Carlyn (Kar-leen), from Santa Fe, New Mexico, grew up in a junkyard house in a tough relationship with her adoptive mother. Caryln felt over protected, trapped, and wondering why that was her life.
After submitting a DNA test for fun, Carlyn was connected with a biological relative she had never heard of forcing her adoptive sister to finally reveal Carlyn’s adoption. The news sent a wrecking ball, sailing through her life. Carlyn’s newly found DNA matched biological sister was seeking connection because the woman never really had a family. Soon the pair were told they had no time to waste meeting Carlyn’s birth mother.
This is Carlyn’s journey.
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188 – Junkyard Girl
Cold Cut Intro
[00:00:00] CARLYN: she just burst out crying. And she said, I'm sorry, I can't even tell you. I wrote this down, cuz I knew this would happen.
And she pulled out two pages and she started reading to me. And the bottom line was, she said,
carlyn you're adopted. And when I heard those four words. I felt like I was completely unmade. I felt like right there, the wrecking ball hit my foundation and it's like all the pieces scattered everywhere.
[00:00:28] DAMON: I'm Damon Davis. And you're about to hear from Carlyn, who called me early one morning from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Carlyn grew up in a junk yard house in a tough relationship with her adoptive mother, feeling over protected, trapped, and wondering why that was her life. After submitting a DNA test for fun.
Carlyn was connected with a biological relative. She had never heard of. Forcing her adoptive sister to finally reveal Carlyn's adoption, sending a wrecking ball, sailing through her life.[00:01:00] Her newly found DNA matched biological sister was seeking connection because the woman never really had a family. And soon they were told they had no time to waste meeting Carlyn's birth
This is Carlyn's journey.
[00:01:15] DAMON: Carlyn grew up in this small town of Carpentaria, California, outside of Santa Barbara. She called Carpentaria a bit of a poor country, cousin of its glamorous neighboring city.
Her parents were immigrants from mexico whom she said were tough parents Carlyn was a lot younger than her three older siblings who she adored and Carlyn is a late discovery adoptee
[00:01:38] CARLYN: The thing was, my parents were hoarders and I just hated it. I hated living amongst clutter and amongst stuff.
And I remember I, I had two amazing dogs that I was always with, cuz my parents were also overprotective. So I didn't have a lot of friends. So I hung out [00:02:00] with my dogs and they had a very large dog kennel and I would go and sit in the dog, kennel and lay on top of the doghouse and look up at the sky and say, when are my real parents coming for me.
When are my real parents coming to get me? I know this can't be my real parents. I know , this can't be my life. So from a young age, I was always thinking, gosh, there's gotta be somewhere else that I really belong. And so that really informed the rest of my childhood, you know, as time grew on my parents and I, and especially my mother who was really tough and I think was trying to teach me about being tough in the world because she had it really tough.
She and I were clashing and I, she, they were, they were very proud of their Mexican heritage and all I wanted to be was more American, , at that time in the sixties. And so we fought a lot. We, just clashed a lot and that's how it was growing up. There was a mixture of a lot of love [00:03:00] and a lot of conflict.
[00:03:02] DAMON: Interesting. May I ask, you've said that your parents are , Mexican immigrants. Are you also of Mexican descent? Carlyn?
[00:03:11] CARLYN: I am of Mexican descent. There's a definitely, I think when I did my ancestry DNA test, I, I don't, I'm not gonna get these percentages probably very accurate, but it came out 52%, you know, Mexican American kind of, they call it indigenous.
So it relates to north America, south America. And then, um, you know, there was a percentage of Spanish, Portuguese, and the reason I actually took a DNA. For fun was, and also was to find out how much Jewish there was in my bloodline, because my mother always talked about that. Hmm. And whereas all my cousins were coming in at 40%.
I came in at 3% and that should have been a, that should have been a really big flag, but it [00:04:00] wasn't because I was busy at the time and I didn't pay that much attention to it. Mm-hmm so, so yes, overall, Mexican American,
[00:04:07] DAMON: fascinating. You said you grew up, you are a late discovery adoptee.
You didn't know at this time that you're out at the dog, Ken laying up, looking at the sky, thinking to yourself, where are my real parents, but you're asking a question that any adoptee might ask. Did you feel other ways that you just didn't identify with your parents that made you question your, your true parentage.
[00:04:35] CARLYN: I did feel different in almost every way, but I never questioned my parents, even though I would say those things. I think it was more of a child like, well, maybe my parents will be from another planet. Maybe there'll be some king or queen. Maybe there'll be some, you know, I kept saying these things to me, just wishing so badly because I was so unhappy growing up.
But I [00:05:00] didn't question really. It it's a, it's an odd paradox. I didn't think really these are not my parents, but I was different in so many ways. First of all, I grew up in a land of giants. Everybody. My brothers came in at six foot, three and six foot four, and my sister was five foot six and I was five foot, two
Wow. And so I was a lot shorter and I didn't look like anybody, but, and when I would question that. I remember, I have an very, very large extended family. I have 63 first cousins. And the thing is, this is the kicker. They all knew I was adopted, but nobody ever told me. And I would question it out loud to some of my cousins who are, I was close to.
And they'd say, oh no, no, you look like your older brother. And then I'd look at him and, and think, well, yeah, I guess he doesn't look like my parents so much. So I guess that's the reason, but maybe even more so than physicality. I just thought my essential [00:06:00] being was very different than everybody else.
I was always more of a person who loved adventure and loved fantasy. In my mind. I was always escaping to places and I thought very differently than they did. All of my siblings have sort of stayed close to home. And I've always been the one who wanted to move away to get away to experience life. You know, I was more of a risk taker, so I could tell I was different from this clan, but I also just put it, you know, put it up to, well, there's always gonna be somebody different in a family there there's, you know, there's and everybody else got along better with my mother and father, but I was always clashing, especially with my mother.
