‘Sorry to disappoint, but we were adopted.’ He was disgusted. I felt like a possession, not a person.’: Adoptee shares difficult childhood, fosters and adopts daughter

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Disclaimer: This story contains mentions of suicidal ideation that may be triggering to some.

“I grew up adopted. Well, to be honest, I started out with my bio mom, but due to neglect, I was apprehended by children’s services and placed into foster care. I was not in foster care long before I was placed for adoption with whom I consider my parents. I don’t remember being in care, but I had an inner-knowing I was different, I think very early on. I never really felt I fit anywhere. I always said I felt like I belonged ‘on the island of the misfit toys,’ but I could never find the island. Growing up, I had what appeared the perfect childhood. I had two parents who loved me and I did truly feel this love, but sadly because they loved me, there was also very little discussion around my adoption. While the topic was not taboo in our house, I had the unspoken impression it had a limit; I could only talk so much about my adoption. The only mention of it was my mom always saying we were ‘chosen’ and ‘it took far more love to give a child up you knew you couldn’t raise than it did to keep them.’

Old photo of young girl sitting in chair holding up paper
Courtesy of Sally King

So there we had it, a nice, pert little pat answer that was supposed to quell the questions about who I was and where I came from. No wonder I felt like a foreigner in the world. Because honestly, you feel like a possession, not a person. And remember, I am 56 years old now, so there was very little information given, and definitely the narrative in those days was all about being ‘lucky.’ This narrative still remains today. And the belief we as adoptees started the day we arrived in our adoptive home is a real issue and does us a great disservice. While all this is supposed to be well-meaning, the current narrative is we are better off, and loving us is enough. And listen, while being loved truly matters, and on paper I had the ‘perfect’ life, sadly it was only on paper because underneath, there is so much more that goes on in an adoptee’s head. I don’t regret or have bad feelings about being adopted and I truly loved my adoptive parents, but adoption is still a loss. And when there is no acknowledgment of this loss, then this is where the problem lies.

Old photo of two young girls standing outside in grass
Courtesy of Sally King

We did not start on the day we were adopted. The whole concept of a ‘Gotcha Day’ makes me a bit twitchy, to be honest. Again, it makes me feel like we are a possession. Please just celebrate our birthdays. Full stop. The reality is my parents had no idea what they were getting, and I know I was the kid everybody hated having around. I was constantly dysregulated, I had and have sensory processing disorder, and I now know I was also prenatally exposed to alcohol, so put all this together with the ‘mother wound,’ and it made for a perfect storm. I struggled with my emotions, with regulation, and I found school a terrible and scary place. Any person of authority who was heavy-handed did not fare well in my world. I was often in trouble, and this has carried on into adulthood. I don’t do well with bosses at all, which is why I finally realized I needed to work for myself. Growing up was really rough, and so much of it was because I was expected to relate to the world like a regular bio child. I just felt so disconnected from everyone.

Old photo of young girl and baby boy sitting at table
Courtesy of Sally King

I always felt like I sat on the periphery looking in but was never really part of anything. A spectator but never an active participant. I never felt included in anything, and to this day I struggle with people-pleasing. Which is, as it turns out, an adoptee thing. I had an adopted brother who was really good-looking, good at any sport he tried, and was super popular. And then there was me…sigh. We fought very hard, and he was nothing short of cruel to me if I am honest. He terrorized me as a child. Those hours after school from when we came home until Mom and Dad got home were the worst. I dreaded them every day, so I would take a long time to get home just to have peace before he started his onslaught of terrorizing. My parents just thought it was regular sibling rivalry, but for me, it felt like torture. Because he was so good at sports, people expected us to be ‘proper siblings.’ He was four years older than me, and I remember the day I started high school like it was yesterday. I am very tall, and on this day the basketball coach had heard Graeme Dick’s sister had started tenth grade and was super tall. He was sure I would have my brother’s sports ability.

Old photo of young girl using sewing machine
Courtesy of Sally King

One of my ‘friends’ and I were standing, talking in the hall, and the basketball coach came up to talk to her and she introduced me. When he realized who I was, I will never forget his look of contempt when he said, ‘You’re Graeme Dick’s little sister?’ I knew he was disgusted, and I put my armor on and said, ‘Yeah, sorry to disappoint, but we were adopted. I never am what people are expecting.’ He just turned and walked away. I cried my entire walk home. There have been so many moments like this throughout my life—people expecting one thing from me and me typically disappointing them with the reality. I was always curious as to where I came from, and on one particular day when I was thirteen, my mom was washing dishes as I was sitting at the kitchen table. We were talking and I asked her what my real name was. I remember seeing her face in the reflection of the window and seeing the look of terror on her face she thought I couldn’t see. She swallowed and told me it was Cheryl Lynn. Now, I have always hated the name Cheryl, because Cheryl was the name of one of my many bullies as a younger child, and so I spit out, ‘Oh, I hate that name,’ and I remember seeing her face and the look of relief.

