Gillian found out she was adopted at 12 years old. The moment her adoptive parents, Maggie and Steve Graham, told her, she felt as if she was something special. Now she had a unique name and status, even though she didn’t understand exactly what “adopted” meant. Still, this brief charge of euphoria passed quickly, and soon, something began gnawing at Gillian’s conscience. As much love as Maggie and Steve showed her, Gillian couldn’t shake the feeling that her blood parents didn’t care for her and had forsaken her. The ones who were supposed to love her the most had thrown her away before she could even prove herself a good daughter.
This led to a downward spiral that lasted for years. Gillian spent her time trying to please everyone else to avoid ever being rejected again. Thus, she was constantly being taken advantage of by others who expected exactly what she was willing to give them. She was also diagnosed as bipolar, which made for intense mood swings that no one could predict or manage with any real success. Her addictive personality led to her becoming a drug user, resulting in occasional but ongoing legal problems. In the middle of all this chaos, and without really understanding why, she surrounded herself with people who would abandon her because she felt unlovable, defective. Then she would try to prove to others that she wasn’t defective at all, which meant constantly reinventing herself. Was she a hipster, a biker chick, or the girl next door? Even she wasn’t sure who she would be next. As a result, she continually destroyed her authentic identity, the person she really was.
Like it was a psychological loophole, Gillian used her adoptee status as an excuse for aberrant behavior. After a while, she couldn’t even see Maggie’s and Steve’s efforts to care for her every need. She disobeyed authority, shut down the emotional side of herself, and got to the point where she felt little guilt or remorse for hurting herself and others. Consequently, she formed unhealthy bonds outside of her family. She ran away a lot but would always come back because although others would help, it was easier to be with her parents.
Gillian indulged in adult vices on a regular basis although she wasn’t an adult. Binge drinking, drugs, promiscuous sex — any way to numb her emotions or connect to others in superficial ways. She skipped school regularly and showed no real interest in her studies. Eventually, she just dropped out and began hanging out with homeless teens although, unlike them, she could always return home as she saw fit. Her anger and emptiness became more than just the issue of being adopted. It was not being able to overcome her feelings of abandonment that troubled her most. Memory became an infection, and there were plenty of qualifications to keep her from being unconditionally kind. Life became more about living to extremes than about caring for oneself and others in a sensible manner. Eventually, she began cutting her arms, partly out of guilt and to gain attention, but mostly so she could actually feel something other than the empty emotions she had come to know that seemed so dead and barren.
As a result, Maggie and Steve felt guilt, too, and they tried to make up for Gillian’s rejection by becoming extremely enabling. They would let her do nearly anything she wished and turn a blind eye to things they knew she shouldn’t be doing. In short, they dissociated themselves from the reality of unpleasant situations or even deny they existed because the pain was too much to bear. They would just stare off at the dinner table with glazed looks and change the subject. What else could they do, they wondered. All the time, energy, and love they had invested in their daughter seemed to be going to waste. Eventually, the family agreed that it would be in everyone’s best interest if Gillian moved out. A cord had been broken, but there was nothing anyone could do about it.
One morning when Gillian woke up in a place she didn’t know, hung over and missing some of her clothes, a voice in her head said, “You need to grow up right now and start taking care of yourself. How much longer do you want to be miserable?” Gillian realized right then and there that she didn’t want to be a dead butterfly on the head of a pin. It was time to start looking for her birth family.
At first, she just wanted a picture of her parents and her health background. She payed for one search through an ancestry website but had no luck. She even hired a private investigator. Still no luck. Then, after a few more years of half-hearted searching, Gillian received a message on Facebook from her birth family. Immediately, a hole began to close in her life, and she raced through one conversation after another to learn everything she could about the parents who had played such a large role in shaping her personality in absentia. They messaged back and forth and got to know each other. Her biological mother and father had been struggling to survive on their own terms when Gillian was born, so they put her up for adoption to ensure that their daughter would be raised to standards they couldn’t offer her. Gillian finally realized this was, in a certain sense, a practical act of love. She also came to believe that blood doesn’t always define family.
After a while, Gillian decided it was time to close one door to open another one. She stopped responding to her biological parents, which might seem selfish to some, but she felt complete and didn’t think she needed too much more from them to understand where she stood in life and who she had become. She figured her history with her adoptive family was more than she could ever ask for. Maggie and Steve had molded her into a person she could love. They were her real parents. The person she was made sense, and now she could express her identity much better and with no more hesitation or confusion. She had come to see herself as the black sheep of the family, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.