[00:06:41] DAMON: wow. That's really wild. I mean, to think that an entire family structure around you, especially one is extensive as the one you described. Knew that you were an adopted person and you didn't know is really just really hard to fathom. And, and going back [00:07:00] to my original question, I was, the words came to mind at it.
Wasn't so much that you sort of questioned your parents. It was the sense I got from you was this can't be my life. Is that exactly? Yeah. Mm-hmm , that's what it felt like as you were describing it.
[00:07:15] CARLYN: Yep. That's what I felt. This can't be it can't be, it's gotta be, you know, somebody else is gonna come get me one day and one day that happened.
[00:07:24] DAMON: Carlyn had two older brothers, 13 and 14 years older than herself. And her sister was nine years older than her. They were grouped together and Carlyn was the baby. Growing up. Carlyn said her mother's boundaries could be suffocating as she instructed the older children to protect their younger sister. And even her vast network of cousins We're part of the wall of protection. Suffocating protection aside. Carlyn loved her siblings. She said her parents were older. And if they had given birth to her, they would have been in their mid forties when she was born Much older than her [00:08:00] friends, parents.
And as Carlyn Her parents We're hoarders
[00:08:04] CARLYN: we had probably half an acre of property, but it was filled to the gills with cars and old car parts and this and that and the other.
[00:08:14] DAMON: And at first, you know, when you're a kid, you're thinking, wow, what an adventure look at all these cool things. But then as you're growing older and you start becoming very self-aware and self-aware of how other people are looking at you and your other and other friends, then you, then that's when the shame started settling in.
That's exactly the word I was thinking you were feeling was the shame of how life appears in such disarray at your home, right? that's really tough. Can you tell me about your teenage years? Did you have any sort of, you know, are there stories from your teen years where you were just kind of like, huh, that's kind of weird and you.
You know, as, as it relates to your family or people saying you didn't look like your family or anything along [00:09:00] those lines,
[00:09:02] CARLYN: I wish I could say that I was smarter to this day, I think back. And I think, gosh, I should have figured it out. I, I listened to so many people, including on your podcast who kind of figured things out.
And I think I thought to myself, I'm a, I'm a pretty smart person, but I never figured it out. I, I did have people say all the time, gosh, you don't look like anybody. That's your sister. Wow. You don't look at all alike. Here were, you know, my, my two, two of my siblings looked exactly like my father, my father had green eyes, you know, they all had these Aqualine noses and I didn't, I don't look anything like that. I'm short and I'm darker skinned. I. You know, a smaller rounder nose, a round her face. So I didn't look like anybody. And I always wished I did, because I always thought they looked so just amazing.
so my friends would say it, my, my cousins wouldn't say it because they obviously knew I would say it. [00:10:00] And, but I think like my family would always comment on how different I was just in terms of escape. You know, I was escaping into books. I was escaping into TV and movies. I was always in my head dreaming up other, you know, adventures and places I would go when I really could get out of there, which I never thought I could.
I sort of thought I was trapped in that house and forever for some odd reason. So, , when I was growing up I wished I had been, you know, part of something else, but I didn't think it through enough to feel like I was part of another family or part of something else.
[00:10:40] DAMON: When Carlyn was about 17 years old, one of her older brothers asked her where she wanted to go to college, but feeling trapped, Carlyn said she didn't think her parents would let her go away anywhere. She thought she was stuck in the junk yard forever. Fortunately a concerned teacher at school helped Carlyn land, some [00:11:00] college scholarships, which she eventually took home to share with
Her mother forbade her from going away to school. Carlyn's father asked where she wanted When she said Loyola, Marymount. Two hours away in Los Angeles. Her father agreed Agreed
[00:11:16] CARLYN: That's when I felt like, oh wow, I escaped. And I got to study , making movies, film production, and television production, which is kind of a cool and easy major, but I had so much fun and I was living my life in such a way.
I was trying everything and doing everything. So I escaped into, , movie making. And as I grew up, I got to work at places like Lucas film and I was a film editor, But one of the things that was interesting. that I could not understand about myself is even though I had all this freedom, one of the things that kept plaguing me, and I couldn't understand why my parents had been married forever.
I knew they would be married forever. I knew that, although I had issues with them growing up, they [00:12:00] would be there for me if I needed them as with my whole family. But as I got older, I kept feeling in relationships when they would be over this intense feeling of abandonment. And I couldn't figure out why I'd look at my friends and their relationships and see, they break up.
And they kind of go on with their life where they cry for a little while and it's over. Why do I feel such an intense feeling of abandonment? Like it's excruciating. And so I went to see a therapist and I said to her, you know, I wanna deal with this issue. I don't understand why I'm feeling this. And because we didn't know that I was adopted, she concluded that because my mother was the way she was, she was very tough.
She didn't show her emotions a lot. She wasn't terribly demonstrative. And so she concluded, well, that is a form of abandonment right there. And that's probably why you feel the way you [00:13:00] do. so I kept going through these, you know, whenever I'd break up in a relationship, just even if I was the one to break up with the person, just feeling so much abandonment.
So I did kind of feel that. And now that's a little bit more explained to me because I think a lot. Late discovery, adoptees feel that, but as I was going through life, you know, I had a divorce, which was again, excruciating, but it was good that I moved on.
And then I met the love of my life after that. And, , he was somebody who I had known for 20 years, and life was going pretty swimmingly. You know, I I'm an author and I loved writing.
And then. The big revelation came about after I took that ancestry test.
[00:13:45] DAMON: In 2019, Carlyn took a DNA test because she thought it would be fun and interesting. A friend of hers took a DNA test, found her father and had a fairy tale reunion. That Carlyn thought was really cool. Of course, she [00:14:00] just knew that couldn't happen to her because she already knew her family or so she thought at the time.
