major effort against my inner will. It's very Pavlovian. Meet a stranger. Act super friendly!"

OH - I SO have to post about this today. Have had a VERY draining weekend - and last night couldn't sleep.

Love your words, as usual!!!
Big hugs, C. xxxx

3:10 PM  
Anonymous Mom2One said...

"I always thought my Dad needed his own sitcom. It was like living with Archie Bunker...except if Archie had tourettes."

Now, THAT'S some vision!

Your dad reminds me of my late Norwegian grandfather. Yikes! There were plenty of cringe-worthy moments with him, the 300-pound man wheelchair-bound man in a nursing home (well, he probably could have walked if he had taken the effort to learn how to after falling and breaking his hip when elderly, the lazy man!) who used to yell, "LOOK AT THAT FAT WOMAN!" Holy cow! I was about 12 years old. Then once when my mom left to go talk to a nurse at the nursing station and I was alone with Grandpa outside, he started talking to me about "when he was going to meet my grandma up in heaven . . . " Talk about a freak-out for a 12-year-old. I asked my mom about it on our way home, and she disgustingly said, "Oh, your grandfather has said he's been dying for 14 years now!"

Hmmmmm. Yes, indeed, I think he fits the narcissist mold. Alcoholic too. He didn't raise me, thankfully, but he did raise my mother.

Oh Nina. My word. You must wish you had a rubber chicken in your purse that you could whip out and whack your dad with all the time when you're with him. From what you tell us, I think I would!

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