“The butterfly effect is the idea that small, seemingly trivial events may ultimately result in something with much larger consequences – in other words, they have non-linear impacts on very complex systems. For instance, when a butterfly flaps its wings in India, that tiny change in air pressure could eventually cause a tornado in Iowa.”
Eight years ago, I got more information. This information allowed me to “medically and psychologically better prepare and become resilient in the face of life’s challenges,” as I wrote to Chief Judge Mary Triggiano in my letter expressing my gratitude. I was thanking her for being granted my complete Wisconsin adoption file and Original Birth Certificate that I petitioned the Milwaukee County Circuit Court for as part of my search for identity. In my letter to Judge Triggiano, I talked about who I’ve become later in life and how that work has helped me personally and how it’s helped others to deal with issues of relinquishment and adoption, as well as addiction. I’ve listed my accomplishments and provided links to my work, my books, and my public speaking, not because I wanted to brag about those things, but because I wanted to show the Judge how her and the court’s decision allowed me to flourish, how that one decision has had a cascading effect not just on me but on those who enjoy my work, whether it’s in a professional setting– when I work as a counselor or consultant– or as readers or listeners of the work I’ve created since that time. That decision was my own butterfly-effect if you will, allowing me to change the course not only of my universe, but that of others’: my family and friends, my clients, my supporters, and those whom I will likely never meet.
There was a time in my life when I thought that, although I was successful in my professional career, I was finished and that I had nothing else to offer other than superficial love and friendship, and the ability to financially provide for my family (but also the ability to be able to afford to withdraw from really being with my family). I had properties and things and I went to cool parties, but I had no idea who I truly was and what my purpose was. This compounded with my use of drugs and alcohol made me into a shell of a man. I’m not exaggerating, I even have visual proof: when I look at pictures from that time, my eyes seem haunted, empty. Today, when I look at pictures of myself, my eyes and my whole demeanor tell a completely different story–I see joy and fulfilment; others do, too–but that’s because I was restored and because I was fortunate enough to understand my purpose in life.
A health scare and subsequent search for my origins turned into a lifelong mission where I finally felt at home and like I was doing something that mattered. I think what drove me to stay on that path was the fact that I did get access to my records and that seemingly “small” legal decision allowed me to not only face the truth, but also get inspiration of how to help others see their truths. Demanding access to my records was scary. I doubted myself until the end, I asked myself what the point was, why not just let sleeping dogs lie? But once the momentum started, it seemed there was no stopping me. I’m not sure what would’ve happened had the access been denied. Maybe in my fragile state (still relatively newly sober, still confused about my identity) I would have given up, and I would have made some kind of a deal (not peace–I had no peace until I knew) with myself to keep going because I had the support of my family and friends.
But maybe this would’ve broken me. Perhaps this would have been something that would make me feel like I still don’t have the right to my own past? I grew up and lived with shame and the sense of not belonging and I was familiar with having my rights stripped. I suppose hearing from the authorities that they agreed that I had no right to my own life would have been confirmation of all the lies that I already believed about myself. Maybe it would have been the proverbial last straw and I would perish–I don’t know. But as I said in my letter to Chief Judge Triggiano, “ I believe that my struggles would be ongoing had you not helped me to achieve a sense of identity.”
This is not a political blog. I don’t want to talk about political decisions people make about other people’s rights and bodies here because that’s not the theme. But I can’t help but wonder how much better it is to err on the side of what’s right (releasing documents, allowing people to have the autonomy) versus what’s forbidding (keeping documents sealed, taking the autonomy away).
Finally, I try not to dwell too much on what-ifs but I do want to acknowledge–as someone whose identity was so often fragmented–that what-ifs are also a part of my reality, that one distant butterfly flapping its wings several weeks earlier in the wrong direction could’ve caused a tornado in my life instead of tranquility and respite that I’ve experienced because I had my rights acknowledged.