The Internal Conflict of “self-care” as an Adoptee

Self-Care – That word that has been shouted around the last few years. It’s been used and overused. The list of popular trendy words has self-care at the top (next to toxic). It’s interesting, if you would have asked me if I practiced self-care last year, I would have said “No, I don’t have time”. If you asked me the beginning of this year, I would have said “No, but I am getting there”. If you would have asked me a few months ago, I would have said “Yes! I am working on my business”. It’s either not there or it equates to work. Part of this is because as a child I grew up as an adoptee equating self-care to being selfish.

For me self-care has to be intentional. I have to be accountable to myself. If I don’t write it down, sometimes it doesn’t happen. You see, something I have picked up as an adult adoptee is an extremely Type-A personality. I am a perfectionist and at times an unconscious over-achiever. I tend to place a lot of pressure on myself and then I don’t realize when I begin to sink because of it.

This is absolutely related to my adoption. I was a “problem child”, often scapegoated and often categorized as the issue. There was absolutely NO expectations set forth for me. At the time the words buzzing around me consisted of “it would be a miracle” if I graduated from the alternative school I was enrolled in during my senior year of high school. College was not in the future, maybe something simpler would suit me. Maybe I wasn’t really cut out for anything. My adoption story and all the “issues” I had and caused were broadcasted to immediate and extended family members, friends, professionals, my parent’s church family, everywhere. My privacy was breached over and over again. My personal journals were shared with family and professionals. It was traumatic. 

When I left home I quickly realized, it was not me. It was my environment. I started a family and I got married to an amazing man who showed me what it actually feels like to be unconditionally loved and accepted. I was accepted into a local community college, graduated, went right into a bachelors program, graduated, and then right into a masters program and graduated. I helped spearhead and create my town’s Human Relations Commission which I now chair, I ran for council, I started a business, I received awards, I got a promotion and the list goes on. It can absolutely be exhausting. This is who I am, I thrive in the chaos, in the busy, in the rush. It is a weird feeling. I wouldn’t call it stress, more like survival. I push myself and push myself. I must be the best mother, wife, employee, person. However, I have to ask myself. How much of this is an effort to prove and reprove all those people from my childhood wrong? I am sure this is an unconscious piece of my personality now. I push myself hard. Even though my childhood and the little girl growing up was not fairly treated, I still hear those thoughts, those feelings, those people telling me who I was and how I needed to change. How I was a problem. How I would be lucky to graduate high school because statistically, that wasn’t something in my favor.

I realized recently, when my adoptive parents do not talk about my accomplishments or tell others, it triggers me. It hurts so bad. I couldn’t pinpoint why. I see my adoptive mother post about my siblings persistently (or at least before she shut her facebook down). It stung but that wasn’t it. No; I realized it was because growing up, my failures, problems, issues, diagnoses, and adoption story were readily available for those who wanted to hear it. Therefore, I almost expect my adoptive parents to post and discuss my accomplishments in the same fashion. However, that is not the case and it never happens. They are very rarely discussed or acknowledged and that hurts a little bit. A small part of the little child who had no say wishes that they would spin a new narrative, a truthful narrative, of the woman she grew into. But that isn’t the case. I have to wonder if that’s because it would force individuals to answer the questions about how a child that was described so horribly on paper, could grow up and stray so far from what was stated. Maybe because the narrative was not he truth. No; those answers are far harder for them. It’s easier to keep this woman away from the people that they described in detail all the issues and problems she created, the child that was not destined to be much at all. It’s easier to keep her hidden.

I find myself at different stages of my life, almost forgetting that in order to be healthy I need to slow down. Recently (and I am quite sure the stress of losing my first mother late last year and then the global pandemic which followed shortly after played a large part of this), I found out that my autoimmune disorder that has been in remission the last few years, has resurfaced. It has a history of coming full force when I am under immense amounts of stress. As a child when I lived in a never ending state of survival emotionally, mentally and physically. When I was pregnant, had my daughter, was alone, couch surfing and in survival mode. I am now in survival mode again. The whole world is. When I am in survival mode, my body crashes. This is a reminder to me of when I need to slow down. I have to slow down. I am getting better but its something I have to consciously do every single day.

Right before I received the results back about my disease, I had just began running again. It has been amazing. It has been so empowering and uplifting. Sometimes I run alone, sometimes I run with a friend. I am always running for myself. I am running to release the stress, to feel better about myself, to be healthier. But even when I am running I have to be intentional. If I don’t check myself before hand, I run to a podcast that helps with building a business, how to be a better counselor, how to be more financial stable, how to do something else better than how I do it now. This is what adoption and the narrative of adoption has done to me. I have to be intentional not to work hard even when I am practicing my self-care and running. 

Adoption and the experiences that derive from it are exhausting.

Published by Stephanie Oyler

Stephanie is a Licensed MSW professional who specializes in the area of adoption and foster care. She is also an adoptee herself. Adoptee LIT is a space created for education, advocacy, personal insight/experience and guidance in the sphere of Adoption.

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