How Can You Be You When Your Guts Are Clenched into a Fist?
My friend and I were eating pizza and talking about what it would feel like if we were 100% ourselves. Frankly, I could not even imagine it. My stomach clenched at the thought of showing up as…me…so I couldn’t imagine that freedom. How can you be completely yourself when your guts are trying to clench to the size of a fist?
I don’t write fiction, primarily, because truly truly truly I feel I don’t have permission to create a world and claim it as my own. As soon as I start thinking of a character who is not me and a life that is not mine, any story disappears. The irony is, of course, as an adopted person, I write about living as not me in a life that feels as if it were not my own. Maybe since I am fiction, there is no appeal in writing it. For me, true escape is trying to be real.
I realized the other day that my feeling I’m going to die soon is most likely linked to the fact that I no longer fantasize about a future when I will be different, better. In this year of facing the effects of adoption head-on, I’ve realized I am who I am. There is no better Anne. There is only the Anne sitting here, tapping on keys that could use a wipe-down. I think my brain took this as since you can’t fantasize about the future, you are going to die. But this doesn’t mean I have felt I was 100% me. I was warming up to that person, whoever or wherever she was.
(Do you see why therapists who take on adopted people need to be specially trained? We speak our own language and if you aren’t attuned to it you are going to think things like depression, bipolar, ADHD, Asperger’s, narcissism, and then you are going to just muck up the works even more.)
So, anyway, my friend and I decided that the next day we would wake up and spend an entire day as 100% ourselves. I was so happy. Tomorrow was going to be so fun.
That day ended for me last night.
It was not what I would call entirely fun. A better word might be real.
Here are the bare bones: I woke up, did yoga, went to an event where I was on an author’s panel, went to a bar for a burger, went home and mucked about, went to bed.
Not that complicated.
I am someone who can list to you, pretty much, every time I have even been scolded. I hate it. I hate making others upset, hate feeling that I did something wrong, feeling that I am wrong. For an adopted person, it’s a quick jump to I did wrong to I am wrong since our brains are seeking reasons and proof as to why our birth/first mother gave us up. (Many adopted people. Not all.)
Yesterday as I went about being 100% myself (that means I behave in ways that feel true to me), I was scolded four times. Four. I can’t remember if there was ever a day in my life where I was scolded more than twice.
I know you want the particulars of what I did to be scolded, but I want to protect the innocent (i.e. everyone involved). Just let it be known that I did a number of things that displeased a number of people, and they told me about it. I’ll also tell you that one of the scoldings involved the use of one of my favorite words, a word I never said in front of my mother. Or at least I hope I didn’t. (Crud. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure I did. More than once. The brain does a great job of blacking out what it doesn’t want to own.)
My definition of scolded is “you should not have done that” or a phrase of reprimand along those lines. Something that says you did wrong in a manner that feels more like a slap than a gentle guiding hand on the back.
I noticed a few things about how I reacted to being scolded. There was the instant response of I am garbage. That, for an adoptee, can and does lead to disastrous behavior: setting fires, stealing, self-harm, suicide. The cool thing is that now I know that thought is linked to the trauma of relinquishment, I can observe it like a passing cloud and not respond. That is a huge relief. It’s not my job to punish myself any more.
The second response was fury. You’ll never see me again. I don’t need you anyway. This is a form of relationship suicide. Instead of sitting with feelings of rejection, I can react by knifing my connection between the person who scolded me and myself. “Why do you burn all your bridges?” a boyfriend once asked me in college. I didn’t understand his question. To me, at the time, it felt like he was asking why I take out the trash.
For me, the hardest thing about being adopted is really feeling and negotiating connection. I come from a place, you have to remember, where my connection to life source was severed and there was no language available to access my limbic brain to tell it the world was still a safe place. I live in limbo, between safe and not safe primarily because there has not been enough research done on how relinquishment affects the brain and so no one including myself knows fully how to help me reset to “normal.”
Here is another tricky aspect about this whole subject. Everyone’s life was severed from life source as everyone has a navel. Everyone was cut from the mother. So, in a sense, everyone has the feelings that so many adoptees have. It’s just that adoptees have the feelings in a more dramatic fashion because while the rest of the severed world was handed into the arms of their mother, adoptees weren’t. It’s like that game Trust when you fall backwards and people catch you. Only with adoptees, the mother doesn’t catch them and so the trust is often ruptured, sometimes irreparably.
