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125 – You Can Forgive People From Afar

Lisa called me from New Jersey to share her story of growing up in an abusive home. She had one unrelated adopted sister who didn’t have the same experience in their house that Lisa had. Lisa always felt like the odd person out and hoped that reunion with her birth mother would be a rescue from those feelings.The opposite was true with her maternal connection which fell apart twice, but Lisa’s paternal ties have made her feel accepted for her nature versus how she was… or wasn’t nurtured. This is Lisa’s journey


Lisa (00:04): He was very much about adult lives and how that unplanned pregnancy had affected them. But what was missing for the longest time, it was like, Hey, here I am. I’m still a human being who has rights and needs and feelings. And yes, this affected you. But I never asked for this, I didn’t have a choice. This is just my story.

Damon (00:32): Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? This is who am I really a podcast about adoptees that have located and connected with their biological family members. I’m Damon Davis and on today’s show is Lisa who called me from New Jersey. Lisa grew up in an abusive home with an unrelated adopted sister who didn’t have the same experience at their house that she had. Lisa always felt like the odd person out and that hoped reunion with her birth mother would be a rescue from those feelings. The opposite was true with her maternal connection, which fell apart twice, but Lisa’s paternal ties have made her feel accepted for her nature versus how she was or wasn’t nurtured. This is Lisa’s journey. Lisa grew up in New Jersey, fully aware that she was an adoptee. She said there was always a bit of a discrepancy in her story as to whether she was adopted at six weeks or six months. But other than that adoption, wasn’t a big deal. But just because it wasn’t a big deal didn’t mean that everything was just fine.

Lisa (01:50): I think my adoptive parents, it was almost like a therapist would call a bad fit. I was very different than them, and I always felt very different and they, my father had a hard time understanding me as a person and relating to me and the, the natural difference, you know, the biological difference came out in that way. So it was it was it was a rough childhood, I would say there was not a very healthy environment.

Damon (02:29): Can you tell me a little bit more about those differences that you’re alluding to? It sounds like they were pretty stark. And when you say he could not relate to me, I mean, that’s a, that’s a pretty deep thing to say. Tell me a little bit more about what you mean, or like, give me an example of what you mean.

Lisa (02:46): I was very emotional, I guess. And I’m, I’m a pretty, I mean, everyone that knows me would probably consider me a pretty sensitive person and that was, he did not that he wasn’t very compassionate in a lot of ways and he just didn’t understand emotion and it made him very uncomfortable, I think probably because of his upbringing and it kind of, it would boil down into these, these actual comments that would come out as I got older, like wherever you came from you are very different than us kind of thing. So it was very much acknowledged that I was different and I remember feeling different. Like I never feel, I never felt like I fit in either. And it was just, I don’t know if I could put words to it as a kid. But just feeling on the outside of that family and then having some fantasy, you know, that my, my real mom someday, I will find my real mom and she’ll understand me and the pieces will fit.

Damon (03:56): Wow. That sounds like that was really hard. I mean, you’ve identified that feeling back to when you were a young child, but interesting to me, you haven’t mentioned your mother at all. How was your relationship with her versus your father?

Lisa (04:14): She did not want children. Really. I think she told me at one point in frustration that she had wanted to choose a path to go to college and career, and that wasn’t offered to her as a woman back then, you know what you did in the late sixties and early seventies was you got married and you had a family. So it was a big shame for her that that didn’t happen right away. So she went along with the whole package of, this is what you did. You got married and you had kids. And then, you know, that was achieved through adoption, but it was never really her passion to be a mother

Damon (04:56): Lisa characterized her mother as a pacifier in the family. She said there was a lot of dysfunction going on, but her mother wasn’t one to acknowledge things that were actually red flags, given how Lisa described her home life. To this point, it didn’t sound like a warm home. So I asked Lisa about her mother’s affection towards her,

Lisa (05:17): Not very warm and fuzzy. Yeah, it was, it was, I don’t think she was modeled that. And I don’t think she knew how to do it. So it was hard for her to do and I craved it. But she didn’t know how to give it to me. And on some levels she did the best she could. But it was not in her wheelhouse.

Damon (05:40): Lisa said, since she wasn’t getting the affection and engagement that she needed at home, she was always reaching out to others, people pleasing and trying to get acknowledgement and validation that she was worth it as a human being, when she was younger, she sought validation through high achievement and service. As a teenager, Lisa said the need to feel validated by others led to some bad romantic relationships.