Carlyn thought it would be fascinating to know more about her heritage. Like if she was part of some historic global population, She didn't anticipate being connected to or something fun Like that
[00:14:18] CARLYN: I just thought it would be so much fun. Mm-hmm so I was here in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Unfortunately, it was a little bit of a hard time. I'm a huge animal lover and I'm an animal advocate I write about, animals and that's my passion. And I had two older dogs at the time who were 16 and 14. And one of them had just literally passed away about three weeks before.
And the other one was on his way too, and so I was kind of feeling really sad when suddenly I got this little message on my computer. One of those notifications that say it's from ancestry DNA or sorry, it was from Facebook. And I went, okay. So I looked at it and it was some [00:15:00] guy who had friended me about a week before and he messaged me and the message said, you look an awful lot like my wife
and I went, what? And, and so I thought this guy's flirting with me, so I ignored it. But then he came, kept coming back and it said, Hey, um, don't you think don't you think, look, and he sent me a picture of her. And I was looking at this lady thinking, I don't look and I look asked my husband, do you think I look like this lady?
And he says, no. And so I ignored it, but he kept writing me and saying, well, come on, don't you think you could be cousins or this or that? And I, because I'm kind of sarcastic. So I wrote back to him and I said, I think the only resemblance your wife and I have is that we shop for glasses at the same store mm-hmm
And he, he wrote back and said, well, ancestry, DNA says different. And that moment was the first moment of many times that would come after that, where I could feel my throat just, or my breath [00:16:00] just clench in my throat and not move. And I went, who's your wife. And he sent me the name of this woman, Martha.
And I went, and I remembered that I had taken this ancestry test, which I had sort of ignored. And I had seen her name on it as a possible close. Relative. And if I had known how to read one of those tests, I would've seen that. It said possible sibling. Oh my God. And yeah. And at the time I, I had just sort of ignored it cuz I was so busy and I thought, okay, well, all right.
I said, well, if she thinks, you know, whatever, I maybe there's some, some relation somewhere. Yeah. We have a huge family. And I said, well, why don't you have her email me?
[00:16:42] DAMON: Martha emailed Carlyn and politely said she didn't want to bother her and explained that she really didn't have any family. She was estranged from her mother and her brother. So she was really interested in her sudden connection to Carlyn on ancestry. As Martha was naming people in her [00:17:00] family.
Carlyn didn't recognize a single name from their extensive family tree. Carlyn told Martha, she would ask her siblings who were much older than she is and see if they knew anything. Usually when Carlyn called her siblings, there was always lots of jokes and laughter between them. When she called to ask about the unfamiliar connections she had found on ancestry DNA. Carlyn's siblings were very serious. She had spoken to two of her siblings And they both said the exact same thing.
[00:17:31] CARLYN: they said, I don't know anything.
[00:17:33] DAMON: Carlyn thought that was an odd response, but she ignored it. It was a busy time in Carlyn's life. So she didn't get a chance to call Martha back. Out of the blue Carlyn's older sister called saying she wanted to visit Carlyn in Santa Fe and it seemed urgent. There was a heavy snow storm outside of Carlyn's window. So she asked her sister if she really wanted to show up right then.
Her sister said yes. She just really wanted to see [00:18:00] Carlyn soon and give her a hug, which also felt kind of odd to her. Two weeks later Carlyn sister showed Visit
[00:18:08] CARLYN: Maybe she was here five minutes with her husband before she said something huge has happened in our family.
And I have to talk to you about it. wow. And I was like, oh my God. Oh my God, is somebody sick? Is somebody getting divorced? What's the deal? And I thought, well, if it was why didn't she could just call me, but she said, no, no, let's, let's just get some tea. Then we'll sit down. And so it took us, you know, I always think of that thing of dead man, walking, how somebody feels like they're going to their execution.
And it feels like the longest bath to that place. Mm-hmm , that's how I felt going to sit down in my living room. And I was just like, oh my God, okay. What is it? What is it? And she sat down, she looked at me and she just burst out crying. And she said, I'm sorry, I can't even tell you. I wrote this down, cuz I knew this would happen.
And she pulled out two pages and she started reading to me. And the bottom line was, she [00:19:00] said, Carlyn you're adopted. And when I heard those four words. I felt like I was completely unmade. I felt like right there, the wrecking ball hit my foundation and it's like all the pieces scattered everywhere. And, um, then she began to describe what had happened, which was, she said, , my adoptive mother had gone to see a friend of hers. Who lived in, Santa Barbara area.
And she was about to knock on the door when she heard a woman crying in the background, in the backyard area. And when her friend came to the door, she said, Hey, who's this woman, do you know her? She's crying back here. And her friend said to my adoptive mother, Oh, that's my cousin. She's here from Chicago and she has two children already.
She's got a third one on the way, and she wants me to help her get an abortion. Now we're talking the sixties when abortion was illegal everywhere.[00:20:00] and the woman said, I'm not gonna help her. No matter how much she cries, I'm not gonna help her. And that's when my mother went home and obviously spoke with my father and came back within 24 hours and said to this woman who was a complete stranger who later we would discover, was mentally ill in addition, but said to her, , we will adopt your child.
We'll take her and we'll raise her. And then my adoptive mother and my father took this family home to live with them for the next six months. And . My sister later told me it was only, my sister was only nine at the time, so she didn't remember a lot, but she said, yeah, well, I remember we, my mother would take really good care of her , and she would tell her to eat.
Right. And she would tell her to exercise. And , your birth mother was crying all the time. And she would say, this is really not good for the baby. So you kind of have to get it together. And she said, we [00:21:00] fed them. They ate with us. You know, I was always babysitting the two little kids that were there and that's how it, it was for the next, I think, six to eight months until I was born.
