I started a blog post earlier today. I put on my headphones and let AC/DC’s Thunderstruck scream on repeat. Whatever had been causing me so much discomfort the last few days, I was going to blast through it. But after a few minutes of writing about how powerful 2017 was going to be for us as a people and for me personally, I started crying and put everything away and crawled under the covers, waiting for some feeling to arrive in my brain that would let me know everything was going to be okay.
I wrote somewhere in You Don’t Look Adopted that adoption is the human experience intensified, so when I tell you about feelings I have I believe are connected to adoption, I might as well be saying I have feelings I believe are connected to being human. We all basically get abandoned by our parents on some level or another when we are children, it’s just that adoptees generally experience that sort of loss at its most intense.
Yesterday I was driving my friend’s car, and I realized because she’d told me there was nothing special I needed to know about the car before handing it over to me that she must have been used to keeping the out-of-alignment tires straight and she must be used to hitting the worn breaks a little harder than usual just to keep her car functioning like normal. I saw that when it rains she must be used to looking through the smear of old wipers. She can drive her car and she thinks her driving experience is normal now because it’s what she’s been used to for so long. I think she would be surprised to see how nervous it had made me to be behind the wheel, to see how unsafe I felt.
I think that is what being adopted is like for me, like my friend driving her car. I got used to being adopted. I got used to living with fearing further abandonment, having low-self-worth, fearing disaster is always right around the corner, being easily distracted ever since I was born, and so I thought everyone’s brain worked like mine. Or, more accurately, I thought there was something wrong with my brain and chided myself for not being more like everyone else.
I tried my best to act the same as my friends, to not always be so confused and to get my work turned in at school, to not pay attention to my unpredictable mood swings, to live with an unexplainably low sense of self-worth. And so on. I was like a car that needed a tune-up, but because my parents and my teachers and my therapists had had no training in how adoption affects children and later adults, we all focused on the crazy directions I was driving in instead of on the car itself.
Instead of asking of the adoptee, What is wrong with you? a better question might be What is wrong? And because an adoptee probably isn’t even aware what is wrong, just that something is, an even better question might be along the lines of, I wonder what it was like for you when you were born? (If you are going to start somewhere, you might as well start at the beginning.) But I don’t know. I’m not a therapist and I’ve never gone to a therapist who specializes in adoption, so I’m just making an educated guess.
Aside from writing a book about what being adopted felt like for me, what has helped me the most live as a healthy human being is what my friend HBL gives me: unlimited freedom in which I can talk about being adopted, deep attention to my words and feelings; an equally deep curiosity to understand how and why I feel the way I do. I had grown up thinking adoption was something better left unaddressed for the comfort of my parents, but what HBL has taught me is that adoption is worthy of attention. I am worthy of attention.
Nights like tonight, when friends check in and hear I sound low or somehow off, I go back to old habits. I have been making up answers to What is wrong? ever since I can remember. Something is almost always wrong (My head and/or stomach hurts; I have trouble concentrating; I feel sad or depressed for no discernable reason; I keep leaving people, jobs, places; I feel upset…) and so the answers sound like, “I had too much coffee. I haven’t had enough coffee. I slept too much. I didn’t enough. I’m worried about school. I’m worried about work. My feet hurt. My neck’s out of alignment." I mean, good lord. When you want to attach a reason to your discomfort it’s like picking a grain of sand off the beach. They all look the same so any will do. Just pick one and get on with it.
Now, more often than not, when someone asks me What’s wrong, what I think is I’m adopted.
It’s not that I want adoption abolished as a practice or wish I hadn’t been adopted. It’s that adoption is the thing that is making my mind or body not run smoothly. I need adjustments. I need the medical world to catch up to my needs with research and understanding so that other adoptees, younger ones in particular, will have safety nets to catch them where their needs will be explained to their parents and themselves while they do their best to negotiate the fog of adoption.
My life is already good. I have amazing parents. Everything I have is because of adoption: my family, my friends, my daughter. But my life can also be better. It can be less of a struggle just to exist. My engine can sing. I can fly straight down the road and barely even notice the bumps. I know this because I have felt and lived like that for gaps of time. So I know it’s possible. And I want more. For me. For all of us. Because it’s good. And because it can be better.