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Who Am I Really? - Damon L. Davis EPISODE 131, 17th October 2020
131 - I'm More Confused Now, I'm Broken

131 - I'm More Confused Now, I'm Broken

Elissa, from Hilton Head, South Carolina, said never bonded with her adopted mother. She did find a second home with her horseback riding coach and the horses she adored. 

Finding her biological mother gave Elissa a glimmer of hope that the woman stokes and extinguishes in a torturous cycle. 

Speaking with her birth father only once, she confirmed the story of his own paternity, but Elissa never heard from him again. 

Relying on her husband, the first person she’s shared real love with, Elissa wishes reunion didn’t leave her so confused and feeling broken.

This is Elissa’s journey. 

Elissa (00:03):

I am that 37 year old woman now who is dying to be hugged and held by their mother. Like, I need that moment in my life. I feel that I deserve it and I feel unbeknownst to her. She deserves it too. Beause I know that she's carrying this huge darkness over her, that she has the chance to make. Right?

Damon (00:31):

Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? This is who am I really a podcast about adoptees that have located and connected with their biological family members. I'm Damon Davis. And today you're going to hear from Elissa in Hilton head, South Carolina, Elissa never bonded with her adopted mother, but she did find a second home with her horseback riding coach and the horses she adored. Finding her biological mother gave Elissa a glimmer of hope that the woman Stokes and extinguishes in a torturous cycle, speaking with her birth father only once she confirmed the story of his own paternity, but Elissa never heard from him again, relying on her husband, the first person she shared real love with Elissa wishes reunion. Didn't leave her so confused and feeling broken. This is Elissa's journey. Elissa was born in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania then adopted out of the children's home orphanage in Pittsburgh.

Damon (01:42):

Every summer. Her parents took her to the children's home summer picnic, where she kind of questioned why they were there. Elissa learned she was adopted at about four or five years old, but she really didn't grasp what adoption meant until she was around six. She said her adoptive parents weren't very communicative about her adoption or her birthday. So she's always questioned both. Most importantly, she didn't look like them and never really felt like she fit in with her physical appearance, nor did she feel that internal synchronization, that many biological families feel for one another. Elissa never really bonded with her adopted mother and her adopted father was often working.

Elissa (02:27):

I found out that I'm 72% Italian and my father, my adopted father is also Italian. I do have some similarities with him, but I have very dark olive skin, Brown eyes, Brown hair. I look Italian. My father is kind of short. He kind of has hazel eyes, you know, salt and pepper hair is, all I've ever known him to have. My mom, um, came from a Jewish family. She also was adopted and she had blue eyes, fair skin and blonde hair. So physically I didn't look like them. And none of my behavioralism in me mimiced any of them. It's like everything they tried to make me to be. It just didn't feel natural and almost kind of felt like a put on, like I can't explain it.

Damon (03:13):

Tell me, so what kinds of things did they try to introduce you to that? Just didn't stick,

Elissa (03:21):

Uh, you know, the old, like tap ballet, um, sports. The only thing that stuck I stuck with was horseback riding. And I think that was because unknowing at the time it allowed me to bond with something. It allowed me to have my own personal relationship with someone or something that I had, you know, the stay and, you know, I always felt like I never knew where I came from. So it was like, it was my first identity. Basically. I was able to have my own first relationship with myself, through my relationship with my horses. And I became very close with my horseback riding teacher. I lived with her, um, up until I was 13 when we moved down here. So I would say up until from 10 years old to 13, I lived with her.

Damon (04:09):

Elissa started things off by telling me that nearly everything she's revealing. She learned only a year ago and as an adult of 35 years old, but check out the timeline of what she just said. She was told she was adopted when she was about five years old and roughly five years later, she went to live with her horseback riding coach. But before we get to that, Elissa described life at home.

Elissa (04:34):

Living with my mom was not your, not any girl's dream. You know, we never had the bond, never did hair makeup. You know, she never talked to me about life. If you know what I mean? Um, she always had someone taking me to school or no, someone tutoring me. She's a stay at home mom. Um, as an adult, now that we're able to talk about this, we were very disattached from each other. I was kind of rejecting her. She was rejecting me. Um, like I said, I loved her, but I didn't love her. I can't separate those two words. It's more of a feeling. I knew that I had to love her. She adopted me. I was, you know, thankful, grateful for all of that, but it just wasn't your mother's touch. I can't say it any other way.

Damon (05:27):

Oh, what you've said makes absolute sense that you weren't connected and bonded and it sounds like she inserted a lot of people to fill in spaces that you needed. Right. Where she in I'm in. I'm trying to be careful with my words, because you've also admitted that you were possibly rejecting her too. Therefore I don't want it to make it seem like she was just putting up a shield to say, here, deal with these people. Right. If you were pushing her away when it to schoolwork, then of Course she would get a tutor. And if you're pushing her away in this place, then of course she would try to find someone else to like help you through this thing. So I don't want to sort of vilify her unnecessarily, but that's really interesting. Yeah.

