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The Story of an Adult Adoptee

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I grew up knowing I was adopted – how could I not? I was adopted at age 9, beyond the “impressionable” age. In nine years I had already had enough experiences to last a lifetime, or two. Abandonment and abuse were commonplace occurrences to me. Those experiences colored the rest of my life. As a consequence, my life long anxiety is not a guest; it is a resident

I was born a middle child – sort of. I have many characteristics of a middle child and of an only child. My father was not my sisters or brother’s father (each of us had our own), a fact that I did not learn until I was in my twenties and sought out my birth mother. Nor did I know he abandoned my mother when she found out she was pregnant. Very few things were acknowledged about my background and I had no way of remembering and nobody to fill in the blanks. One foster home blended into another as I spent 5 years in foster care and with numerous families. My own personal timeline was not something that could be pieced together. My last name kept changing as I shifted from family to family. I longed to be a part of an intact family. I was relieved when I was adopted, but the adjustments didn’t end there. I was suddenly thrust into being the oldest child and assuming many responsibilities that I was not prepared to handle. Grieving my past never took place as I was expected to forget it all. I never really felt as if my parents treated me the same as their biological children. Fortunately for me, I always felt accepted by my brother and sister, aunt and uncle, grandmother and grandfather. I married quickly at 19 in order to escape tension in my home as well as to block ever having to be alone and on my own.

So, how have these years spent in “care” affected me in my adulthood years? My first marriage gave me a sense of belonging to begin with, but it wore off as the years went on, only to be replaced by loneliness. Replicating the past, he abandoned my daughter and me when she was a year old. Through the months that led up to the divorce, I felt “echoes” that I knew were leftovers from the past, but I did not know what specific incidence in my childhood to which it was connected. I had no one to validate my experiences and past reality.

My marriages replicated my childhood. Anger issues, abuse and another person’s alcoholism were a part of both periods in my life. Brief disassociation combined with numbing my feelings became a common way of coping with things I had no control over. People- pleasing was easier to do than to be assertive about my own feelings. I, unconsciously, resorted to methods that I had used before and were a part of my emotional repertoire.

Adoption is something that you learn to live with for all of your life. It never goes away. Every time I go to a new doctor, I have to explain that I do not know my family history because I am adopted. However, the most obvious remnant of my childhood is anxiety or the fear of something bad happening. I can alleviate that fear when I am working and being of help to other people. I feel needed and important. A hard lesson for me to learn has been to let people help me or to take care of me.

I call my experiences in life the 3 A’s: Abandonment, Abuse and Alcoholism. Those things have shaped my life. The flip side of it is that I have developed strengths. Tenacity, determination, and compassion are some of the characteristics that have evolved out of adversity. A yearning to help children develop their strengths drives me in my chosen profession as a social worker. Cycles can be broken, even those that have been grounded in dysfunction and are not intentional.

My days now are filled with hope rather than despair. I still struggle occasionally with anxiety, however, I am able to experience the joy of life, the laughter of children, and the antics of creation. I have been a good mother to my child, raising her the way I wish I had been raised. I have wonderful friends who have supported me through trying times. I love my “adoptive” family and would not consider them anything but my “real” family. I have been blessed.

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© Leslie Tousley

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