I met the B. family after the mother (Mary) reached out to me once she read my memoir, Parallel Universes . She emailed sharing that she felt particularly isolated with her own, private challenges because they seemed so complex. The memoir made her feel less alone and she felt enormous relief that someone might understand what she and her family were going through. She disclosed that her son, Ian, was addicted to alcohol and she believed that was linked to his struggles with other issues that might’ve been related to his adoption. Ian was adopted at three weeks-old and he—like me—was always aware of having been adopted. Even as a young boy, he was interested in his origins, he wanted to talk about why his biological mother “gave him up,” and he had received some therapy to help him cope with some of the feelings related to having been relinquished. His biological mother had struggled with addiction. She gave birth to him at a young age and could not take care of him. She was open to reconnecting, and they finally had a chance to do so when he was a young teenager. The meeting was pleasant, and they maintained a generally cordial relationship over the years, mostly via email and Christmas and birthday cards.
As Ian grew up, he felt a lot of resentment towards his biological mother—but most significantly he became resentful of himself. Mary said he’d often have “teenage tantrums,” but would also quickly get apologetic. Sometimes, when he’d feel particularly guilty, he would say things like, “no wonder she gave me up.” His confusion and low self-esteem seemed to be related to having been relinquished. He would refer to himself in other derogatory ways. At the same time, he would excuse his troubling behaviors—such as drinking and truancy—by claiming it was all related to him having been relinquished. There was a lot of self-pity mixed in with genuine self-hate. When Mary reached out to me after reading my book, she felt as if this could be the first time someone would truly understand what she, her husband, and her son were going through. At that time, Ian had failed another semester at school and was living in his parents’ basement mostly playing video games, drinking, and passing out. Mary and her husband felt that Ian’s life was becoming “some form of a slow suicide.” Ian seemed to have no ambition to finish his program (he was studying to become a communications specialist), he had no romantic partner to motivate him to do better, he financially depended on his parents, and his only hobby seemed to be beer and his X-box.
I set up a meeting with Mary and her husband to further talk about Ian. The most important factor in wanting to recover from addiction is the desire to do so. I wanted to get a sense of what the parents thought could motivate Ian – what was the level of his desire to quit drinking? Or was he even aware of his drinking being problematic? During our meeting, both parents shared that Ian frequently talked about “straightening his life out,” and quitting drinking, so he was definitely aware of his problem. I followed up with meeting Ian himself. He turned out to be a friendly young man, bright and funny and self-deprecating in the most charming ways. But right away I could tell that even that brand of humor stemmed from having certain negative beliefs about himself. I shared with Ian some of my story to see if I could draw him out, and we quickly established a rapport that only the people who have been to the same war can establish so quickly. We talked about his adoption, about his meeting his biological mother, about his drinking, and many other things. Contrary to what his mother thought, he seemed excited about becoming a publicist and genuinely wanted to finish school, but as with many things in his life he didn’t feel he was “good enough.”
After our meetings, I connected the B. family with a therapist whom I worked with before and who was well versed in the issues surrounding trauma related to relinquishment and adoption. I also set up an addiction medicine specialist to help Ian address his drinking. Ian told me that his drinking was often related to feeling bored and aimless and he didn’t believe he was physically addicted, but after talking about it I thought it would be a good idea for Ian to detox properly. We set up a week in a detox facility. During that week, I checked in with both Ian and his mother daily. Fortunately, there were no issues with his detox and after a week, he came out feeling optimistic and excited about the rest of his recovery journey.
I facilitated once-a-week meetings with the family therapist and the addiction specialist. I also helped to arrange for Academic Accommodation with Ian’s college, meaning that he would be able to finish his studies in a different timeframe, making sure his instructors were aware that there was more to Ian than just being lazy or disruptive.
I’ve been meeting with Ian and the family together and separately for almost a year now. I set up these regular check-ins to be able to see how Ian is progressing and also to give him the maximum amount of support. From what I’ve observed, his therapy has been incredibly beneficial to him, he cringes at the memory of calling himself a “mistake” and he says that in his newly found sobriety he has very few feelings of feeling worthless because he was “given up” as a baby. He seems to have a deeper understanding surrounding the complexity of adoption and it is a great pleasure to watch him thrive.
Read the other case studies in this series here: