“You are only as sick as your secrets and once you let the secret out, healing begins,” says an adage in the recovery movement. And few relationships have as much potential to hold secrets as those in an adoptive family.
For years, Steve and Sally held secret files which they would one day share with their adoptive daughter, Rochelle. Like many adoptive parents, they held the adoption files, releasing information at ages they deemed appropriate.
But, as Rochelle neared 18 and she increasingly demanded more information, Steve and Sally wondered if their record rationing was really all about their need for control.
Rochelle began acting out and her parents worried that they were approaching a breaking point in which they might vent their anger and release those files accompanied by a strong dose of “I told you so’s”
Finally, one night, in the midst of what seemed like a minor argument, Rochelle told her parents that she didn’t really consider them to be her parents.
“Her statement wasn’t mean-spirited,” Steve explained. “She stated it in a rather factual manner. It didn’t really surprise us. She’s rarely sought or needed our affection.”
Finally, with a response that recognized Rochelle’s “lost-ness,” her parents asked her, “Would you like to see your records?”
Rochelle shot a quizzical look.
“We have your records,” Steve softly volunteered.”
“Give them to me!” Rochelle demanded. “I want them now!”
Steve and Sally responded with remarkable patience as they suggested that Rochelle might want to digest the voluminous files one at a time.
“Much like checking out books in a library,” Sally explained, “we’ll give you a new file each time you return the previous one.” Sally wondered if their offer was still another method of control, but it mostly felt right and Rochelle took the offer.
Rochelle devoured the first file like a famished child unsure if she’d ever get another meal. When she requested the second file, her dad attempted to explain the legalese, but she rejected the attempt as patronizing. “I thought she might need some help,” Steve said.
“No,” Sally said in a mock scolding tone, “what she needed was someone to listen. So, I asked her, “What did your learn from your files, Rochelle?”
“I learned that my birth mother was a slut!” she said frankly. That point had not been a secret, but the slow-release in which Steve and Sally had dosed the information had never allowed Rochelle that much perspective.
Sally was the first to notice the tears filling Rochelle’s eyes. It took but only the raising of her mother’s arms and Rochelle raced to find a place in those arms.
“Over the next few months, I can’t tell you that things have transformed into perfection at our house,” Sally admitted, “but Rochelle seems to have found a bit more peace.”
“A couple of funny things have happened,” Steve volunteered.
“First, after reading only a few files, she stopped asking. We still have ten more files in the closet, but she’s not asking for them.”
“Second,” Sally enumerated, “We also told her two sisters, age 12 and 14, about the files.”
She paused. “They don’t have the slightest interest in seeing them.”
Rochelle had her life handed to her in a manila folder. She found in those files some hurtful things, but they were now her things – no one knew more about Rochelle than Rochelle knew herself.
For many years, Steve and Sally had kept the file – the big secret. Now with the secrets disempowered, there was a new since of freedom in their home.
“What is that expression from the Bible?” Sally asked. And then answered her own question, reciting slowly, “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.”