My Lack of a Blood Bond

 

broken-family-blog

 

I always knew I was adopted. It wasn’t sprung upon me in my teenage years causing to question my upbringing, nor did I find some conclusive sheet of paper which would turn my life upside down. It simply was a subject that was open for discussion at any point in time. I was 18 months old and had bounced around the foster care system since birth, and by the time I arrived at my parent’s home, not only was I emotionally and physically scarred but I was also aware that this was yet another family who might get rid of me like the rest had. I know I did not understand the word adoption, or perhaps even the concept, but I knew it felt different.

My mom was up front with me from day one in explaining that I had a birth mom, but that I was chosen by them to be a part of their family. As I grew older she let me know that she would help me look for my birth parents if that was something I was interested in and over the years, curiosity popped in and out of my head…who did I look like? Who had the blue eyes? Who was responsible for my pudgy little fingers? While those questions were always at the back of my mind they never became much of a priority, unlike the constant nagging of the “why” question. All I knew at the time was my birth mother was young and unable to take care of me and given that none of my foster homes opted to keep me, there must have been something wrong with me, and the fear of being “given back” was a constant shadow in my mind.

Growing up, there was not a lot of time or emotional space to think about finding my birth parents, as the domestic abuse in my home started when I was five and ended when I was 13. My sexual abuse, which occurred outside the home also started at five and ended at 14 and my mom was diagnosed with cancer when I was 13 and lost her battle after six long years. I was 19 when my mom passed away and although over the years, the curiosity of my origins had grown bigger, the guilt about doing it after my mom died was overwhelming and once again I pushed the issue to the back of my mind.

In my early 20’s, I was given some information about an Ontario adoption registry that allowed both adopted children and their birth parents to register on a computer program which would then search for a match. I filled out the form, forgot about it and continued on with my life. Out of the blue, when I was 24 I received a big unmarked brown envelope which I proceeded to hand to my girlfriend at the time, told her to open it, thinking it may be a book from a college I had looked into, and ran in to get us coffee. Upon my return to the car, I find her in tears with the envelope in her hand saying “it’s your past”. To be honest I had forgotten completely about it and the shock set in as I started to read the first of the pages.

My birth mother was half black, half Irish and because she had died that year in a fire I was given her identifying information, her name and birthdate etc. She had indeed been a young mother with a history of addiction and mental health problems. My birth father was of Italian descent with blue eyes and darker skin and there was very little other information about him. My birth mothers mom was still alive, and I was also informed I had two half-sisters, and with my permission and a few exchanges of letters, a meeting was set up. It is a very strange feeling to be handed family and expected to have some sort of instant connection simply because we share some DNA, especially considering that blood relations had never been a part of my life.

As the meeting approached, I anticipated the many scenarios that could occur, and although I can say honestly that I wished for a close knit family, I went in with as few expectations as possible. It was odd to finally look at someone who has some sort of resemblance to me. My birth mothers mom was a kind, elderly lady who was just thrilled to meet her grandchildren, and like many people of that generation, was not willing to divulge much information about the past. My middle sister had actually lived with our birth mother on and off for five of six years, however following numerous suicide attempts, she was permanently removed and placed into foster care. My youngest sister has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) complete with minor facial and hand deformities and is mentally challenged but was thrilled to meet her sisters for the first time. All in all, the meeting went well, and with the promise to remain in contact, we all went our separate ways.

I noticed within the following weeks a sense of resentment and anger building up towards my birth mother. I get she could make a mistake and not have the ability or support to quit her addictions, and therefore would lose custody of me, but the fact is, she was given six months of after my birth to clean up and prove herself as a worthy parent. She was given supervised visitation rights which she repeatedly showed up high, or still drunk from the night before, and as the weeks passed, the visits lessened until one day, she just never came back. It started to eat at me, what type of woman could prioritize alcohol and drugs over her children, not just once, but three times. Why could she not have at least tried to get me back, not just wash her hands clean and get back to her routine, free from the burden of a screaming baby? How could the cycle just continue to repeat itself with no intervention until a child has to be born with mental deficiencies and physical deformities? Were there more than just the three of us? Perhaps someone who didn’t register, or did she finally figure out that birth control was not as rare a diamond?

