BIO: I am a 61 year old adoptee. I have been sober for almost 30 years. My drinking was a direct result of being an adoptee, abused and misused. Today I am living within my own skin and am grateful that we adoptees have found our voices. I was fortunate enough to be reunited with birth siblings. I never got to meet my birth parents and while I know my birth mother’s name, my birth father is still a mystery. There were many lies about my life before being adopted at age 6. Unfortunately, my birth mother took most of her secrets to her grave. My name at birth was Debra Ann Salinas although I am not Hispanic. My name was changed every time I was moved to a new foster home and the my name was changed once adopted. And later when I married. The MOST empowering act I have done for myself was change my name. My name is Mary Paige Rose.
Content Warning: The following article you are about to read may contain written material of a serious factual nature that may be disturbing to some individuals. Reader discretion is advised.
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE ADOPTED?
Ironically, as I sit down to write this paper, today marks my 55th anniversary of being adopted. I was 6 years old when the ink dried on the paper telling yet another lie about me. Along with two siblings, I now belong to a couple from Birmingham Alabama. I still remember that day as if it was yesterday because one part of my life ended and another part of life began. Prior to being adopted, I had lived in foster homes for nearly 3 and half years. And, all I remember about those years were memories of floor plans. I remember no faces because all I could do was look down at floors during those years of foster care. So, asking me how it feels to be adopted isn’t quite the scope of my life. I learned at a very early age of neglect, abuse and aloneness to ‘not feel’ but to accept things as they are. So, on that day in late October of 1961, I remember just being there and ‘going along’. I had no certain feelings of how it felt to be adopted. I am certain I heard words like that, and am not sure I understood them. I do remember holding my breath and only exhaling out of necessity though.
I am telling my story after years of therapizing over the trauma of a very abusive childhood. What I can honestly say is…I didn’t know that what happened to me wasn’t normal. I thought waking up in different families was normal. I thought sitting on the fringes of a family was normal. I thought having no needs was normal. I thought not talking was normal. I thought not having mine was normal. I thought never being held was normal. I thought never being told ‘I love you’ was normal. I thought adults had all the say in my life at any cost. I didn’t know that as a human being even at that age, I had rights even if they were the right to be.
I did learn that the easiest way to be was to just accept and hope for the best.
I became a magical thinker at an early age and it served me well for many years. Once I was adopted, I became the oldest of 3 siblings that were adopted together. The expectations of being the oldest was true for this family. I had to set an example for my siblings, to do right and to make good grades. And, I did all those things while trying to not to get my adopted mother upset.
In my adoptive home the rules were 1) Adults are always right, and never to be disrespected. 2) Do what was told because I said so 3) Don’t upset mom or else 4) God sees everything so don’t make Him mad 5) You are special…we adopted you . Those were just a few. There were unspoken rules too. Especially around physical and sexual abuse. My adoptive mother was a very angry person and my adoptive father was a sexual abuser or what is called a pedophile today. What I thought growing up in this home was this all was just normal. I thought that I deserved this, that something was wrong with me. I don’t remember really feeling at all except when the beatings from my adoptive mother was so severe that I would bite my arms so I didn’t feel the hurt from her..it worked. I thought this was normal. I also thought that living in a home in constant fright and unease was normal. I thought learning how to wash dishes and ironing my father’s Oxford shirts at 6 years old was normal. I thought being touched by him at age 9 was normal. And, that I believed him when he told me that it was our special little secret was normal. I thought that my hollow insides were normal. I thought that the idea I was less than, not quite pretty enough, not good enough was all normal. I thought all children grew up the way I did, that this was normal and yet…I never asked another person how they thought or felt. This was normal for me. And of course, I never told anyone about my sense of normal. In looking back at my trauma of my childhood, I understand today that what being adopted felt like to me was an obligation. An obligation that somehow these two adults SAVED me and I had to endure whatever was given out to me in the name of love. And in reality, being adopted by them only continued what turned out to be years of physical, sexual, emotional and mental abuse. I thought this was normal.
From the age of 6 years to age 18 I lived ‘under the roof’ of their home. I did survive it all, with little or no physical signs of it left on my body. Unfortunately, I was left with invisible scars, which later was identified as PTSD.. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I just thought it was normal. What I learned in my adoptive home, I carried out into the world. I learn I had no needs, that someone else had control over me, that I was pitiful, not good enough, less than, didn’t belong and eventually began to self medicate with alcohol, sex, work and abusive relationships. Fortunately, because I was a workaholic and had a career path that was in the treatment field of alcoholism, I was able to ‘get off the ‘merry go round of denial’. And eventually discovered that what I thought was normal was abuse. And to start to FEEL what it was like to be adopted.
Feeling those feelings was rather difficult for me and quite arduous.
When my frozen feelings from my childhood began to ooze out, it was almost like a double edge sword. I had to learn that I had the right and the necessity to feel these feelings. Many of my friends either couldn’t comprehend this or had little patience with me and would abandon me in the process. But, this time, I fought for my right to be. So, unlike when I was a child. I have had to be my own advocate in many areas of my life. I’ve had to educate therapists as to how it feels to be adopted, since most of them just want to ‘let it go, because it is in the past’. No, being adopted at age 6 will never be in the past. It is the cornerstone of who I am today. How it feels to be adopted is still a haunting experience to me sometimes. And it is a process of years of unwinding and re-applying healthy patterns for my own personal sense of worth.
Today, I do have a few ideas of what normal is. And, that I strive to give me that sense of normalcy. I still have doubts about it though. Being older now in my life walk helps. And it is easier to be mature about things too. Even though I know I still get tripped up from time to time. Especially when doubt rears its ugly head about belonging, whether it be just fitting into a group situation or social activities. I am still troubled with what is acceptable to how I feel about situations especially the f word. Family. I walked away from my adoptive abusive family. I broke the silence about the years of abuse and claimed my sense of sanity and reality. Unfortunately, they remained in denial and that was unacceptable to me.
I am in a relationship today that is not normal based on my childhood. Today, I am in a relationship with man and we have never yelled at each. We have never said the F word to each other. I have not been hit, smacked or kicked. I am not an object of sexualization nor abuse. There isn’t deceit or dishonesty defining our relationship. And yet, I have feelings of disconnect and uncertainty from time to time. Those feelings don’t linger and yes, they are troublesome to me and I am sure to him from time to time. I have come to realize that these feelings are normal for me.
Especially from where I came from on being adopted on October 27, 1961
Mary Paige Rose
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