The Shame Game: The Intersection of Relinquishment and Addiction

What is the big deal some of you might say? You were loved and cared for and your parents gave you opportunities that you wouldn’t have had otherwise! This is true. But aside from the Adoption Game that we all had to participate in—me pretending it was all fine, them pretending I wasn’t sad about it—I had to engage in another harmful game: the Shame Game. Having been denied my birth story, my relinquishment, and my very beginnings in life, I was expected to accept myself only from the time I was adopted. Those first moments didn’t count. It was as if I didn’t exist—but I did, even as a baby without a first name. Not knowing who I was caused me to feel shame and shame in turn broke me even more.As a young child, I revealed my origins to a few friends. Their shock and disbelief only secured the feelings of unease. What I thought was an innocent and normal thing—being adopted—turned out to be something that you were better off at hiding. I remember the look of horror on their faces when I shared this about myself. In desperation I brought them home to have my mother confirm that I was in fact adopted—I thought her reassurance would reassure them as well that it was a normal thing. But it didn’t. It only made it worse and my friends left. From then on, I felt as someone marked, different, living my life under the giant lens that watched my every movement, disapproving of anything that wasn’t “normal.” But not knowing what normal was supposed to be, I felt conflict and shame that would never go away.

Consider this: everyone around me had lots of clues as to where they came from. They had real relatives and stories surrounding them, they had first-hand experience with the people who made them. I didn’t have any of that. Add more shame. I was afraid to talk to my loved ones about how I felt for the fear of appearing confused and ungrateful. My “shadow side” could not exist in that vacuum of repression, but I continued to function, although on the inside I was falling deeper and deeper into sadness. As with me, my parents were asked to be complicit in the Adoption Game by having to profess that I was their “real” child and that adoption was even preferred to natural conception. Admitting that there was something wrong with me would mean that adoption was wrong—all of this kept teaching me not to trust and my shame grew.

Ultimately, I struggled with “genealogical bewilderment.” This was a term “coined in 1964 by psychologist H. J. Sants, referring to the plight of children who have uncertain, little, or no knowledge of one or both of their natural parents. Sants argued that genealogical bewilderment constituted a large part of the additional stress that adoptees experienced that is not experienced by children being raised by their natural parents.” I was confused about my origin, I was confused about my need to understand where I came from, but I had no way to obtain this information. My parents—probably feeling that this was for the best—kept me from the truth and reality.

Where’s the hope in this gloomy tale?  Despite these difficult challenges, there’s a community of support that’s enabled me to work through these issues and many, many more.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash


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