Elissa (06:13):

I agree with you. It's like me being my own mother. I have a daughter and I'm a mother, I believe in mental health. My parents in that generation didn't believe in mental health. They figured cause they were doing everything right as parents that I would come out right as a kid, but little did they know how much of that was not their fault? Um, I'm going through a lot of, you know, mental health issues right now with no separation, disattachment, you know, personality disorder, all of that, because it was never resolved as a kid. It was never spoken about it was never handled. It was always, you know, they were financially there for me a hundred percent, but they weren't the best that given that unconditional love. And I think it was a 50, 50, like you just said, I wasn't all, you know, warm and fuzzy either.

Elissa (07:03):

And it wasn't an intentional thing. It just, it did not feel natural. It felt almost forced at times coming from my mom, my dad and I had a different relationship.

Damon (07:16):

And what was that like?

Elissa (07:16):

Um much better. However, he was never home when he was home, I was in the garden, the pool, we were skiing. We were plowing the driveway. You know, I was his little son that he never had. You know, he spent time with me where my mom really never did and she wouldn't really never admit to it, but you know, she was always present. But the one-on-one, you know, I was the only child too. So you would have thought mother daughter relationship would have been a little different, you know, in the perfect, you know, American, traditional family,

Damon (07:49):

Right. Or at least just a little more precious in a female to female bond, perhaps something. Hmm. Hmm. So you found out around, you said four or five or five or six or something

Elissa (08:05):

Between four and six. I found out when I was four, but understood it more when I was six

Damon (08:08):

Okay. And what did you understand when you were six? You feel,

Elissa (08:14):

I understood that I was, you know, lucky to be here. I understood that I was lucky to be, you know, given this chance to live this life with this new family, but what I didn't understand with why, like, if any adopted, could have ever been told the truth, once they understood why it was done, I think it would resolve some problems from that point on and to, you know, later life. But the unknown is like the most torturous thing ever. The not knowing was it no aside black market baby, was it, you know, against her? Will, was it good, bad, ugly, or indifferent? That right there bothered me my whole life. Just not knowing

Damon (08:56):

Earlier Elissa told me that she had taken horseback riding as a kid and that she went to live with her horseback riding teacher. I asked her if she remembered much about the transition to living with her coach, she said she recalls more of the story now because she reconnected with her riding coach two years ago when her journey to find her answers first started

Elissa (09:16):

When I left Pittsburgh at the age of 13 and moved down here, I hadn't been back there. It was too hard for me to go back there. Um, and she basically told me the reason she kind of, it happened over a period of time, me staying there, you know, I would say over a couple of nights and then a week and then every other week. Uh, but it was more or less because she was tired of taking me home to an empty house. My dad was working and my mom wasn't there and I'm the only child. And shouldn't be that way. I didn't know at the time, that's why I was there. I thought it was just cool because I got to live with this lady that gave me all the attention in the world and I was right there in the backyard with all the horses. So that was really cool to me. So it didn't, I didn't put the two and two together until two years ago when she told me why she kind of did it.

Damon (10:04):

Wow. That's incredible of her. Her what's her name?

Elissa (10:08):

Yeah, a Fran

Damon (10:10):

Fran. Wow. What a huge heart did she tell ? What's your sense of where was your mom if she wasn't home?

Elissa (10:20):

I don't know. I mean, I have no idea. Um, cause every time I always saw her, she was at home. She could have been golfing. She also had a problem with drinking, um, that she would never admit to. And I don't really want to make this about her drinking, but that right there in itself was the reason I blamed at this functionalism in our relationship. She wouldn't admit to it that way because of course she would see it a different side. Um, but I'm more emotional than she is to begin with. She kind of has a flat effect. Mine is, you know, I'm nurse Betty I'm. I have a big heart just because of what I wasn't given. So I tried to make up for it that way.

Damon (11:01):

So at 10 years old Fran with the big heart sees that Elissa is going home from horseback riding to be alone. So she started offering for Elissa to stay the night. Then one night became two nights a week and it just became easier to stay at Fran's house. Her house became Elissa's home. When did you realize, like I'm Staying I'm staying here, like I'm not going home. How did that go?

Elissa (11:31):

Um, it didn't ever hit me like that. It just gradually became the thing. Of course, you know, I would go home and stay periods of time, but I would call my permanent residence with Fran because, um, I was also going to horse shows and she would take me and this conversation that we had two years ago, she told me that there was a group of me and three other girls that all their parents would be there. And my parents wouldn't. So she would have to be, you know, on the sideline, not as much, not only as my trainer, but as my mom. And they would seldomly come when they did it's like they would come for like a short period of time and then leave.

Damon (12:12):

Huh? That is fascinating. Yeah. Do you remember being in the show CNM and then seeing them go?

Elissa (12:20):

Yeah, and it, it really didn't bother me. I was kind of, I was happier with them from afar. You know, they, they loved better from far. I, they were older, they weren't younger parents. So, you know, when I was in my, what, 10 years old, they were probably in their forties. Whereas my friend's parents were in their early thirties, you know? So their generation was much different. And you know, I grew up much different than any of my friends than my parents lived a very like formal life, very routine. And my friends, families had like multiple siblings all over the place. Like mine was regimented, you know, it was just too programmed, almost like they didn't know how to just go with the flow and parent that way they had to, I don't know, stage or something

Damon (13:14):

At 13 years old, Elissa's dad retired from the plastics company. He co owned out of nowhere. Elissa's parents moved her down to South Carolina with them and that's where her rebellion began. She said her mental health changed, but her parents didn't seem to notice. Elissa hated moving to South Carolina. At that time, she had to leave her surrogate, parent Fran and her friends, the wonderful horses behind she was in between seventh and eighth grade. A horrible time for transition for a child, especially a shy, quiet child, like Elissa, who never did well with change. Her parents were off playing golf and Elissa was left to cope with it all by herself.

