How Does It Feel To Be Adopted? – Patricia R.

 

patriciaBIO: My name is Patricia. I was born and spent a good part of my life in Montreal until I moved out west to Vancouver in 1991. I studied Commerce at Concordia and McGill. My daughter lives very close to me and I see a lot of my two grandsons, age 9 and 4. I’ve worked as an executive assistant in the mining industry, and currently work as the internal bookkeeper for an accounting firm.

HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE ADOPTED? 

My renewed interest in documenting my adoption and everything around it that has happened to me started in summer 2015. To set the stage for THAT I will have to back way up to Montreal, Quebec, October 1953, when and where I came into being.  Much later in life I found out that from the orphanage I was placed in a temporary French Catholic foster home until I was nine months old. (explaining my facility with French in school) and from there to my permanent home. My adoptive Dad was from England and had been a merchant marine captain during the war. My adoptive Mother was a schoolteacher from a strict, English Victorian sort of family in west end Montreal. She had been ill as a child and carried those after-effects into adulthood. She had had a stillborn child and that is why they decided to adopt.

I was made aware I was adopted since sometime before grade school. Mum and Dad sat me down on the couch one day and explained it as best they could. As recommended by social workers at the time they told me I was special. They told me I was wanted..

but most of all I was terrifically special.

Just around the time I started Grade One, I remember Mother being upset and crying a lot. Then she was all smiles and started knitting furiously, all blue, blue ribbons, blue buttons. Then the spare room was painted blue and a crib was put in it, curtains on the window with blue bears and cute pictures on the wall.

Then my brother arrived one day all giggly and roly-poly and they placed him in the crib and introduced me to my new brother. He drifted off to sleep and we crept out and shut the door. I now had a sibling.

I loved him so much I thought my heart would burst. No one was allowed to put a finger on him except my parents – I became fiercely protective of him.  He was so cute and all smiles.

In class at the beginning of Grade 2 (or 3, not sure) we were given forms and at the top we were supposed to write our names, phone numbers and birth dates. I put up my hand – I was having trouble with that third piece of information: I wasn’t born, I was adopted – -what should I write down? I was just trying to be precise. I recall tittering and giggling from the kids behind me and my face turning beet red.

My concentration was never good in school. I daydreamed, looked out the window, anywhere but the board. Often I’d get in trouble and land up at the very back where the coats were hung.  Nonetheless I managed to come first in Grade 3 but after that it was a downhill slide. (It was only in Grade 7 that it was discovered how bad my vision was and that I’d probably been that way since birth. It explained why in all my childhood pictures I was squinting.)

I felt I had this imaginary sign painted on my back –

I AM DIFFERENT.

To deal with this I became the class clown in Grade 4. In Grade 5 my teacher told me first day that she had heard of how funny I had been in Grade 4 and she was going to see to it that the “funny” was wrung right out of me.  She made me the daily object of ridicule and it was more the rule than the exception that I had a detention after every school day pretty much, for quite some time, to the point I’d forgotten what for. I looked to my parents for help – my mother’s remark was “well there must be a reason”. It was an era where trust in professionals (doctors, teachers, social workers) was inviolate, sacred. Somehow I made it through anyway, through Grade 5, 6 and 7 and on to high school.

By Grade 9 I was sullen, rebellious, and angry to the teeth and gums and by Grade 10 I had all but dropped out.  At home I fought with my mother. At school and out of it I had few friends and was the object of bullying by this group of horrid boys.

When I was 17 my Dad was transferred overseas to Antwerp, Belgium. I got in trouble in my international school and was kicked out. I was sent to boarding school where they could be sure I would be kept out of trouble. Um…hello – Amsterdam was a bus ride away? and this was 1970.  There was this tall kid in school called Carlos. Every Saturday we’d give him a shopping list and he’d bus it to Amsterdam and back.

I tried LSD but I had such horrific experiences with it – such as thinking that I was crawling up inside my own brain never to be found again – that I avoided it for the most part. But I did try other drugs. They didn’t help my state of mind which was at best chaotic, and at worse feeling I was on the brink of madness. I felt like a marked person, an outcast, a freak. I wasn’t doing well academically or socially at boarding school but it was much better than being home. The headmaster set me up with a psychiatrist in Utrecht. On holidays I HAD to go home, and on most days I would stay in my room and read and self-medicate.  Venturing downstairs while my mother was there was to invite criticism and some sort of unwinnable argument, so I stayed in my room.

