The Abusive Reunion (Part 3 – reframing)

Louisa Leontiades Adoptee Experience, Complicated Roots

I met my biological father when I was 20. An adoptee, desperately seeking the face for an identity she had yet to form. Our meeting was hidden from my adoptive parents and facilitated by my biological mother who had yet to realize the reality of the man who was my father. The man who would become my rapist.

And as I stood there staring at him at that first meeting, an older male version of me, my skin began to prickle with distrust. The distrust which he confirmed within the first 6 hours of our meeting and in our only minute alone together by saying

‘My dick gets hard when I stand next to you.’

It’s difficult to know how to respond to that when for years you’ve hoped and dreamed that your biological parents would provide the clues to your identity, and would fill your sense of yearning.

What should I have said? What should I have done at that precise moment? It’s been woven countless times into the fabric of my nightmares. I should have walked away. I should have told him to go to hell. Anything to prevent the events which followed. But I didn’t want to. I couldn’t abandon a lifetime of dreams or my happy ending that easily. An enormous and impending sense of doom trickled down neck. I was paralyzed in the headlights of his desire.

I told my mother what he’d said the next morning. As horrified as she was, she was no match for something so shocking and so alien. In our world it just couldn’t be. She like me, had dreams of harmonious reunion. Surely this wasn’t happening. Surely my father was the good guy she had always remembered.

So that day we continued to persist, trying to accept the unacceptable. Not only that his sexual attraction to me was understandable, but that his expression of it in such terms was justified under the banner of honesty. Denial trapped us in a prison of our own making.

There is such a thing called genetic sexual attraction which can occur in members of the same family who don’t grow up together. You know – those stories in the trashy magazines where a couple discover they are brother and sister separated at birth. I’d read about them. I’d read about mothers and adult sons having a relationship. I’d shaken my head in disgust at how such people could live with themselves. They were evil. I was young, naive and utterly ignorant of the most basic adoption psychology. The familial bonding known as the Westermarck effect that occurs between family members who know each other is missing for those that don’t… only to often re-occur as reunited adults (they say 50%…that’s a big number).1

After 20 years of research into this phenomenon I understand better the immense and unstoppable force of attraction he felt to me. I also understand that he was already an abusive man. I understand that my desperation for his approval, my total lack of identity and low self-esteem, and my longing for parental acceptance prevented me from telling him to simply ‘Fuck off.’

If I had, I would not be who I am today.

Later when I watched documentaries on the television on genetic sexual attraction, they were about two people reunited who fought to stay together. Or adoptees fighting for more understanding about the devastating consequences suffered through adoption.

They weren’t about my situation. Never about my situation. How it felt when your biological father was compulsively attracted to you. How he blackmailed you into accepting his advances. How he cut you off from your adoptive family with a few well chosen phone calls. But when you were repulsed by his presence and his touch. How it was that despite this you, as an adult, put yourself in the circumstances which facilitated your own emotional and sexual abuse. There is no guilt, no shame in this world to match how I’ve felt. Because being legally adult means the world thinks it is also your fault.

In our second meeting the next day he’d told me not to tell anyone. He’d told me how betrayed he had been by me for confiding in my mother. He’d threatened to break up her family if I did it again. I was after all still a secret and my very presence risked her rejection by her own family. And reassured by my silence that day in the restaurant, he told me how experienced he was sexually, how he’d introduce me to the ways of the world because it was his job as a father. I didn’t say anything. I just cried. And then he bade me goodbye with soft kisses on my neck which made my skin crawl.

Our third and final meeting lasted a weekend. Much of it I hardly remember. I anesthetized myself from the pain with alcohol in the company of my friends. I was at university and he’d come down to visit. There we were… 6 of us, drinking. All of us paralyzed by my frozen twisted face and my father’s hand openly rubbing the inside of my thigh. A nightmarish and unknown scenario.

‘I can’t help you’ said my friend when we visited the bathroom. ‘I don’t know how to help you. If I told him to stop would it help?’

‘No. He would destroy my mother.’ I said weakly.

She got out her mascara and gave it to me. I applied it like a warrior going into battle staring into a face that I didn’t recognize, hurtling towards my doom.

He was already victorious. Crowing about his power and humiliating me in front of everyone. Then he called it a night, took me away from my friends and half carried me acquiescent to a taxi. He unlocked the door when we got home with the keys he had ‘borrowed’ on his arrival and led me into the bedroom to take off my clothes.

‘Sex would be wrong.’ I heard him say as I passed out on the bed.

In and out of consciousness I was aware of him undressing me… and I was too drunk and too deep in self-loathing to fight him off. The next morning I mustered what was left of myself to tell him I never wanted to see him again. That he was despicable. That I hated him. That I was sorry I had ever found him. That he could live and die alone. Finally my self-interest had got the better of protecting my mother.

But he wasn’t angry or surprised. He just looked sad. Was he?

Later when I could bear to think about it, I wondered what type of person I was. My adoptive mother had always told me throughout our bitter relationship how strong my genes must be, because my rebellious behaviour she said, had little to do with my upbringing.

‘If the ‘nature’ argument is true’, I thought, ‘then I am half rapist. It’s my heritage. No wonder I’m so fucked up.’

But now I know, it is my gift.

In the years afterwards, wherever I turned I was met with hate that mirrored my own. Incest is the last taboo. I found no therapist who could disguise their judgement or disgust and their disgust only served to drive me further into promiscuity and alcoholism and despair. I wasn’t a child, I was an adult and therefore to blame. I was unsalvegeable. There would be no relationship for me, no family, no happy ending, unless I found it myself.

So on my own, I was forced to research, inspired to study and led to self-development. I taught myself how to transcend and detach from terrible experiences and turn them into gold. Through trial and error I’ve learned how to set boundaries. I’ve taught myself the importance of consent. Of high self-esteem. Of self-respect. And of the absolute importance of loving your rapist (albeit from afar). Yes.

Because in order to heal, to blossom and to thrive I had to learn love and compassion. Compassion – where others had none – not only for my own humanity and my own terrible weakness but for what my father was feeling and his weakened integrity. It is impossible to feel it internally without also feeling it externally because the whole world is your mirror.

The love and compassion I have cultivated and nurtured over the years has allowed me to transform my own circumstances. It’s showed me that we all have the potential to rewrite our futures. It’s how I know that we are stronger than our genes and our upbringing. That if we are to be happy, we cannot tie our self-esteem to others’ opinions. Above all it’s allowed me to accept others with compassion no matter what they have done, or how vile they think they are. Because it is possible to move beyond our past self destructive inclinations and choices to a place where fundamental and lasting change can happen. I know, because I’ve done it.

  1. 50% of reunions between siblings, or parents and offspring, separated at birth result in obsessive emotions.http://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2003/may/17/weekend7.weekend2