Lisa (06:05): And I think I’ve found as an adult adoptee, the biggest piece, I think doing research and talking to people and just self discovery is attachment. How big attachment is to human beings and how this situation can affect, you know, your early life affects every relationship you have. I feel like my, my birth story affects every relationship I have in some way, in some way. Yeah. Because it all boils down to connection and attachment.

Damon (06:38): May I ask, were they, it sounds like your adoptive father wasn’t necessarily very kind. Were they abusive?

Lisa (06:49): Yeah. Yeah. They were probably I’d say in every way, physically, verbally and other ways,

Damon (07:06): What does other ways mean

Lisa (07:08): Sexually? Yeah.

Damon (07:13): I’m so sorry.

Lisa (07:15): Thank you.

Damon (07:19): Did you have siblings?

Lisa (07:21): I had a younger sister. Who’s sick. Yes. Adopted as well from a different biological family. That is six years younger than myself.

Damon (07:33): And so she’s six years your junior first, what was her fit with them as parents? From your perspective?

Lisa (07:44): She had a very, you know, birth order is such a big thing. I was the first born female. She had a very different role. She was a pleaser, she was a pacifist and she towed the line. So she never rocked the boat. And she had a very different experience than I did. I think, you know how they say, two children never have the same parents. We had very different parents and she’s very different than me. She was probably a better fit with them than I was.

Damon (08:15): It’s interesting to hear you use the words that you do. You’ve described. You said she had a different role, you know, which some people can use in there in terms of a family, but it sounds very detached. You know, it doesn’t sound inclusive and it sounds like your it’s these, it sounds like the kind of word that you use when you’re looking from the outside at something. And you’re trying to determine who plays, what role.

Lisa (08:46): Yeah, because I didn’t, I never felt like I belonged there ever

Damon (08:51): Lisa’s relationship with her sister wasn’t very close. Six years can be a big spread for siblings. Let alone the very discipline, the very different experiences that Lisa had with their parents than what her sister had. She told me, she and her sister never spoke of the transgressions in their home. Lisa said eventually she started rebelling.

Lisa (09:13): I think at one point I just said no more. I didn’t want to be hit. And I didn’t want to be told there was something wrong with me. I was just done. And then I fought back verbally. How old were you when you stood up for yourself? Probably 13, 13. Then I remember they, they were very frustrated with what to do with me. So I had been adopted through Catholic charities out of Trenton, the state Capitol. So they had kept in touch with the adoption coordinator. So in a, in a day of frustration, I remember them driving me down to Trenton when I was 13 and putting me in a room with this adoption coordinator who seems very just aggrivated to be talking to me. And she said, what do you want to know? What are these questions that you need to know?

Lisa (10:14): What, what do you need to know about this situation to, to calm everything down? So I wanted, you know, I didn’t know that somebody had these information about my birth story. So I asked her if she remembered, she said very clearly that she remembered my birth parents. They were very much in love. They wanted to do what was best for me. She remembered my father working for the sewer department and them coming together and putting me up for adoption. And it was a very peaceful pacifying story. And then I was kind of sent on my way to kind of process that later. I found out when I did find my birth family, that that was never the case. They never met her. They never had a conversation. My dad never worked for the sewer department. It was just either a stock story that she kind of fed me or she was mistaken me for someone else.

Damon (11:15): Do you recall believing that story at the time?

Lisa (11:20): Yeah, I did. I think I wanted to. I mean, why would someone make that up?

Damon (11:24): Yeah. So I’m curious too. Then if this person has painted this perfect picture, did it, do you recall it creating more questions with you? Like, well, if they were so much in love then why am I over here?

Lisa (11:38): It did. It did, but it was that they were teenagers and couldn’t take care of me. And one is a better choice. So it was kind of, that’s what I was given until I was an adult and old enough to find anything different. So

Damon (11:56): It’s interesting that you say that you just found yourself in front of this adoption coordinator. Do you recall asking your adopted parents about where you came from? Like they, some things must’ve precipitated this connection between you and this adoption coordinator. Do you remember asking them like, well, if you guys don’t want me to, you know, tell me something, like,

Lisa (12:19): I remember conversations where them being my father being so aggravated with who I was, he was seeing me become this person that he couldn’t relate to at all. And he didn’t seem to like, let alone love. And then it was like, well, why didn’t you even adopt me? Why would you even go out of your way to adopt me? If you know, I’m not okay for you. And then it was, you know, attempts to give me some kind of peace or answers or for them to fix things. I guess

Damon (12:55): I see he pushed him far enough and they say fine, you can do.

