“Rejection vs. Acceptance” or otherwise known as “Life Sucks if You’re a Late-Discovery-Adoptee”

September 1, 2011

In the four+ years since the revelation of my adoption, I’ve been much more in touch with feelings of abandonment, rejection, and yet acceptance. For those of you who have followed, or are aware of my story, you know the many emotions I’ve had to deal with since the day of my adoption discovery. Many of you who are my fellow-adoptees instantly nod in complete understanding whenever words like “Denied, Rejected, Abandoned, or Accepted are mentioned. I have been no exception to this trend.

Recently I have experienced yet another life-changing event. In March of 2011 I received the worse physical pain that I have ever known as a result of spinal cord trauma. In specific, I experienced “Cauda Equina Syndrome” as a result of designing, constructing, and painting stage scenery for a local high school drama club. My spinal cord had become compressed, and was over 70% cut off from the nerves leading to my lower body. I faced the very real potential of never walking again.

“How in the world did this happen, Jeff?” has been the most commonly asked question. The answer is complicated, but I will do my best to explain.

Working for theater and drama club types of people is an entirely different environment than, let’s say, lumber-jacking. In a lumber camp, when one man goes down with an injury the others tend to jump in and be supportive. In contrast, when you are severely injured working for a small-town drama club, you’re fucked. In exchange for the show “having to go on” this late-discovery-adoptee came within a micron or two of spending the remainder of his life wheelchair bound.

As much as I pleaded for volunteers, only 3 people rose to the call. Two of these three wonderful people were unable to assist until the final dis-assembly of the scenery. Working against me were the club directors and producers. To fulfill their own hidden agenda and selfishness, scheduling preempted me from having my usual crew of workers. While my crew was always there for me, the directors forbid me from accessing them. In addition, they specifically demanded that I no longer use them at all, but rather cast them aside. They had selfishly hidden motives that I only learned of from past volunteers during the weeks following my operation. Several families who used to volunteer for me apologized to me for not being there for me this time. It’s due to them not being able to tolerate the “Directors Team” or “Power of Three.” At least it had nothing to do with me personally.

Four times I reconstructed the stage setting to the harsh review of the “Directors Team” (a title the theater threesome gave themselves). I did this entirely alone working 14-15 hours daily through the months of February/March 2011. The physical pain was insufferable; my requests for assistance ignored. I was told, “It’s your problem, handle it.”

Anger, frustration, and overwhelming emotions of many types now prevent me from elaborating on any further detail of the events leading up to my pain. Sorry, there’s no story more disappointing than one that skips from chapter 4 to chapter 9.  I’m not ready to share that yet; it’s too soon. The wound is too fresh.

The pain I had was the most severe I have ever experienced. I couldn’t go into work anymore, and eventually lost my other jobs. For three weeks I tried everything from pain killers, TENS units, massage, chiropractic care, patches, and sedatives. Nothing relieved the pain. Nothing relieved the convulsions, either. The only way I can explain these convulsions is to encourage you to imagine someone taking long, flaming hot shards of broken glass and ramming them downward from the top of your hips all the way down to your toes. Imagine this happening randomly throughout the day, yet quadruple occurrences and pain throughout the night.

It’s 6 months post-injury as I write this. I’m extremely bitter, angry, enraged, and rejected in my feelings. Mysteriously, these feelings do not extend to my fellow adoptees and the moms who created us. I’m pissed at the ungrateful “Directors Team” in ways that I know are not healthy for me. Still, I cannot help myself. I want little more than to show each of them personally what having a spinal cord injury is like!

Then there’s the experience with my other paid jobs. Being an hourly tutor at Monroe Community College, I had to forfeit my pay when pain prevented me from going in to work. However, my permanent employment as an art teacher for St. Agnes School and the Catholic Diocese of Rochester, NY likewise took a hit. Upon my very first sick day due to this severe pain, I was demoted from a salaried, part-time position of which I held for 23 years, to hourly. All of my personal days and sick time were rescinded on-the-spot. They took for themselves not only my accrued sick pay (over 60 days worth) but selfishly grabbed every dime of  pay I had deducted for our summer living expenses.

Then matters got worse. I learned that my teaching position was to be completely eliminated at St. Agnes School. A 24-year-long career ended “just like that.” No thanks, no severance package, no back-pay, no “anything.”

I’ve come to regret ever believing that teaching and working with children is rewarding. Sure, you get the “warm-fuzzies” and admiration of kids. Overshadowing this, however, is the back-stabbing, low-ball, deceitful, dishonest, fraudulent, conniving, cheating, devious, lying, and just plain fucked-up adults with egos and selfish ambitions who stop at absolutely nothing to have their way in life.

Due to these recently “former” employers, our family has suffered in ways that no family should ever need to suffer. It’s been months since my last paycheck. My personal savings was extinguished within the first month of post-surgical rehabilitation. Physical Therapy alone cost me over $200.00 monthly.

We’ve had to do without such luxuries as natural gas, electric, phone, cable, internet, healthy groceries, prescription medications, needed car repairs, physical, occupational, and psychological therapy, car registrations, car insurance, school supplies, footwear, home repairs, family day trips, along with many, many others.

