Empty Cereal Box

Views From Inside an Adoptee

April 06, 2006


At least with a blog I have a little say in how I create my image online, unlike IRL (in real life) where I had very little say as an adoptee. Others defined me with absolute authority, and I didn't even understand that I was being defined.

What I wanted to write about today is what it's like to be Unemployable. That's a loaded adjective. It means different things to different people. I think there must be a spectrum of "employability" out there somewhere, but it's mostly subjective, and mostly applies to how I see myself compared to others. I've always compared myself to others. I look out of the corner of my eye always to see if I'm "doing things right" or if I'm "fitting in" or if what I look like or what I'm doing identifies with those who I want to accept me.

See, that's the thing about being an adoptee. The adoptee default is set to rejection. I don't know how to change that default. If you're an adoptee and you know how, please leave me a comment explaining how you did it. It's like, your situation as a child growing up set that default. The people, the mindwrestles, the situations, the expectations, what was said and what was left unsaid but implicit in the family unit, the residual emotions, the gestures, the rules, the habits, and so on made us who we are, and it takes an extraordinary person to scrape even some of the negativity off.

As an adoptee, I was always looking up to see if I had approval. My true feelings always had to be carefully repressed, or I might hurt my a-parents. If I hurt my a-parents, they might send me back, reject me, or at least judge me and place me in probationary mode. So, I had to be on my best behavior always, even if it was totally the opposite of how I felt.

Now, when it comes to getting a job, I've always seen employers as having all the traits of stand-in parents. I depend on them. They hold power over me. They can control and manipulate my actions and feelings, and thus my self image, by hiring me, refusing to hire me, fitting me into a pre-fab slot, or firing me. "Pre-fab slot" has always been the formula of my life. And it's taken me many years to see how dehumanizing it really is. But since there's no real sense of self within an adoptee to be stripped anyway, this dehumanization process is just another gash on the cipher.

It's not that I've never held a job. I was fired two days into my first job at a florist's shop because my curly (read: messy) hair didn't meet the boss's standards. The second employer I had fired me after three weeks because I'm math dyslexic and failed at cashier-ing. This job was back in the day when cash registers didn't show the amount of change to give, and I came up short every day. I guess they thought I was stealing money. At any rate, I was bad for business.

I tried my hand at insurance sales, even got my license, but I couldn't take the rejection of cold calling. I got my teaching credential, but couldn't pass the math portion of the CBEST (California Board of Education Standardized Test) exam. I scored high on the verbal portion. If you don't make the score on both sections (I was an English teacher who had no intentions of teaching math), you can't teach in public schools in California. I taught English for three years in private schools for pennies until I got pregnant with my second child and quit.

My last job was as a typing clerk with a local newspaper. My editor kindly allowed me to write stories for the business section, but the managing editor told me I'd never make it to be a full-on reporter. I think I left at $11 per hour. Hardly enough to support a family on. I haven't looked for a job since I quit that job. I have this fear of being a homeless alchoholic if it weren't for R, my humanitarian husband.

It might be worth writing more on this subject, integrating my feelings as an adoptee with my feelings as an (un)employee. And, um, that includes the habit of always putting myself down.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rhonda Says:
April 7th, 2006 at 2:50 pm e

We could compare notes on just about everything you’ve written here. I could have written it myself, though not as well.

This line:

Others defined me with absolute authority, and I didn’t even understand that I was being defined.

was so especially powerful.

Blogger Marie Jarrell said...

