Part of the residue that attaches itself to an adoptee as a by-product of the rejection issues we often face is the need to be liked and accepted. Looking back at my life as an adolescent, I can zoom in with laser point accuracy at the many times I did things purposely to fit in or be liked. Recently, I have come to the realization that I spent a large amount of my time and energy in school being very intentional. There was a strategy to a lot of what I did and said. The end-game was to fit in–at all costs. The attention I got from that, as I have said, help quiet the voices in my head that said I wasn’t good enough. The practices I perfected in adolescence would stay with me for the majority of my life.
The luxury of having a job now where I analyze my life is that the more I learn the more I can apply to my life and intimately see how my life was affected by things like this. When I speak to a group of professionals and talk about how I processed this rejection, I often see head after head nodding in agreement. It is understood in the professional world of adoption the affect that that initial rejection has on adoptees and how we often will look for attention to silence that rejection.
This need for attention can manifest itself in relationships particularly and can result in an adoptee picking a mate solely on the fact that that person gave us attention. It doesn’t matter that the attention is attached to a broken person. It doesn’t matter that the cost we pay for attention is paid for in mistreatment.
Shortly after graduating from college, I moved back to Detroit and began dating a woman who was verbally abusive. When we went out and I took a wrong turn I was chastised for my dumb decision to turn left instead of right. If we were walking in a parking lot and I wasn’t walking on the right side of her, to create a human shield between her and the cars traveling down the aisle-way, I was reminded of how less-than-smart and insensitive I was. She was giving volume to the voices in my head which said the same things. HER friends would often remind me that I was too good for her but I couldn’t see it. The attention that I inhaled blinded me from the obvious.
There was one incident in particular that summed up the relationship and what it was doing to me.
One night I was supposed to pick her up from her Christian roller-skating night. I retired from roller skating in grade school so I didn’t see the need to go with her. I was late in picking her up by 5 minutes and instead she choose to go home with a male friend. I was panicked when I searched the rink and she was not there. I sped home to her house to catch her getting out of a white vehicle driven by a man. She turned around to see me as I pulled in her drive way. She acknowledged she saw me by turning around and going inside. When I came to the door she refused to answer it.
I left her house and began my 30 minute trek home. As I passed a white vehicle on my way home, not far from her house, the man in the white vehicle motioned for me to pull over. I agreed and pulled over into a nearby gas station parking lot. He motioned for me to come in to his vehicle. I did assuming he wanted to straighten out what has just happened. As I sat in the passenger seat, he simply asked what I was doing that night. I began to explain why I was late. He then continued and ignoring what I just said. “So you want to do something now?”
Being so punch-drunk from this relationship, I abandoned all rational thought up until this point. Quickly, my senses came screaming back to me. My route home was to take 7 mile Road home from Detroit’s East side which passed by a string of gay bars. Right in front of a very popular gay bar is where I was motioned to pull over. This was a different white car, and different driver than who I assumed it was. My mind was now piecing all the facts together at the speed of light and I now clearly understood where I was, why I was there, and what this man wanted. The presence of me sitting in the front seat of this strange man’s car became abundantly, and painfully clear.
My mind screamed, “Prove you are heterosexual!” But I wasn’t sure how to do that. I just began to ramble. The only thing I remember is every other word I said was “girlfriend.” My response to his question was something like, “My girlfriend…just left my girlfriend’s house… my girlfriend, SHE’S mad at me…my girlfriend… gotta go call my GIRLFRIEND!”
I reached for the car door, pulled the handle and vaporized. I was back in my car and speeding down 7 mile before he could unravel the nonsense that I spitted out.
The next morning, I picked up the Detroit Free Press trying to do something to distract my mind from the incidents of the night before. The first story I came to was about a man who was raping other men at gun point in the Detroit area. I placed the paper down and just sat in the soft chair in the living room staring straight ahead at what could have happened.
This story made my life’s most embarrassing moments and fortunately didn’t make the Sunday morning news. It speaks a lot to how mentally fried I was from this relationship. It truly hindered my ability to think straight and the cost could have been much more.
Shortly after that and after a few more clashes with the unreasonable, and then the opportunity to date someone who wasn’t abusive, I had enough courage to just walk away from this dysfunctional relationship. But during that time I was seriously considering marrying this woman and we would have been miserable. I came dangerously close to just settling for someone because she gave me attention and the payment in the form of pride and respect was something I was willing to endorse.
Children of alcoholics are more likely to grow up to be alcoholics than those whose parent’s aren’t alcoholics. This doesn’t mean that children who come from non-alcoholic homes will never become alcoholics.
I understand that some non-adopted children have relationship issues. I understand some non-adopted children just want to fit it and crave attention. My point is that with adoption can come with predictable residue that if understood can be addressed. It comes with its own laser pointer pointing you to things you might want to watch out for so you can prepare and possibly avoid.
Coming Soon: Predictable Residue Part II– My next post will address this issue as it manifests itself in the business world particularly with adoptees who serve or are asked to serve in the adoption community.
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