As I aged and became more aware of mental illness and addiction and the effects they can have on someone’s life, I began to be able to make a sense of peace with the anger I was feeling. Yes, I will always feel abandoned, but in this case, perhaps it really was the best scenario. My birth Grandmother passed away within a year of the meeting, and I would love to say I have two sisters who I am super close with, but despite my numerous efforts to reach out, the reality has become Christmas or Birthday text, usually initiated by me, and often lacking a response. I have made peace with that as well. I have no expectations of either of them, and as I said, you can’t just put three strangers in a room and because of one common factor, a birth mother, expect a bond to form instantly, or in this case, at all. I care about them of course, but do I love them? Hard to love someone you don’t know.

A blood bond means nothing to me. A chosen bond means the world.

 

Accepting Grief for a Lost Inner Child

 

grief

 

Grief; the one and perhaps only word that could invoke more emotions than the word love is near impossible to describe. It’s like a tsunami of emotions that suddenly overwhelm you to a point you did not know you could reach, while your mind is caught in the eye of the storm, spinning out of control.  It is a physical pain that encompasses your whole being, tightening every muscle in your body while sucking the air out of your lungs; even breathing becomes painful. The tears stream down your face uncontrollably and if it is possible, your heart physically hurts. Grief involves a major loss of something we are attached to, and is not limited to what it is most associated with…death. There is often grief involved with the loss of a home, job or even a friendship.

There is no timetable that comes with grief; it is completely individualistic and situational. There is no right or wrong way to deal with it, there is only what is best for you. Sure, there are common stages that the majority of people will deal with when it comes to grief; the denial and anger, the bargaining, depression and eventual acceptance, but each person will experience them differently. These stages may sound familiar if you have suffered a deep loss, like a death, as you may have passed through them on your path to healing.

We learn how to mourn for other people, great losses and even material attachments, but have we ever been taught, as survivors, that it is ok to mourn all that we lost?  We lost our innocence and our ability to trust. We lost our voices out of fear and shame. We lost the developing identity that may have been, had we not been violated. We became empty shells with no functional ability to process the trauma occurring. We could not fight, nor flight and so we froze, and the survival portion of the brain took over, to save us from the trauma we could not handle. In essence we lost our childhoods, and we need to grieve such an immense loss in order to heal.

Grieving for an external loss seems to come more naturally than trying to grieve for oneself. Trying to understand the loss of your inner child not only involves having to acknowledge that you still have an inner child, but also accepting the fact that the “little you” was hurt and violated and bears no responsibility for the trauma endured, which is something many survivors struggle with for years. We became experts at denial the instant we were defiled and we continue along that path until we are emotionally strong enough to deal with the truth.

Anger is almost innate for most survivors. It starts with the abuse and sometimes lasts a lifetime. We are rarely presented with the opportunity to express the anger we are burdened with to the source that caused our pain, and despite carrying it around for so long, we are often incapable of outwardly expressing it appropriately. When anger becomes internalized, as a child we act out in a multitude of ways, and as we age these behaviors can lead to self-destructive habits such as addiction and self-harm as methods of coping. We may be able to get help dealing with and properly expressing our anger and recognizing its effects on our present day lives through therapy, or a workbook and although I believe it eases up in time, mine certainly has, but I think it is something we shall carry with us to some degree through the rest our lives.

Bargaining is the normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability in a desperate attempt to regain even just a small piece of the control we lost as children. For years, we play the “what if” game, wondering  if we had only done something differently or if we had spoken up,  would things have been different?  As children we can’t do much bargaining because we are unequipped to do anything other than go into survival mode. As we age, beliefs depending of course, we sometimes try bargaining with a “higher power” in an effort to trade or give up anything we can think of if the abuse stops. Sadly, however most survivors do not end up dealing with their trauma until adulthood and by then, bargaining seems futile.

