Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences.
By Rick Wemple
I was given up for adoption when I was five days old. Not one day old. Five days. My birthmother named me and had me baptized when I was four days old. Knowing the circumstances of the time – 1969, Catholic unwed mother — I figure she had planned on giving me up for adoption from the beginning. But why was I with her for four days?
I’ll never know, because she gave me up again in April 2016. I found out who my birthparents are in 1994 after doing some digging. They eventually got married and had four additional children. That means I have four full-blooded siblings. But I didn’t contact my birthparents until last spring. And the letter I got back was very cold. My birthparents do not want to open that part of their lives. They do not want to have contact with me.
As most readers can imagine, that hit me very hard. I was actually conscious of this latest rejection at forty-six years old. I was not conscious of the rejection when I was five days old. Yet, there were a lot of signs that the rejection in infancy did affect me.
Interestingly, my foster family reported to the adoption agency that I was an outgoing, smiling baby who made lots of eye contact and made noises that made other family members laugh. And I would keep doing it as if I liked being the center of attention. I stayed with them for about five weeks before I was given to my adoptive parents, whom I call my parents.
But something changed in that transfer. My Mom says, “Rick, it’s interesting to read the report from your foster mother about your outgoing personality. You were always so closed and serious with us. Dad would play with you and try to draw you out and you just wouldn’t budge.”
That’s exactly how I reacted to breakups with girlfriends. I had a much stronger reaction than the average guy does. It got to the point that I was thrown into depression after five different breakups between the ages of twenty-six and forty-three. I believe that being given up twice in six weeks probably did a number on me. I didn’t think this, however, until I was forty-five years old.
My parents and I thought adoption might have something to do with my isolation, seriousness and overly strong reactions to breakups. But since I was always so positive about being adopted, it was hard to draw a firm conclusion. For forty-five years, I always said “I’m adopted” and “Hey, did you know I’m adopted, too?” I was always so positive about it. But shortly after my forty-fifth birthday, I sat down to begin writing out a draft of a talk I give regarding finding our treasure within. I wrote out the phrase, “I was given up for adoption when I was five days old.”
It hit me like a ton of bricks. I had set aside four hours that afternoon to work on my talk. I was excited to work on it. It was only a few minutes into the writing that I wrote that phrase. I froze. I couldn’t go on. I took my laptop and set it on the floor. I laid my head down on the futon, kicked my feet up behind me and I slept for four hours. I did not want to feel the pain that I was experiencing after writing out that phrase.
I was given up for adoption when I was five days old.
I’m adopted. Hey, did you know I’m adopted, too?
Same exact event. Two very different messages and descriptions about that event. And two very different perceptions and experience of feelings when saying one phrase versus the other. No wonder I had such strong reactions to breakups through forty-three years of age.
“I was given up for adoption when I was five days old” is a message I wasn’t even aware of nor aware of its effect on me all those years. But it was there, underneath the surface.
I had always felt this emptiness inside my chest. Like something was missing. I also felt less than, not good enough, even though other kids liked hanging out with me and even though I was very talented. I discovered a book in 2015 titled The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier. She shares stories from her counseling work with adoptees in which they describe feeling an emptiness inside. They describe feeling less than, inadequate. That was another piece of data that adoption had probably affected me in ways I wasn’t conscious of for all those years.
What did I do with those “less than”, “I’m not good enough” thoughts and feelings? I discovered around fifth or sixth grade that I could overachieve in order to get affirmation from parents, friends, teachers, awards, accomplishments, etc that would make me feel good about myself. Academics, Athletics, Band, Scouts. Thus, I was able to push those “less than, not good enough” thoughts and feelings down and cover them up.
So, through junior high, high school, and college, I felt mostly good about myself because I had these almost daily, and definitely weekly accomplishments, accolades, praises, achievements telling me that I was good enough. And they were helping me push down and cover up what I was feeling inside. They were filling up that emptiness I was feeling inside. I also sought having girlfriends to fill up that emptiness because I was craving that female attention and companionship.
But once grad school started and I got into the workforce, that’s when the depressive episodes began to hit with varying degrees. There weren’t as many grades in grad school and we certainly don’t get as much feedback in work life as we do during grade school to undergrad.