And then my parents gave my adoptive mother money to go back to Chicago with her two children.
[00:21:18] DAMON: Unreal, unreal. Wow. Yeah.
[00:21:21] CARLYN: Well it, especially, and I, I look at that moment. I play that moment and I imagine it in my mind thinking who does that, who does that, especially in this day and age and people are so unkind.
And so it's so divisive. And I look at that story and think that is one courageous act that my parents did that is they stretch themselves so thin to allow me to have a place. And, I don't know all their reasons. I mean, my parent, my mother especially was never extremely forthcoming. Obviously. He never told me I was adopted, but I am so, [00:22:00] so grateful because I mean, I am somebody who believes in a woman's right to choose.
So my birth mother had had an abortion. Okay. You know, I probably wouldn't have known any difference, but I actually have had lived a very full life at this point. And I think of all the connections I've made and the people I've loved and who've loved me. And so looking back on it, it was all like, oh, I almost didn't have a life.
And that's pretty sobering.
And my parents were not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. I mean, I've described how we grew up living yet. She did this and I was in that moment. So blown away that my mother had done that because I had grown up just fighting with her and arguing with her and thinking, God, I wish I had any other mother except this.
And suddenly realizing she saved my life. She saved me. She allowed me to have a life and I was, you know, it was, I don't even have the words to describe how unbelievable that moment was, how grateful I [00:23:00] was. And you know, and how shocked I was. And, and, and then after that came, like when I fell apart,
[00:23:06] DAMON: my gosh, I have got so many questions that could grief holy makrel first.
I'm so sorry to hear that. That was the feeling you had. I wonder, can you just take me, I'm gonna start with that moment. Just take me to the moment where you're sitting, I guess, with your sister and she has just told you that you're adopted. Can you just, can you remember what it felt like right then?
[00:23:35] CARLYN: Yeah, I can. I've replayed that moment. So many times I know it's shock now, but at the time, what it felt like was she said the word adoption and everything stopped. I felt like everything stopped around me. In fact, she and I had been in a car accident about. 10 years before. And I remember [00:24:00] when we had the car accident going home afterwards, we were okay.
Or at least at the moment we felt we were okay. But then feeling like something was going on with my hearing, like, I couldn't, he, I could hear people talking, but they felt very muffled. And that was exactly what happened when she said that as soon as she said adopted. And then when she said your mother wanted to have an abortion.
And I think I realized I was almost not going to, you know, be alive. I suddenly stopped. Like my ears felt like they were full of cotton and she kept reading and I could see her lips moving and I could hear her words, but they sounded like they were across some canyon somewhere. And then I thought to myself, because , I always have thought that I'm somebody who does well when they're in shock or when something happens.
And I thought, oh, I'm probably just sitting here. doing a half smile, which is what I always do, whether I'm having dinner or whether something, you know, terrible happened. And I'm probably sitting [00:25:00] here later on, my sister said you were absolutely pale and there was no smile on your face at all. And then I remember looking over at my husband who was sitting across from me and he had gone completely pale and I could see , him shaking, just his whole body was shaking just a little bit.
And I thought to myself, is that what I look like? Because that's kind of how I feel. So it was all this was going on. You know, people were having their reactions. My sister was reading yet. I was having this out of body kind of experience where I felt like in some way I was floating over them, just watching all of this happen.
And then somewhere, my hearing kind of came back and I felt like I just hit the ground really hard. And that's when I felt my husband come over and just take my hand and just hold it. And I could just see him looking into my eyes and I could see this shock or fear or something in his eyes and [00:26:00] realizing, God, this is huge.
This is huge. And this is happening to me. So I think that's what was going on at that moment as she was reading those pages. And then I'll just say that when she was done, she looked up at me. I looked up at her and. The one of, and then what she did was she pulled out this little snapshot. That's one of those old ones you remember from the sixties.
And she just slid it across the table towards me. And I saw this snapshot that I had seen a million times, and it was , my two brothers and my sister holding me as a baby. My one of my brothers was holding me as a baby. And there were these two other little kids in the shot. And I had asked a million times who are those little kids in the shot?
You know, when I was growing up and people would say, oh, it's some cousin of some cousin of some cousin or makeup something. And I would accept it because why would I think anything different? And then she said, that's [00:27:00] Martha. who is my half sister. It comes out who was the woman who found me online.
And that was my half brother Robert standing next to her. wow. So all this time I had grown up seeing that photograph in my family, and that was my half brother and my half sister
[00:27:17] DAMON: unreal, unreal. I, and I didn't, I wanted to make sure to focus on that moment of someone telling you that you're adopted because the late discovery, adoptee, realization is not something most adoptee's experience.
And I wanted to make sure that we really focused on what it feels like. I mean, you described something that movie makers try to portray like that car accident, and then the person's hearing goes dim. And, you know, you know, their vision is blurry. Like it's something that people. Portray in movie making that we've seen before, but you actually lived that, like, that's a [00:28:00] real thing that happened.
Your brain sounded like it was detaching from the moment and almost shutting down functionally because of the shock of what you had learned about your own life. That is wild.
tell me a little bit about. The aftermath. You said you realized you kind of went into shock. tell me about the rest of your sister's visit. You know, she's calm and it's snowing. She probably just didn't dip in and then leave an hour later.
Like how was the rest of your visit with her and what went through your mind?
[00:28:31] CARLYN: Well, it was interesting cuz , my sister told me later, she went to see a therapist to say, what should I do? How should I do this? My sister's gonna find this out. And I should be the one to tell her. And , so my sister, while she was here after she, she stayed for maybe 15, 20 minutes.
