Today being the 18th anniversary of September 11, our topic of discussion at birthparent support group today was, naturally, disaster and resilience.

After all, on September 11, 2001, three thousand people lost their lives in the terrorist attacks on American soil. 1300 children were orphaned that day. 19 Al-Qaeda members committed suicide. Subsequently, tens of thousands more Americans and Afghans have lost their lives in the war on terror that followed.

For those left to mourn these losses, life was forever changed, in ways both great and small. The grief they endured became woven into the tapestry of their lives. To live beyond it required great resilience.

For some, the loss of 9/11 remains as sharp and as wounding as it ever was. For others, the scars will always be with them, but they have rebuilt and the past does not hold them back any longer. All have certain coping skills that have enabled them to persevere, thus disaster and resilience are each part of their reality.

Please Stay. Your Life Matters.

For others, however, life’s greatest disasters have been caused not by terrorists but by the forfeiture-of-life choices made by their own friends and relatives.

The week of 9/11 is also, ironically, National Suicide Prevention Week. It is a sobering reminder that disaster and resilience are both limited by mortality. Those whose depression misleads them into thinking they have nothing left to left for sometimes view suicide as a solution that can forever spare them from further pain. Yet it does nothing to relieve the pain of the loved ones left to mourn their tragic passing.

Those whose lives are touched by adoption are not exempt from the dangers of suicide, sadly. Some statistics suggest that adoptees are four times more likely to make a suicide attempt than are those who have not been adopted. Whether this is related to the trauma of the primal wound or a biological family history of mental illness or suicidal impulse or adoptive maladjustment is not clear. (What is clear, however, is that no large-scale studies have examined suicide rates among birthparents or adoptive family members as of yet.)

Adoption triad members all need ongoing support. Every person, adopted or not, needs to know the national suicide prevention helpline: 1-800-273-8255. Adoptive parents should learn all they can about adoptee trauma. Abolishing adoption would not eliminate all the stressors that also lead to suicidal impulsivity, but addressing adoption trauma is an essential if we are to better equip both adoptees and parents to understand its lethal potential for harm.

Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome

Adoptive parents, birthparents and adoptees are not exempt from life’s traumas, this much we all know. As we discussed in our birthparent support group meeting today, everyone has experienced personal disasters and resilience is an essential tool in surviving these.

One father at group today noted that the military approach to crisis is summed up in three words: improvise, adapt, and overcome. This seems like a near-perfect strategy for resilience.

For parents who place, like parents who adopt, adjusting to life after adoption definitely requires the ability to improvise when one finds themselves facing unfamiliar terrain. You then adapt to your new role, and you overcome the limitations of the past or the trauma of your past experience, in order to achieve new growth moving forward.

Positive coping skills may include such things as seeking therapy, spiritual enrichment, exercise, creative arts, new hobbies, journaling and self-care. Negative coping skills might include activities like substance abuse, cutting, indiscriminate sexual activity or uncontrolled gambling or shopping, burying yourself in your work, or excessive risk-taking.

The late Elizabeth Edwards once said, following her disastrous marriage: “Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good.”

Whether your challenge in life is rebuilding after an act of unimaginable evil, overcoming mental health challenges, or recovering after a life change caused by adoption, remember that neither disaster and resilience can define your future; that’s your gift, to use as you see fit.

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