Confronting Hard Truths

It’s my (natural) dad’s birthday. I’d like to call him, but I’m uncertain if it’s okay. He has a lot of people in his world who don’t know I exist, so I’m always hesitant to pick up the phone. Just in case he’s with someone who doesn’t know. “Oh that? That was, uh, my daughter I never told you about.” Could create awkward moments for him.

As I review that first paragraph, I’m struck by the words it contains. Uncertain. Hesitant. Awkward. Most people wouldn’t associate those words with me. I think most people would say I’m confident, self-assured, and in control. But here I am. Using those words in a public forum. Because those words describe me too. Particularly when it comes to relationships (e.g., family, friends, etc.). Because relationships are complicated for me.

But why??? I’ve thought about that question over and over. Let’s just go down a brief list of answers I’ve identified:

  • I’m a natural introvert. I have always been bad at small talk, which seems to be the starting point for many relationships.
  • I (generally) don’t trust people. I often don’t take my foot off the brake long enough to allow a relationship to start.
  • I over-think. I’ll spend months trying to determine if it’s the right move to start a relationship or I’ll dissect a relationship until it falls apart.
  • I’m not good at feelings (and relationships involve those). I keep a list of “feeling words” at my desk because when people ask me how I feel, I often wrap my feelings in a cloak of “thinking words” because it’s more comfortable.

That list is probably enough to explain my relationship challenges, but lately I’ve been wondering if those are the core problems. Maybe the real challenge is in a promise I made to myself when I reunited with my (natural) family. A promise that sounded something like, “I’ll have whatever level of relationship they want to have with me.”

On the surface, that promise sounds appropriate. It took into consideration their life circumstances, their thoughts/feelings about me surfacing after 37 years, etc. It honored them, and I still believe it was the right approach. But underneath, I think it reveals my core relationship challenge. I hold back. I wait. I survey the situation. I let other people dictate the flow of relationship. I don’t invest until they do. And that’s probably not the best way to have a relationship with someone.

Relationships are complicated. They need both participants to be invested and engaged. But here’s the hard truth–at times, one party just won’t have enough energy to be fully invested and engaged. And that’s where I often fail in my relationships. Because when they appear to back off, I back off. When they appear to disengage, I disengage. When they appear to turn down the energy, I turn down the energy.

Even in my best relationships, I fight that tendency. With my husband, with my best friend, with my (natural) mom, with my business partners, with a new friend that I want to turn into an “old friend” as times passes. Thankfully, this tribe (my tribe) seems to get me. Maybe they know how hard it is. Maybe they see me trying. Maybe they are like me and the relationship’s quiet spaces just seem natural. Maybe they are the opposite of me and give everything no matter what.

But the push/pull is always there. Always tempting me to play it safe. Always reminding me that other people are in control of the relationship. Always encouraging me to protect myself from the pain of potential rejection.

And that brings me back to my first paragraph. It’s my (natural) dad’s birthday. I’d like to call him. And I think he’d be happy that I called. But I won’t. Not because of him. Not because of people who don’t know I exist. Because of me. Because today I lost the fight within myself.

Reunion: Year Three

I just celebrated my third year of reunion with my natural family. Well, almost. The anniversary of my reunion with my natural mom was Feb 19; my reunion with my natural dad will be celebrated on April 9. 

A lot has happened in those three years. I’ve been introduced to lots of family members. I’ve been told about others who don’t know about me. I’ve celebrated the birth of new family members. I’ve mourned the death of others. I’ve spent countless hours on Skype getting to know my natural mom. I’ve spent a few treasured hours on my natural dad’s back porch. I’ve awakened on some mornings wondering what in the world I’m doing with a stranger living in my house (for those who haven’t been reading my posts, my natural mom moved into our home to aid in the establishment of our relationship). I’ve awakened on other mornings in awe that I’ve been blessed with this opportunity. 

Despite the monumental nature of all these things, on most days, I just live my life and none of it seems like a very big deal. I have two moms, two dads, three brothers, four nieces, two sisters-in-law, nine uncles, six aunts, and lots (and lots) of cousins. And that just counts my adoptive family and my natural mom’s family. And it’s just my family. No big deal. And, yet, the biggest deal ever. And that’s what three years of reunion feels like to me. 


Thoughts from the Darkness

It’s 3:35 a.m. in Memphis, TN, and sleep eludes me. Perhaps I’m just excited about watching my alma mater take the football field later today. Maybe it’s my husband’s snoring. Or it could be spending a couple of days in my birthplace has me (unusually) reflective. Whatever the cause, it is readily apparent I won’t be sleeping much tonight, so I’ll write about some thoughts I’ve had over the past few months.

It all started when an adoption blogger I follow wrote about her repressed anger at her natural parents. She and her natural family had already reunited when she sought counseling for her adoption-related issues and it was during those sessions that she discovered how angry she was at her natural family. To her credit, and that of her natural family, they stuck with one another during the process of working through those emotions, and remain in relationship.

After reading that post, I began to wonder if I’m angry at my natural mom and dad and just haven’t addressed those emotions. I’ve reflected on this question for several months, and here’s my take on the matter.

I’ve often joked that anger is my emotion of choice. But there’s much truth in that statement. In my opinion, anger is much easier to address than hurt, disappointment, and a large range of other emotions. My anger, in particular, is easy to deal with most of the time. It burns white-hot for a few seconds and then disappears. Because it’s an emotion of choice, I can summon anger at any moment – and I’m sure to those who have seen my anger expressed – it may seem to appear out of nowhere. I suspect those who have seen my anger also associate it with my ability to be cold and calculating – as those two tendencies often appear shortly after my anger has been expressed.

I think for many people, anger is a last resort emotion. I think those people are disappointed, hurt, etc. and then they get to the point that anger is the only emotion left, and that’s when they express it. For me, it’s the exact opposite. I almost always get angry first (which may or may not be noticeable to the person at whom my anger is directed), and if I can address it myself by reasoning through the situation, that’s where the issue ends. All those other emotions are messy, and I don’t like to deal with them, so I choose not to do so. Unless I’m pushed. And that’s where things get messy.

If someone continues to do things that bother me, I can’t continue to reason through that fact in my own mind with anger as my filter because I begin to wonder if their actions are somehow a reflection on me. Maybe I’m not good enough. Maybe they don’t really care about me like they say they do. Maybe they don’t care about me at all. And that’s when I actually begin to process those other emotions. When that happens, my survival and control tendencies work overtime. In exasperation and desperation, I begin to pull back and that’s actually when I become cold and calculating. It’s not an act of anger, but an act of pain and my unwillingness to experience that over again at the hands of the same person.

I think that is one of the reasons it took me so long to finish the process of finding my natural family. I wasn’t angry at them, but I didn’t want to risk being rejected. Before I finally made the decision to search for them, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I would do if they didn’t want a relationship with me, and I decided I could just be angry, but I think there would have been a lot more to it than that simple emotion. Thankfully, I never had to find out because both of my natural parents were willing to have a relationship with me. And lots and lots of other natural family members were as well.

So, do I have repressed anger at my natural parents? No, I don’t. How could I? They did the only reasonable thing they could do under the circumstances (see how easily anger can be resolved through reason?). But I do have repressed hurt that gets repaired each day as I build a relationship with them. And I think that’s complicated and messy and, sometimes, exhausting, but I guess it’s the way it has to work and I believe it’s worth it.

Time to get some sleep,