The Adoption Game :
The Intersection of Relinquishment and Addiction

Accepting that you were relinquished isn’t easy at best, but having to play the Adoption Game is what makes the trauma that much more complicated. I grew up feeling unwanted by my biological mother and biological father, and feeling shame about having those feelings because I was adopted into a loving, responsible family. Why couldn’t I just be eternally grateful and at peace with what happened? Why did I have to go and ponder about the reality of what happened? Why did my brain not just shut off and allow me to enjoy my adoptee luck? And so on and so forth. The Adoption Game says that a child who’s been relinquished by their family and adopted into another should shut his mouth and not question what happened. In my case it wasn’t that I was afraid of being relinquished again—although I know those are very legitimate feelings for some of us—but it was that I was afraid to have feelings.

My positive, happy-go-lucky attitude was preferred to despair or melancholy—emotions that were sometimes clearly on display as evidenced by photos from my childhood. In one, I’m sitting in my little boat, the expression on my face that of longing and apathy at the same time; I’m a child who looks a lot older than his 12 years. I imagine I walked around with that cloud hanging over me enough times that it snuck into my summer snapshots, throwing a shadow over those carefree days.

Because this was never discussed, and because I listened to the societal narrative, I grew up feeling I was unwanted and unloved—despite being both loved and wanted. This put me at war with my SELF – that “essential being that distinguishes me from others.” I had to live a split existence, being curious and at times needing to know where I came from so I could see who is was, versus having to squelch that curiosity in the name of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Photo by Carol Jeng on Unsplash

I was expected to ignore the beginning of my reality and my truth—the fact that I was given up by my birth mother. The alternative of how my life did turn out was either never existing or having to live with a person who was clearly irresponsible enough that she had an unwanted baby out of wedlock. But here’s what happens with truths that you ignore. They come at you. They don’t let you enjoy life, they keep you up at night, or they numb you to everything. As long as you ignore what happened, you’re going to have to hide it from yourself for long enough to make it to another day. My trick was using drugs and alcohol to cope. As long as I was buzzed and half-unconscious I didn’t have to deal with my intrusive thoughts. I could distract myself with parties and people, and once those were gone—exhausted or turned off my by lifestyle—I could be all on my own with my demons and an open bottle. Thankfully, my playing the Adoption Game caught up with me when I suffered a seizure and had to take a look not only at my addiction but also at where I came from. I had to look for medical records and I had to acknowledge that I was relinquished, that I had all those complicated emotions and that, finally, I would be able to heal from it. Once I stopped playing the game and started facing my reality, my recovery began.


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