Lisa (12:59): Yeah, you want it now you’re in and out.

Damon (13:02): Since home life was so tumultuous. Her rebellion showed itself away from home as well. Lisa admitted, she went through a promiscuous phase where she wanted validation, but she also required control. She said she didn’t drink or do drugs, but she did put herself in some risky situations.

Lisa (13:21): I was just kind of looking for that acceptance where I could get it. So if I wasn’t going to get it from my father, I was going to get it from some guy.

Damon (13:31): Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m wondering, and forgive me, I don’t know anything about this, but I can’t help wondering too that if you’re both seeking affection and acceptance, especially from males or your father and there’s sexual abuse in the home, do you feel like that amplified your promiscuity?

Lisa (13:56): Absolutely. Absolutely. So, yeah. So then those years on from probably 14 to 17 or 18 were just tumultuous. And I just tried to be home as little as possible.

Damon (14:12): The year Lisa graduated high school, her parents’ retirement property in Florida had some issues. The family member who was managing the property got sick. So her mother and her sister moved down to that house in Florida, leaving Lisa at home in New Jersey with her father.

Lisa (14:31): And that was just a recipe for disaster. It was just the two of us alone in a very stressful situation and things really escalated. And I ended up leaving or being kicked out right before I turned 18. And then the relationship was just, no, it was like a, my father was disowning me at that point. He wrote me off for goods.

Damon (14:58): Lisa went to stay with friends and an ex boyfriend who was in college at Rutgers and who knew her situation. The ex had witnessed a violent outburst from Lisa’s father back when they were dating, she had parked the car crooked inside the garage at home. Her father punched a hole in the wall, in the garage, in front of Lisa’s, then boyfriend. He encouraged her to get the heck out of that house. So when she got kicked out, she turned to her ex, she lived in off campus housing with him and some friends at Rutgers, right after she graduated high school,

Lisa (15:33): We’re living there and we had some roommates and it was, you know, we lived together and then just one day it was like, Hey Lisa, you know, did you ever think about finding your mom? And it was this conversation that just started everything. And it was like, yeah, maybe it’s time. It’s time to see my mom

Damon (15:54): In 1993, Lisa returned to Catholic charities where she got an adoption coordinator, a kind and very compassionate woman. Their process required a $600 fee to access and work through her case file. The woman found that Lisa’s birth mother’s identifying information immediately. So she started making phone calls right there in front of Lisa. One of the phone calls was to her maternal grandmother who still lived in the same town. Her grandmother gave the adoption coordinator, some contact information. When the call was over, the adoption coordinator, turned her attention back to Lisa who was sitting right there as her reunion began in front of her, the coordinator coach, Lisa on how to craft her introductory letter and the patience required to wait for results. Lisa found out later that her adoption coordinator wasn’t really supposed to start her outreach and be recording contact information right in front of Lisa. It was a breach of privacy protocol that kind of bitter in the ass a little bit later. Anyway, Lisa wrote her introductory letter and mailed it two weeks later, she received a very detailed reply

Lisa (17:09): Saying she’d be willing to talk to me. She would give me information. She wasn’t sure how she felt could she would be willing to about having a relationship, but she would be willing to give me information. I believe it quickly escalated to a phone call. Now, looking back, I feel like she wasn’t ready. And I was, I was so ready to explore this. So I pushed it. So I wanted to meet, she did not want to meet yet, but I was very excited. She lived in Rochester, New York. So I actually had a friend who went to RIT. And everyone was, you know, excited. Following the story and he said, come up for the weekend, just come, just come and we’ll make this happen. So that kind of prompted like, Oh, I’m coming up to Rochester. It’s a six hour drive so we might as well meet arranged the meeting, drove six hours. I’m expecting this big, exciting reunion and pulled up in her driveway. I remember getting was a beautiful day, got out of the car, went to give her a hug and she stopped me. She, she put her hand up and put me back and said, no, let’s go in the house because, and looked over at the neighbor who was outside and did not want to hug me in front of the neighbor. I believe.

