Monday, December 31, 2007

My Mother: That Unwanted Feeling

I started a thread on this on AAAFC, but decided to duplicate it here because some readers aren't forum members.

My mother called on Christmas and left a lovely message. She said something like, "You're such a nice person and you deserve the best and to be happy."

So I've tried to call her several times, but couldn't bring myself to do it. It's like I suddenly feel all clammy and I start to breathe fast and I feel slightly dizzy. And then it pops into my head, "I can't believe she gave me away!" Sometimes, I'll wake up in the middle of the night and that's the first thing I think. Out of the blue.

In the past, I've said that I don't feel safe around my mother. She unintentionally says things that are crushing. But I'm wondering if there's something more to this. I wonder if I can sense that she really never wanted me...back to in utero. She was 37 and by her own admission determined on adoption from the start, against family pressure to keep me. She's even said that her mother and sisters called her "heartless" for doing so.

An AAAFC member said that unwanted feeling - or knowledge - is deeply imprinted upon those of us whose mothers really did not want to keep us. I'm thinking she's absolutely right.


Friday, December 28, 2007

The Narcissistic Parent: Sometimes, You Gotta Stand Up

Most of the professional advice about dealing with a narcissistic parent centers around emotionally detaching. If the parent is toxic enough, the advice is often cutting them off entirely. As a way to save oneself.

So it was with some surprise when I heard my new therapist say, "Say something. Don't let him get away with it. Stick up for yourself. Tell him that behavior isn't okay and that you'll stop calling him if he tries that again."

He said I'd feel better. But my (adoptive) father has got some dementia now, I pointed out. The poor guy. Then my therapist pointed out that while that was true, his behavior toward me hadn't changed at all. It was same old, same old. And it wasn't about correcting my a-dad's behavior, but how I saw and treated myself. Just letting a-dad spout off and not standing up to him reinforced my image as a passive nothing. A receptacle.

While this made sense, I've been reluctant to do this. I've done it once. Maybe twice.

But I did it today. Big time. And if the goal was to make ME feel better, more empowered, it worked!

I'm having a nuclear family problem. Not the end of the world, but it is - rightly - taking all of time and mental effort. It is my primary focus and I missed a day or two calling my a-dad at the assisted living facility.

So he just called and he was extremely peevish and said, "Why haven't you called to check on me? I'm all alone and..."

I'd had it. Absolutely had it. It's never occurred to him - ever - that I have problems of my own. That I've had to deal with children or work or the plumbing. That I've been sick. And I've never asked for special consideration or sympathy or any sort of help. It never occurred to him that I hadn't called because something had happened to me. That he could have said, "How are you? I just wanted to make sure everything was okay." But he's only capable of starting out from a place that starts with him.

So I said, "I haven't called because I have some problems I'm dealing with and I can't talk right now. I'll call you later." And hung up.

And you know what? It felt fantastic. I was taking care of myself. It sounds silly, but it validated my priorities. That I'm a real person with real needs and concerns and worries. I said it not just for today...but for all those yesterdays.


Monday, December 24, 2007

Oh Come Ye Children of Narcissists

Just in time for the holidays!

Another post about dealing with a narcissistic parent.

After lots of therapy and endless intensive effort to emotionally detach from my toxic, elderly, narcissistic adoptive father, I'd like to report even more progress. If you have come here searching for information, I want to tell you it is possible to escape from their clutches.

I can now listen to one of his disturbing phone messages and giggle. A year ago, an abusive, demanding phone call would have left me sputtering with rage. I'd replay what he said over and over in my head. A single phone call could ruin my day. Several days.

Most recent example: He asked that I send him a new pair of slippers. The old slippers I gave him were not only falling apart, he said, but were making him fall down. (He falls down because he has Lewy Body dementia...different from Alzheimers. This frontal lobe disease means he lacks judgment and inhibition...which he had little of before. But basically, he's the same as he always was, just worse).

I also got the blame for his rapid decline in health because I stuck him in an assisted living facility. The fact that he is 81 and has heart disease and dementia had nothing to do with it.

I also got the blame for choosing a doctor who won't take his complaints about his aches and pains seriously and give him medicine to "cure" him. The fact that there is no cure for old age also escapes him. (I also got the blame for making him sick and sending him to the hospital when I was selfish enough to go away to college).

