survivor guilt

Survivor Guilt.

“Survivor, survivor’s, or survivors guilt or syndrome is a mental condition that occurs when a person perceives themselves to have done wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not. It may be found among survivors of combat, natural disasters, epidemics, among the friends and family of those who have committed suicide, and in non-mortal situations such as among those whose colleagues are laid off. The experience and manifestation of survivor’s guilt will depend on an individual’s psychological profile. When the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM-IV) was published, survivor guilt was removed as a recognized specific diagnosis, and redefined as a significant symptom of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” – Wikipedia

I have identified with this concept for a few years. Since I’ve been reunited with my birth family.

I am the middle child. The middle daughter. I was born after my sister Ashley and before my sister Brannigan.
We all have different fathers and the share the same mother, Jana.
I have a half brother from my birth father as well.
I was the only one adopted.


I grew up constantly asking myself that question. Before I knew about my siblings I always wondered why I was put up for adoption.
I grew up feeling less than, abandoned, yada-yada-yada. You know the classic story of how adopted kids feel.

But once I met my birth family and learned of these siblings it started to build. The guilt I mean.
I kept wondering…Why?
At first I would think (briefly), I must have done something “wrong” or not been good enough. She kept the other girls, why not me?
But after learning more about my sisters and their lives so far, I started to understand why.

My birth mother was an amazing woman. I have nothing bad to say about her. Ever.
So please don’t look at the following information in a negative light, because it’s not. But it is the truth.

Jana wasn’t able to fully take care of her daughters.
She wanted to. She loved us all very much. But she had a rough life herself.
When Ashley was born Jana’s mother (my biological grandmother, Janie) helped raise her. Jana was often absent during those years.
When I was born, my grandmother wasn’t able to handle the responsibility, time, or effort of raising another one of her daughter’s daughters.
Jana knew that it was the right thing to do for everyone involved to put me up for adoption.
She knew that she couldn’t take care of me the way I needed. The way I deserved.
My birth father didn’t like the idea. He offered to raise me, but she had made her mind up that it was best for me to be adopted.
When my younger sister Brannigan was born Jana called my parents and asked if they wanted to adopt her too.
Of course! (My brother hadn’t come along yet and they wanted another child.)
Brannigan’s father didn’t approve the adoption and therefore she wasn’t raised with me and my parents, but rather stayed with Jana and Ashley.
This isn’t the “normal” adoption story.
If there is anything “normal” about any adoption or any life for that matter.

Back to the guilt thing…
Like I was saying the guilt settled in after a few visits and a little time had passed after getting to know my biological family in Texas.
I heard stories of my sister’s childhood and how they were raised and the tough times they had.
It hit home for me.
Everyone complains at times about their life. I think that’s just a part of life.
I didn’t have the easiest, happiest, and best childhood (who does?) but when I learned of their stories, it was put in perspective real quick for me.

I grew up with 2 parents. Loving. Kind. Fun. Present. Supportive. Capable.
They both worked very hard and they were able to support me (and my brother) financially, emotionally, and in all the ways a kid needs to be supported.
Of course we weren’t perfect (who is?) – we argued, yelled, fought, screamed, cried, and so on.
But underneath it all we were always there for each other and I always knew that my parents loved me so much, no matter what. And that they would (and could) do almost anything for me.
I had loving grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles who lived all over the country.
We would go on vacations (Florida, Disney, Oregon, Ohio, Las Vegas…)
We would visit relatives and have summer family reunions at my Great Aunt Ellie’s house in Ohio.
I was surrounded by love and family and support.
My parents helped me get through the rough years in Middle School when I was bullied, teased and harrassed.
They helped me laugh when I needed to laugh. Cry when I needed to cry. And have fun.
They taught me so much (and continue to teach me new things all the time!)
My parents worked so hard to be able to support us financially as well.
I went to day camps every summer growing up. Then I went to sleepaway camp when I was old enough (that will be another blog post – I fell in love with Interlocken International Sleepaway Camp in New Hampshire – best place!)
I took tennis lessons, art lessons. I had SAT prep courses, tutors.
I went to a public school growing up in a very small town in Westchester, NY.
When it came time for college without question my parents helped me get there.
I graduated and went off to college in Ohio with the full support of my parents.
I worked throughout my whole life (babysitting, volunteering, fast food, retail, etc.), but until I graduated college I never really worried (or had to) about money. My parents were 100% supportive.

When I learned of my sisters upbringing and their struggles my heart broke.
Why me? Why did I get out? Why did I have a chance at a “normal” (better?) life? Why was I given a chance to have the financial support of two loving parents. And not just that. Why were they not given these opportunities? Why did my sister have to start taking care of herself at 14? Why did they have to go in and out of children’s homes. Why did they have to live with abusive “father figures”. Why was there drug and alcohol abuse? Why was there physical abuse? Why? Why? Why?

It didn’t (still doesn’t) seem fair.
What I have come to understand is that
1. Life isn’t fair (duh)
2. I was given this life because that’s the way God (whatever you believe in) planned it to be
3. Maybe I needed the support. Maybe I wouldn’t have survived that life. Maybe I wasn’t strong enough to live through what my sisters did.
4. And most recently a friend made this comment to me which I feel is so true and hit home for me…

***Maybe it isn’t about me. Maybe the plan wasn’t about giving me a better life. Maybe it was about my parents.
My parents couldn’t have kids on their own.
They wanted to be parents.
They wanted to have children.
But they couldn’t. (Life isn’t fair, remember)
So, I have come to believe that I was given up for adoption not so that I would be taken care of (which still might be part of it), but because my parents wanted, needed, and deserved the chance to be parents.

Jana gave my parents that chance.
Jana gave my parents a baby. A child. A daughter.
She gave them the biggest gift.

My survivors guilt is still deep in me.
I know that over time I will learn to accept all of it.
For now, I can feel comfortable knowing that I don’t have to feel guilty about the hand I was dealt, the hands my sisters were dealt, or my birth mom’s either. I can trust that we were all given the life that we were meant to have and all I need to know now is live that life to the fullest.

Thank you Jana.
Thank you Mom.
Thank you Dad.
Thank you God.


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