Elissa (13:57):

They never really took the time to see, you know, how I was doing. They didn't look at the Cardinal signs with my behavior, changing, getting in trouble. You know, I'm not a bad kid. You, you don't just wake up one day and choose to be that certain circumstances drive you to do unnatural things, uncommon things maybe for help, maybe for attention. But I didn't get that. I just got, you know, let's close our eyes to this.

Damon (14:24):

So this was a rough transition. This was a rebellious period for you as a young . Like what kinds of stuff happened for you?

Elissa (14:32):

Um, I got kicked out of school. Um, I hung out with the wrong crowd. I got pregnant at an early age, um, kind of 50, 50 intentionally and unintentionally, but I've come to discover that it was more intentionally than not. I wanted to have my own being. I wanted, you know, to be a part of something, to know that you're not a part of something. And just to be told your whole life, you know, you're our family now, you don't have to worry like that really puts a whole like different dynamic in your head, especially when you become of age, like in your thirties and medical history really starts to matter. And then you're like, Oh my gosh, like, you've been kind of just a joke. The first, like 30 years, like your life really didn't matter. Or you just went along with it's okay. You're, you're my family now. And it doesn't work that way when the doctor's like, what's your medical history and you can't give any answer

Damon (15:28):

Admitted. She kind of got pregnant on purpose. She wanted to connect with someone the way she desired connection. She said she found out she was pregnant on the day. She graduated from high school. It's a momentous time for a kid to graduate high school. And like she said, the pregnancy was sort of planned. I asked her how she felt about being pregnant at that time.

Elissa (15:51):

I was happy. I was like, okay. You know, but I couldn't share my happiness with me the way I wanted to, because I knew my adopted parents, what their reaction was going to be. And it was not the reaction that I would want or anybody that ever adopted a kid would have ever thought of. So that was very hard for me to take, but I didn't care. You know, I was going to do what I had to do that my adopted mom didn't do. And my biological mom didn't do

Damon (16:21):

For sure. Wow. So what was parenting like for you as a young high school graduate?

Elissa (16:28):

Uh, I was hands on, I worked two jobs. I was in school full time for nursing. Um, I was in a very abusive relationship. I allowed my vulnerability to be depleted as a young woman, Jessica, so I didn't have any self worth. Um, so my daughter's father was, you know, the person that physically, mentally and emotionally abused me on top of being a single mom and going to school and doing all that. But I was there. I was present and I did it no matter how bad or good the situation was, I was there and I, you know, we always got through it. I was very hands on with my daughter. Very, like I said, nothing like my adopted mom. Um, you know, I was the room mom. I was the soccer mom. I was the watch everybody's kids, mom. While, they went out and no, that was me.

Damon (17:20):

Well, that's, it's fascinating. I'm going to say two things. One, it's always interesting to me to hear how adoptees express themselves as parents, very loving, nurturing, hands on. You know, I smother my son with hugs and kisses, you know what I mean? And, um, but it's also interesting to hear you say that you were going through this abusive time in your life and, and yet you were still so involved with your daughter's life and the children around you and, and, you know, being part of the system that she needed and her fellow classmates needed, you know, the room mom and being a caregiver. I just really, while being abused, I mean, the resilience that you've shown is really unbelievable.

Elissa (18:12):

I think though, for any adoptee at a young age, they learned to wear that bandaid at a young age where they mask everything on the outside and the inside. It's a whole other story. So I wore that bandaid pretty well that, you know, uh, I bandaid it, every situation that fake smile like I did it, no one would have ever known that it was the way it was because our life was hidden from us. So it kind of like we had to, I was just skeptical of everything.

Damon (18:40):

Her daughter was about five years old before Elissa got out of that abusive relationship. She admitted she didn't get counseling at the time. She never sought counseling until about a year ago when she described her life as doing a 360 after the relationship with her daughter's father, she got into another unhealthy relationship.

Elissa (19:02):

I have a hard time trusting other people's love and trusting people. I give out love unconditionally, I'm a hospice nurse. So I have a huge amount of compassion and empathy for people. I am too much of a helper. Um, and for me, being in a relationship has been the hardest thing up until about four years ago, finding, you know, the person that I can now say for the first time that I love, like the first actual being besides maybe my adopted father and my daughter, of course. Yeah. He was the one who kind of believed in me, good, bad, ugly, or different listened to my story. And like I had a mental breakdown bad and tried to commit myself into like, uh, no rehab mental facility, just for counseling at less than a harm to myself or to anyone. I had emotional overload. I was broken, I was lost.

