The Girl Behind The Door: A Memoir By John Brooks

TGBTD-eBookCov_03-600“This book should be a wakeup call to all adoptive parents and professionals about the urgent issues adoptees and their parents face.”

Nancy Newton Verrier, attachment therapist and author

The Primal Wound and Coming Home to Self

A Marin County, California father embarks on a journey to understand what led his seventeen-year-old daughter, Casey, to take her life. He travels back to her abandonment at birth and adoption from a Polish orphanage. His search leads to a condition known as attachment disorder, an affliction common among children who have been abandoned, neglected or abused. It explained everything. The Girl Behind The Door integrates a tragic personal adoption story with information from the experts to teach other families what the Brookses learned too late.

Who should read it?

    Anyone with a connection to the adoption “triad.”
    Anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide.
    Anyone who cried through the movie Philomena.
    Anyone who knows us and wants to read our story.

Available now on Amazon in print and Kindle version. Soon to be released on the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble online, Sony Reader Store, Kobo and more.

Questions Middle-Schoolers Ask About Difficult Subjects


I lead a small group of Marin County high schoolers who make peer-to-peer presentations to kids and parents about mental health issues like depression and suicide. We’re called the Marin Teen Mental Health Board, a bit of a mouthful coined by the founders, two therapists who have since handed the group over to me.

I wouldn’t say suicide is rampant in Marin, but every death of a child at his or her own hand hits with the force of many more adult deaths because it’s completely out of order. Last year, an eighth grade boy at my local middle school took his life. This past August a girl – a senior at Redwood High School, just like Casey – jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. In fact, August may well have been the deadliest month on record with ten suicides alone.

This past week our little group presented at the Peer Summit, which is an annual gathering of Marin County middle schoolers who are treated to presentations on a host of social issues – sex, substances, loneliness, stress, body image, among others. We were across the hall from Dating 101.

Considering the difficult and taboo nature of our subject it was gratifying to play to a packed house of kids and a few adults. I let the teen presenters run through our PowerPoint, and then I spoke for 5 to 10 minutes about Casey’s story – the events that led up to her suicide, what we discovered about her state of mind in the aftermath, what I learned about the trauma she must’ve faced in infancy and resultant attachment issues and what I would have done differently. As I talked I noticed a girl in the audience with tears in her eyes. In the back of the group a woman likewise dabbed her eyes.

What was really eye-opening were the hands that shot up once I asked after Casey’s story, “Are there any questions?” I’m used to kids saying nothing, either out of boredom or self-consciousness. This group was unusually inquisitive and unvarnished by judgment. Here is a sampling of their questions:

When you lost Casey to suicide, would it have made a difference if she were your “real” daughter? (i.e. your biological daughter)

Did you tell Casey’s birth mother what happened?

Who took her death harder? You or Erika?

Was she your only child?

Did Casey’s friends know that she was suicidal or had a plan?

How did you find out that she jumped?

Did they find her body? If not how do you know she’s dead?

Couldn’t a suicide be misinterpreted as an accidental death? (i.e. as in an accidental overdose)

You said that suicide was the fourth major cause of death among 10 to 14 year olds. What were the top three?

What advice would you give to adoptive parents or an adopted child? (This one came from an Asian girl who furiously scribbled my answer into her notebook. I wondered if she was adopted.)

I had to cut off the Q&A because we were running out of time, but clearly these kids were just picking up steam. When the session was over I wandered among the kids thanking them for coming. Two girls came up to me.

“Do you want a hug?” They asked.

I felt that familiar tennis ball in my throat. Of course I did. That made everything worth it. But more importantly it taught me, too late, that we adults often underestimate youngsters’ level of maturity and what they can handle. As much as we want to freeze them at five years old, these days they are much more world-wise than we’re comfortable with.

That’s reality.

Online Audio/Video Posts I Should’ve Added Earlier

imagesIn 2011, I created two media pieces (with some help) which I shared with the public. One was called “Separation,” a short essay I did for our Bay Area NPR affiliate, KQED-FM, and their Perspectives series. It was about attachment disorder. What was interesting about it was the record number of very supportive online responses garnered from other adoptive parents and adoptees, far more than any other Perspectives essay. You can go to the link here to listen to it. I estimate that there may be tens of thousand of adoptive families in our metro of seven million people.

The other was not specifically about attachment disorder, but was more personal about Golden Gate Bridge suicides. I added some video of Casey to put a (gorgeous) face on the issue with Van Morrison’s, Someone Like You, in the background.

It will always make me cry.

As I look at this video now, there’s one shot that I see very differently. At 5:40 min. into the video there’s a shot of me holding Casey in our hotel room in Warsaw. We had just woken up after a first fitful night’s sleep together. There was barely any room to move around because of all our stuff and it was very hot out – an unusual July heat wave. I used to look at the image of us together warmly and still do, but there’s something else. Maybe a look of confusion, even terror, in Casey’s face, with me trying futilely to comfort her. She had to be wondering “Where am I?” “Who are these people?” “Where are the ladies in the white lab coats who take care of me?”.

I’ll talk more about this separation in an upcoming post.