Lisa (18:41): Yeah. It was not unexpected. So then,

Damon (18:46): Oh, that was the moment. And she stiff arm.

Lisa (18:49): Yeah. Yeah.

Damon (18:51): Ah, God, that’s sorry.

Lisa (18:56): Then it was a weekend of us awkwardly and coldly getting to know one another. So ironically, she told me the whole story from her point of view, her and my father were teenagers. She had a very negative view of my father. She had me at 16 or she I’m sorry. She got pregnant at 16, had me at 17. She was raised in a very strict Italian Catholic family, very shame driven. And that was not okay. It was not okay to have sex before marriage. Certainly not okay to have a baby out of wedlock. So she hated my father for a while. Realized she was pregnant, went kind of was in denial for a while. And this was 74. So Roe versus Wade was approved, went to have an abortion. And I think she went at like, she was like 20 weeks and a day.

Lisa (20:04): So when she got to the appointment, they would not do it cause she was a day or two over the cutoff. Yeah. So then it was plan B. So my father was from a crazy loving family of eight, the opposite family of my mom’s family. So then they decided to go to her and asked for help. She met with them and my grandmother was very welcoming. She said she would talk to my mother’s parents and they would work it out as adults. My grandmother had dreams of adopting me as the ninth child. She would adopt me as a grandchild is her ninth child. She had been her body I guess, gave up after eight other kids. So they have this grand plan to go over, went to my mother’s family and it was just shut down. They wanted nothing to do with it. They blamed, they had a hard time accepting that my mother willingly was in a sexual relationship, assumed that my dad pressured her into sex. And they told my father and my grandmother that if they tried to pursue any kind of custody, that they would pursue statutory rape charges. So that kind of cut everything off. So my grandmother kind of felt like either she’s going to choose between her son and her grandchild. So she just went along with it.

Damon (21:32): Lisa’s birth mother was sent to live with an aunt on the Jersey shore for three months when Lisa was born, her maternal grandmother had arrived in town for her birth in late August. Lisa’s grandmother held her once after she was born, her birth mother was not allowed to hold her child. Lisa’s August birthday meant her birth mother delivered just in time to return home to graduate high school. Her birth mother has since gone on to become a successful neonatal nurse. She works with infants, a choice of professions that Lisa finds fascinating.

Lisa (22:08): So moved on with her life and kind of didn’t look back. I know she told me this was such a shame driven family, that her father, five years after I was born now, she had moved on and become successful. And no one was the wiser. It was a big family secret he passed away from a heart attack. And at one point her family members blamed her for contributing to the stress of her father’s death, this big shame. So she carried this shame bubble, you know, for her whole life. Yeah.

Damon (22:48): Even if she had tried as she did to go on, be successful, put this in the past, the family, just put it back on her. That’s unbelievable.

Lisa (23:00): Deep, deep, you know, layers of shame. Now I’m being honest to me the weekend that she got my letter, my father still lived in the town that we grew up in or that they grew up in and her mom still lived there. So she paid my dad to visit, showed him the letter reminded him that I was alive and well, and, and might be searching someday. But they had a very difficult conversation because she, she blames him for a lot of life changing stuff. And that was the last conversation that they had. But she did not tell me that. I found that out later from my father. Yeah.

Damon (23:40): Hold so pause for a quick second. So she, then she received your letter. She took it to him.

Lisa (23:48): She took it to him before she spoke to me. Wow. I got this letter, you know, she’s, you know, asking questions, I’m going to answer her. I just thought you should know kind of thing.

Damon (24:01): And then those two never spoke again, never spoke again. As we talked, something Lisa said was caught in my mind about that weekend. She met her mother. She said we spent a very awkward weekend. It kind of sounded like she spent the weekend at her birth mother’s home on reunion weekend. So I asked Lisa about it.

Lisa (24:24): I did. And it was the last minute thing. So she was still a nurse and working. So I was left in her home by myself for long periods of time to just watch TV. And then we would have these conversations at night. She’d take me out to dinner with her best friend who was incredibly warm and welcoming. And they’d been, you know, high school, best friends. So she saw my mother go through all this. And I saw my mother being incredibly warm and engaged with her best friend. And I saw her best friend being that way to me. But their connection was not between me and my mother. And then we had these difficult conversations. At one point I found out the way my mom dealt with all of this stuff was religion. She was very Catholic. Her home was very Catholic, which I respect, but that is the way she dealt with it.