So I sent him some new slippers. He calls to say he got them and that they fit perfectly. And you know what he said? "Finally! You did something right for a change."

I laughed. I actually laughed.

I spent my life doing stuff for him. And my adoptive mother. And it was never enough. Or right. After them not doing much for me. The bare minimum. I mean, my adoptive mom thought driving me to school or taking me to the park (twice) were enough to qualify her for sainthood. Such amazing feats of selflessness required my undying gratitude and lifelong servitude.

Because it's Christmas time and with all the gift buying going on, I got to thinking. As soon as I started earning money, I bought them nice gifts. Thoughtful ones. I got a card with a little money. I can't remember a single gift they ever gave me. Because they never gave me anything, except when I was a little kid. My husband says it's because they didn't really know me and that if you aren't close to someone, you have no idea what they like. He said they were always too busy talking about themselves to learn anything about me. Which is true. They always blamed me for not being close to them, but how can you get close to someone who won't let you finish a sentence? I worked for years in television news production and they would tell people they had no idea what I did for a living. Writing, something like that. I told them a hundred times - desperate for attention and approval. My kids are smarter. They don't even bother trying to talk to my adoptive father. They just sit there and nod politely and then leave the room as soon as possible.


If you are in the process of trying to emotionally detach from a narcissistic parent, but haven't yet done so, and find yourself thrown together during the holiday season or are upset about something that parent is sure to do and worried that you may finally flip out and lose it, you have my sympathy. The holidays are already stressful enough. Try visualizing zipping yourself into an invisible full body shield that will deflect all the crap that is sure to be flung. And if you want to whine about anything, please feel free to leave a comment. Whiners are more than welcome here.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Adoptee Third Option: Escape!!!

When your adoptive parents can't - won't - allow you to ask questions about your adoption, you are being denied the most fundamental thing about you. Where you come from. Denied this most basic of information, your very reality, you can't be real. So you fake it. As best you can. A sort-of person. Not like the rest. The only way to deal with that is what I did for decades. To tell yourself and anybody who asks, "It's okay. I don't really want to know, anyway. My adoptive parents are my real parents. Actually, I'm happy to be adopted! " This is commonly referred to as, "the fog." I've also called it brainwashing. Maybe it's self-preservation.

But this state of repression is so difficult to sustain, especially around adoptive parents who insist you be something you are not, that there is a third option: Getting away. As far as you can.

The minute my feet touched down in Berkeley, 400 miles away from my adoptive family, I found freedom. To be somebody who may not have yet been authentic, but at least I didn't have the burden of playing the dutiful, passive only child who was forced to caretake her emotionally needy adoptive parents, who's only accepted role was to listen and provide support, without expressing any opinion or needs of her own.

The danger in getting away, after being the prisoner of such controlling parents, is that it's all too easy to fall into the clutches of other controlling people, like boyfriends and friends. And I did. It was the only kind of relationship I knew. Still, I was free to experiment with relationships. And myself. To explore the who and why of me. This isn't easy to do when you don't know much about your first family and what you were told was a bunch of lies.

It's only after finding my first mother and getting my backstory 1.75 years ago that I finally feel like I'm a real, bonified person with two feet on the ground instead of hovering, ghostlike, several feet above the surface.

But getting away was the third option. That state in between staying away from my adoptive parents and running away from searching for my first family. In between, I moved seven times and lived in five different states. My adoptive dad would shake his head and call me a, "gypsy."

I have lived in the same house for seven years, which is a record. I've been thinking back to that time of moving, moving, moving. It was much better than playing Obedient Daughter to an unappreciative audience. It was less, well, foggy. I wasn't thinking much about adoption back then. Hardly at all. Still, it was nowhere near as good as life after finding my first mother, as painful as it has sometimes been. Our reunion is far from fabulous. Although, it's better than some. She was thrilled I'd found her!

I am really amazed at how utterly empowering search and reunion is, even when you end up not liking your first mom all that much. It's hard to explain to somebody who isn't adopted just how fulfilling it is to finally, finally, get some facts about where you come from. To see the woman who gave to birth to you, at least once. Not that it's easy. I'm still reeling from the shock of it ten months ago!

