I often go back to the topic of trust as someone who had spent the majority of his life unsure if it was safe to trust others–and myself. As a child I struggled with feelings of shame and not belonging, despite the fact that my adopted family tried their best to make me feel welcomed. But even with their efforts, I’ve experienced a lot of developmental interruption that later took its toll as I tried to figure things out for myself. There was this expectation for me to be happy and grateful, and even though I was never made to feel that I was less-than within my own family, it often seemed to me that I didn’t get the complete instruction manual, something I’ve acknowledged and mentioned in past writings. I would like to elaborate on that a little bit.
The idea of belonging and trust is, for many of us a natural state. We have parents and siblings and extended family, and we live in homes where there are regular meals and activities. We spend holidays together, and there are people around who can help us navigate the world outside of home–teachers, counselors, mentors, and our own family members who take special interest in our welfare. But being a relinquishee, I believe I was someone who needed maybe not “extra” love and attention, but acknowledgement that there were particular challenges I needed to overcome that might be different than others, and I needed for someone to empathize with my situation on a deeper level. I didn’t quite get that because neither me nor my family understood what it was like for a child like me. I like to say that my parents did their best with what they had, and they too had to adhere to certain societal expectations, such as the one that says that the little boy they adopted will fit perfectly into their family. But imagine both sides not entirely sure if we were doing our part correctly: Me with trying to predict and guess people’s moods and trying to show what a good boy I was, and them expecting me to play that role of a good boy. Even if I didn’t feel it at the time, it was, I believe, a lot of pressure to be under.
I found myself withdrawing and becoming more introverted as time went on, partly because of simply becoming a teenager, but partly because it was easier to stay hidden in… plain sight. And if I wasn’t complaining and if everything seemingly was good, why would my family have any idea that I struggled secretly? It was a bit of a vicious cycle with all of us locked into the expectation that we had for one another. I didn’t quite learn to trust myself–after all, I knew I was often just playing the role of a good son–and I didn’t fully trust my family because they couldn’t tell that I wasn’t fully present. It’s not that I didn’t feel cherished, it’s that I knew the person they cherished wasn’t wholly me.
Eventually, I found validation and connection I was seeking with partying friends as I developed my whole social persona of being the fun guy who brought people together. Where is the best place to hide? In a crowd. I created situations and engaged in activities that would ensure I was surrounded by others, that ensured the spotlight touched me but was never directly focused on me.
Today, as someone who’s been in recovery for a long time and someone who refuses to compromise in those ways, I learn to develop and build trust that is based on authentic interactions. I know I have people who I can talk to, who I can reveal my darkest, deepest thoughts to, safely. I didn’t learn this as a child or a young adult; this is all the work I did after I became sober from drugs and alcohol, and later, nicotine. And it’s still a learning process. In a previous blog I talked about renewal and how this past summer changed me and showed me the most painful and most beautiful aspects of being–a death of someone close to me, but earlier, a wedding that strengthened my family bonds. I found myself prepared for both, but I was also shocked to learn that I still needed to trust myself in order to be able to process both events properly. There were moments when I was reminded of being all alone and surrounded by people who loved me but who didn’t understand me, and there were breakthroughs that showed me that I had enough tools in my recovery box to understand myself. I was someone who fully accepted what happened to him right at the beginning of his life when I was relinquished by my biological mother. I knew who I was. There were moments, too, when I was able to step back and just observe what was happening, including what was happening to me internally. And it wasn’t that I felt alone in all of that, and like I had only myself to count on–no, I knew that since I no longer lived in hiding, I had a right to all of my feelings. And they were all valid and I was going to be okay. I was and am safe.