Elissa (20:04):

I had no identity. I had no fight. I needed someone to fight for me. I needed someone, you know, what am I doing wrong? Um, during that time also I was diagnosed with Addison's disease. I was hospitalized. Um, and just a little tidbit on Addison's disease. You know, the cliche saying, you know, stress is going to kill you. Well, it does actually happen. And, uh, Addison's disease is your cortisol hormone. And that's the hormone that helps you filter stress. So for someone that has the normal, normal cortisol hormone level, they can deal with stress. Well, me, my hormone level is depleted with my cortisol hormone, that my body can't filter stress. Cause all I've ever done, my whole life was stress. So my body attacks itself and the doctors, that's what kind of pushed me to start finding out about me because they needed to know my medical history.

Damon (21:03):

Oh, interesting. Yeah. So the lifelong stress mental breakdown, and finally reaching a point of committing yourself into therapy. You needed to know more about your own personal health history in order to advance your care. And that's what, that's what really sparked your search.

Elissa (21:29):

Yeah. I'm not going to lie a couple of times in between, you know, my young adulthood, 18 to what, 30 years old. I attempted to reach out to children's home a couple of times, but never, you know, I didn't have the money to pay, to start to search, you know? Um, and so it wasn't until I think December, 2018, that the doctor that I worked for got me, ancestry DNA.

Damon (21:56):

Did you hear that the doctor working on Elissa's care got her an ancestry kit. So often kits are gifted by family members, but that's the first time I can remember hearing that a clinician pushed for DNA testing in that way Elissa submitted her DNA sample. Then she got her results on February 22nd, 2019. She said, that's the date? She'll never forget because that's the day she first received facts about herself. It confirmed she's 72% Italian.

Elissa (22:32):

I knew I was without that, that, but just having something in writing saying, this is you, and this is what you are an eye opening. And then, you know, lucky for me, not for everyone. My closest match was, um, over 1,682 Senna Morgan's of DNA. And it was my half sister on my birth mom's side.

Damon (22:54):

Oh, wow. What was it like when you discovered that relationship? Like when you saw it online,

Elissa (23:01):

I didn't know how to take of it cause I've never done anything like this before. So February 22nd to March 3rd, I was this zombie. I didn't brush my teeth. I didn't shower. Really. I didn't eat. I hardly slept. I was doing my own investigation. Um, and on March third is when I put everything together and spoke to my birth mom for the first time. So in between February 22nd and March 3rd, I spoke to my half sister on ancestry and she was in denial. Of course I knew that I was a secret on both sides. So I had to tread lightly. I didn't go and be like, Hey, there, I'm your half sister from your birth mom. I just said, Hey, you know, I have medical issues and we're close match, what do you know, type of thing? I let her kind of lead the show, even though I knew where the show was going.

Elissa (23:51):

And so she was in denial. She was trying to place me on her father's side, but I had none of his nationality or none of his last names in any of my DNA. So on March 1st I hired a search angel, um, Priscilla. And when I say hire, I donated a bunch of ancestry kits to her and she worked with me and for like three hours, I gave her all the information that I had. And I just wanted her time kind of review it, confirm it, you know, before I call this woman and totally embarrassed her and myself, I mean, this is a phone call that no one can prepare you for. You. Can't pick up a book and learn how to call your birth mom for the first time.

Damon (24:32):

Right. That's right. You sure can't, there's no instructions on reunion.

Elissa (24:38):

And the only same Priscilla said to me was Elissa. You're going to have under 45 minutes with her. You get everything out, you don't cry and you just talk, let her listen because she may accept it and she may reject it. And that right there, you know, you don't think about it and your own excitement of finding your birth mom, you don't think about the other side's reaction, how it could go good, bad, ugly, or indifferent. In that moment,

Damon (25:04):

Elissa found her half sister, her birth mother and her grandparents, the search angel validating everything to make sure Elissa was treading on the right path. I asked her what the first conversation was like with her birth mother.

Elissa (25:19):

It was 45 minutes of pure, just humbleness. Just for the first time I had life. Um, I went to rehab, not only for a mental breakdown, but a broken heart. And my heart instantly was put together. When I, before I called her that day, I looked at her on Facebook. You know, Facebook will tell you just about everything. And when I saw her, I knew that was my mom. I looked like someone out of all, five of her kids, including me. I look like her, the most. Um, so that 45 minute conversation I talked, she listened and there was a big pause at the end. And basically I told her, you know, I'm not calling to question. You don't need to explain yourself. I want to tell you about me. I want to get to know you. I need to know medical history. Um, you know, that whole spiel.

Elissa (26:07):

And once I said that she kinda paused for a minute and um, you know, sitting next to my fiance, looking at him like, what do I do? Like I'm at a loss for words. And Priscilla's like, don't cry. You can't cry. Well, if you know anything about me, I'm a big crier, especially when you're talking to your birth mom. And so I'm just trying to breathe in the background. And after that very long pause, she says, honey, well, I lost it there. Cause my adoptive mom has only ever called me Elissa. So when she called me honey, that was like a mom to a daughter, honey you know, like I can't, I can't, I don't know how to put it in words. And she started talking to me about her dad and her mom's health and everything, but she never, at that moment confirmed who she was to me.