Before reunion, I was starting to feel restless again. Like I wanted to pick up and move. (Although I wouldn't, my kids were becoming teens). But since reunion, I am happy where I am. Perfectly content. That's saying a lot, because for those of you who've read my older posts, my poor mother carries major baggage and I've done my fair share of moaning and groaning. But as the Holidays approach, I'm celebrating I found her. Baggage and all.

Labels: ,

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Angry Adoptee

You know what pisses me off?

That we adoptees are only allowed to express a limited range of emotions. And opinions.

If I were my teenage daughters, I might put it this way: "Anger really freaks people out."

I'm angry about my adoption, but not an angry person in general. I have got on with my life despite getting stuck with narcissistic adoptive parents whom I had to caretake.

I'm concerned there seems to be a weird love affair going on with adoption. Which is not going to last. We're going through a phase. Several more distraught, woefully unprepared and undereducated adoptive moms who kill their international adoptees is bound to throw the spotlight on the fact that adopting a kid from another country isn't all about bunny slippers and finally getting invited to playdates.

ANYWAY...back to anger.

I can only speak for myself. Not all adoptees are angry. And those of us who are, aren't angry about the same things.

But I'll tell you what makes me angry: Not being listened to. Never. Not once. Not at home. Not in my family. Not amongst friends. Not even now. In 2007. (Except here. And on AAAFC).

It's enough to make you absolutely crazy.

There you are, a bonified SOCIAL EXPERIMENT...the subject of books written by experts, the topic of radio call-in shows and newspaper articles and morning television show segments. But nobody ever wants to hear what it's like to live life as an adoptee. Not if the script doesn't include the words, "happy" or "grateful." Sometimes, a carefully screened adoptee gets to admit to a dollop of ambivalence, in a perfectly pleasant tone of voice that shows she is not in the least bit angry. A little confused, maybe. Wistful is okay, too. She can be wistful. Maybe she'd like some things about adoption to change. But just a little. Nothing scary. Because she's grateful to have been adopted and she just adores her adoptive parents.

The rest of us are ignored. Or dismissed. We're crybaby whiners who should just get on with our lives.

Being an adoptee often means this: Having a lifetime of experience to share and few people to share it with. It's just not something people want to hear about. Unless they are discussing it. Then you can't get them to shut up because they're experts and want to tell you how to deal with something you've lived with every single minute of your life. As a social experiment.

That's what people don't get. Adoption is not just another way to form a family. It's something entirely different. Oh, it's a way. Way different. Definitely. Necessary sometimes. Like in my case. But proceed with caution. It's tricky. Like all experiments.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Talking about the Adoption Experience

It's practically the middle of December and I'm still reeling from the onslaught of articles about adoption published to coincide with November is National Adoption Month.

And you know what?

There was a whole lot of talking going on about the adoption experience and, once again, it was the adoptive parents doing most of the talking. Sure, there were some notable and carefully chosen exceptions, but overall, the adoptive parents hogged the show.

And you know what else?

Only those of us who are adopted know what it's really like. Sure, AP's can talk about what it's like to build a family through adoption. But not the actual adoption experience.

Only we are qualified to talk about the adoption experience. All of us adoptees. Domestic and international product. Closed Era and Open. Transracial. The formerly fostered and now adopted. Oh sure, adoptive parents can talk longer and louder, but in the end, they aren't adopted. We are.

What if....

What if...

adoptees got to do all the talking? Just for once. Maybe National Adoptee Month. Maybe that's what it would take. Just so we could talk without somebody handing the microphone to an adoptive parent to explain it all. Just so we could finally have some dignity and be treated like bonified grown-ups.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Would I, Could I....Adopt

A brave reader asked if I would adopt. She asked because she's thinking about it and knows I'm an adoptee. I call her brave because, I suspect, most Prospective Adoptive Parents would have an inkling of what I might say and not want to hear it.

After the trauma of infertility, the red tape, the disappointment, the effort, the money, the expectations, the sheer magnitude of the whole adoption process, the last thing a PAP wants to hear is some adult adoptee bursting any balloons by telling them that more hard work is ahead. It's like running a marathon and just when you think you've won some guy tells you there's another 26 miles and a mountain to go. Who wants to hear that?

