I have abandonment issues.
My birth mother had to give me up when I was five years old. I landed in a
wonderful adoptive family, but my adoptee status was never discussed. The time: right after WWII, and closed adoptions were the rule. My college professor Dad and my schoolteacher Mom decided that it was best not to talk about the circumstances of my first few years. I had memories enough to know that the foster care situation in which they found me was grim. You might say that I was born again, but I paid a price. I grew up feeling that I had to be perfect or that I would be sent back. Never mind reality; I imagined that I had to pretend to be the “real” daughter.
Outwardly, I was an exemplary daughter, but inwardly, I feared being abandoned. Fast forward to adulthood. The feelings returned after my husband of 15 years and I went our separate ways. Even though it has been over three decades since my divorce, I still feel the sting of splitting up.
Am I over the divorce? In most ways, yes. Does it still hurt? Definitely. When I feel happy and successful, my abandonment fears are in remission. However, at other times, I feel that life has served me a double whammy. Twice trusting, twice abandoned.
For the past few years, I’ve focused on adoption recovery. For the most part, I enjoy a sense of progress in my adoptee’s journey toward wholeness. Some days, however, I feel like Sysiphys, the character in Greek mythology who pushes a massive boulder uphill, reaching the top by sundown but the very next morning starting again at the bottom and pushing uphill all over again.
As I talk with friends about challenges they are facing, I realize that I am not alone. One does not have to be a divorcee or “recovering adoptee” to find life full of problems to be overcome and conundrums that seem to have no end. And while I am blessed to have wonderful and compassionate friends who are never too busy to listen, the best solution I’ve found is to be my own best friend.
Having said that, I offer five ways to nurture and appreciate yourself:
- Let the past be the past. Do not hold grudges against yourself.
2. Remember, when troubles seem to be ganging up against you, that “Mama said there’d be days like this.”
3. Be true to YOU. As far as your self-definition is concerned, be an island. Quit comparing yourself unfavorably to others. Jealously isn’t called the “green-eyed monster” for nothing.
4. Work on fine-tuning your sense of humor. Learn to laugh at yourself.
5. Remember that YOU are not your thoughts.
Combined, adoption and divorce are potentially lethal. In fighting the abandonment trap, I’ve decided to not let either throw me off course. Life is like a river. We can either enjoy the journey, rowing gently down the stream, or we can let our emotions control our thoughts, feeling despair, a vague dissatisfaction and lack of contentment. One very powerful way to row gently down the stream is to treat yourself as you would a dear, cherished friend.
Based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA, Elaine Pinkerton is the author of seven books, including The Goodbye Baby, From Calcutta with Love, Beast of Bengal and Santa Fe Blogger. Today’s blog was originally published under the title “Adopted, Divorced and the Fear of Abandonment” in The Divorce Magazine.co.uk.