And then she said, I'm gonna leave you alone or with your husband. And , let's get together tomorrow morning. So they didn't even stay with us. They went and stayed at a hotel and I think probably the therapist told [00:29:00] her to let me process. And, uh, the next day, I mean, it, it was, I like, I was on caffeine all night.
I mean, I, we, Ken and I, my husband could not stop talking about this story. It was this like a, a, you know, a turntable just over and over and over and over, because I think I was in such shock. So while she was here, I did have to ask her, like, you just had to re-ask me the same question I had to ask her again, what happened?
Can you say that again? Because I don't. I said, I think I was in shock and I don't think I heard it all. And the primary feelings that were going through me and I don't know that I explain it well, because it doesn't make any sense to me. I never, in my mind thought that my adoptive family would abandon me, but maybe it's because I've always had this feeling of abandonment lingering, and now I get it because so many.
late discovery, adoptees, and probably other adoptees feel a sense of [00:30:00] abandonment that they cannot explain. But I suddenly felt like my adoptive family, who I grew up with was saying, okay, we told you, go be with that family. Now that's your new family? And I was like, no, no, no, no. I wanted to kind of swim back to them going, no, no, no, no.
Can you just all hold me here? Can you just like, tell me I'm not being abandoned again? Cuz that's what it felt like. So my sister and I were walking through Santa Fe after we had breakfast and all I could think about in my head was, oh God, please. You know, this is, this feels terrible. This feels awful.
And I, but I finally looked at my sister and I said, Lily, why didn't you tell me? I tell you everything. Why wouldn't you tell me. She sort of started crying again. She said, because, you know, I didn't wanna lose you. I didn't wanna lose you. And I, I think it initially all started because , my mother especially took my siblings aside while I was in this crib in a room.
[00:31:00] Cause my sister told me this and she said to them, this is your new sister she's adopted, but you're never to tell her she's adopted because people will try to hurt her. It was the sixties and kids outta wedlock were shamed a lot. You know, they had grown up in Mexico where kids outta wedlock were really shamed and they felt that was the best thing to do.
And my siblings always did what my parents said. And so I think it started off that way. And even after my parents died, my siblings kind of just had in their mind, we made a promise. We're supposed to protect. That's what we do. And they didn't think it through of how it could affect me in my life. But. My sister looked at me and she said in that moment, when we were walking through Santa Fe, she said, I just didn't wanna lose you.
And it was in that moment that I realized in my mind, I was thinking, please don't let me go. And, please don't push me away. And my sister was thinking in her mind, please don't let go. And so [00:32:00] we were both trying to reach for each other, but not kind of in our minds, just thinking something so strangely different.
But, so that's what it was like then. And then when she left and I was on my own with my husband, it that's when everything fell apart, that's when that wrecking ball hit. And I felt like all the pieces scattered because I'm not, I, I feel like I'm a pretty tough person and I know that's part of my upbringing and I don't cry a lot unless something really, really big happens.
but I was crying all the time. I was washing the dishes and I'd suddenly start crying. I would tie my shoe and I'd suddenly burst into tears and I was like, what's wrong with me? Why am I crying all the time? And. I was feeling such a turbulence of emotions, of, of sadness and grief and loss. And, you know, periodically some anger would kind of pop up.
And I was, I was, I said to my husband, oh my God, this is [00:33:00] crazy. All these feelings I'm going through. And it was, but you know, the one thing, at least I had the wherewithal. I knew that the only way past this was through it, that obviously if I was feeling dis discombobulated, the only way through was to feel what I was feeling to accept that that's what I was feeling to give it a name.
So for me, it was like, okay, today, right now I'm feeling grief right now. I'm feeling sadness right now. I don't know what I'm feeling, but at least to give it a name, to let it pass through and to try to get to the other side and, and let it move through so I could get to the other
[00:33:36] DAMON: side. Mm-hmm I love that.
You said give it a name cuz mm-hmm . I think there's a lot of power in identifying what you're feeling so that you can actually know how to deal with it. If you've not identified it, if you don't realize it's grief, you don't know how to deal with it. If you don't realize it's anger, you don't know how to deal with it, but if you can identify, give it that name and [00:34:00] sort of put you, it allows you to put it in its place.
Right. Mm-hmm and it does, it helps you to identify, like, if I'm feeling grief, I may need to sit quietly for a while, but if I'm feeling anger, I might need to go to the gym and work this out. You know what I mean? Right. Right. I think identifying is really important.
[00:34:16] CARLYN: It is. And I, as I was going through this, and this is what the crazy thing was, is that.
I started kind of wondering, gosh, what's it play in the universe here? Because as soon as I found this out, everything started to steamroll. Now I didn't even have time to process all those emotions because about, you know, the next thing I had to do was a week later, I had to call this woman who was my half sister who had asked me, do you know anybody I might be related to, I had to call her and tell her, yeah, me, cuz I felt like she was saying, you know, I don't know anybody that I'm related to and it wouldn't it be nice if I was related to someone so, I called her, I remember it was Valentine's day and I called [00:35:00] her and told her what I had learned.
And oh my God, it was, she suddenly, it was like her mind suddenly started remembering everything cuz she was seven years old when sh my mother had brought them to live with them and she started remembering everything. She remembered my mother's name. She remembered living in California. She remembered my sister.
She remembered the Chihuahua was my sister had. And so she was beyond thrilled. And the thing was, this is an interesting thing. She had been looking for family her whole life. I had not. So we were coming from completely different places. Like I could feel her and I understood, you know, she's happy, she's happy.
She has a sister. And I'm like, oh my God. Oh my God. It's too much. It's too much. I, it just felt so overwhelming. So we were coming from kind of two different places. And then, and then here's the kicker. I said, do you. Think our birth mother's still alive. And she said, no, how could she be she's she would be in her mid nineties.