OK let me stop here for a moment. I now understand that very possibly I had made it so difficult for my mother to be a mother to me – such was my trust level, extremely low – that she could not feel fulfilled as a mother with me or the slightest bit successful. I even remember being sick and she’d try to mother me but I waved her off not wanting the attention.  With my adult understanding I have come to appreciate how great was her difficulty with me, how little was her understanding as to why, and what a crisis it must have been to her for, my not trusting her to be a mother to me. But the weird thing is that up to Grade 7 there was none of this fighting. It had started with my puberty, had come out of left field. It was not gradual – it sort of came up overnight, that is, it did to my mind and as well as my memory serves me.

On the other hand, my brother had the most compliant, good-humoured temperament I’d ever seen in a kid and the bond between him and Mother became very strong. With him she could feel fulfilled as a mother and successful.

Needless to say, gaps widened, I became “the problem” and I was lost, floating and miserable. I was told I was to blame for all the unhappiness in the household and the low self-esteem in me bought that hook, line and sinker. Gone was the person I had been before puberty. I thought I was fat, ugly, stupid. I felt there was something fundamentally flawed about me. I became bulimic and later on anorexic. I binge ate and abused laxatives. I made scratches up and down my arm. I used alcohol as “liquid courage”; my behaviour was atrocious and I was not a very pleasant person to be around with a chip on my shoulder the size of Texas.  I was one step away from reform school too – my parents often threatened me with it. Well at least I had not resorted to a life of crime – I did a little petty stealing but after getting caught I was scared enough to stop.

I had always been musical and did get much solace in playing my guitar, and singing. I’d sit upstairs in my room all afternoon playing and singing, and writing dark poems. I loved Simon and Garfunkel and would sing I Am A Rock over and over:

A winter’s day
In a deep and dark
December,
I am alone,
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I’ve built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

Don’t talk of love,
But I’ve heard the words before;
It’s sleeping in my memory.
I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.
If I never loved I never would have cried.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me,
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

This song quickly became my personal anthem. And when I got to that last stanza I would always shout it out: I HAVE MY BOOKS AND MY POETRY TO PROTECT ME!! Hoping my mother would hear that from down in the kitchen.

Well, one day and I think it was at Easter when I had to be home, there I was up in my room (safe within my “womb”) and I had smoked a reefer and was reading Portnoy’s Complaint. I had fallen into a deep stoned sleep on my bed with the book on my face. Suddenly my mother burst through the door yelling at me to get up! I was lazy, good for nothing!. She grabbed my book, screaming that it was filth and trash and smut, and proceeded to rip it up. In a dream state I stood up and yanked it out of her hands, then to my horror I watched as my own fists – they couldn’t be anyone else’s –  rained down and made contact with her face. It was all slow motion and a blur and I didn’t feel my fists making contact and then my brother was in there helping her off the floor and out of my room. She was wailing, he was sobbing and I was contemplating a jump over the railing to my (preferably quick) death below in the vestibule.

I didn’t leave my room the rest of that day and the next day my Dad came back from wherever he had been, on a business trip or something. I didn’t leave my room that day either except to use the bathroom.

The following day I was called to the breakfast table to view the damage to my mother’s face and drown in the profound unbearable shame of what I had done.  I couldn’t explain myself, and anyway I was starting to believe I was evil. Eventually, the shame and the horror got buried over time and no one in the family spoke about it again.

We moved back to Montreal the following year and four years later to Vancouver. After a year I found an excuse to go back to Montreal. I had applied to university and had gotten accepted. Thus ensued my lonely life in Montreal. I started seeing a psychiatrist. I was married for a time and had a daughter and then the marriage broke up and I was a single working parent in Montreal. I had no car, the winters were cold and long. On weekends after my daughter went to sleep I drank lots of wine.

After 17 years I decided to pull up “roots” and move to Vancouver so my parents could be closer to my daughter and they could help me.

