Catalina P. - 1st Part

Catalina managed to change the way she felt, thought and lived,

from being a victim to being the greatest love of her life.

Arcelia.

I am sure that my first given name is Arcelia, because of my first mother’s name: Rosa Arcelia Medina López. There are many evidences that indicate it, and for this reason I had this name tattooed on my hand when I was 50 years old. Today I feel very proud to be part of this, as I call it, my own soap opera.

My Swiss family adopted me in 1970, in Bogotá, when I was two weeks old. In those years it was not so common to adopt a child, which caused, according to my parents, many discussions within and outside of the family.

I, like many other adoptees, was the secret of my biological family. The secret of my existence was kept by my first mother for life. I am sure that this was the main reason why she died at 52 years of age, of cancer, without even being able to pay for her own funeral.

My (adoptive) parents moved to Colombia for work, and they had already thought about adopting a child over there. They soon found a girl who could be adopted, but the orphanage were she was, was under the control of the Catholic Church. When they finally got an appointment with the archbishop in charge, he denied them the adoption because they were not religious and he rudely removed them from his office.

My arrival into my parents’ life was the consequence of an article written by a very well known journalist at that time, in the newspaper EL Espectador, from Bogotá. She, upon finding out by chance about this blatant denial – I imagine she was outraged by the church’s reaction – wrote an article, something like “Swiss citizens with good intentions do not achieve adoption”. As a result of that article, some people called the newspaper offering babies for adoption (yes, I realize this sounds awful, but it is what actually happened), and I was the first one to be offered.

I was taken by two women to my parents’ apartment. One of them was the owner of the house where my mother worked as a maid, and the other one was her sister. The personal details of both of them are unknown. Today, I know that the little information we got from those women was true, but it could also have been a lie.

The two women explained, at that time, that my mother already had two daughters and that she could not take care of another child. Days later, my biological mother told them that I was a secret and that I had to disappear. Two weeks after that first meeting, I was already at my parents’ house.

My parents gave me the name Catalina because at that time the name Arcelia seemed curious and unusual to them. Today, I know that one should not change the name of an adopted child. But there was a positive aspect to this, which I will explain later.

In the little paperwork I got from my adoption, there was only my mother’s name, with no other information about her. With only this information, along with what was said by those two women, it was always very clear to me that it would be impossible to know more about my first mother. Besides, the surname Medina did not help me much (it is a very common surname in Colombia). So, since I was very young I resigned myself, and in my subconscious was engraved the belief: “I will never know where I come from”.

Today, I understand that my mother loved me very much and wanted to stay with me, but she could not because her life circumstances. I understand that it were the people around her who had an opinion and decided, on her behalf, what she had to do. She was forced to give me up for adoption and I know this broke her heart. She already had two daughters from two different men, which in those times, and for her family, was an absolute scandal. What would have happened if people knew that she had a third daughter?

I always knew I was adopted. I don’t remember when my parents told me, but we talked about it very clearly within the family. My brother (not adopted) and my Swiss relatives accepted me super well. I never felt rejected by them. And the fact that we lived, during my first seven years of life outside of Switzerland, helped me to integrate slowly into the family, as my Swiss relatives could only see me if they went to visit us in Colombia or when we went on vacation to Switzerland.

Thanks to my father’s work in Colombia, I had the joy of living my first seven years, the most formative years for a child, in my homeland. Today I understand how valuable those seven years were for my inner child.

Since I was very young I felt that something was not right with me. Today I can explain it and express it in words: I felt very lonely, totally misunderstood and did not fit in anywhere. I felt this very strongly until I was almost 50 years old.

As a child I had many fits of rage that were very intense. I would bite, cry, scream and kick like crazy, but no one could explain why. I remember very well the feeling I had, but I was not able to control it, much less explain it. Today, I can understand it: it was the expression of my deep trauma of abandonment.

Although I had a very deep connection with my dad since I was very young, at the same time I felt the BIG difference between him and me. We were total opposites, one from the other.

I didn’t have to explain myself to other people because my parents, even though they are Swiss, have the same dark hair as me. There are even people who to this day talk about how much I look like my dad. For me it is still very funny (and disturbing at the same time).

I always believed that my way of being wasn’t right. I was the restless, energetic and loud one in the whole family. And the constant criticism, especially from my dad, really hurt my already low self-esteem.

I used to feel a great weight on my chest and throat, which became heavier and heavier, especially if people confronted me, as my father often did. So this vicious circle went round and round for most of my life.

What I did know how to do well was to be a very good friend. I tried to please everyone and to have many friends and to please them all. I remember that at school I helped other friends to stop biting their nails, I bought them presents in Switzerland, and I lent them my things, that sometimes, they didn’t even return to me.

When I was seven years old my parents decided to return to Switzerland, and even though I already knew Switzerland, and knew how to express myself in german (which we spoke at home), it seems that this impact was so strong on me, that I stopped speaking for several weeks (or months). Then, when I finally spoke again, I only continued to speak german and kept spanish in my heart under lock and key.

Then, when I was 10 years old, in 1980, my dad decided to go to work in Nicaragua, a country with which none of us had any connection. So I got to live 8 years in Nicaragua, where I went to a private school, which for me was the scariest thing I ever experienced. Because of all the circumstances in that country, there was not much enjoyment for me. At school we had to take notes by hand during each class, since we didn’t have school books. For me there was no escape valve, where I could vent all that accumulated energy inside me. To this day I am surprised that nothing serious happened to me during those years, which I survived like a zombie.

After finishing high school, at the age of 18, I went back to Switzerland to study. I lived for two years in my maternal grandmother’s house, which although she was family, I remember that I was always very sad. The culture shock was very strong for me.

When I was 19 years old, I met another adoptee, and when I heard her life story, I went backwards. His experiences were so shocking because I never imagined that another adoptee could suffer so much and I was paralyzed. At that moment I understood that I was not alone, that there were many more adoptees in the world, and that others suffered much more than I did. But even so, I did not dare to ask more questions or investigate further.

In my gastronomy studies, I had the good fortune to meet a spectacular teacher. Mr. Fuchs was very supportive. Thanks to him I was lucky enough to get good grades and the recognition I was missing.

At the age of 30 I had the opportunity to leave gastronomy and start working in a call center and then in an office, which opened my eyes and I started to live my life to the fullest. I started dancing salsa intensely every night. I began having friends and I had the opportunity to have hobbies.

At 38, in 2008, I met my husband and my life was filled with life and hope again, just when I had decided to stay alone. And strangely enough, I found my soul mate. In him I found someone who DID love me as I was, without judging me, and who loved me from the first moment he saw me. And strangely enough we discovered so many similarities between the two of us that it’s even scary. I know this can’t be a coincidence.

In 2013, when I was 43 years old, I experienced one of the deepest and most painful impacts: my adoptive father died at the age of 73. His death traumatized me a lot and it took me a few years to cope with this grief, which was a mixture of pain and hatred. The great rage that I felt all my life, became more acute. It was not a sudden death and he said goodbye to me by phone. I could not see him again alive. It was a surreal and unfair experience.

So I learned that sometimes something serious has to happen for one to ‘wake up’. And so it was like that for me. A few months after my dad’s death, I decided to begin the search for my first family.

Photo of Catalina as a child

Catalina suffered, for 48 years, from her abandonment trauma, without even knowing she had it. At that age, she decided to seek help and found the true meaning of life. She managed to change her way of feeling, thinking and living from a victim to being the greatest love of her life. Today she is able to support other adoptees who are willing to reconcile with themselves, as she did.

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