And she was mentally ill. She, the last [00:36:00] time that my half sister had seen her was in some shoddy hotel that she was living in, in Chicago after, um, I guess after she had been evicted and whatnot. And lo and behold, about a week later or two weeks later, an attorney called her and said, your mother is alive and living in a state hospital in Chicago and she's on hospice.
[00:36:24] DAMON: A wrecking ball had just swung through Carlyn's life and knocked the pieces to the ground. The news, her sister delivered that she had been adopted at birth. Catapulted Carlyn into a sea of emotions and the task of managing the new relationship with her half sister Martha. Then the lawyer called to say their mother,
a woman Carlyn had never thought about or knew existed was on hospice care. The final stretch of her time here on earth. Carlyn asked Martha, if she planned to go visit their mother. And Martha had been thinking that she would, she asked Carlyn if she wanted to [00:37:00] go to?
Carlyn admitted that some people might have slowed down a moment to try to process what was happening in her life. But she also admitted she's the kind of person who enjoys adventure and she was craving the truth about her life.
It was upsetting to her that her life had been a secret for so long And Carlyn was not going to let anything stop her from getting every answer she could from then on. Her adoptive parents had been deceased for over 10 years, but still Carlyn felt guilty that going to meet her birth mother would be trade them somehow. Three days after speaking with martha Carlyn was on a plane to chicago to meet her birth mother and sister
There was this feeling of, even though they're gone, I'm betray them somehow. And I remember my sister saying, no, you're not betraying them. You're not betraying them. And then it was like, my parents started talking from the beyond saying you're not the betray us odd because all these really weird synchronistic things started to happen.
Like for example, I [00:38:00] called my, when I called my half sister to tell her that, you know, we were actually related, it was Valentine's day, the day that actually she discovered that, you know, this whole DNA connection was her birthday. Also the reason that the attorney was contacting her in the first place was that her half my half brother Robert, who was in that photo and that snapshot had died.
And that's why the attorney was looking for his closest relatives. And when I saw my brother's death certificate, it was stamped on my birthday. So all these little weird things were happening. And then I got to the air airport, and I was looking at the flight chart up there that tells you when things are departing and, and arriving.
And I saw , the departure flight number on my flight, and it said flight 4, 619 to Chicago. And when I saw those four numbers, 4, 6, 1, 9 I called my sister and I said to her Lily, guess what the flight number is? She goes, I don't know. [00:39:00] I said 4, 6 1 9. And she. I have to sit down.
This is all just too much. 4, 6, 1 9 were the numbers that I grew up with on my phone number for the last, you know, since I was a baby, it was the number we still have and for me in that moment, I felt like my parents are saying, go, go find who you are. This is the time. So there were a lot of strange little things like that happening.
So that's what I felt hopping on that flight
carlyn said that whole flight. She was reliving moments of her life. Re-examining her past with a magnifying glass, Trying to see moments. She had lived through the lens of being an adoptee. When her plane landed, Carlyn needed an hour in her hotel, just to decompress from the depth of historical review she had focused on in the air. Before her hour of solitude was over Carlyn, made her way to the restaurant .
To meet Martha for the first time. She wanted to calm her mind get some tea and [00:40:00] just breathe in the space where they're meeting would unfold
[00:40:03] CARLYN: And again, it sort of started feeling a bit like when I was told I was an LDA, that whole sort of surreal feeling, but I remember she walked in and I looked at her clothes and thought, oh, that's like my outfit for tomorrow. that was the first thing I thought. And then she came and she, she had long, straight hair and I have straight hair, but my sh but mine was shorter and she sat down and I could tell we were both just looking at each other, like just really staring at each other.
And then, , We sat down and just started talking immediately, just started, you know, with, with superficial conversation to begin with, how is your flight? How's your room? You know, how are you doing? And then we started getting into things and I could tell I was much more, a little more reserved than I usually am.
And she was much more, she was looking for the connections, you know, she was like, oh, she was saying, I [00:41:00] could tell how much you love animals. And you write about that. And I love animals too. And she was telling me all about her animals and her family. And, so I, I could tell it was just a little more and the entire trip, I was a little more reserved.
So that initial thing was, it was fine. It was fine, but I knew I wasn't my whole self in that moment. Cuz part of it too is I had such an allegiance to my adoptive family. I really did. I mean, those were my siblings, those were the ones and it was hard to imagine anybody else coming into that fold. Right.
So, and, and of course everything had just happened. I mean, I wasn't, you know, I wasn't superwoman to have processed all my feelings and now I am totally fine talking to this person. So, , that's how that went. And you know, it was about an hour and a half. And then the next day we got together and got into, um, a cab and drove to, she said, before we go see, , my birth mother, she said she wanted to see her aunt who [00:42:00] was my aunt too, I guess.
And so we drove to her house and the aunt looked at me and, and she said, we never knew about you. We never knew about you. So then we picked up the ant and then went to the state hospital, and this is the thing that was, I was in denial still. You know, there are all those five stages of grief.
I was still way in denial of this. Can't be my new, this cannot, I just can't believe this is happening to me. But then I would go through a checklist in my head, like, Nope, your sister told you, here's the proof, here's your half sister, the ancestry test didn't lie. And I'd be like, okay, okay. It is true. But then I'd be like, no, this can't be true.
And so we were in the state hospital, which was an experience unto itself. And I was standing there when they rolled my birth mother out in, in a wheelchair. And I looked at this woman. From afar. And again, I went, this can't be my [00:43:00] birth mother because one it's like, we look totally different. She looked like a little elf and I didn't, you know, she was like very thin and her very, her face was angular.
And I thought her ears were a little pointy it didn't look like that. And I thought, okay. And so the thing was, she had dementia, really bad dementia mm-hmm . And so she didn't even really know who Martha was. And so I remember I just was looking at her, you know, the entire time I kept my distance cuz she didn't want anybody to touch her and anybody, you know, when Martha would come and hug her, she'd push her away.