However within six weeks my mother’s health went from iffy to downhill. (She had always had bad health: kidney disease, breast cancer and the list goes on.) She was diagnosed with liver cancer and in another six weeks she was… gone! Six months after that my Dad died of a massive stroke.

My brother and I split up the estate and he bought my share of the house from me (under much protest and ugliness I’d never seen in him before) and his girlfriend moved in with him with her two kids. I had the distinct impression he thought himself more entitled to the estate than I was and he made it difficult and hurtful at every turn. I had never seen this side of him before. But low self-esteem not withstanding, I held my ground. Eventually he married his girlfriend and they sold the house and moved to the States.  He made a whopping amount of money in programming and became very successful as a high paid computer systems engineer in California.

I kept on in Vancouver, never really carving a career for myself, always working well under my true potential. I was thankfully better off financially thanks to my Dad’s remarkable ability to save money. It helped me to buy a townhouse, but I wasn’t by any means independently wealthy and still had to work, and that was OK. Work I could do.

After a run of successive disastrous relationships with psychologically abusive men, I found a good psychologist whom I saw after that for years.

I went down to California the Christmas before 9-11 to visit my brother and sister-in-law. I was anxious the whole time but it was a good visit and my brother seemed happy to see me. After that he phoned occasionally and most often when something was going wrong and he needed to talk it out. I was glad to be given that role – after all, I loved him and cared about him.  I wanted to be that big sister again.

Around that time I put in another of many campaigns to find my birthmother and that  time around I found her, in a small fishing community on Vancouver Island.  But she was damaged goods too – the elder of five children taking the brunt of her father’s beatings and protecting the younger ones…and a perfect victim in a victim’s perfect holding pattern. Eventually we had a bad argument and she told me to pack up, leave and not come back. There was something of a detente eventually but I was beginning to see that it wasn’t working and stopped contact. What I did take away from all of that was my father’s name and where he came from.  I’ve been looking on and off ever since.

I had a complete nervous breakdown in 2009-2010.  The silver lining in that is that I started “doing the work”, learning better coping styles, becoming aware of how my thoughts drove my emotions (not the other way around), learning what caused my depression.  Without falling completely apart, I would have never seen the need to make these sorts of changes and learn this much about myself.

My brother and his wife came up from time to time and about three summers ago their visit seemed so successful and positive that I was starting to think (and dare to hope) that our relationship was really on the up and up, so much so that two summers ago I drove all the way down to California to see them.

I won’t get into details. One step in the front door and the distinctive grinding sound I heard was that of old tapes. The atmosphere was palpable. The visit got ugly fast. They finally told me that they had plans and it was “awkward” to have me there for those events so I drove home, tail between my legs so to speak, humiliated.

This summer my daughter wrote to them basically saying “c’mon what gives? Let’s have harmony! You’ve hurt my Mom – she’s a good person you know” and they wrote back with half-truths and accusations, de-friended her and me on Facebook. My brother told my daughter about what I’d done to my mother when I was 17 and that he could never forgive me for that or my general bad treatment of our parents.  I wrote an explanatory, apologetic email (about that incident) to my brother. He wrote back and said fine, but he still thought I was an angry sullen person.  And then our communications just stopped.

I looked up my old therapist. He had retired so I found a new counselor and better yet in my own community. After telling him this long story, he told me he was adopted too! and saw a lot of his story in mine. We shared similar experiences. He got me reading Nancy Newton Verrier’s book “Coming Home to Self”. It’s been a difficult read. Oh, not just the damage done to me but the damage my narcissistic self had done to others. Then about halfway through the books she talks about taking responsibility and ownership of it all. The adopted child grows up!  The adopted child MUST grow up. I want to continue to discover more and more of myself – all the good stuff – and own it all good, bad or indifferent. I want to accept the bad stuff and put it to rest. Good Lord – I’m sixty-three now – I want peace and resolution.

As for the things I can’t change, I must accept them and move on. I am very close with my daughter and I have two wonderful grandsons with whom I am very connected and involved. For that I am so very grateful.  It truly is the silver lining in my tempestuous life.

The work continues.

I wish all the very best for adoptees around the world.

Love, Patricia

Adult Adoptee

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