How is 2022 going for you so far?
The life of a relinquishee is full of new beginnings. We begin when we begin, then we begin again (relinquished in a hospital or in foster care or with the adoptive family), and sometimes again and again and again… Those beginnings are often traumatic, as they carry with them the idea that, in order to start over, we need to let go of something every time. First, our biological parents, later the people who care for us—or more accurately people who don’t know how to care for us well—and later on, we have to reinvent ourselves to our new friends, situations—school, workplaces, communities—and future families once we reach adulthood and decide to have children of our own. As much as we sometimes despise starting over (like control-alt-delete on a keyboard), many of us are also hopeful about the idea of a new beginning. After all, here’s a chance to reinvent yourself, to improve, to reintroduce and start anew, wipe our pasts clean the way we’re used to having them wiped out given our traumatic past.
Yet this is where I ‘d suggest we all stop. As much as being able to reinvent and improve ourselves is beneficial, we have to also keep in mind that we’re a sum of all parts—those parts that we’ve lost because of our relinquishment, because of the shame, feelings of abandonment, guilt, self-loathing… all those difficult feelings that come with not feeling like we’ve fit in because we perceived ourselves as unwanted. Instead of pretending that we didn’t experience all that negativity, we can learn to face it in a safe environment (with a therapist or a community of likeminded individuals), and accept that our beginnings are never going to equal wiping out our minds and experiences as if reformatting a hard drive. I believe that once we learn to accept our pasts—with all that darkness and confusion and pain—we are then able to tackle our future anew. The new beginnings are beautiful and can be very productive if we understand that nothing starts in the vacuum. Many of us have learned that denial and refusal to face more difficult issues can lead to some unhealthy and/or self-harming behaviors. For me, it was using drugs and alcohol to forget who I was and reinvent myself as someone I wasn’t—a gregarious, easy-going extrovert who had no worry in the world. Inside, I was slowly withering, dying. And my body reacted in the most spectacular way, with a seizure – no, two, which I believe were caused by a medical condition, but I also don’t rule out psychological strain that I put myself through by pretending to be someone I wasn’t.
Today, when I begin something all over—such as a new year—I am cognizant of where I come from and what kind of tools I have to use to be able to do well in my new endeavor, whatever that is. I know what works: grounding, meditation, contact with community, therapy, love, and support. I know what doesn’t work: drugs and alcohol, shame, hiding, keeping things to myself, lying about how I really feel. Because I now understand my past beginnings and the reasons for them, I am able to keep moving forward. I know you can do that too.
Think of all the reasons why you’ve been craving a new beginning, what makes you excited about the early part of the year, why this specific time gives you a permission to start all over again. And then think of all the lessons that you’ve learned in the past that brought you to this point and how you can draw from them to make a truly clean slate. What worked in the past? What didn’t? What’s possible? What isn’t? What would make it possible this time around? Look at the new beginning from a holistic point of view, and I promise you, it will make a lot more sense than just trying to artificially reinvent your complicated, beautiful, experienced self.
There’s no doubt that we’re going to be here for a little longer—here meaning the pandemic world. Nothing seems certain, no predictions seem to fully come true and everyone’s trust is absolutely shaken up if not gone completely. For people who have had trauma in their past, especially relinquishees, this constant up-and-down rollercoaster of trust is really exhausting.
We came into this world like any other baby, helpless and fully dependent on people who brought us here and who then… abandoned us. It’s taken many of us a lot of inner work to be able to function in the world without using harmful coping mechanisms that used to help us survive in the untrustworthy world. For me, it was drugs and alcohol and leading a life that didn’t align with my more intuitive, introverted nature. For many of my clients, drugs and alcohol provided similar relief, another barrier that seemed to protect us from the world that kept betraying us.
These days, it’s everyone, not just relinquishees, who are experiencing being let down over and over. The news is confusing and inconsistent, the predictions keep failing, and nothing seems certain anymore. We see many of our friends lose faith entirely, the ones we considered the most reasonable can start spewing misinformation any moment, and the ones who would have the most reason to give up end up finding strength and patience to carry on better than all the others. Human nature and our inner resources can be a mystery, but what I draw some inspiration from is watching those who do relatively well during this time and try to learn from their example how they manage in this untrustworthy world.
I still attend some online meetings for my recovery groups, I still read social media posts where people discuss solutions to problems, and I continue to write about the issues. But these days, I try not to give any attention to information that seems pointless and that I know will only drain my strength—I am speaking about politics, complaining, conspiracies, and so on. I am only interested in how in this untrustworthy world I can still function relatively well and how I can help others around me who might be struggling.
For the first time since the pandemic started, I am also acknowledging that, whether pandemic or endemic, we might be here for quite some time and that I need many resources and to muster the strength that I have, which means I have limited room for what I absorb. I have to be ruthless with mental garbage, with those negative threads, the endless political discussions that lead nowhere. Just as I wouldn’t eat rotten food, I no longer want to let rotten information enter my mental space. I consider that space sacred (in the most secular way) and absolutely crucial to my well-being. When I surround myself with people, I know those people are individuals I trust, which means that I am no longer making myself available to anyone and everyone who reaches out. As a counselling professional, I am available to my clients, but as a private person, I ensure that I protect my privacy and that mental space. This is because I understand that I need to last in this uncertainty for quite some time and I cannot afford to jeopardize that. I know that with limited outlets (such as travel, or social gatherings) I also have limited ways of diffusing negativity in my life. So I am protective of it.
And I wish the same for you. I am not telling you to isolate yourself—not at all. But be discerning of who you trust and who you surround yourself with, as we’re in here for a longer haul. You need people who uplift you and understand you. People who will help you survive and even thrive as we all
wait out work through this difficult period in our lives.