Lisa (25:19): So she was really encouraging me to pray about things and say the rosary and do all these things. The meat of the conversation that was very difficult was when she told me her story. She also wanted to hear my story growing up. Yeah. So once I shared that story, it was I’m sure a very hard pill for her to swallow. So she couldn’t process it. She was upset about it and didn’t want to believe that it was true. So it was, it was a lot of questioning about that. How could this have happened? How could that even be true? Why would someone adopt someone? And then this would happen? So it was a very emotional processing kind of weekend. And then at the end of the weekend, you know, this weekend’s coming to an end. We’re not feeling any closer. At one point she said she was worried that I would want money or, you know, I was going to take advantage of her in some way.

Lisa (26:23): She didn’t know what to expect. And then the end of the weekend with me trying to get her to tell me who my father was at that point, she thought she was protecting me. And she said, you know, I don’t, he’s just a bad man. He was, you know, bad to me. And he would cause pain in your life. And I don’t think you should bill yet. And I don’t think you’re ready to open that up and refuse to tell me. And then I got very demanding to know who, you know, it was my right to know who, where I come from and who I was. After some kind of emotional badgering session, I remember she said, I will give you his name, but I want you to really pray about it and take a lot of time before you contact him and determine if this is something you want to do to open this can of worms. So I agreed to that and left her house. And then it was kind of like, screw you

Damon (27:18): At her birth mother’s house in Elmira. Lisa was six hours from her own home, but only two hours from her birth father Jim’s residence, which was a long back six hour route home. Lisa drove a few miles from her birth mother’s house then pulled over to call Jim’s home where his common law wife who knew all about Lisa and the whole situation answered her call. Jim’s wife was thrilled to hear from Lisa, but unfortunately Jim was at the gym at that moment, but she said, Lisa should come over anyway. She was emphatic with her. Welcome. Lisa should definitely drive over. Lisa made the two hour drive to go lay eyes on. Jim

Lisa (27:59): Met him at a Dunkin donuts parking lot on the outskirts of his town. And we just got out of the car. And the only way I’d describe it as we circled each other, like dogs, we look exactly alike. Our mannerisms are like, and it was this weird feeling of a familiar stranger, knowing someone that you don’t know,

Damon (28:21): Whoa, that must have been surreal because I can imagine that that drive down there would have been so full of emotions. There’s like the big F-you that you left her mom with, like, I’m going, I’m going to go find this guy no matter what you say. And the anticipation of meeting this dude, and probably a little bit of transference of your sort of anger and irritation with her onto him and walking in almost like a bulldog, right?

Lisa (28:47): I was, I was, that’s a good, that’s a great analogy. And his, our interaction was completely different. He was hugging and warm and welcoming and loving and everything she had not been. So he brought me home for the weekends and I met his best friends and his common law wife and drove me around to meet his brother. And everyone was just thrilled and happy. And you know, you’re back like it was like you were gone and now you’re back and opposite opposite

Damon (29:18): Focus for me for a second on what you just said about him. You said he was loving and warm and hugging, and this is something that you haven’t had your whole life. You didn’t get it from your dad or mom. You didn’t get it probably from some of the relationships that you had as a teenager. And you didn’t get it in this reunion that you just had a couple of hours before with your biological mother. How did it feel for you to, to have somebody try to embrace you and bring you in and love you? What did that feel like?

Lisa (29:50): It was beyond words. I couldn’t even put words to how good it felt and how meaningful it was and how I finally felt like I connected. Like I belonged somewhere. Yeah.

Damon (30:08): It’s such an emotional rush. Oh my gosh. It was over the next few years. Lisa built a relationship with Jim and his wife. He lived four hours from Lisa, but she was there nearly every weekend. Of course, as they got closer, he shared a different version of what happened with Lisa’s birth mother.

Lisa (30:28): He gave me this other side of the story with my mom. He didn’t understand why there was, you know, he had not pressured her. They were in love and they were in this relationship and he wanted to support my mom and you know, there’s, I guess, three sides to every story, but he had a very different experience. So got that side. And he’s the oldest, the oldest of eight kids. So I got to know my grandmother and my aunts and uncles that Christmas, they flew me down to Florida where they all were. And I got to meet this plethora of family who was just as welcoming as can be. So then a year in, actually before the year, I found out that my birth mother contacted my adoptive parents and tried to process what I had told her she needed to kind of heal for herself and feel if this was true, she could not make heads or tails of it that I had this experience.

