Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Word of the Day: Altered

Here's a word I don't think I've ever used in trying to describe what it's like to be adopted: ALTERED.

Hopewaits left a comment, in which she wrote, "I believe all of us who were adopted have been so altered (even if you don't know it and think everything is O.K.)"

What an awesome, perfect word!!! (Thanks, Hopewaits!)

Besides, "to change or to make different," altered also means, "to adjust for a better bit."

And that, folks, is exactly what happened.

I simply did not fit in with my adoptive family. In looks, temperament, intellect, disposition.

My adoptive mother kept trying to make me fit. She gave me haircuts that did not suit me in an attempt to make me "match" her. She dressed us in matching outfits until I was nearly thirteen. She even tried to tell me what to feel. Clearly, whatever I was and felt were not acceptable.

With no other options - where else would I go? - I also made painful adjustments in an attempt to fit in. I pretended to be a party girl because my adoptive mother was a determined anti-intellectual. In high school, I became fashionable because she cared, greatly, about make-up and clothes. I never discussed the books I read or what I'd learned because, she complained, these topics were boooring and I was acting,"all snobby." (Using a big word in a sentence got me a mocking at the dinner table)

Pretending to be something you are not leaves little time for discovering who you are.

Not all adoptees have adoptive parents as woefully undereducated, ignorant or self-centered or insecure as mine. Of course. But, faced with an entire cohesive family system, the adoptee stands alone. And tries to fit in. What other choice does she have? All of her energy, most of it subconcious, will go into making tweaks and adjustments because the fit needs to be improved. She is out of sync, even if nobody else notices it.

And when, finally, she leaves the adoptive family system and strikes out on her own...that's when things can get tough. What does she do with all these quirks of character that she may no longer need? Who is she without these modifications? Who is she when she meets her first family and sees the bits and pieces of herself that she may have had to deny or suppress? How does she go about reassembling herself? How does she know what parts are real or fake?

The good thing is, if you had controlling adoptive parents and have left them and the pretense behind, you have more time to figure out who you actually are.

But there's no getting away from the fact that adoption alters the adoptee in a way that does not impact the adoptive parents or the first mother. And I'm not talking about pain or suffering or loss. I'm talking about the identity development of the adopted individual. It's like trying to make a rich soup without broth.

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14 Comments:

Blogger Mary said...

my asis (also adopted) was a good "match" for my afam. I wasnt and it was pointed out all the time to me.

10:44 AM  
Blogger Nina said...

Mary,

Actually, I don't think I've ever heard an adoptee say she thought she was a good match for her family. Grateful, yes (blech)..loved and nutured and accepted, yes. Which is always very lovely to hear.

Just wondering. Is it possible your asis fit in b/c she was more compliant? Dunno. But the important thing is that it would be very hard not tointernalize that message of not being matched as somehow being your fault...or that you were less than...or wanting in some way. Why is it that AP's never say it's THEM that didn't match the kid?

11:49 AM  
Blogger Being Me said...

Nina,
I love your explanation of the process of continually altering, trying to fit in-- the weirdness. It's so much what ISN'T spoken of in the adoption mythology, "AS IF..."

4:20 PM  
Blogger GooseBreeder said...

So very true, we're all being asked to live someone else's life.Read yesterday that every child has the right to grow up to be who they were meant to be.Us adoptees have a long way to go to find out who we were meant to be.Once we slough off the stuff that was imposed on us, deal with the initial trauma it's often hard to find who we really are.The best we can do sometimes is to start by telling the truth of how it is in every way we can.Blogs like yours are top notch for the truthfulness and the empowerement it gives all and hopefully yourself.Thank you, and courage and strength to you.

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