Elissa (26:56):

So after she's telling me about her mom and dad and that little bit of health on her side of the family, there's a big pause again. And I looked at my fiance and I say to him, what do I do. And I said, okay, Tammy, that's my birth mom's name? I said, um, I want to ask you a question. Normally I'm not the selfish, but would I be wrong to assume that you're my birth mom? And again, a pause. And she said, honey, you're not wrong at all I'm your birth mom. So tears, tears, tears, tears, tears. Then I pause again. And then I say, okay, can I ask you one more question? And I paused, I buckled and I, you know, froze full. But I was like, do you happen to know who my birth father is? When that moment she was sitting in her car at work in the parking lot, having this conversation from me before or with me before she went home in the mountains in Pennsylvania. So reception got bad. And all I heard her say was something like Delvecchio. So that's all I had on my birth father from her words, you know, from her. I don't want to ask, you know, I wanted her to tell me the story. I wanted to build a foundation with her trust first, before trying to ask her, her hardest part of her life and tell her my hardest part of my life. I didn't want to dump, you know, dump it on her.

Damon (28:18):

I want to stick with your birth mom before we get to your birth. Dad, if you don't mind. Okay? Okay. So you've had this conversation with her. She has called you honey. This is affection in words that you've never had before. Exactly. I'm emotional about it now, just thinking about it. How, what was it like for you when you got out? How did you end the call and then what were you like? How did you feel after the call?

Elissa (28:44):

I felt numb, but I felt whole, like, I felt like I had an identity. I finally, for the first time in 35 years, I knew who I was. I was everything like that, woman down to our talks on the phone. Like she's very much like me. I don't know how you want to say it. She has a big heart. I have a big heart. You know, we discussed how we folded the towels, loaded the dishwasher, you know how our closet is organized and everything it's we are the same people. And to actually be able to not only look like someone, but share those same traits, it really makes you question nature versus nurture, nurture versus nature. Yeah.

Damon (29:27):

Question or confirm actually, right? Yes. Yeah, yeah. A hundred percent. That is unbelievable. So how did the call end for you guys?

Elissa (29:38):

So I told her, I asked her, I said, so was a good or bad phone call and she kind of paused, you know, crackling trying to hold back her tears. She said, no, it was good. I'm just shocked. I thought you would have reached out to me a long time ago. She goes, I didn't know where to start, what to do. And you were a secret from my family. No one knows about you. Um, which I, I, that's what I felt in my whole life. And I told her, well, I'm going to leave the ball in your court. I know this is a lot to process for you. I had time to think about this reunion. This was out of the blue for her. Um, and I told her that I would send her a Facebook friend request and she could accept it whenever, but she could at least see me, look at my pictures, whatever. And that, you know, this was my phone number. If she wanted to call me, she could, a couple of weeks went by and she called and we texted and we had that perfect. It almost felt like a friendship, you know, mother, daughter, friendship, or talking, you know, talking about the weather, what we're cooking. We cook very similar. You know, we both liked to cut the grass garden, you know, just small talk, but never any real talk still to this day. I don't know much about my medical history.

Damon (30:48):

Oh, interesting. Wow. Yeah,

Elissa (30:50):

Shit. Yeah. Um, so my birthday is June 5th, June 4th. I get a knock on the door and it's the mail lady and she hands me a package and I recognized the return address. And it's from the town, my birth mother's from and I open it. And it's 36 years of birthday cards.

Damon (31:09):

What?

Elissa (31:11):

Yes. However, that moment of like, speechlessness, I guess like tears, like I can't explain to you the tears that came out of my eyes, what's followed by the next day of her calling me at seven 30 in the morning telling me that I've ruined her life, this, that, and the other, the people in the town has found out about me and her. And you know, she has to leave work early and go home and explain to her family before social media who the hell I am. And those were her exact words. So, so yeah. So the first time ever, and I know you can appreciate this. I'm thinking I received this package the day before my birthday, the next day, this is going to be the first birthday I'm actually able to celebrate really. Cause if I know about my birth, I know a little bit about me, you know, and then this happened and I was not a happy camper at that point I was lost.

Elissa (32:11):

I was confused. I was rejected again. It was all about her family and that, and I get it. I am not her family quote unquote. Um, but I'm a part of her. And so it was the hardest thing to hear that go through that, knowing that she's the type of mom, any, any child would want. You know, she's not one of those moms who would have been a bad, you know, she was, she's not a bad mom. She, some women just aren't meant to be moms. She was meant to be a mom. Some women aren't meant to be a grandma. Her, her, her mom was not meant to be a grandma. That's why she said she had to give me up. She had no help. Um, her first husband, um, they had three kids together, my birth mom and the first husband and he was an abuser and she had to leave him. And after they left and got divorced, she met my father and had me and had to give me up because she had no help. And then 10 years later she had my brother. That part hurt me.

Damon (33:14):

Hmm. Wow. Oh my gosh. I can't.

Elissa (33:18):

Yeah.

Damon (33:22):

Man I just, I was, I was so happy when you said she sent you those birthday cards. Yes.

Elissa (33:30):

And she signed them. Her every card was, um, love you now forever and always love mom.

Damon (33:39):

Oh my gosh. And the very next day was your birthday. And she called with the message that you had ruined her life by coming back.