This is a long way of saying, that's what I meant by bravery for asking.

The answer?

No. At least not a newborn from a birthmother. As an adoptee, there's no way I could take the smallest part of promoting this sector of the adoption industry. It's simply out of control in this country.

Would I adopt an orphan from a foreign country? Again, no. Not after learning about corrupt practices and the way the demand for babies is actually creating supply in third world countries. And while there are legitimate orphans, I would be too terrified that the one I would receive would be stolen or sold or something equally awful.

Before I admitted that adoption did have an enormous (negative) impact on my life, I could see myself adopting in an unconscious repetition of my abandonment complex. Basically, I'd be trying to rescue my baby self and be the kind of adoptive mother my adoptive mother could not be.

But now that I'm out of the fog and realize just how traumatizing adoption is, no. I have finally reached the point of being able to deal with my own issues. I'm so worn out and tired by my own ongoing struggle that I'm simply not equipped to take on the ongoing struggle of another adoptee.

How about adopting a child from foster care? Now there's something I would consider. There are so many kids in the system who desperately need homes. But not even at this stage because I have two trying to attend to their needs while attending to my own and that of an aging narcissistic adoptive father take all the physical and psychological energy I can muster in middle age.

Now remember, the question was would I adopt. This is not advice to anyone considering adoption. My only advice is to take off the rose colored glasses if you're wearing them and make sure you are strong because it's a marathon...not a sprint.


Monday, December 03, 2007

Bad Adoptions

What draws people to obscure blogs like mine is a fascinating question.

Some find me by Googling, "elderly narcissistic parent," and the first thing that pops into my head is, "That poor person." Because I know they are stricken with guilt or overburdened with making all the tough decisions because their parent made no advance plans or "Mom" or "Dad" is generally being a giant pain in the ass after being a thorn in the side of the adult children ever since they were kids.

Others find me by Googling, "Bad Adoptions."

And I'm wondering, what does that mean? I guess it all depends on who's searching.

If it's a prospective adoptive parent, it probably means they chose an agency that disappointed or the birth mother changed her mind or they flew all the way to Guatamala or China or some other third world exporter of babies and was forced to return home empty handed, for whatever reason.

If it's an adoptive parent, it probably means major disappointment of the staggering kind. Just the idea of this makes me cringe. Do bio parents Google, "Bad Biological Kids?" Probably not. They complain to their friends, read a lot of self-help parenting books, eventually become estranged or cut them out of their will. But they don't have the excuse of a, "bad adoption" to fall back on nor do they "disrupt an adoption," also known as giving back the kid.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, some adoptive parents were lied to or half-lied to and the child they brought home is a walking disaster or attachment disordered and this wasn't what they signed up for. They expected what everybody else expected when they read, "What To Expect When You're Expecting." A cozy bundle of joy, not a nightmare. Or if the child was older, maybe they wanted compliance and gratitude. But preceding any adoption is expectation. But because most people decide on adoption as a last resort, they're already emotionally strung out and the stakes have gone way, way up. It's like losing all but ten bucks in Vegas and you hit the giant spinney wheel thingy and throw your money down, muttering a prayer.

So what am I saying?

Adoption is not for the weak and fragile. (Which is kinda funny, if you think about it, because most of the infertile couples have been through a lot of trauma, so are understandably wrung out).

It's far more serious and difficult than many desperate, prospective adoptive parents would like to believe or can afford to believe. It takes a giant leap of faith to raise somebody else's kid and to deal with the disappointment they must feel deep inside when their adoptee turns out differently from whatever they had in mind. I oughta know. I could feel my adoptive mother's profound sadness and disappointment that I did not turn out to be the loving, dutiful Mexican daughter who stayed by her side. (And occasionally, I heard about it, too).

Every prospective adoptive parent has expectations. My advice? Best to be honest about it. If you can admit what you're expecting, then you can expect not to be so disappointed when you get served up a child you didn't quite expect. Kids are like that. Even biological ones. But I know raising an adopted child is harder than raising a biological one. Because being an adopted child is harder than being a biological one. There's just more layers of stuff.