# emptycerealbox Says:
April 7th, 2006 at 3:36 pm e

Rhonda-I love your writing style. And I forgot to mention how beautiful I think your blog is. And hilarous. If I want a good laugh, I know where to go now. Yeah, I think writing a blog is like sweeping the dust out of a room that’s been closed up for too long. Sometimes the things I write surprise me. That’s a good thing, I guess.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

# Gwendolyn Says:
April 8th, 2006 at 8:01 pm e

It is surprising to me that there are these common threads in the adoptee experience. I have always thought that living on the “fringes” of the employment world was just my idocincracy. It never occurred to me that it had to do with my shaky ability to attach and connect with human beings because I was adopted and then some. That is what your blog reminds me of…that there is this fragile place that we adoptees live in…constantly…we contain this fear of risks in relationship that ultimately need taking, in every relationship of every kind that we have. It is taking the risk to speak your truth and damning the fact that someone just might give a “fuck you” in return to the efforts and not dying a little bit inside because of it. Why is it that we have this insatiable desire to count? to belong to something larger than ourselves or to just belong period. I was able to hold a normal job for about 7 years. I am 46 so that is a lot of years where I creatively employed myself or was employed in larger systems on the “fringes”. My experience in the work place was always fraught with either freaking out at other people letting me down by being human or freaking me out by my own inner compulstion to be “perfect” at everything I did professionally and having others resent me, ignore me, or adore me…the praise nor the negative response was good enough…I think my need for external validation was insatiable…I left my last job because I worked my butt off so long and so hard that I was totally burnt out…to the point where I felt sick all the time physically and emotionally. I am doing wonderful things currently to employ myself…not making a lot of money…entirely grateful that I am not required to work full time…aren’t hubbies wonderful?…and know from all of this that there is some part of me that was broken and that it will never function in the way that mainstream people function. I find this, however, to be the greatest gift and I cling to this differentness as part of my identity. Telling myself this perspective I suppose serves me in accepting myself on some deep level…or shallow level…who knows. Creating and relying on an internal locas of control has been long in coming…but I think I have begun over the last 4 years to develop this inner voice that comforts, leads me to my authentic voice, and is a sort of emotional compass inside of me. Thanks so much for your post. The issues creep like hanging vines and it is entirely difficult to discover where one vine begins and the other ends…much like the issues we face as a result of our life circumstances. Keep writing…I love the personal sharing…you do it in a way that makes me want to be able to be more honest in this way in my blog. I often wonder why people don’t reply in my blog…do I keep such a far distance that others simply don’t connect with me? Your writing is real and from the heart…and means a great deal…thank you for that example and for that courage.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

# Gwendolyn Says:
April 8th, 2006 at 8:50 pm e

Thought I might add this link to my art work around my life story and adoption.


Blogger Marie Jarrell said...

# emptycerealbox Says:
April 9th, 2006 at 1:22 pm e

Gwendolyn-As I read your comment here tears stung my eyes. I don’t know which is stronger, my anger or my sadness. We adoptees try so hard to make some sense out of our lives. All my life I’ve felt so alone, outside, and utterly lost. When I read common threads like yours and other adoptees I know I’m not alone, even if I can’t see faces. I always act like others so that I can fit in. But the real me is hidden deep inside my head, a place I can’t show anyone because I found out a long time ago that no one understood. Until now. What a breath of fresh air. I’ll come visit your blog. Hugs.

Blogger Faith said...

Ugh. I'm working so hard on trying to change that "default to rejection" you speak of. It's not easy. I think part of the first step is just awareness of it... I wasn't even aware of it until very recently.

Keep us posted on how you work with that... I will tell you if I stumble upon anything that works well in this manner. A therapist I once saw likened it to a tree that had grown very far in the wrong direction. The tree would never be straight, but could be coaxed back into a straighter position.

The methods for doing this, however, are yet a mystery to me.

I think one thing that is beginning to help is an automatic "stop" response. When I catch myself playing my negative "rejection self-talk" tapes, I stop myself and tell myself that these things are not true, that they are a result of abandonment and adoption and that my feelings, although valid, are not necessarily based in reality.

I, too, always first assume that people won't like me, etc... Even when it's quite obvious they do like me (because perhaps many of us become expert charmers), it's an empty kind of knowing, like, "Wow, I really fooled them, didn't I? They think they like me, but they don't REALLY like me...?

Catch yourself doing it, stop yourself, analyze it, and then reject the negative thoughts. They really are illogical, sometime, and they make life hellish and lonely. :/


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