Before fighting your demons challenges, you need to know your demons challenges. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for someone who has the double-whammy of Adoption and Addiction present in her/his life is being able to identify what happened as traumatic. I don’t want to use that word lightly, but it is no longer the word that can only be applied to those of us who have been in combat. Research doesn’t lie. Consider some of these findings:
- Adopted adults have higher degrees of mental health issues.
- Adopted adults and adolescents are more likely to receive counseling.
- Adopted persons have an increased risk of substance use disorders in their lifetimes (50 percent higher, or 1 ½ x).
- Adoptees are more likely to have difficulties with drug and alcohol use, but also eating disorders, attention deficit disorder, suicide, and untimely pregnancies.
- Adoptees have been found to manifest a higher rate of personality disorders – antisocial personality, borderline personality.
- Although adopted persons often lead similar lives to non-adopted persons, they can experience circumstances needing to be overcome:
- Loss, grief,
- Identity development,
- Lack of information about medical background (including mental health and addiction predispositions)
Q: Does this mean that relinquishment and adoption trauma predispose one to addiction?
A: They absolutely can.
I speak about adoption and addiction as someone with lived experience and as someone who offers services to people who struggle with either or both. It is thanks to both of those positions in life that I know that not thinking or talking about relinquishment and adoption – as well as addiction – is what propels the shame and trauma to thrive. I never talked about it in my youth, and I ignored my very own experience because I didn’t know how to find the language for it, and I didn’t want anyone to think that there was something wrong.
Research shows a significant overlap between relinquishment and addiction. It also points to other mental health issues such as eating disorders or ADHD. What I know about mental illness and recovery now is that they are both complex. Trauma happens due to complex circumstances of nature and nurture. It is no wonder that recovery has to also depend on complex circumstances – or rather, that it has to be addressed as something that would encompass all aspects of one’s life. I stopped drinking physically because of a medical detox, but I didn’t become healthy emotionally long into my sobriety. And it took me years to discover and rebuild my identity to the point where I could say I was mentally sound. Looking back on my life, I think of the few years when I still relied on nicotine after quitting drinking – what was that about? Other than physical dependence, why was I willingly putting toxic waste into my body? Well, it was perhaps because I wasn’t ready to give it up and because I didn’t have the psychological tools to do so. I still had to rely on something outside of myself to provide comfort, relief or even a break – many people say that smoking can be meditative and offers a pause in a busy day.
In his book In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts, Dr. Gabor Mate wrote:
“As we delve into the scientific research, we need to avoid the trap of believing that addiction can be reduced to the actions of brain chemicals or nerve circuits or any other kind of neurobiological, psychological, or sociological data. A multi-level exploration is necessary because it’s impossible to understand addiction fully from any one perspective, no matter how accurate. Addiction is a complex condition, a complex interaction between human beings and their environment. We need to view it simultaneously from many different angles – or, at least, while examining it from one angle, we need to keep the others in mind. Addiction has biological, chemical, neurological, psychological, medical, emotional, social, political, economic, and spiritual underpinnings – and perhaps other I haven’t thought about. To get anywhere near a complete picture we must keep shaking the kaleidoscope to see what other patterns emerge.”
Photo by Malcolm Lightbody on Unsplash
Kaleidoscope – what a great description, indeed. This is why I say that addiction and trauma stories are very complex. And adoption stories can be exponentially more complex because of their overlap. To say that I had a trauma as the result of being relinquished is only a partial explanation. To say I have adoption attachment and identity issues as the result of chronic developmental/relational trauma is true, yet only a fragment of that kaleidoscope that Dr. Mate’ describes. To say that I was addicted and recovered is, again, only one part of the story.
All of these things are accurate, but I need to consider them together to gain a more comprehensive picture of my very complex identity. I encourage you to look at your own experiences and your own traumas through that kaleidoscopic prism. See all the nuances and how the light hits as you look at the pieces up close – and then start turning the kaleidoscope to form new patterns, rearrange them, and create a new and better picture.
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