And so I just was observing, I was observing, I was observing and there came a time when I was sitting next to her at a big table. and I thought, okay, I don't feel anything for this person. And that's odd because I tend to feel like I'm a very compassionate person and I connect with people really well, but I, I thought I don't feel anything for her.
Isn't that odd. [00:44:00] And then I thought to myself, okay, in, my previous career, I was an acupuncturist. And so I was used to touching people and feeling a certain energy about them before I would do a treatment. And I thought to myself, well, if I touch her, maybe I'll feel something. Maybe I'll feel that connection.
And I remember reaching over when she wasn't looking and just slightly, just gently, ever so gently touching the back of her hand and thought, okay, now I'm gonna feel this recognition. Now I'm gonna feel a connection to my birth mother. And I felt nothing. And in that moment, she realized I was touching her and she just kind of flicked me away.
So I just always thought that was so strange that I felt no connection to her whatsoever.
[00:44:46] DAMON: Wow. it's challenging to think that you could actually feel something for this person, given the extreme newness of this new storyline in your life, you know, your narrative has [00:45:00] changed and you haven't had barely a second to sit down and process it.
So it would be, I would actually be surprised if you immediately sat down and found a connection, given that you just found out that you were. An adopted person. I can see what you're looking for, but it's not irrational in my mind to think, oh yeah. She just found out how could she feel connections to other people?
She's still exploring what she feels for like her own family. You know what I mean? Mm-hmm
[00:45:31] CARLYN: yeah. Yeah. That's true. And, and this is the thing that was interesting. I remember, um, I'll never forget this moment because the aunt was with us. So my birth mother's sister was there and she's, she was like a real tough character.
You know, she'd worked very hard, her whole life. She was just this really tough kind of woman. And I remember as we were leaving, all of a sudden, I heard her say, can you ever forgive her? And I looked over at her and [00:46:00] she was standing next to me and . She had tears in her eyes and she said, can you ever forgive what she did to you?
and I guess what she was saying was that she gave me up or she abandoned me. And in that moment, I really thought about this woman. And I thought about the parents I was raised with, and I thought, boy, my, my birth mother and I had some, there was a lot of love between us, but there were a lot of, there was a lot of anger and resentment and, you know, there was a really a tough growing up there that I thought your adoptive mother, myself, my adoptive mother mm-hmm , but I thought I loved her and I'm glad for the family I had, you know, I adored my siblings and my father was amazing, you know?
And I, I thought of that. And I, I, I looked at her and I said, there's nothing to forgive. And she looked at me again and I said, really, there's nothing to forgive. because I felt that the right choice was made, I also I later learned from Martha that their upbringing was not a good one.
It was a really bad one [00:47:00] actually. And I thought to myself, If I was the next child in this really difficult situation, would I have even survived? Would I have even lived? Would I, or if I had, would I have even grown up to be the person? No, of course not. I was because I had opportunities that they did not, and I was never even sure that my birth mother didn't sound like she maybe she loved her children, but at least, but what it sounded like was that they were burdened to her.
So I thought, wow, I just escaped that. And you know, that phrase their, for their, but for the grace of God, go, I mm-hmm , that's how I felt.
[00:47:41] DAMON: interesting. Did you give her any grace for mental illness being part of how she mothered? It sounded like you were saying before that.
you learned she was mentally ill mm-hmm I wonder how much that played into her, inability to parent appropriately. [00:48:00]
[00:48:01] CARLYN: I imagine it did. I mean, I, I can, I can conceptualize that and think to myself yes. That those were the reasons that she probably was not able to do that. Um, but whatever the reason it did ha it, it did happen that way.
And, uh, I do see that my half sister and my half-brother really suffered for it. And I, I guess I, I, in my mind, I'm like, yeah, she was mentally ill, but in my heart, I'm like, I felt for the kids. I felt like God, they didn't deserve that. They did not deserve that. And I'm, I'm pretty impressed and amazed how Martha came through with her life and was able to forgive and let go and have her own family, which is all she ever wanted.
Growing up. She told me all I wanted was a family because she didn't have that.
[00:48:52] DAMON: Carlyn returned to Santa Fe, New Mexico, mentally exhausted from all she had been introduced to and endured in the short time, since she [00:49:00] learned she was adopted. When I asked her about trying to find her birth father Carlyn told me she was so exhausted. She had texted Martha to say she could only meet one new relative a year.
She had just met two relatives after discovering she's an LDA. And that was enough for the time. Only three months after they Carlyn's birth mother passed away. However Carlyn still felt like she needed to know more of the truth of her own story. She started interviewing her relatives to learn what they knew and it quickly became clear. No one knew who her birth father was. Eventually it hit Carlyn that it didn't matter who the man was anyway
[00:49:41] CARLYN: at this point I could not see anyone other than the father that I, who had adopted. As my father like that, to me, I could not imagine sharing that with any, you know, sharing that title with anybody else.
So I realized, gosh, I don't really care who he was. I, I stopped caring about [00:50:00] that. And on ancestry now that I'm on there, I get the notifications. I'm like, I'm not pursuing it. I'm just, I'm, I've decided who my family is.
And, and yeah, if there was somebody who showed up as a sibling, somehow I, I might do that. But at this point , I've had enough with like, okay, I was able to say, what is family, who is my real family? And I've decided it doesn't have to be blood. My family who I grow up with is part of my family, you know, this new woman, this woman, Martha who's come in, you know, slowly, we we're getting to know each other.
And, and we talk and she's part of that family. You know, I, I, feel that animals who like the dogs and the cats that I have that are part of my family are, kind of that extended family. So my friends and I, I just believe that you can choose who your family is. I've come to that conclusion. You can choose who you make that [00:51:00] Alliance with.
