A child looks to her mother for everything. Totally dependent on her for every need. What did I see when I looked at my mother’s face? Did she smile back at me? Or did I know even as I was in her womb that she was going to give me away? There has been this underlying fear of abandonment in my heart for as long as I can remember. Especially when I could tell that my adoptive parents were upset with me. They were upset a lot. Life was not kind to them. Nor had my adopted father been kind to me. I’ll never understand why he did what he did. I won’t even try. It is too harmful to revisit the parts of my story that my brain still won’t allow me to remember all of.
I think about the world we live in sometimes. So much of what we are bombarded with on TV and the news is not helpful or healing to our connections with one another. Our harsh judgments around anything sexual are especially detrimental. Even the church is obsessed. The first verses I remember coming to mind as a preteen exploring my own sexual identity were those concerning our bodies being a temple of the holy spirit and feeling ashamed. Even though sex is an important part of who we are as humans and creates a lasting bond with those whom we love, there are many other bonds that make up who we are.
Because I am adopted, I have spent a lot of time recently reading about familial bonds. The other day I came across an article about adopted children reconnecting with the families that gave them up for adoption. I learned that the same emotions that a baby feels for her mother which cause them to bond with her will often come up when we reconnect with long-lost family. Why do we need this bond? A lot of it is about survival. When I had cockatiels, I read that they eat and sleep together because being together allows them to look out for one another. I rehomed my cockatiel recently because she couldn’t stand to be without me and was driving me crazy chirping. The family I gave her to had other birds and more time for her. I got a picture of her the other day. Her new owner said she and her boyfriend cockatiel were menaces. I laughed. They looked happy and that made me feel happy.
I believe we humans are a flock, too. But the hurts in our lives have a way of driving us apart. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be. We are supposed to look out for one another and keep each other safe. When we are isolated, we are vulnerable to attack. In our world right now, we so desperately need this message. Sometimes loneliness makes us desperate and we chirp a lot and drive one another crazy.
I recently reconnected with some of my biological family on Ancestry.com. It has been an emotional rollercoaster ride ever since I opened the first message from a cousin in Canada who started to tell me stories about family and ancestors I haven’t known anything about. It’s been one of the most helpful and healing things I’ve experienced in a long time, but it’s also scared the hell out of me. So many emotions. I’ve felt as if I might be drowning in the ocean of them just off the coast of Newfoundland where my ancestors are from. It’s been so absolutely overwhelming. But this experience has also been monumental in helping me to understand so much about why I was so vulnerable to being abused by a pastor several years ago. As flock beings, we need one another to feel safe. I did not feel safe with the family who adopted me. Even though my mother, brother, aunts, and cousins treated me like I was one of them, my father’s abuse and being given up for adoption created a huge void that put me in a vulnerable place.
I found my biological parents for the first time when I was 19. My mother was so happy to have met me and wanted to pick up where we had left off. My biological father wanted me in his life as well. Even today it is hard to express everything that I felt reconnecting with them back then. I had lived most of my life in survival mode when I met them. Every alarm bell started to sound inside my brain. It felt like the house was on fire, and I needed to get out. Looking back, I think I wanted to make the choice to get out before they abandoned me. I didn’t think I would survive being rejected by the people who gave me life, so I walked away because at least that meant that I would never know if they could love me. Thankfully, I reconnected with my biological father a few years before he died. I didn’t connect with my biological mother, because she had let me know that her heart couldn’t take losing me again. She had asked that if I didn’t want a relationship to stay away. I was too confused to be committed, so I stayed away to protect us both. I learned after I joined Ancestry.com that my biological mother passed away last December. It was too late for me to tell her I loved her. But I’ve had a deep sense lately that somehow she’s behind orchestrating the healing that has been happening inside my brain right now. This might not make a lot of sense to those who are not struggling with attachment wounds, but I think this is important information for anyone who is suffering in similar ways. When I reconnected with my adopted father, my emotions were like a tidal wave. I didn’t want to leave his side ever again. He felt these emotions, too, so much so that his wife was afraid he was going to run away with me. I had no idea what to do with these emotions. It took me reconnecting with a cousin in Canada and being trauma informed, for the planetary stars to finally line up and for me to be able to comprehend what happened to me when I met my biological father, an abusive pastor, and my distant cousin. When our brains are missing those connections that we needed as a baby with our mother, our brains don’t stop looking for them. They are a big missing piece of what makes us whole as a human. When a baby feels this attachment with her parents, it ensures that she stays close to them. She cries when she needs something. She smiles and waits for her parents to smile back. Her nervous system feels at peace when she’s given the assurance that she is loved and belongs. In a healthy bond, there’s never any doubt about where these emotions come from. It’s the love we feel for our parents. It’s one of the most beautiful and natural things in the world.
On The Trauma Tapes podcast recently, I heard a story about a soldier who was worn out and hungry and smelled another human being on fire. In the podcast, they shared how this soldier carried years of shame because when he smelled another human burning his mouth began to water. He was hungry and his brain interpreted the smell as meat. As absolutely unbelievable as that may sound, this was a normal response and not one that said anything about who he was. It was all about survival. When we are in survival mode all of energies move towards keeping us alive. The prefrontal cortex of our brains which enables us to make logical decisions is knocked offline when we feel we are in danger. Our bodies are made for survival and this was simply a normal reaction for someone who was starving to death. The soldier didn’t understand what happened and years after that experience he was still feeling shame for the hunger he felt. Only when he understood that it was all about his body’s survival response, was he able to believe that he wasn’t a monster and be set free from the shame.
