"What was there left to do but drink?"
One of the very first coping mechanisms I learned in my life was resentment. I was born resentful, going back to one of my first memories of being so pissed off that my parents were adopting a brother rather than a sister. I resented them for slighting me and I resented my brother for being born. Resentments came in all forms from then on, with my default feelings being either anxious and overwhelmed or frustrated and angry.
How might a two-and-a-half-year-old be so good at resenting people and situations? Part of it could easily have been my nature- for I had an alcoholic and addict’s mind long before I had my first drink. Whether I had an addiction for books, candy, video games, or even friendships, I never just liked something- I loved it deeply with my entire being and would become fixated on it.
I never felt like my resentment was unusual because my parents are the king and queen of resentments. They were very vocal about their resentments towards each other in their weekly fights about money. My father showed even greater resentments with almost daily fights about the home not being kept up by my mother and us to his standards. When my father returned home from work angry and then exploded because we forgot to empty a garbage can or didn’t vacuum up that stray clump of dog hair, he was very clear in letting us children know that we are the reason for all the anger and resentment he had in his life. My mother was also very vocal in her resentment of my father’s consistent verbal abuse, although the concept of doing something about it was absurd to her.
Growing up in that environment had me so resentful towards my parents that I became determined to one day become a better parent to my future children than they were. I spent my entire life framed around the one day I could prove I was a natural at parenting. I was a serial monogamous through my teens and twenties in hopes of finding a Mr. Right, who I need to help me get a kid while I was young enough to be a DILF. When I found the love of my life, we moved out of our apartment into a larger home because we’d need the extra rooms for the inevitable adoption. And when the opportunity came to adopt a troubled seventeen-year-old I thought I hit the jackpot in terms of challenges. The idea that I might be biting off more than I could chew never occurred to me.
We began the adoption process right around the holiday season, getting to know her from Thanksgiving through the New Year before she moved in the New Year. That holiday season was right out of a Hallmark movie. She had been through so much and nobody had ever understood her. How lucky for her to have found us. We were the answer to all her problems if we were able to show her unconditional love. Having a kid was all I ever wanted, so that unconditional love would obviously come naturally to my husband and me.
The phrase ‘biting off more than you can chew’ reached a new meaning for us almost as soon as she moved into our home. The sweet teen who was eager to learn and love was gone, and in her place was a scared little girl whose only love language was acting out, causing problems, and fighting. We managed to keep it together and give her the benefit of the doubt for that first month, even staying sober, despite daily dramatic outbursts and defiance. Sometime in the second month of adoption resentments started occurring, which felt only natural with the emotional, verbal, and physical abuse we were enduring. A bachelor’s in psychology combined with love was not going to help this sick girl overcome a lifetime of trauma, but I resented myself for being unable to fix her. I resented the foster care system for their misleading us and hiding information that would have caused us to never try and take on this challenge. I resented her new case worker for not connecting us with enough resources that could help us help her. My work schedule gave me the flexibility to deal with most of her daily difficulties, but that led me to resenting my husband for ‘leaving it all on me.’ Most of all I resented this girl because I felt by age 18 (yes, we made it through her birthday), she should have some level of control over her own actions. I resented her for the emotional torment. I resented her fits of rage. I resented the sexual situations she sought out both at school and under our roof. I resented the way she would treat the people around her, including us. I resented the way she blatantly disrespected us and talked to us.
By the end of the second month, I resented everyone and everything in my life and saw no way out. Sending her back into the system would be a sign of failure but keeping her was making me physically and emotionally ill. I felt I had no choice but to revert to drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana. The marijuana came first because it never caused problems like drinking had, so I would hide it via my vape pen and takes puffs here and there to make it through the hard times. The issue with my life at that time was that I lived in so much fear of what she was going to do next that every moment was a hard time. Before I knew it, I was vaping to maintain feeling ‘normal’ and no longer felt comfort from it. What was there left to do but drink?
The remainder of the adoption became a cycle of pain for everyone involved. She resented the world for what it had done to her, and she resented us for trying to fix that. I resented her for all the pain and trauma she was inflicted upon us. Even if my husband managed to not resent her, he must have resented me for being baked and buzzed (wasted) by the time he’d get home from work at 5:30. We all resented the Safe Children Coalition, which became less and less helpful the longer she was in our home. By the time COVID hit our entire home was a bubble of resentment as it became clear this wasn’t working. It all boiled to a head over a course of a couple days and ended with her getting Baker Acted. We had the decision to bring her back into this environment that had become toxic for all of us, or admit this wasn’t working and let her get the help she needs. While I wasn’t ready to admit that I was powerless over alcohol and drugs, the situation had me feeling hopeless enough that I admitted I was powerless over this adoption. We did the best thing we both could do and let her go.