I knew then she was threatened and this was not going to be an open-book policy, so I shoved the need to know more down and carried on walking through life as a ‘ghost in the room.’ I have described myself as this often—people see you, but no one is acknowledging you. No one ‘really’ sees YOU. It can really be the definition sometimes of the adoptee experience. So, growing up was really hard, and as a young adult, I struggled. I was always depressed and suffered from great anxiety and suicidal ideation…constantly. I just could not find my place in the world. When I was eighteen, my adoptive mother died of breast cancer. Although I struggled with my start in life, she was my rock and my confidante. So, here I was—eighteen, the worst possible time to lose the one person who always had your back. It started many years of extreme depression, sadness, and worthlessness. My father went crazy and could not deal with her death, and so started eight years of fighting and battles with him.

Father and daughter holding hands with backs to camera
Courtesy of Sally King

This all came to a tragic end in 1991 when he was killed in a boating accident. At a time when our relationship was in tatters and explosive, he was gone. No opportunity to make amends and repair our fractured relationship. I loved my dad, we just didn’t know how to deal with the death of my mother together. Now he was gone too, and I truly was alone. I look back and see I never truly came to terms with him and my mother and my start in life until I myself became a mother. And what really brought it all home for me was when my husband and I decided to foster and adopt a little girl from the system. We already had two bio children, and then this little girl came along and rocked our world to the core. Serenity was vulnerable and scared, and I could see she personified me and my childhood. I was bound and determined to change and make things better for her. She was and is one of my greatest gifts and one of my biggest teachers.

Young girl with flower in her hair smiling
Courtesy of Sally King

Dealing with social services was hands down one of the worst experiences of my life. Dealing with pencil-pushing, abusive (because there is no other way of putting it) social workers nearly brought me to my knees on many occasions. There were so many times I thought I couldn’t go on, but I knew I had to for this child…our sweet Serenity. Dealing with these workers awoke all my childhood trauma and nearly killed me. I would not be lying when I said they broke me—when Serenity’s adoption was finally granted when she was four, I had nothing short of a nervous breakdown. The time had come. I knew I needed to finally deal with and come to terms with my childhood and trauma and all the abuse I had endured, not from my parents but from all the people around me in my world. I knew if I didn’t ‘go there’ and deal with it, there would be no ‘me’ anymore. I had ceased to function. Serenity and her situation had brought me to my knees, and it was one of the hardest and biggest gifts of my life. I found an amazing therapist through luck and fate and began a self-healing journey I continue to this day.

Mother and daughter sitting outside looking at dandelion
Courtesy of Sally King

I have come to terms with myself and how I fit in the world. My life mission now is to teach Serenity who she is and how she fits into the world. I knew I needed to do things so differently to hopefully prevent her from following in my footsteps of stumbles, lack of self-awareness, and lack of self-esteem. This was and is no small order, but I knew in my core I had to show her who she is and how she fits in the world. I work tirelessly to show her she belongs, to trust her gut, and her inner knowing. To know she is loved and adored, not for anything she has done or achieved but just by being herself. She owes no one anything and she does not have to be ‘grateful’ to exist in the world. We have a bigger task at hand with her because she is also an indigenous child, and our goal is for her to grow up to be a proud and strong indigenous woman who knows without a doubt how she fits in this world, in our family, and in her community. The biggest thing I have learned through this beautiful and trying adoptee experience is things ‘do not happen TO you, they happen FOR you.’

Young girl holding adoption sign
Courtesy of Sally King

Being adopted does not define me or her. It just is—it is beautiful and tragic all in one. What I have learned and know to my core is ‘I am the island.’ It was right here all the time. I just needed to see it and believe it. And through my healing path I wrote my book, ‘In Search of Serenity,’ and this was my catharsis and culmination of my healing journey. Adoption is beautiful and tragic and wonderful and needed and necessary; though built on loss, it is one of the most wonderful things I have ever been a part of. But the reality is people need to go into it with their eyes wide open. We need to see it for what it is and recognize and acknowledge its impact on a child, and this is where healing can happen, and this is the gold, right there. Without understanding and acknowledgment, there is no room for healing and growth. So, I want to ‘be the change I want to see in the world’ and show kids can come through this experience with a sense of self and know who they are and know they have every right to hold a space in the world, and they have deep and different wisdom because of how they started life. But they are not damaged or second best. Seems to me we truly are the ‘chosen’ ones.”

Family of five sitting outside in woods
Courtesy of Sally King

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Sally J. King. You can follow her journey on Facebook and her website. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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