Damon (31:33): And you had no idea. She reached out to your parents?

Lisa (31:36): Nope. Nobody told me they actually, she flew up and met them in New York and they had a meeting. Yep. And without I found out months later and she told me years later, they were strange and cold and she didn’t understand them, but she had to do it at the time. So

Damon (32:00): Did you flip when you found out she had done it?

Lisa (32:03): Yes. Yes. It was. It was all these. When you see this big picture of an unplanned pregnancy, he was very much about adult lives and how that unplanned pregnancy had affected them. But what was missing for the longest time was like, Hey, here I am. I’m still a human being who has rights and needs and feelings. And yes, this affected you. But I never asked for this. I didn’t have a choice. This is just my story. So yeah, it was about everybody else for a long time.

Damon (32:40): Lisa and Jim started building a good relationship, but a few months into that relationship while at dinner one evening, Jim, let it slip that Lisa’s maternal grandmother had called him at work one day, needless to say, after decades of not speaking to this man who got her daughter pregnant, when she was a teenager, Lisa’s maternal grandmother, wasn’t calling with kind words for Jim.

Lisa (33:04): She had heard that he was spending this time with me and he had, he was the son of a bitch and he had no business even talking to me. He ruins her daughter’s life. And he had no right to mine and pretty much told him off. And he said he was respectful and told her, you know, it was none of her business. And we were building this relationship. And that was that. He didn’t want to tell me, well, this infuriated me because this was still like, all right, my mother doesn’t want to have anything to do with me. And this is this one piece and you want to take that away. So I was pissed and she still lived two miles away. And I got it in my mind. And I freaking drove in my car and went to her house. And I wanted this lady to see me as a human being, her granddaughter and not a problem to see me as a human being with needs.

Lisa (33:57): And my dad was like, are you sure you want to do that? And I was fired up, drove over there, went to her house. She happened to be in the driveway, that other car, she was packing her car. She was an older Italian lady talking a mile a minute. And I asked for my mother by name, didn’t kind of let me get a word in edgewise and then pause for a moment and looked at me. And she said, you know, are you a friend of Mary Ellen’s? He looked so familiar. And I said, no, I’m her daughter. And her jaw just dropped to the ground because I was the last person she expected to see had somewhere to go asked me if I could come back in, you know, an hour and we could talk. So I did came back, was not a very productive conversation. It was more of her telling me what a bad person my father was, how he ruined my mother’s life. And I should pray the rosary and ask for forgiveness.

Damon (34:59): Yeah. Gosh, you ask for forgiveness for a situation that you had zero control over and had no contribution to wow. Lisa’s relationship with Jim’s still developed despite that drama in early months, but no relationship ever developed with her birth mother they’re Facebook friends. So they can peek in on one another, but they barely spoke. Lisa said they would talk every once in a while about health issues to convey health history. But that was really it just the facts. About 20 years after they first met. Lisa learned that the manager from her job was from her hometown. It turned out the woman’s son, an emergency room doctor in Rochester, New York was in town and joined them for a get together. Chatting casually. Lisa mentioned that her birth mother was also a nurse in Rochester.

Lisa (35:55): He asked me her name and I told him, and his face just changed. He said, who are you again? I said, Oh, she’s my mom. And he obviously knew her, but didn’t want to talk about it. Just a small world. I contacted her, said to her, Oh, you know, small world and i met this guy. It was the head of the ER at her hospital. She had been in his ER two weeks before that with chest pains. And he actually diagnosed some benign tumors in her lungs. So she had had surgery and she was home on leave. And we started talking again, things got better. She invited me for another visit. I went on another road trip thinking this was going to be it with another friend whose brother he moved up there. And 20 years later got the chance to redo this conversation with my mom revisited the tough conversation, the tough weekend processed her fears about my family, how that could be, how she felt about my adoptive family and saw this thawing out of her and opening up. And I said, this is it like it took 20 years, but we got a second chance spent the weekend last. They don’t respond to my phone calls and texts. And then got maybe like a month later, just to letter a text and a letter. Don’t contact me again. I can’t give you what you need. And that’s it. I found out she actually had gotten engaged right after that and then just cut off everything. And that was the last time I’ve spoken with her. That was probably like five years ago.