As I look back on that period, I realize that I began to feel those “less than, I’m not good enough” feelings more frequently, and more intensely. They were coming to the surface because I didn’t have as many outside affirmations coming in to help push them down and cover them up. And when a girlfriend broke up with me or the athletes I coached performed poorly, I felt the feelings of inadequacy even more strongly. I felt a strong emptiness inside that I kept trying to fill up with accomplishments and with girlfriends.
Something started to change in my late thirties, but it didn’t fully take hold until I was forty-three or forty-four years old. I had to realize that I had been dependent on outside affirmations to make me feel good about myself. All the affirmations were coming from outside sources – an award, a grade, a win, a school record, praise from my parents, praise from teachers, from friends, attention from girlfriends, accomplishments of my athletes. So when these sources were not providing the affirmations, the default for me was the “less than and not good enough” thinking that was ingrained inside.
What was missing were internal affirmations. I wasn’t affirming some of the simplest and most basic GOOD things about myself. I learned to use affirmations and created an initial list.
I am tall. I am attractive. I have a really nice smile (when I remember to use it!), I am a really good teacher. I’m a great listener. I am intelligent. I have tons of empathy. I have a deep and sexy voice — I laugh or smile EVERY time I say that, regardless of whether I am in front of an audience or by myself practicing the talk I give. EVERY time! It changes my body chemistry.
What I experienced over the five-plus years from ages thirty-eight to forty-four was that as I affirmed that goodness inside of me, and began to nurture the seeds inside, they began to grow. And they filled me from within.
The emptiness inside started to lessen. And I didn’t need outside affirmations and accomplishments to make me feel good about myself. I didn’t need a girlfriend to “complete me”. I have felt full these last four years because I have nurtured something from within me. I have been able to nurture and affirm those gifts that we have been given by genetics, by God, by our Higher Power, by that power’s presence inside of us.
My affirmation list has grown and matured over the years to now include the following that I have discovered about myself after listening to that small, quiet voice inside and getting in touch with my true inner self.
My treasure is that I am really good at creating business, networking with people, making connections, building connections. I have an entrepreneurial mind. I’m really good at teaching. I have a gift for recognizing the pain others are experiencing and connecting with them by sharing about my own related struggles. I am able to share my experiences in ways that foster courage in others to step through their fears; to accept their fears, and still take that step forward anyway.
And that is why I write this post. I hope that my example can help ignite the process for others to discover what treasures are inside them. To help others who might feel inadequate or not good enough or less than to realize there are amazing things inside them that they can nurture and affirm and grow. That those gifts were there despite the person being abandoned, rejected, given up for adoption.
I have had to remind myself that the affirmations need to be a regular part of my routine. Zig Ziglar, a famous motivational speaker, likened affirmations to showering. If we don’t shower for four or five days, we will stink. If we don’t affirm ourselves regularly, our thinking will stink. It has happened to me many times. But when I return to using affirmations regularly, my self-esteem strengthens, my mood brightens. I don’t feel empty. I have found that when I affirm myself regularly, the seeds of talent/treasure/passion grow inside me. The emptiness begins to fill up from within me. I’m no longer reliant on outside affirmations or accomplishments to feel good about myself. I have more to give to those around me.
I am fortunate to have found this treasure within me. It was always there. It just got clouded by experiences of rejection and abandonment in the first five days and six weeks of my life. Finding this treasure within me has brought me a more fulfilling and richer life. Not just financial riches. Personal fulfillment, better relationships, inner contentment, peace and joy. I was adopted when I was six weeks old. And I am forever grateful!
Rick Wemple is a native of Dayton, Ohio and has lived in Chicago since 2005. He works as a personal trainer and mental performance coach. Rick has also added motivational speaking to his coaching business, focusing on the topic of Finding Our Treasure Within. Personal training website: http://www.coachrick.info/ Speaking website: http://www.findingyourtreasurewithin.com/
Are you looking for some awesome children’s chapter books? The BRAND NEW second book in the Jazzy’s Quest chapter book series for adoptees is HERE!!! Be sure to get your copy of Jazzy’s Quest: What Matters Most, the sequel to Jazzy’s Quest: Adopted and Amazing!