photo taken by Anh Ðào Kolbe
and edited by Sume
There were no bars or locked doors, no coils of razor wire or chains binding my body to a cold cement floor. The usual imagery associated with the word “captive” didn’t apply, yet the feeling of being trapped was almost tangible. It was something I could never accurately verbalize, though I’m sure my behavior at times left clues. Even now, I’m having great difficulty putting my thoughts into words.
I wish I’d been better able to express my feelings as a child, but I wonder if it would have done much good. Would it have helped my parents to understand or only made me look like an ungrateful brat? The inability to communicate what I felt only compounded the problem.
Not only did I feel trapped, but unable to call out for help. My sense of helplessness, alienation, isolation and their consequences all linked together as an invisible chain wrapped around my neck. It’s an old but reliable metaphor and how I’ve come to visualize that aspect of my adoption. Maybe I’m only being lazy, but it saves energy better spent elsewhere as I struggle for cohesion or some way to reconstruct a bigger picture.
While none of the tangible objects normally associated with captivity were present, I was no less held prisoner in that I was in a situation not of my choosing and helpless to do anything about it. My fences were constructed by the knowledge that there was no where else to go. Ignorance of the world outside my tiny sphere of existence created the illusion that what I had was all there was. Sure I caught glimpses, but what I saw was so completely alien, it filled me with as much fear and apprehension as curiosity.
In essence, I had no choices, because I wasn’t aware that any viable ones existed. As a result, I was left completely dependent upon my “caretakers” and reliant upon them not only for my physical needs, but everything else as well. Some might argue that this is the way life is for every child and to some extent, I agree. However, unlike my non-adoptee peers, the boundaries set by my parents, the environment in which I lived and my circumstances prevented me from pursuing my heritage, personal history and even others of my own ethnicity. I’m not saying this was done in a vindictive way, but mostly because of ignorance.
Adoptive parents in my time didn’t have the benefit of all the resources that are available today. Part of what infuriates me is that even with all the information out there, what happened to my generation is still happening. The excuses have simply changed or old ones recycled.
I’m sure some will think I’m crazy for even bringing the word “captive” into the picture, but take away all the sugar and what do you have? When a child is deprived of their heritage, culture, personal history and prevented from their pursuit, they are being held in a kind of identity prison. I include non-TRA’s in this as well. They are deprived of their genetic and personal histories which is a part of one’s ethnicity.
Personally speaking, I’m tired of all the sneaking around. I’m 37 years old yet still live a dual existence between my TRA self and the one my parents perceive. Now I have a choice, but feel it’s ludicrous that a choice needs to be made at all. In a very real way, I still feel as if I’m being held prisoner because of the reluctance of my father to disclose my history.
The “choice” I’m being forced to make is between pursuit of what’s rightfully mine and his wish to keep it hidden. Interwoven is the dilemma of possibly causing conflict between my adoptive family and myself. The silly thing about that is the minute I felt forced to chose, the rift was already set into place.
My situation is perhaps unusual, but I think the resulting conflict is more common than people would like to believe. Even if those things are made available, a child who perceives reluctance, discomfort and fear in their adoptive parents may be discouraged from actively pursuing their ethnicity and personal history. Though my parents never openly expressed discomfort, it was just something I sensed and was enough to enforce my silence.
It’s sad to know that even adult adoptees who seem to have supportive adoptive parents still express feelings of being torn when it comes to pursuing their birth parents and/or ethnicity. Imagine what happens in the minds of children. I don’t know what the solution is nor do I like to think that such a dilemma is inevitable.
Perhaps the key for adoptive parents is knowing when to actively participate and be encouraging and knowing when to step back and let go. The search for an adoptee’s past need never be a threat to the relationship between adoptive parents and their children. In truth, the perception of a threat can often times create the very chasm that one is trying to prevent.
As for us adult adoptees, perhaps the trick is remembering that “freeing” ourselves is about us and not our adoptive parents. The burden of comfort and reassurance just isn’t ours to carry and can become the very chains preventing us from finding our truths.