Damon (37:45): That is unbelievable. Did you leave that weekend with any inkling that things weren’t working out?

Lisa (37:53): No. No. It was like a redo and it was a warm and hopeful redo like a reprocessing. And it’s 20 years later, like two people that are 20 years later in life and can see the other person for where they were and they’re struggling. And it was a very compassionate bunch of conversations. So kind of blew me out of the water.

Damon (38:16): Yeah. That’s a, that’s a 180 that you could not have predicted that unreal, Jim and Lisa are doing just fine. Neither Jim, nor Lisa’s biological mother had any other children only Lisa. So she didn’t have any new siblings to get to know in reunion. Her adoption coordinator had suggested that sometimes the most rewarding relationships can be with new siblings, but there was none of that for Lisa.

Lisa (38:44): My dad lives in a very different life, but we have an incredible bond and I am so grateful that I got him and his siblings and that extended family back in my life. And now I’m halfway through now, the first half of my life, I didn’t know them. The second half I had. And the whole, you know, believing when you grow up adopted nurture versus nature. Nature is just crazy powerful.

Damon (39:11): What have you seen in, in nature with regard to your biological father and you?

Lisa (39:17): I feel like I am the way I am because of my biology, because of the line of people who I came from, people that share the same values as me and that are wired the same as me. And I’m not a weirdo because I’m emotional or I’m not a weirdo because of the way I was created and the way I was wired. I’m like my ancestors and the people I came from,

Damon (39:44): I asked about Lisa’s adopted parents and whether they were estranged, she said her adopted father passed away five years ago. And she was estranged from him at the time today. She still struggles to find a way to have a relationship with her adopted mother.

Lisa (40:01): My adopted father made a very big traumatic scene at my wedding and it was very painful, like a very out there vocals scene. And when I tried to talk to my mother about it, when I was setting boundaries, once I had my own children and I wanted to keep them away from, from what I grew up with, she didn’t understand it. And there was no way to have a relationship with her without acknowledging this big white elephant in the room. There’s things that had happened to me growing up and between us as a family. So if there was someone in denial, I didn’t know how to have a relationship with her and I’ve yet to do that. And I am very much struggling with a way to do that now that my father is not alive. I feel like there’s gotta be some bridge, but I have yet to get to that space where I can, I can revisit that.

Damon (40:57): Yeah. I can imagine it’s gotta be hard.

Lisa (41:00): Kind of started with my sister recently. And just thinking that might be the door to open, to just start with her.

Damon (41:08): Had you not been in contact with her either because she,

Lisa (41:11): Yeah. Yeah. She was so close to them.

Damon (41:15): Yeah. That might be a good place to start. May I ask? You said you’ve had kids. Yes. How are you as a parent to them? Given what you’ve lived through

Lisa (41:34): I was amazed by having a person that is, you know, actually connected to me, like giving birth to someone that is my DNA and my flesh and blood. And this is somebody that is a part of me. And that part, I always had this great respect for, I spent years trying to avoid anything. I didn’t want them to feel anything that I grew up with. So I tried to, I, you know, I went to therapy and try, I wasn’t parented well with a good example, but I tried to kind of flounder to be a different parent and I was not perfect, but I loved them and I try to accept them for who they were and give them that gift of as what it was to accept them for who they were created to be perfectly and gracefully all the time. No.

Damon (42:31): Okay. Who among us does. I certainly don’t boy, sometimes I think back and I’m like, Ooh boy, you really messed that one up brother.

Lisa (42:40): Yeah. Yeah.

Damon (42:43): Did you ever find yourself fighting against a learned behavior?

Lisa (42:47): Absolutely. Absolutely. It was very much learned and programmed into me and it had to become a conscious effort to overcome that, to find something different. And it was, it did not come naturally to me, like what nurturing right away. I loved them, but I learned how to do it. And I, it was funny. I just kind of learned from, I found two mentors, different women in different, you know, mother figures that I can learn how to nurture. And I actually ended up teaching and becoming a preschool teacher and a nurturer. And it’s almost like I learned how to do it as I went along, but I wasn’t given that skill set.

