Brad Ewell Explores His Ghost Kingdom
Columnist Brad Ewell reveals a secret adoptee world that adoptive parents may not know exists.
As he explains, the ghost kingdom is where adoptees often go, a world they create for themselves — especially when secrets about them are kept from them. In the absence of accurate information and acknowledgment for What Actually Is, it makes sense that a child, adolescent, and even adult might indulge in a fantasy world in which they themselves create characters, scenery, and plotlines to their liking.
Here’s Brad, beginning a series of posts that explore his own experience with the ghost kingdom.
My Could-Have-Been Life
I began writing about the ghost kingdom for this month’s field notes because I’ve been working through mine for the past 4 months. In case you haven’t heard the term, the “ghost kingdom” was coined by the late psychologist and adoptee Betty Jean Lifton. It refers to the unknown “could-have-been” lives many adoptees fantasize about regarding their biological family.
Then I listened to episode 407 of Adoption the Long View, where Lori interviews Greg Gentry about things his adoptive parents did well and some things they could have done better. The entire conversation struck a chord with me. One point in particular felt like a great introduction to my ghost kingdom.
What to Do About Differences?
When asked what his parents could have done better, Greg talked about “qualified recognition of differences” and how his parents typically paved over the ways he was different from them, rather than seeing Greg for who he actually was.
While I grew up without knowing I am adopted, I was always aware that I was different from my parents. They were extreme extroverts, while I am a dyed-in-the-wool introvert.
My dad was an athlete, and I was interested in art and music. My mom focused on appearance, popularity, and status. Being introverted, I did my best to blend into my environment and go unnoticed quietly.
I DIdn't Fit & That Made Me Feel Wrong
I still remember sitting in my room as a teen wondering how did I come from these people? At times, they were equally perplexed by my disposition and interests. The fact that they weren’t acknowledging adoption in our lives put us all at a disadvantage.
Because I couldn’t make sense of the differences, I internalized them as problems with me and thought if I just try harder, I will fit in better.
When that didn’t work, I went the other direction and rebelled that much harder. My parents had to keep their cover-up covered up, so they kept pointing out ways I was similar to them. Most of the time, these comparisons didn’t ring true and left me confused. The comparisons perpetuated the idea that I should continue to work harder towards our similarities and ignore the things I was interested in.
Ultimately, this tactic added to my frustration, anger, and rebellion because my trying harder didn’t make me any more like them.
Finally Discovering Myself
If you’ve read my other field notes, you know this changed 4+ years ago when I learned I am adopted when I was 48 years old. Since then, I have been learning to get more comfortable in my skin and with the things I’m naturally drawn to. Going through an identity crisis and trying to find myself in my 50s has been exhausting but worth the time and effort.
How does all of this relate to my ghost kingdom? I spent almost 4 months at home after a knee injury at work. I wasn’t completely incapacitated and suddenly found myself with quite a bit of time on my hands to explore several interests I now see as part of my natural disposition instead of something to fight against.
In my next field note, I’ll dive into what this time of self discovery has been like, as well as some of the questions and answers that have come up. I hope you stay with me.
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More on the Ghost Kingdom
- Living in the Ghost Kingdom with Playwright Maggie Gallant
- Journey of the Adopted Self: A Quest for Wholeness, book by Betty Jean Lifton, PhD
- Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience, book by Betty Jean Lifton, PhD
- Dealing With Adoption’s Ghost Kingdom
Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.
- Her first book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption, makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life.
- Her second book, Standing Room Only: How to Be THAT Yoga Teacher is now available in paperback.
- Her third book, Adoption Unfiltered, will be published in late 2023.