16 Aug The Fog. Are you in or are you out?
In the fog. A statement that used to mean waking up and not being able to see out my window. I grew up in California. A foggy morning meant that my carefully curled, fine hair would not last from my front door through the long walk to the bus stop. Straight hair in the eighties was a crisis. Later, I lived across the street from the beach. Then, the fog meant a beautiful morning for a run. Being in the fog was cool, crisp, and a little haunting.
In the Fog
In terms of adoption, “being in the fog” represents denial. Denial of the loss inherent to being adopted. Being in this fog is haunting too. Adoption loss is stored in our implicit memories and bodies. In a way, we are haunted by it until it lifts and we allow the loss to become visible.
“Being in the fog” may endure until middle age or even a lifetime. It is not hard to see why this happens so frequently. An adopted child loses their family and genealogical history. Their new adopted family celebrates the loss. It is not intentionally malicious. The family is excited to have a new addition. “We are so lucky to have you,” and “You must feel so grateful to have been adopted,” are frequently said to an adopted child.
Actually, “being in the fog” is a common state for all members of the adoption constellation. Adoption is borne of loss. Birth parents and adoptive parents are generally trying pretty hard to deny their loss. Denial behavior is passed on to the adopted child who has no experience with how to deal with loss. If a person is not told about their adoption at all, denial is more overt and shocking when discovered.
In my family, my mother believed I was meant to be her child. I felt chosen. Questioning this might have caused me to be unchosen again. Not really, but that’s how a child’s brain works.
“Being in the fog” might sound like:
- “I had a great childhood, I never think about my real parents.”
- Telling heart-warming stories about “Gotcha Day.”
- Denying an interest in your first mother or genealogical roots.
- Clinging to the idea that your birth mother gave you up out of love.
- Proudly claiming that you were chosen or a gift to your adoptive family.
Denial: A normal stage of grief
The denial stage of grief does not actually mean that loss is denied. It does mean that the loss is hard to process. Denial and shock are protective. It allows us to let in the amount of pain that we can actually handle. Denial is a normal stage of grieving that often outlasts it’s usefulness when associated with adoption.
When someone dies, denial’s role in grieving gradually recedes. Over time, the fact that a loved one is gone becomes normal. Sad, but less shocking. In regards to adoption loss, denial is not allowed to recede when it is continually reinforced.
For children, the idea that a mother could give birth and then give away their child is confusing and frightening. The adoption stories of bravery on the part of the birth mother and joy on the part of adoptive parents are comforting. Denial in this case is protective. Parents must begin to tell a more realistic account about their adoption as the adoptee ages.
Developmentally, reinforced denial of loss impairs the ability to express sadness authentically. Is it any wonder that adoptees report feeling fake or have trouble with intimacy? From a very young age the message is to make loss a celebration. A continual encouragement of inappropriate affect.
Coming out of the fog
“Coming out of the fog” always reminds me of “coming out of the closet.” Coming out of the fog of adoption is when an integral part of identity is given space and needs are spoken. Like coming out of the closet, coming out of the fog is multi-layered.
First, there is allowing yourself to get curious about how adoption has impacted you. Adoption loss might be why you suffer from separation anxiety, depression, ADHD, or are sensitive to rejection.
Then, an openness to searching for birth family might be voiced. Admitting that you want to see your birth mother may be next. An awareness that you hunger for a relationship with her, not just medical records may surface.
All experiences are unique, but coming out of the fog is generally a time of dysregulation. Lots of confusing feelings. In many adoptive families, adoption loss is an avoided topic. Therefore, grief is stalled for the adopted person. Frankly, it is often stalled for the adoptive and birth parents too.
When coming out of the fog – facing the reality of adoption’s impact – grief speeds up. Grief on steroids. A person hasn’t died, the fantasy of adoption has died. The memories of adoption stories come into question. Were they real? Were they appropriate? The ensuing feelings of anger, sadness, and regret feel shocking.
It is a challenging process and so worth it. Tell your story over and over. This telling helps you integrate new parts of self into identity. Understanding and acceptance will expand.
Benefits of Coming out of the Fog
- Honesty and knowledge about a key part of your humanity lightens your mental load
- Deeper connections with friends, family, partners, and even colleagues as you present your authentic self
- Access to a new community of like-minded friends
- Higher levels of self-acceptance and self-respect
- Knowledge that your visibility helps to normalize the fact that adoption is not perfect
- Lower levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout
- Possibly fewer gastrointestinal issues, migraines, pain, panic attacks, and feelings of isolation
In the end, being out (of the closet or fog) involves risk to stability. It could include potential rejection from loved ones as you become more honest. Additionally, processing intense feelings is painful and time-consuming. Both hard and liberating.
Identifying feelings with a safe person is important. Often this person will be a therapist in the beginning. Feel free to call or email me to talk about therapy, how to find an adoption-competent therapist or support group in your area.
Kate Murphy, LCSW
Kate Murphy, a therapist in Chamblee, GA, specializes in helping you decrease stress and anxiety. You can live a more balanced, connected, and meaningful life. Kate works with individuals and couples over the age of 18 to support healing, communicating, and experiencing joy more often.