The next day we spent packing up all her belongings and delivering them back to the foster care system and my resentment finally found an easy target- it was her fault. We did everything right until we couldn’t. She rejected it all. She acted out. She verbally abused us. She would fake pregnancies. She would threaten to physically abuse us. She would wake us up in the middle of the night screaming for attention. She would get in trouble daily at school. I hit my limit at the end when she began threatening to sexually assault us. It was all her fault the adoption didn’t work. It was all her fault that she ruined my life’s plan I had set out to achieve as a child. She was the one who destroyed me and left me a shell out what I once was.
What do you do when your dreams of parenting were twisted into a nightmare? To this alcoholic there was only one answer- drink more! While I always had problems with the volume that I would drink and how I would act once I was drunk, I had never drunk daily before that point in my life. From then on it became a daily occurrence. On the days when I couldn’t drink, I would become fixated on my next opportunity to have one. I wasn’t blind to the fact that this all started the moment the adoption turned south, but I felt powerless over stopping this behavior. I felt like I had nothing left but the alcohol.
Fast forward to seventy days in my sobriety and I still looked back at that failed adoption as the “reason” I became an alcoholic. Hearing the young girls name would send me into a fight or flight response because I resented her with my entire being. I was at a conference about sobriety and out of all the options of what workshop to attend next I was recommended by a friend to check out one called “Drop the Rock”. I had no idea what it meant but the other option was to go to one about parenting in sobriety. Talk about a Higher Power pushing me in the right direction!
The concept of “Drop the Rock” comes from a story about a group of Twelve Step members going boating when one of them almost missed making it. As it’s told, as she swam over to the boat she got tangled with strings and a rock around her neck. In that moment she saw the rock as a symbol of her fears, resentments, and other character defects, and she felt free when she tore off the strings and dropped that rock.
The “Drop the Rock” workshop functioned in the same way. We spent some time hearing speakers talk about how each resentment we encounter in our life is metaphorically stored in a backpack that we carry with us. As we have more resentments or fears the bag becomes heavier and heavier, burdening us and making forward momentum impossible. We then started with a piece of paper and wrote down all our resentments, and I only realized then how many I had.
The workshop wasn’t long enough for me to get them all out on paper but at the end of the exercise we wrote the biggest resentment we had onto a physical rock. Looking at my list I felt it was easy to pick out- “I resent (her) and the circumstances surrounding the failed adoption.” We then all took the elevator up to the riverfront to throw our rocks into the river. As I remember walking in a crowd across a hotel convention center and out to the river thinking how absurd it all was. There was no way that this would help me get over something so horrendously painful. But what if it did?
I had already accepted the fact I was alcoholic and that my Higher Power could restore me to sanity. I only got there through my faith in my Twelve Step program and the people within it, because I wanted what they had. These same people who gave me the gift of my sanity told me to look at my rock and reflect on that resentment, so I did it. I pushed away the fear and skepticism that had never gotten me anyway and reflected on my failed adoption and every resentment I could think of associated with it. Then, as I imagined all that resentment and anger and fear and shame being channeled into that rock, I threw it into the river. As soon as I heard that rock hit the water a breeze came by that left me feeling lighter. I still am unsure if this was an actual breeze or just the feeling that came over me, but I don’t care. I realize I can’t resent a mentally and emotionally ill girl for acting like a mentally and emotionally ill girl. I can’t resent the foster care system for misleading us because it wasn’t their intent to cause everyone pain- they just didn’t know better. I can’t resent my husband for working an office job during the time of the adoption that we knew he had going into it. I can’t resent myself failing an adoption when it was never a pass or fail situation.
You can only try and make a square fit into a circle so many times before you admit to yourself that the pieces don’t fit. It’s not the fault of the circle or the square that one can’t be forced through the other. The life that my Higher Power has planned for me and what they have planned for her are two different plans. We did our best that we could do, and she did the best that she could do.
If I could go back and change anything about that adoption attempt, I wouldn’t change a thing. The experience was part of my journey that led to my sobriety, and I love my sober life. Her life has got to be better now because she is being given the help that she requires from professionals licensed to guide her through it all. My husband was always willing to do whatever made me happy, but having a kid was never part of his plan. Since then, my Higher Power has guided us to the best dog I’ve ever met, Remy, and we wouldn’t have him if we didn’t go through what we went through with her.
I’m thankful I had the experience of attempting to adopt a child because if we didn’t, I would have spent my entire life wondering “what if?” Now, I know I am where I’m meant to be and have reconnected with my Higher Power.
In dropping the rock, I also dropped the biggest bundle of resentments I had weighing me down. If you harbor any resentments, I suggest trying this exercise to “Drop the Rock”- it might save your life.