Elissa (33:49):

Yes. And it wasn't me, FYI that ruined her life. Um, there was a mutual connection with my DNA that happened to be friends on both birth mother and birth father's side, who was just the town gossip that just went to the wrong person. And no, it's very, very selective on who I told my story to and who I involve my search with. Um, I very much tried to prevent a situation like this for her sake, his sake and my sake.

Damon (34:22):

Yeah, that was, I gotta say. That was kind of the first thing that happened to that, that came to my mind was somebody found out something that they didn't know. And they just told one too many people because it didn't sound like it's. I mean, everything was going well for the two of you. So for that, for that 180 degree, rapid change in her perspective, it definitely sounded to me like somebody else had inserted themselves into this. Wow, definitely devastating. A few months went by in a blur. Elissa was hurt more than she had ever been hurt before breaking down, Tammy finally called Elissa and apologized for everything, explaining what happened. She also told Elissa that at the time of her outburst on Elissa's birthday, Tammy hadn't told her family yet about Elissa.

Elissa (35:19):

I feel that she was kind of just playing, playing the ground. She was trying to get to know me just to figure out. And she admitted to this, what I wanted. And, but at the same time she was giving me love back. Now calling me, honey, my daughter, you know, I'm beautiful. Um, we need to meet, I can't wait for you to here and make ravioli's and pierogi with me, you know, giving me false hope, you know, and then weeks would go by and we wouldn't talk. And then we would talk again. And it's like that, that inconsistency, it's like an on again, off again, rejection all over again, because still to this day, I can't tell you anything has changed in our relationship. She tells me a lot of hopeful things. Um, and I hold on to that hope. Cause that's all we had obvious ever do. Just hold onto hope. And I I'm starting to lose my hope in that, but I don't know.

Damon (36:17):

Elissa and Tammy have never met face to face. They've seen one another on FaceTime, chatted by phone texted, but never actually met.

Elissa (36:26):

I sent her mother's day gift this year and she called to thank me for it. And I haven't spoken to her since that last conversation around mother's day, she said that we needed to start, you know, making plans to see one another for a long overdue vacation for her and mother-daughter time. But yet I haven't spoken to her since then.

Damon (36:49):

Tammy also shared that she told her daughters Elissa's half siblings about their younger sister. Yes. Younger, but Elissa has no idea where she stands with them. None of them have reached out. Tammy never said how that conversation went. I asked Elissa if she believes that the talk actually happened. And she said, no, because Tammy's behavior hasn't changed at all.

Elissa (37:14):

You know, I, I want to believe her because I felt like I'd been lied to my whole life. And I feel like, you know, I've been manipulated my whole life for this whole adoption process that I want to believe the woman who brought me into, you know what I mean? I want to believe her, but I don't because I see how she is with all her other kids, her friends, her, her, I see her through other people in their relationship.

Damon (37:41):

Yeah, I can, Oh man. I just, I can't even imagine what it's like for this person whom you've kept the secret to suddenly be back in your life and you have to admit to everyone, Oh, there's this other thing you didn't know about me. Right, right, right.

Elissa (38:01):

I can't imagine what it's like for her. Right. And I'm not. I do. And I, that's why I have this tenacity in me. I'm so forgiving. Like I don't want to push, I know the normal me would have been like roaring at the mouth by now. No, but I have to respect her and respect the situation that if anyone has to live in secret that long, they have to within have a huge amount of fear. Fear is not the best thing to have. Like it consumes you.

Damon (38:33):

Yeah. And I wonder too, on the flip side though, you know, I understand the fear. You're right. It's probably consuming her, but on the flip side, like she does have to stop saying the hopeful stuff. Right. If it's not really going to happen. And I feel like she, like, it might be okay to say, listen, I really want to meet you. I, I, I would like to come there and we don't have to tell anybody at first it can just be you and me, you know, so that she can maintain the secrecy that she desires, but you can meet this woman. Face-to-face whom you're so much alike, you know? And a lot of adoptees do that. They're like, look, I've been a secret this long I can stay there for a while longer. If I could just meet you. Cause that's the important thing to me.

Damon (39:29):

I don't need to go like be part of your church and suddenly come out, you know, in this grand flourish. But like we need to at least come face to face. And I think, I feel like hopefully she could get to a place of compromise in her mind that says, you know, I do want to meet this woman whom I brought into the world so long ago and, and not feel like it has to be this, you know, grand parade down the central street in her town as much as like just a closure for, or potentially a new beginning, you know, for this relationship that she clearly seems interested in fostering with you, you know,

Elissa (40:08):

I can only help. I think there's such a huge disconnect and lack of education on every, you know, the circle I call. I don't think she can even understand or emphasize what it's like to be in my shoes. Like I think I can understand and emphasize what it's like to be in her shoes. But I don't think that she's realizing what her behavior, how similar to another form of rejection it is. Cause I don't think she would naturally do that.

Damon (40:35):

Yeah. Yeah. I think you're right about that. Wow, man, I'm sorry for how that piece is going. That's that's crazy. But I'm hopeful that it'll turn around and maybe it's, it's so funny. I wonder if you're able to say to her what you just said to me, I'm not sure if you realize how my piece is playing out right now. You know what I mean?