Damon (43:34): Yeah. Preschoolers are so special. That’s really amazing that you did that. That’s really cool.

Lisa (43:40): Yeah. I’m very lucky, very lucky. It’s a very big privilege to have somebody trust you with their kids.

Damon (43:49): So how are you doing now? You’ve been through teenage years of some molts, you’ve been through stiff arms in the front yard on reunion day and, you know, cold callous sort of emotionless weekends and of reunion, but you’ve also gotten, you know, it sounds like a tremendous amount of love from your paternal family. Like, how are you doing

Lisa (44:16): I’m doing okay now it’s been a long journey. And I’ve had just as much half of my life is been reunited as half was free reuniting. And it’s taught me a lot of compassion and I was much harder on my mother and her situation back then and her choices. And I feel like as I get older, like we all do you, you hopefully gain empathy and compassion. And then I understand she didn’t have a choice. You know, she made the best choices she could and she’s choosing, you know, the pain is too great for her to take the risk of the relationship. So it’s been a good journey of compassion and understanding and forgiveness and learning that you can forgive people from afar, you know, and just let them love them from where they’re at. I did the past few years, the whole, I feel like I’m so obsessed with DNA now and how, you know, the more we understand DNA and how it makes us who we are and medically and psychologically.

Lisa (45:29): And it’s just this history and it’s built into us and I struggled with some depression and some pretty low places for awhile, but I was able to go back and seeing my aunts and uncles and yeah, this is the thing we have. It’s a genetic thing like diabetes, you know, we struggle with this and you’re not alone and you’re not a weirdo and you’re not broken. You just explained chemistry. So that whole piece has been a godsend, just feeling, you know, like, yeah, it’s my grandma and my dad and me, and I’m just another generation. And hopefully you break the pattern and you learn how to do it best for my kids.

Damon (46:14): Yeah. I’m sure you’ve broken the pattern. It definitely sounds like you’ve put in the work. You said you went to therapy,

Lisa (46:20): So they might tell you something differently. I hope so. It’s different for sure. It’s different. Yeah.

Damon (46:29): This well, you know, I think about folks who live through trauma in their childhood and then grow up to be parents. And I’m always so curious to know how they do it. And it sounds like you really just kind of saw examples from the mentors that you found and, and learned how to love in ways that you weren’t loved. And I think that’s just so amazing.

Lisa (46:57): Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. It’s a job in a way. Like it’s hard. Some people just love naturally and I had to learn how to love. So thank you because it’s, that’s very meaningful to me. Thank you.

Damon (47:13): I think that’s incredible. Good for you. Thank you so much for calling. I appreciate you sharing your story as painful as it was. Thank you, Lisa.

Lisa (47:21): Thank you. Thank you, Damon. And thank you for allowing this platform for everybody. Cause it just, it’s just very, very good thing. Oh gosh. Thanks

Damon (47:30): So much. I appreciate it. Take care of Lisa all the best to you. Okay. Okay. Thank you. Bye bye.

Damon (47:42): Hey, it’s me. Lisa had an abusive upbringing that left her looking for validation outside of her home and hoping for it in her maternal reunion. Unfortunately her biological mother’s shame and her maternal family’s shame prevented them from connecting and ultimately left Lisa dealing with secondary rejection. I was glad to hear that her relationship with Jim, his wife and her paternal connections is fulfilling and she can see a connection to her biology that makes her feel accepted. I thought it was super smart for Lisa to find mentors, to model her own parenting. After, since she didn’t grow up with the kind of parenting she wanted to emulate for her children, I’m Damon Davis. And I hope you’ll find something in Lisa’s journey that inspires you, validates your feelings about wanting to search or motivates you to have the strength along your journey to learn who am I really, if you would like to share your adoption journey and your attempt to connect with your biological family, please visit

Damon (48:49): You can follow the show at or follow on Twitter at waireally. If the show is meaningful to you, you can support me with a contribution to keep it going on. Patrion.Com/waireally please subscribe to who am I really on Apple podcasts, Google play, or wherever you get your podcasts. It would mean so much to me. If you took a moment to leave a five star rating there, those ratings can help others to find the podcast too. And if you’re interested, you can check out the story of my adoption journey. Who am I really an adoptee memoir on on Kindle or as an audio book on audible. I hope you’ll add my story to your reading list.

Who Am I Really?

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