Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Looking for a Witness

I have this habit. When I finally come across one of the few people still alive who came into contact with one of my adoptive parents, I interview them.

It starts out as a conversation but, at some point, I fall into the role of reporter.
What was my mother like back then? What did you think of my Dad? Did my mother ever talk about my adoption? What was their relationship like?

My adoptive mother went to her grave clutching a treasure chest of secrets, including her private thoughts on my adoption, a subject she refused to discuss. A woman so private she even kept the details of her first marriage secret from her second husband and her only child, me.

If I want the truth, much of which relates to me, I am forced into the odd role of my adoptive mother's biographer.

I find it strange that she never, not even once, discussed my adoption with her closest friends. Maybe if she had, confessed her innermost fears, we would have had a chance at a relationship. Instead, she pretended I was her biological child and our course was set: bound for disaster. Of course, my father pretended, too.

But there's another reason I interview people about the past.

The psychologist Alice Miller gave me the idea in one of her books. She talked about how children who suffer abuse do so behind closed doors, where parents are free to do all sorts of things, from hitting their child because it's their "parental duty" to the mother who doesn't talk to her child for days (or weeks) on end as punishment. (My a-mother did this frequently. It never occurred to me that this was abusive, although at the time, it was confusing and lonely and felt terrible.)

When I talk to people who knew my a-parents, I'm looking for a witness. Some sort of third party confirmation to what happened.

In doing so I've learned that my a-mom's own mother was a cold, domineering woman who publicly belittled my mother. This came as a great surprise. My a-mom idolized her. To me. My grandmother was portrayed as the perfect mother. My a-mom the perfect daughter. Neither could be farther from the truth. Growing up poor and underededucated and ignorant, my a-mom went on to repeat the destructive pattern of the mother who could only love...conditionally. She carried the extra burden of the belief that an adopted child would respond with unconditional love and gratitude.

And then there is my child-like, narcissistic father.

I have learned that people always thought him odd. That's putting it nicely. The few people he called friends were actually not. They were friends of my mother who tolerated him, but barely. A woman I thought was closest to him asked who his friends were because he didn't seem to have any. It appears my a-father went through life practically alone...except for his wife and me, his parentified child he followed around the house, looking for attention. No wonder my adoptive mother wanted me to stay home and not go to college. When I left, she was forced to listen to his nonstop chatter.

The more time that passes, the more "interviews" I do, the less guilty I feel. It used to consume me. Why don't I love my father? Good daughters love their parents.

But real parents, good parents, of the biological or adoptive kind, don't turn their children into their emotional caregivers and behave like energy vampires, sucking the very life out of them.

Looking for a witness to my childhood has been a very, very good thing.

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15 Comments:

Blogger Possum said...

WOW Nina - you had to put up with some crazy shit stuff.
I'm glad you're finding your witnesses.
Cleanse and release - cleanse and release!!!!
Hugs, Poss. xxx

5:25 AM  
Blogger Nina said...

Thank you, Possum...I'm just beginning to grasp the absolute weirdness of it all. One thing I found disturbing is my therapist works w/young adoptees and she says the selection process is NOT as rigorous as we'd like to believe and that she sees some doozies for a-parents. I'd LIKE to think that no adoptee today should have to deal with the double whammy of their relinquishment AND disordered parents.

8:28 AM  
Blogger Karyn said...

The witnesses will truly help you, Nina, yeah! I've been reunited with my bio parents for almost 15 years now. Now that I've sorted through the weeds and the witnesses I've discovered that there would have been issues no matter which pair I ended up with. The issues and crap I went through growing up, I didn't think were much of anything until I found the bio pair. Then not only did I find out I had them but that there would have been a whole, huge, different set of them had I stayed with the bio pair. Nothing is better or worse, just different. My mantra since I've been reunited. Just a quick note on your Unworthy post. I know the feeling! I have mulled it over for many years now and I am coming to the belief that the unworthy feeling comes directly from losing "mother". If all that we feel, hear, smell and "know" from conception to birth is "mother" then why wouldn't it impact us when we are born? How could we not have a true feeling of loss when we are not only thrust into this strange, new, frightening world and immediately separated from the only thing we "know" It's the most traumatic feeling in our life and we are sent alone. I think this imprint has affected a jillion things in my life. I'm sorry to ramble, it's just nice to hear I'm not alone in these feelings. So, thanks for posting. I plan to return here and send you energy that you sort through the witnesses and the worthlessness with ease. We are not worthless, we are the strong... the little spirits that fate knew would take the loneliness and make it strength. Post on sister! Your voice will make a difference!

Sincerely

12:14 PM  
Blogger LeRoy Dissing said...

Great insight Nina about your aparents and not only their lack of parental capacity but lack of human understanding/needs including their own and how to appropriately meet them. The best thing you did was get out when you did. It gave you an opportunity to learn what healthy feelings/relationships could be and also sort out how dysfunctional your aparents were.

I hope you find some witnesses. I am sure there are only a few around and as you said, probably none she shared her intermost feelings with. Very sad but I am so glad for you!

2:45 PM  
Blogger ani said...

You know my mother never uttered a word about adoption to anyone,

I am sorry Nina, it is hard not to know what is rightfully yours to know.


ani

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