The Healing Power of Looking Back

by Elaine Pinkerton

Writing The Goodbye Baby: A Diary about Adoption gave me a chance to put my adoption in perspective.

I was five years old when my birthmother had to give me up for adoption, and at the time I did not understand what was happening. In the era following WWII, people didn’t talk about family secrets. I mistakenly assumed that I’d done something wrong for my original mom to have given me up. Even though they were based on illogical thinking, feelings of shame and guilt grew. For years, I nursed anger, resentment and sadness about being adopted.

Elaine’s diaries

Then I decided to read all my old diaries. What I found within them was life-changing. As I read my first-hand accounts of the 1950s through the 1980s, I began to release the old misconceptions. The older Elaine forgave the young girl, the rebellious teenager, the unhappy wife. I saw, in hindsight, that I had done the best I could. I recognized many terrific accomplishments. Acknowledging myself, I became the heroine rather than the victim of my past life.

My adoption was no longer a burden. It had taken me from being an orphan to a secure home environment. Because of wonderful adoptive parents, it was a rescue boat. Since my early situation was never explained, I sometimes fell victim to  depression. Through re-reading my diaries, however, I was finally able to understand and forgive the past. Looking back on all that happened and putting my adoption in perspective was the final, unexpected gift of adoption.

Perhaps my “epiphany” is best explained in an excerpt from the Epilogue of The Goodbye Baby: A Diary about Adoption:

If it is possible that one can send a brain to boot camp, then that is just what reading my diaries accomplished. Every loss or failed relationship, or so my diaries revealed, echoed that first loss. The loss of my birthmother was one I knew so well and referred to for so long that it was all too easy to toss every loss, failure, slight, emotional hurt into the comfy basket woven from my original privation. I have retired the basket in favor of a daily labyrinth walk to shake out the negative thoughts. Most days it works.

What were the benefits of my diary-reading marathon?  No less than a remodel! Looking at vicious emotional cycles in my past, I stared them down. I grew in the courage needed to resist the voice that liked to say, “Oh, poor me. My mother left when I was just five.”

Turning off the “Oh, poor me” lament is not always easy. As life’s challenges continue, I know I’ll be tested repeatedly. To be alive, after all, is to face crises. The only people who do not grapple daily with frustration, complications, loss and the occasional disaster reside in the cemetery.

Elaine reading one of her diaries

For years, I’d been reading every book and article I could find about the adopted self, especially adult adoptees. They included Betty Jean Lifton’s novels and dozens of self-help books dealing with adoption and loss issues. Until I read the handwritten chronicles of my own life, however, the other adoption books meant little. After harvesting the diaries, I found those works miraculously lucid. The books hadn’t changed, but I had gotten inside my own skin, my own mind. I had a more truthful picture of who I actually was. The diaries provided data, the books gave me strength, and I came to see that my life was just part of a human river. Along with that realization came gratitude.

To put it another way, I got to know the real me, not some abstract construction based on self-concocted mythology.  The diaries provided missing data. Through weeping, crying, occasionally laughing, often being amazed at my stubborn inability to accept the obvious, I worked through the childhood paradigm. At the same time, I gained a new self-respect. So my original mother couldn’t take care of me and I’d been adopted. It was no worse than early challenges faced by hundreds of others.

Everything, it has been said, that happens to one before age six is cast in bronze and that what follows that is not important. I set about to disprove this. As I read about my life first hand, I learned that my initial beliefs about “not being one of the real children” had burdened me with what I think of as an “overcompensation obsession.” I married twice, carrying mistakes of the first union into the second. I hadn’t been an ideal parent. So?

That was then. This is now. I yearn for courage and wisdom. I have tried, through this book, to gain the strength to develop both. There’s something far less lofty that happened. Harvesting the journals yielded a rich treasure: I’m now more comfortable with my memories. We are old pals now.

Several points are salient: I made many hurtful decisions, but I had my reasons.  Though my choices may not have been very wise, I did my best. I wept for that earlier adopted self and put it to rest.

Best of all, my journey to the past strengthened a strong resolve to spend all remaining years on the planet more positively. After researching my life and studying its structure, I’m better at making decisions that serve me well. This is my intention.

***

Elaine Pinkerton is a long-time resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico. In addition to writing for magazines and newspapers, she is the author of several popular non-fiction and fiction books. She is a world traveler, educator focused on working with young children, labyrinth facilitator, and athlete-skier, hiker, former marathon runner. In The Goodbye Baby: A Diary about Adoption, Elaine reveals the bruises of adoption that impacted her from the tender age of five. Through excerpts from personal journals she kept for 40 years, we experience her frustrations and successes as she strives to be good enough for her beloved adoptive parents and in all areas of her later life.

Elaine can be “followed” through her blog, Twitter, and Facebook page:

Blog: http://elainepinkerton.wordpress.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheGoodbyeBaby

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Elaine-Pinkerton/363479233726632?ref=hl

Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your story, Elaine.

  2. Glad this posting was helpful to you, Wilma. I’ve learned that it is always possible to “adopt” a fresh attitude, especially if moves one toward a healthier perspective. As I hear the adoption stories of people around the country, I’ve been enlightened and inspired.

  3. lucewriter says:

    Reblogged this on Writer Site and commented:
    Elaine Pinkerton’s memoir The Goodbye Baby: A Diary about Adoption shows the healing power of memoir writing.

  4. How wonderful that you were able to get your old journals. I think giving a journal to a little girl fighting so many confusing feelings is such a great idea too.

    • It’s truly been a healing process. Writing is an excellent tool to release anger, or any emotions that are eating at you. When I went back many years, I saw an ugly truth about myself, but that honestly helped me!

      Thanks for reading.

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