Elissa (40:58):

Right. You know, I've never made this situation about me anytime I've spoken to her other than, you know, just how thankful I am that she accepted me for the little bit that she did. Um, and just doing what she did. I have to learn to come to grips with my own fear, I guess, of standing my ground and saying like that say, being that firm no more small talk, just, Hey, like I want to meet you. I don't have to meet your whole family. Um, but just press upon that. But it's hard right now. Cause we haven't spoken since mother's day and I don't want to beg, you know, I feel like if I'm begging, is it forced or is it natural to

Damon (41:43):

Yeah, well this is another thing too is like, we tend to be really unselfish and this is the people pleasing piece that I think a lot of adoptees talk about. And I honestly, I don't think it's wrong for you say like, or at least feel, you know, I've not made this about me up until this point, but now I do kinda need to take some of it back. Right. I've been very sort of kind to your feelings and position. And obviously you don't want to use these words necessarily, but just generally like taking the position that you have been, you have given deference to her position. Now it's time for her to defer to yours and have some compassion for what you're feeling, I think is a better way to say it. Right? Elissa said that of all the close matches she had only her maternal half sister was on Tammy side. Everyone else was a paternal relation. The most prominent name among them was Pascarella examining the family tree. When she reached the closest match on her birth father's side, the man, they pinpointed as her likely birth father. That wasn't his last name on August 11th, 2019 six months. After speaking with Tammy Elissa spoke with her birth father for the first time

Elissa (43:00):

I had to also let him know cause he asked how I found him like you did. I determined that the man that my birth father thought was his father was not even his father. And I was very light. You know, I tread lightly when I spoke to him about that and asked him that he wanted to know. And basically he said that he kind of heard the story, but he didn't have all the facts that I was able to give him. So my birth father's mother had a situation. If you would, at a very young age with her sister's husband and my birth father grew up thinking that this man he was calling uncle was his uncle. It was really his birth father, his mom's, sister, and her had a situation going on with the same man. Now I don't know if it was a, what do you call it a, a natural situation or if it was a forced situation, but he, my birth father was told right before his quote unquote father died, that he adopted them, him and his brother. And so I was able to pinpoint what's Pascarella was my birth father's father through my DNA. So that conversation was very hard in itself. Because again, if you remember, I told you I had the closest relationship with my father. So calling my birth father, I had a lot of the same reservations of not wanting to hurt this man. Like I would not ever want to hurt my adopted father, but I wanted him to know the truth too.

Damon (44:43):

The man told his side of Elissa's conception story. He had been working in a steel mill when he was dating Tammy. Then he was laid off the next day. He left for Reno, Nevada to find work with his brother. After a few months, the man got back on his feet. So he reached back to his girlfriend to invite her, to join him,

Elissa (45:04):

Called her, you know, asked her to come out there, but never mentioned bringing her three kids, you know, my three older sisters and she couldn't leave them behind and he wasn't willing to come back. And so that's when she found out she was pregnant with me. And she said that she sent him a card while he was out there and Reno. And he thought said that he got the card and he just remembers coming back like six to eight months later, having to sign over my, you know, his rights, but never really questioned anything. You know, he said that, you know, Tammy told him about me. Um, and that, you know, they were really in love and really nice girl. And that he cried when he saw me, because he said I was the spitting image of Tammy. And that was the first time seeing me with the first time he quote unquote, would've seen Tammy since leaving back in 83.

Damon (46:00):

Wow. How did that make you feel to see that he was so emotional about seeing your face as a surrogate for hers?

Elissa (46:10):

I don't know if it made him emotional, seeing my face as like his kid or seeing my face and remembering the woman that he loves. Cause what I was told, they've each had three relationships on the birth mom and birth father's side. They've been involved in three relationships and out of each three relationships, my birth mom and my birth father's relationship together with the only ones that were truly a loving relationship. Like they should have lasted and you know, on my birth father's side, all my cousins say I should still be with my birth mom and birth father.

Damon (46:43):

That's really unbelievable. Wow. Yeah. There's was the one that should have lasted, huh?

Elissa (46:49):

Yes. Cause they truly, and the funny thing is my birth mom's best friend is my birth father's half sister through DNA, his sister, his half sister through DNA. Her family member is how I found my dad, my birth father on ancestry. And it was hard because I only share half of their DNA.

Damon (47:18):

So where do things stand with you in the paternal side? Now?

Elissa (47:22):

I, like I said, I I've reached out to him on messenger a couple of times. Father's day, his first day. Hey, how are you doing? Checking in? I get nothing in return. He reads them. We haven't had a single conversation since August 11th. I've since kind of took on, in a little sift role of my brother. He also has two sons. So I go from a only child in my adopted family to in my birth family. I have four siblings on my birth mom and two on my birth father. And no one knows about me, but one on my birth father's side.

Damon (47:55):

that is crazy

Elissa (47:58):

And I, yeah, so I talked to him every day, all the, you know, all the time, however, he has his own situation that he's going through. That limits him from a lot of things. He's involved. He's in a small town right now where my birth mother and birth father still are. They grew up, haven't left and he's battling with really bad addiction right now. So it's hard to have that true, genuine, genuine relationship. You know, I give it to him, but I know what I get in return. I have to take it with a grain of salt. Yeah. He's very accepting of me, you know, but his emotions are all over the place right now.