Depression, I would say, affects nearly every single survivor at various degrees, during their lives, sometimes sporadically sometimes never ending. It may have started when we were young but was not recognized until we were teens or adults and therefore it is often not until we are in our twenties and thirties or later that we can even begin to truly process and try to heal from the trauma we suffered as children. With the grief of any major loss comes such a heavy sadness and emotional weight not only at the time of the event but often for years after. Depression is certainly not limited to grief but is a true indication that something deeper lays beneath the surface.

Acceptance for survivors is multi-faceted, non-linear, and for some may never happen. It is difficult to accept any loss, but to accept losing a childhood that can never be reclaimed is a long and arduous process. It becomes further complicated because often our abusers are family members or friends making it even more difficult to acknowledge such a betrayal as our truth. With proper support and perhaps therapy we can to try and learn to accept the traumas that have melded us into the people we are today.

So grieve. Grieve for your inner child and all the losses that you suffered, but show yourself the same support and caring that you would give to anyone else.

 

Do I Have a Fear of Fear

 

blog-fear

 

A while ago, a friend of mine told me to write about what I am afraid of, and so I promptly wrote a blog on the first topic that popped into my head, abandonment, then I closed the topic on fear. Fear is individualistic and what makes me afraid may be nothing to someone else, but it was pointed out to me today, that perhaps I am afraid of a lot more than I think, or may be willing to admit. For survivors of childhood sexual abuse, fear is something that is deeply ingrained from whatever moment it was that forever changed your life. Fear is an emotion that is most commonly brought about by a perceived threat or danger and usually induces a reaction of flight, fight, or freeze.

As children, when we are being abused there is not the option of flight; if I could have run away, I obviously would have. Having the ability to fight back is also not possible given the average size difference between a child and a perpetrator. I am small in stature and always have been and I gave all the fight I had but could not hold off a teenager or an adult. That leaves only one option; to freeze. To be so afraid, you literally are physically and mentally frozen is our only way to survive the experience, and because we are most likely molested multiple times this reaction becomes habitual and becomes a repeated pattern throughout our lives.

I think I am afraid of fear, if that is even possible. One thing I do know is I’m tired of it. I’m sick of it kicking my ass at every corner and causing me to look over my shoulder both physically and emotionally. I am exhausted from being bouncing between hyper and hypo sensitivity. I blame it on my illnesses and convince myself there are other reasons…I’m too nervous to go there, I am too shy to talk to them, I’m too insecure to try that, and the list goes on. Sure, they are likely enhanced by my disorders but the common denominator, regardless of what I try to label it as, is fear; the root cause of so many emotions. Even as I write this now I find fear of what you, the reader, will think, lurking in the back of my mind.

When I become overwhelmed with life, or with my illnesses, the freeze instinct kicks in for me. I feel so inundated with thoughts and emotions that my mind can no longer differentiate between a past threat and a perceived one, so my habitual response is to shut down and become emotionally and physically disabled. My mind can’t handle the intensity of so many emotions, so the instinctual answer is to shut down all emotions, thereby removing the perceived fear which will lead to me being hurt again, while physically, my body becomes exhausted and numb from being riddled with tension. It is those periods of time, which vary in length that I find it difficult to focus or get anything done. I am in survival mode and whatever strength I have left is used to bring me out of that frame of mind.

The fear of failure is a big one for many people but it does not necessarily mean it will stop them from trying to achieve or accomplish something. Being a survivor with the added bonus of having Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) takes whatever emotion, in this case fear, and enhances it to a level that feels like sheer terror. To step outside my comfort zone feels like jumping off a cliff with a parachute and not only convincing yourself that it won’t open but actually preparing for the disaster, with not even a glimmer of hope that it might actually open. So I spent most of my life staying within the confines that I had set and became very good at the things within those boundaries, but did not venture much outside of those lines, for fear of not succeeding. For fear of what not only others would think or say, but fear of my own inner critic which I already battle with daily.

The fear of being vulnerable is also incredibly difficult for survivors because as children someone took advantage of us when we were most susceptible. I think that is why so many survivors build such a thick wall of emotional protection around them, anything to avoid that feeling again. I know for me allowing myself to be emotionally vulnerable is a daily battle, like splitting the day between being a bricklayer and being part of a demolition crew. It involves stepping outside your comfort zone if you are to let someone in and that for me is incredibly difficult. I feel like a turtle extending its neck to take a look around and perhaps get a different view, which then suddenly gets spooked and reverts back into its shell, becoming more afraid to come back out each time.