And to me, that is family.
That, that makes a lot of sense. And I've often heard that kind of feeling and I've encouraged other adopted people to think about things that way, because. You can be placed in a family and get along famously or not get along at all. And you can have friends throughout your life.
Some of them come and go seasonally and others are there through every element, thick and thin high water, low tide, right. And then, you know, there's people that you in adoption end up finding in reunion and you are so deeply connected to them and others that you're not. And it's a, it's a combination of all of those people and the groups that I've described that can end up actually being your family throughout your life.
Right? It's the people that you are closest to, that you bond to, that you select and choose because of how they treat you, that you can make your family. And, and I, I love that you said that you sort of [00:52:00] have chosen and recognize that you can choose who your family is. That's really, really strong.
Yeah, and I, and I'm extremely grateful.
I mean, I, I, I, I always say that a lot of people understand what it feels like to lose a loved one, or lose a friend to disease, you know, disease or whatever that is, but few people know what it feels like to lose your sense of self, who you are and what this has given me the opportunity to do, which I never would've thought twice about this one.
I now know what it feels like to lose your identity, but I was also given the gift to be able to put that back together again, in a way that I chose, I never would've, you know, chosen to be severed in, in that way but. Somehow now that I've put the pieces back together again , I feel like I'm much more whole, you know, the truth does, I feel set you free and it has allowed me to kind of come back [00:53:00] stronger.
You know, it, it's not like it ever goes away. I think it's been three and a half years now that I discovered I was a late discovery adoptee, and I do get triggered. You know, I heard an episode that you did recently and I felt myself getting very emotional, listening to the late discovery, adoptee telling her story.
So I know a lot of that emotional upheaval may still be there and needs to be processed. And that's all that tells me. It's like, okay, you've got some processing to do and you know, just recognize what's happening. But I also feel a lot stronger from this
[00:53:33] DAMON: Yeah, I'll bet you do. And I'm glad to hear that because it can actually tear some people way down and it can be hard to build back up.
So I'm glad to hear that you feel stronger. Yeah. That's, that's amazing.
[00:53:45] CARLYN: And that is the one thing that I did. And I would encourage people to reach out to other people sooner than I did. It took me a couple of years before. Well, I did go to therapy. It took me about another year and a half before I started connecting with other DAS [00:54:00] and hearing their stories.
And suddenly I felt that, oh, these people feel, feel like I do. I suddenly felt like, oh, there was a tribe that you could listen to. And that's partially why I decided to write a book about my experience, cuz I hope that I saw how much pain other LDLs are in. I mean, it, it reminds me of when I see somebody on one of those Facebook groups who says, oh my God, I just discovered I was adopted.
It feels like they're one of these newborn little deer that are born, that are on spiny legs and they're trying to find their footing, but they can't quite, and I, I, I love that the community kind of goes around them and goes it's okay. It's okay. Just breathe. It'll be okay. But I also hoped, you know, that I could help in a greater way.
And that's why I ended up writing a book about my experience, cuz I hope that people could take something away from that and realize it's it's it feels like the end, but it's not the end.
When does it come out?
[00:55:08] CARLYN: Junkyard girl, a memoir of ancestry, family secrets, and second chances. And it's out on November 2nd. Awesome. 20, 22.
[00:55:18] DAMON: All right. Very good. I'm hopeful that other adoptees birth parents, late discovery adoptees specifically will get the book and, you know, take something from your strength in finding your way through this process.
Cuz it sounds like it happened. Super fast with very little sort of time to prep or think or focus. And it sounds though, like you've done some work in terms of therapy to get to this other side where you're feeling like you're stronger for the journey. And I think that's incredibly powerful. So Carlyn.
Thank you so much for being here. It's been really awesome talking to you.
[00:55:53] CARLYN: Thank you, Damon. It was my pleasure.
[00:55:55] DAMON: Awesome. Take care all the best to you. All right.
[00:56:06] DAMON: hey, it's me. The late discovery, adoptee journey seems like such a rough road. Carlyn shared that she re-examined her life to try to understand the moments that may have been adoption related to try to sort them out. Meeting her birth mother Carlyn felt nothing for the elderly woman, but how could she?
The whole jarring experience of learning, she was adopted was so fresh in her head and she was meeting a woman. She had never thought of before that moment in her life.
I respect where Carlyn landed on trying to find her birth father, the space of a father figure is already occupied in her heart and mind. And there's no reason for her to explore another father figure.
Carlyn said she hopes other late discovery, adoptees will reach out and find the adoptee community sooner than she did, because the connections to other adoptees [00:57:00] and support the community provides can be really helpful to you. If you're in that position now, I hope you'll take action to at least connect with the community online who can understand what you're feeling.
That understanding and empathy can go a long way toward your healing. I'm Damon Davis, and I hope you found something in Carlyn's journey that inspired you. Validates your feelings about wanting to search or motivates you to have the strength along your journey to learn who am i
So, , can I just ask on a personal note, my wife has a huge star wars nerd and loves Lucas Flo. Oh, can you gimme some like something to take to her that you edited? I'd love to say my guest today edited blah, blah,
[00:57:49] CARLYN: blah.
right. Uh, Let me think I, what did I work on back then? Cuz I worked on a lot of movies. There was a lot of movie production going on up there. I think she'd be much [00:58:00] more interested in my husband because he worked on all those movies. He was, he was a hardcore, you know, he worked up there for about 30 years.
, but the other part that's hysterical is he is also the voice of Jabba the hut dying in the number in number three, Star Wars. Are you
[00:58:17] DAMON: serious? That's awesome. that's really fun. All right. Those are dope nuggets. She's gonna love to hear that. All right. Really cool.