Damon (48:40):

mmhm] he's in a tough position. Yeah. In a dark place. That's a good way to put it. So Elissa has been in contact with her birth father, but he's not communicating with her at all. Only the one conversation. Her birth mother sends signals of hope, but they're meaningless without action. And it doesn't sound like Elissa knows what to believe from her. And Elissa remains a secret to many people on both sides of the family with all of that in her reunion journey. I asked her how she's doing now.

Elissa (49:12):

I'm more confused now than I was when I started this on March 3rd for the simple cat and game or cat and mouse game that my birth mom's playing with me, you know, it would be easier to understand and swallow if she was like the worst mom out there. If she was an abusive mom, if she was on drugs, you know, it would be easier to understand her behavior. But because she is none of the above and like I told you before, she's the mother that anybody would want. She said, hands-on mom. Um, that makes it so much harder. Um, and not hearing from her since mother's day I'm, I'm broken. Like I am that 37 year old woman now who is dying to be hugged and held by their mother. Like I need that moment in my life. I feel that I deserve it and I feel unbeknownst to her. She deserves it too. Cause I know that she's carrying this huge darkness over her, that she has the chance to make. Right. And you know, not have this heaviness lay on her anymore.

Damon (50:15):

Yeah, yeah. That, that burden will be lifted and it'll be hard to go through, but I'm sure it would feel lighter on the other side. Yeah. Yeah.

Damon (50:30):

Do you think you'd share this with her?

Elissa (50:33):

I don't know. I don't know. She's very secretive. I don't know if that she would approve that. I spoke to a stranger, you know what I mean? And she needs to understand that this is an experience for me. Like I have a story to tell, I have someone out there that's listening. That shares a very similar story to me. That's how I reached out to you. Someone on your Facebook page, I related to one of her stories and my biggest help throughout all of this is that I could help someone through this adoption through their own adoption process because there aren't enough tools and resources. You can't just talk about adoption with anyone. Like it's not an easily understood thing. Um, I'm really big into the adopted child syndrome and the primal wounds theory. That's me in a nutshell. And if I would have known that I had a right or validation for my feelings at a young age, maybe I wouldn't be who I am right now, or maybe I would, but

Damon (51:37):

Yeah. A different version of yourself. Yeah. Yeah. Hmm. Wow. It's Elissa. Your story is so challenging. I feel, it feels like we started talking 24 hours ago. Like you've come so far in your story from Pennsylvania to Fran's intervention, to moving to South Carolina to the whole saga with your biological mother and then everything that has not transpired with your biological father. I mean, you've got a lot going on there and I know that Addison's is an issue for you and I hope you're taking care of yourself to manage how you get through this. Cause it's gonna be important for you and your fiance or to, to work through that together. So he can, you guys can stay short up. So I'm hopeful that you'll find ways that are helpful for you to stay strong through this whole thing.

Elissa (52:40):

It is talking about it. It's what makes me stay strong, talking about it is what gives me peace, you know, just getting it out there. Cause I bottled it in for so long.

Damon (52:49):

Yeah. Right, right. Well, Elissa, I appreciate you reaching out. I'm so glad that you're trying to help others by sharing your story. Cause I think you're right. It's important. We all pull pieces from other one another story and say, that sounds like mine and that, Oh, I know how she's feeling. So I'm glad that you opened up and you admitted for others to hear and I appreciate your time. Thanks so much for calling. You're welcome. Take care all the best to you. Okay. Thank you.

Elissa (53:16):

Okay. Thank you. You too. Bye.

Damon (53:21):

Hey, it's me. Elissa's story is one of emotional coasters.

Damon (53:26):

She never bonded with her biological mother who kind of sounded like she didn't really want to be a parent. She found peace among the horses and even a second home with her horseback riding coach, Fran, whom I think we can all applaud and want to give a big hug to for taking Elissa in the Eliissa, suffered all kinds of abuse by her daughter's father and has been met with feelings of double rejection by her birth mother and birth father. But I liked what she said about seeking counseling and working on her own mental health, coping with stress and Addison's disease is part of it. But she also said that it helps to just speak openly about her journey and the struggles she's had to this point. I'm really glad we got the chance to chat. And if you feel like you need it, I hope you'll find someone you trust to open up to

Damon (54:20):

I'm Damon Davis.

Damon (54:21):

And I hope you'll find something in Elissa's journey that inspires you, validates your feelings about wanting to search or motivates you to have the strength along your journey to learn who am I really, you can follow the show at facebook.com/waireally or follow on Twitter at WAIReally. If the show is meaningful to you, you can support me with a contribution to keep it going on. patrion.com/waireally please subscribe to who am I really on? Apple podcasts, Google play, or wherever you get your podcasts. It would mean so much to me. If you took a moment to leave a five star rating there, those ratings can help others to find the podcast too. And if you're interested, you can check out the story of my adoption journey. Who am I really and adopt the memoir on amazon.com on Kindle or as an audio book on audible. I hope you'll add my story to your reading list.