Our family car was repossessed with only three remaining payments and our home foreclosed upon. As much as it has sucked doing without, it’s nothing new. It’s been the story of my life. Those who know me well likewise know it’s true. However, the most devastating of all our recent sacrifices was not being able to attend the Adoptee Rights Protest in San Antonio, Texas. If I need to walk to Chicago in 2012, and sleep in a cardboard box behind the convention center, I’ll do it if it means being with my adoption peeps.

My adoptee friends and the moms who created us are more than just friends. They are an extension of me.  They understand me. They empathize with me. They know rejection. They know pain. En massed together we are like one being. As corny as it is; they “complete me.”

During the weeks prior to my emergency surgery, I felt a kind of pain I’d never experienced before. Optimistically I believed it would go away as had previous experiences with back and leg pain. I was clearly wrong. Though I had received minor surgery for wisdom teeth, a severed finger, and carpel tunnel release, I’d never been hospitalized before this. I sheepishly admit it was a scare.

As I lay on the operating table waiting for my back to be cracked open, my neurosurgeon asked me, “Does Back Pain, Spina-Bifida, Scoliosis, Sciatica, or any other spinal conditions run in your family?” I laid there for a minute trying to think of what to say. The best I could do was say, “I’m Adopted.” His face lost all expression as he explained my condition. “There are two forms of Stenosis; the kind that happens from old age, and the genetic kind.” I have the genetic kind.

There was plenty of time for me to contemplate my life as I lay in that recovery ward for 7 days. Perhaps I thought too much? I got into a terrible funk, and was hit by trauma both emotionally and physically. Not having medical history left me feeling totally hollow inside. For the second time in my life, I felt as though I didn’t have a soul. The first time was Easter 2007 in the days following my late-discovery-adoptee experience.

During my third week in the physical rehabilitation wing I received countless phone calls, text messages, and visits from some wonderful friends in the adoption community. Two calls in particular completely overwhelmed me with emotion. Edgar Carlstrom and Christine Paugh simultaneously called me at the hospital and Mary Anne at home to tell us they created a Facebook page for the purpose of soliciting donations for my medical costs.

Just as there were no words to describe the horrible pain I had before surgery; there are no words that I can speak of to describe the wave of emotions this act of  love brought into me. It was emotionally very overwhelming for me.

Over the past several years I’ve had one trauma after another. Likewise, what happens to me also flows downhill into my wife and kids. It’s been rough around here for a long time. The emotional trauma of Late-Discovery and the feelings of betrayal towards my adoptive family for a lifetime of lies are etched deeply in my mind. The cause of my spinal pain was likewise created by the betrayal I experienced from the directors I was building sets for. Then the final betrayal of my primary employer rescinding my paid sick-time and demoting me to hourly status was the worse kick to the crotch. I had become accustomed to only the worse things happening to our little family.

I rarely ever display emotions; it’s one of my greatest weaknesses. Neither of our kids has ever seen me cry. However, after I got off the phone with Edge, and then Chris immediately after, I got choked up. You see, it’s the very first time I have ever felt valued and loved. This hit me like a tidal wave, and I cried harder than I have ever cried before. It was a weird kind of tear; it was spurred by love and joy rather than sorrow. The only other times I’d ever had a tear or two of joy were when the Bills got into the 1991 Superbowl, the birth of our two sons, and when the Sabres entered the 1999 finals and later again when they were purchased and saved by Tom Golisano.

Consciously, I’ve been avoiding writing this blog. I cannot begin to write or say the proper words that define the acceptance I feel from my adoption community. I think about each of you everyday and how much your thoughtfulness has meant as well as helped out. Truthfully, over the past several weeks I’ve been trying to avoid triggering such an intense wave of emotion again; it’s really hard for me to admit and to deal with, especially in the shadow of so many bad experiences.

With this being the last day of summer vacation 2011, I am filled with remorse. I regret all that I’ve been physically unable to perform over these past many weeks. I regret that our family is without a dime, and that I have been unable to take our 6-year-old out for ice cream or a matinee. I’m sad that I can’t buy nice back-to-school clothes for him, either. I’m frustrated that in our yard sit two vehicles that are undriveable. The cost of repairs is far out of our reach, as are the costs to register and insure them.

I’m depressed that for the first time since 1969 the first-day-of-school doesn’t  in any way involve my participation. I regret ever trusting people in the non-adoption world. Specifically, I hate myself for trusting the directors of the Avon Central School Drama Club, the Catholic Diocese of Rochester, and the many others who have taken advantage of my trust and good nature. Most of all I regret the hurt that my physical and emotional pain has placed on my wife and kids. Just as I’m denied by life, thus so are they.

Life has blindsided me since the day I was born. I’ve grown to hate life. Yet somehow I’ve managed to have a great wife, two good kids, and acceptance from those around me who have had to walk in the same toxic shoes I walk in. For those people I trust. They trust me, so it’s only fair.

One day I’d like to feel “normal” again – whatever “normal” is. I’d like to not have anesthesia related paralysis in my feet or amnesia to my short-term memory. I want our family to be able to rely on our vehicles for transportation, or know that if one of us becomes injured or sick we can access the therapy or medications we need. I’d like to eat healthy foods, and not the crappy, cheap generic starch-bombs we’ve had to gulp down for weeks now. I want our kids to know that we will always have our home, and with it working utilities.

I’d like to be the same as everyone else.



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