Attachment wounds can manifest themselves in similar ways. As adults sometimes starving for connection, there is an attraction that pulls us towards another person we sense a connection with. It’s the same part of the brain working that causes us to bond with a mate. Another layer of the complicated onion of my own life, is those of us with sexual abuse often times grow up with a belief about ourselves that there is something wrong with us. Sexual abuse sometimes becomes our identity and we live our lives waiting to bring out the worst in another person. It can also draw us towards dark connections that are bad for our soul. When we don’t understand the impact that abuse has had on our nervous system, we can carry dark toxic beliefs about ourselves that crush and smother our souls. Even today this is so hard to write about. But I am reminding myself that I never did anything to ask for the abuse from my adopted father or the others who abused me. Their behaviors were always about them and never about me. But what I believed about what they were doing was toxic. And caused me to believe that I was toxic, too. But here’s the thing, I wasn’t and I’m not today. All I ever truly wanted was to be loved and bond with those who loved me. And that’s completely normal.
A beautiful memory has been restored to my brain since I reconnected with a cousin. The emotions I’ve had around my conversations with this relative have caused me to do what good mental health professionals have taught me, and that is honor these emotions and understand where they are coming from rather than resist them. The best time of my life was when I spent a few days with my biological father. We ate Cajun food, went to a basketball game, bowling and and even smoked a cigarette together. When I was with him, I knew it was where I was supposed to be. The days went by way too fast until it was finally time for us to drive back to my car an hour away. While we drove down the interstate together we listened to Barry Manilow. A love of his music was something we had in common. For years I have been too ashamed to talk about the emotions I felt for my biological father, when I laid my head on his lap and we cried together. Leaving him was the hardest thing I ever did. The love I felt for him was a tidal wave of glorious good. My connection with him caused a missing part of my soul to be filled. It was normal, natural and completely pure. But as I said before, we live in a sex obsessed culture where even the most beautiful things can become tarnished. When my biological father got back home a few hours late, his wife had her bags packed. She was so terrified of the bond he had with a young girl he barely knew that she thought he was going to run away with me. Maybe that sounds crazy, but I understand why his wife would feel that way. A bond as strong as the one that was happening is a change that would be scary for anyone. But neither of us knew what to do with her reaction. My mind went to a dark place. I had always deep down believed I was broken, and that I brought out the worst in others. I didn’t even know what love was. I didn’t know the bond I felt for him was exactly what I’d needed since I was a baby removed from the ones who gave life to me. I spent 3 months in foster care before I went to live with my adopted parents. That’s a lot for a little nervous system to take in, especially when we are made for safety and belonging. I think the most important thing for me or any other adopted kid to remember is that none of this was ever something we had control over. It is something every human being needs.
I cried for the first time in a long time a couple of days ago when I realized the emotions I was feeling towards a complete stranger were normal under the circumstances. I was learning so much about my mother, my grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins I never knew I had. I just happened to have a lot in common with this cousin that I met. A kind hearted empathetic soul who reached out to let me know where I came from. The belonging that comes from having things in common with our families is something every child needs to know.
On a side note, I don’t know what’s ahead in my relationships with family that I didn’t grow up knowing. Lots of families reconnect after spending years separated by adoption and decide it’s more than they want to sort through. We all have our own lives now, and it might just be good enough for all of us to know that the other members of our flock are doing ok. I’m trying to take it as it comes and trust my Creator with what’s ahead.
For those of you who have been abused by a pastor, I want to say first and foremost, loud and clear, it was not your fault. You are not broken. You are not toxic. It was not supposed to be the way it was. There is no higher calling in life than to care for God’s children, especially those widows and orphans who have big missing pieces in their lives where their loved ones used to be. It is normal and natural for us to want to bond with those who are called to help take care of our souls. There is nothing abnormal about it, unless the person giving the care is seeking to fill a void in their own life by taking advantage of you. Sigmund Freud called the compulsions of human beings seeking to fill voids in their lives in unhealthy ways demonic. I certainly believe that evil takes advantage of our desperation by planting all sorts of lies about our identities inside our minds. It also works to make twisted meanings of what is really happening that warp and distort the love of God. I am not wise enough to know all the ways these things happen, but I know I lost a lot of my soul when I formed a trauma bond with a dangerous man. I looked in the mirror and did not recognize who was looking back at me. It’s taken years of therapy, books, podcasts, sermons and working in mental health and being training as a trauma coach to finally see that there was never anything wrong with that girl in the mirror that the right kind of love couldn’t help. Thankfully, something inside of me never stopped me from looking for the answers to make me more whole. I like to believe that that something inside of me was the intricate strands of many ancestors who have suffered and survived, lived and loved and have driven me to do the same.
Don’t give up on your pursuit for hope and healing. God and your ancestors are closer than you think. Also, if you struggle with these types of wounds, trauma informed therapy can make a big difference in giving help, healing and hope. ❤️
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