As with the rest of my healing process, I am a bit impatient and would like to speed the whole process up until I get to the point that fear no longer rules my life. I want to just wake up and feel safe and confident enough to take on the world. I am, however, a long way from that, and so as with everything I proceed forward with baby steps. Starting this blog and allowing my writing to be put out there for others to see is a step in the right direction and as with anything although the first step is the hardest, the second is required to move forward.

 

 

 

 

 

Enduring the Emotional Drain of the Holidays

 

 drain

 

I, for one, am glad it is all over. The hustle and bustle, the rushing, the stress, the pressure, the preparations and the nonsensical expectations placed on a single day. It’s not like it’s a once in a lifetime kind of day but rather the type that reoccurs as yearly as the seasons. It’s not just the recently passed Christmas and New Year’s but any other day of the year that qualifies as a holiday that often triggers survivors, and people struggling with a mental illness. Societal pressure to find the right gift, to spend the right amount of money, to visit the right people and act in the appropriate manner and to make the occasion perfect all add to the already heavy load we carry daily.

Society’s representation of the perfect family gathering for the perfect holiday occasion is shoved down our throats in T.V shows, movies and advertising. Take Christmas for example, the generations gathered happily around the extended dining room table, passing the stuffing and mashed potatoes with a smile, to be followed by an evening of family stories around the piano, filled with song, laughter and good times; the stereotypical storybook family. For survivors of trauma, just the very thought of the above scenario can send us into a downward spiral, as it is likely that for us, it is no more than a fantasy, since more than likely our fairytales were turned into nightmares long, long ago. It is more apt that our guards will be up and we will be walking on eggshells and protecting boundaries while the argument about the stuffing rages and Uncle Bob has already passed out on the couch. It is likely that the dysfunction will trigger our past traumas leaving us to revert to whatever coping mechanism we can grasp.

We hardly have time to open our gifts when the Christmas items are ripped down off the shelf and replaced with Valentines, then by the time we open our heart shaped box, the Easter Bunny has taken over, and this societal norm continues for every holiday, year after year. Marketing lures us into all the holiday hype when in fact, most of us have forgotten the actual meaning of the day. Does no one else wonder how a religious rebirth turned into chocolate bunnies?  The entire premise of Valentine’s Day is to show your loved one how much you care on Feb 14th with flowers and chocolates, but what about the rest of the days? Why can’t love be shown in random ways on days we don’t have Hallmark cards for?

Many survivors feel as lonely as I do on holidays. It doesn’t seem to matter who we surround ourselves with, what festivities we attend or how distracted we try to keep ourselves. There is a perpetual, nagging sense of emptiness and loss that is carried daily and entirely enhanced on holidays. Perhaps we wish for just one page from that book of fairytales. Perhaps we still wish for all the things we lost and cannot reclaim. Maybe we want just one family gathering where we feel loved and can be true to ourselves, free of judgment and shame. Maybe we wish for one Valentine’s Day where we are the recipients of the tokens and acts of love that we have never received, or did so with strings and repercussions.

So surviving the actual day is one thing, but the emotional crash that often occurs after the holidays can be just as intense for a survivor as the actual holiday itself. I know for me, it takes an immense amount of emotional energy to deal with the both the holiday build up, and the end of buildup. The depression tends to set in quickly and heavily afterward and regardless of my attempts to keep my hopes and expectations lowered out of instinctual self-protection, there is always a sense of disappointment;  a reminder of my loneliness on days when there is societal pressure for family, or outwardly expressed love.

So be good to yourself around any holiday. Surround yourself with the things or people that make you happy and bring you peace in the present moment, because no amount of hope will change the past. Remind yourself that despite the label, a holiday is just another day, another 24 hours, and that you have managed to get through all of them so far with strength and resilience, and the next one will be no different.

Words That Will Never Be Heard

writing-no-hearing

 

Some words, no matter how many times they are spoken will never be heard. Such has been the case with my Father and me since I can first remember. Regardless of the subject, my words are on a one way path, without a pause, to be inattentively listened to and immediately disregarded; the judgmental responses locked and loaded. The never ending tension wafts silently through the air as I tiptoe amongst the eggshells.

