My friend called me last night worried because his son is failing history, a class his son could pass, my friend says, with his eyes closed. “I don’t get it,” my friend says. “He has two A’s and three F’s. He says he’s trying, but he’s not. He doesn’t hand in his homework. He does video games all night long unless I force him to stop. He’s basically unreachable. His answer to almost every question is I don’t know.”
I don’t know, but I’m guessing his son, who is adopted, has the same thing going on in his brain that I do, and it’s a fulltime job. More than fulltime. Lifetime, if there is no one there who knows what is going on to help you.
This morning I woke up midspin, midthought, my brain cycling through the reasons my birth father might have for not wanting to meet me. What’s wrong with me? is the puzzle my brain was trying to solve, and I could tell it, His wife doesn’t think you are family and she asked him not to have contact with you, but my brain is not so easily placated. That answer makes no sense to my brain. What the hell kind of reason is that? my brain asks, and continues on its cycling. Maybe he went online and read something I wrote. Maybe he didn’t like my face. Maybe he thinks I am going to ask for money, for a relationship, for a new car.
And while you’re at it, my morning brain says, Why do you think your birth mother didn’t want to meet you? Why do you think she lied and said she wasn’t your mother? Did she see you when you came out and think you were hideous? Did she ever even care if you lived or died? It wasn’t that she chose not to have an abortion, even, really, for they were illegal then. Maybe she was just too scared to get one. Maybe she gave you life because she was too afraid to take it away.
My brain spins and I try to remember what I have on my schedule for the day. I try to remember where my phone is. What the name of my hairdresser is I have been going to every ten weeks for three years. In the effort of trying to make sense of the mysteries surrounding my origin—where is my mother, my infant brain constantly cries—my adult brain is clicking through the rolodex of all I know, all the experiences I have ever had so fast I don’t even know it is happening, and my brain fatigues. Sometimes I’ll be driving from Los Gatos to San Jose on a road I have travelled endless times, and I’ll have no idea where I am or where I am going. It’s like I am falling while sitting still; well, as still as one can sit while driving sixty miles an hour. Three years ago I went to a doctor who specialized in female hormones because I was having problems functioning as a teacher and a mother and a wife and as a human being. After we talked for a few minutes, she told me she was also concerned, and she said I was lucky because she could get me into the MRI facility across the street within the hour.
They pushed me into that human Pez dispenser and took a look at the troubled fruit inside my head and saw that everything was normal. I left with a bill and a sense of great relief that I didn’t have a brain tumor, something that hadn’t even been on my worry plate an hour earlier.
My friend talked to his son’s teacher and the teacher said if the boy only did an hour’s worth of work undistracted he’d be fine, but, still, as soon as the boy gets home, he goes straight to the computer. My friend says it looks almost like an addiction to him, like the boy just can’t wait to plug in, to tune out.
I listen to my friend and I think about Paul Sunderland’s video on Youtube titled “Adoption and Addiction”—the fifty-three minute and ten second video I sobbed through the first time I watched because if only someone had told me the connections between adoption and addiction when I was sixteen I might have been less likely to engage in a lifetime of destructive behaviors. (I’d heard of the video during an episode of Adoptees On, a wonderful podcast I’d like to make mandatory for all human beings—adoptees and everyone around them—in the quest to understand what makes us tick.)
I’m betting the boy’s teacher has had no—zero, nada—education in how to best work with adopted kids. And this is because “adopted” isn’t seen as a “problem”.
But it is.
For as wonderful as it is, there are people, adoptees, all over the world suffering both mentally and physically because adoption isn’t treated as trauma.
And it is trauma. It is. I promise you.
The child lost the mother, and in this loss, the child may well live in a state of deep confusion and agitation. The child who becomes a teenager who becomes an adult. The brain continues to spin. It can be so hard to focus, to feel like one’s self in the world as an adoptee.
We need help.
I want doctors, teachers, psychologists, and parents, to wake up and face the truth: adoptees need extra attention. They need things other kids don’t. I wish I had it all figured out, but I believe in collaboration. I want us to get to work. To start asking questions. If we can figure out how to help calm an adoptee’s brain, we can help the rest of the world do the same for their brains. Everyone will benefit. Maybe my friend’s son will be able to step away from his games and get to the real work at hand: living his life as himself.