I first met my father when I was adopted at 18 months old and although I obviously can’t recall, I believe our tumultuous relationship began shortly after that. Between me being traumatized by pre-adoptive abuse and his lack of patience and narcissistic behavior, I truly believe the relationship was questionable from the start. When I tell people about our history, the domestic violence and emotional and verbal abuse, I get questioned as to why I still attempt to maintain some form of a relationship with him at all, and the only response I have to give is “he’s all I have left”. After my mom died and I told my family I was a lesbian, they slowly all just faded away, like turning down the dial on a chandelier, and the last one standing was my dad.

I have learned over the years that you cannot change anyone else’s behaviors, only your reaction to them and I realized the pent up hurt and anger over the years was only doing damage to myself. Despite my attempts to express my feelings to him over the years, my words are invalidated and my past is swept away, hence the reason for this letter in a place of safety.

Dad,

I am going to start with the positive, something you failed to do for my entire life, and say that I do both recognize and appreciate the efforts you have made to try and become a better person. I can’t say I understand whether it is you mellowing out with age or if you actually had the intentions of becoming kinder and slightly less critical. Either way, know that it is very much appreciated. I would love to be writing a letter about all my fond memories of my childhood, but I think we both know the reality of the situation. When the bad is blocked out it takes the good along with it.

I am grateful for the times you have been there for me in the past few years, however that does not, and never will make up for the damage you inflicted to my developing personality. All I ever wanted was validation and for you to accept some sort of responsibility for the fact that your actions cast a shadow over an already dark childhood, and I say wanted,  because I am trying now to make peace with the fact that acceptance is not in the cards. Even a simple “I’m sorry” would indicate that you admit that harm was done, but those words still elude my ears.

The domestic abuse had effects on me you could not comprehend unless in my shoes. The nights of sleeping so lightly I could hear a pin drop; the fear that, if I fell sound asleep, I would not be able to intervene. The nights of having Mom take refuge in my bedroom in the hopes to avoid another beating, hence the desk propped against the door. The terror instilled in an already frightened and traumatized child ongoing through adulthood. You took my only place of safety, my refuge from the sexual abuse that occurred while I was looking for any excuse to remain out of the house. The still haunting visual memories of walking into a rape scene, the sounds of the cries on the nights I lay helpless or the nights I got between the swings trying to be the protector, all as crisp as the cold winter air.

The verbal and emotional abuse and narcissistic behavior, by far, caused the most damage; the words scarred so deeply they changed my very being and my perception of myself and of life. The years of trying to live up to unrealistic expectations led to the unsatisfactory feeling of never being good enough, not just for you, but for anyone or anything. The words failure, useless and no good bounce, among many others that bounce around my head like the ball in a pinball machine, with a ricochet that is just as tenacious today as it was back then. All the condemnations, judgments and passive aggressive sarcasm trampled my sense of self-esteem and crushed it into grains of sand, which never had the foundation to build a proper castle, then or now.

I’m saddened to say that I could continue on about this for hours, reiterating the broken pieces of my childhood and how you not only induced a great deal of my trauma, but enabled the rest. I wish you realized what it was like for me growing up…the loneliness, the lack of trust, the fear of both violence and words, and feeling like I was both invisible and silent. I question if I do exist in your eyes in any other way than being the “black sheep” or the sounding board for your slander. I wish you had truly listened to me when I told you about the sexual abuse and how it affects my life to this very day; instead you negated the fact it ever happened and invalidated all the encompassing emotions I felt.

 I have realized over the years, the things that are hurting me do not affect you at all and the only solution I can rationalize is to change my reactions to your words. To stop seeking approval and validation that will never come, and in essence to drop any and all expectations, is my end goal. The wall between us was constructed brick by brick over the years, and is far too thick to penetrate now. I will never allow you to hurt or affect me like you once did. I will set the boundaries this time and if you cross them, I will walk away, because at this point, I really don’t have much to lose.  That is what is best for me on my path to healing. It’s my time now.