I tried a new response to the scoldings. I focused on what my goals are for the future: to love myself and all others is goal one. This made things easier. If love is my goal, any reaction involving anger or a turning away from are not true to my goal. So I looked at the scoldings with love goggles. As messages from people who were trying to communicate something they felt was important to me. A message about behavior, not about my self.
It all still stung. Old behavior doesn’t just walk out the door like, lalala, see you again never. It’s more like getting gum out of your hair. But. But I went into my heart instead of into my head and things got easier. I really looked at what these people were saying to me, and, good lord almighty, I realized I was acting in ways that weren’t true to the spirit of me and these people, all of them, were calling me on it. I had invited them into my world by behaving in a way that felt 100% me, and they called me on some discrepancies. This was painful to acknowledge, that maybe they were right. It was interesting to acknowledge this and not punish myself at the same time, to change what had felt like scolding to a gentle hand on the back.
If I can take criticism with an open mind, being deeply respectful both of my true self and that of the person talking to me, this will be a deeper game I am playing.
One person, in my book, was flat out rude and so I stood my ground. I also didn’t like the way she pointed out what she thought I had done wrong. I didn’t feel safe around her and didn’t care if I never saw her again. Dramatic? We were the slightest of acquaintances, and so I just felt as if I were keeping my house clean. Why would I want someone over who broke things? Part of being 100% me was cutting out the things that made me feel weak. So she’s gone.
Here’s the part I skipped over: what it looked like to be me during a regular day. When my friend and I were eating pizza, I imagined being 100% me would be like a Christmas tree with lights: a joyous, festive thing.
What I found when I was doing yoga was that I stopped halfway to eat a piece of pizza and then the cat tried to eat the pizza and so I had to get out my phone to take a picture. And then I went onto to Facebook. This was not a picture-perfect yoga practice unless your goal is to be on your mat and not do yoga.
At the author’s event, there was also a choral group singing Christmas carols. I had not been prepared to be undone by Oh, Come All Ye Faithful, and I cried in public as everyone else sang along. The songs were some of my mother’s favorites, and so I heard her voice and the missing was so intense I crouched down as if I had to tie my shoe just so I could feel low, safe.
The actual author’s part was, kind of…hideous. It was eight people vying for attention if you want to boil it down to its essence. I wanted to take a shower after giving my 5-minute talk on You Don’t Look Adopted and being told by the organizer that she’d thought my book was going to be about a white person adopting an Asian person. I felt so middle-of-the-road as I stood there and listened to her talk to me about misunderstanding the title of my book. I wanted to feel special, and instead I felt like another person begging for a pat on the head.
The hamburger part was funny because it was happy hour and the hamburger came with a shot of whiskey, and I was thirsty and hadn’t had lunch, and before I knew it, I was high. I texted my friend Scooter because she lived around the corner and I didn’t want to sit in a bar by myself waiting for a hamburger when I couldn’t feel my face.
Scooter is a good friend, and five minutes later, we were sharing the beer that I also had because the happy hour deal is actually a hamburger and a shot and a beer. I thought I’d warm up to that fact before letting you see what I really have for dinner sometimes. Good yoga-loving Anne, trying to sober up by first eating a huge burger and then some insanely delicious beignets so she can drive home.
I was finding out who I really was. Who was 100% Anne. The one who posted a meme about what mid-Adoption Awareness Month felt like by putting FUCK into a red box and putting it on Facebook. The one who was chasing I think I can feel better than this; I think I can do better than this; I think this is supposed to be better; I think this is supposed to be easier…
I went home and I set my phone timer for five minutes and I wrote down my thoughts just to see what I really was all about. I didn’t even finish sentences. My thoughts were like a little kid trying to set fires, a kid searching for a trouble spot. I pictured my brain like metal and flint, trying to spark me into agitation. What combination of words could make a chemical reaction in my body that would cause me to react, to quit my job or break up with a friend or cut off all my hair? Does, Your arms look like your grandma’s do it? Or does The cat looks like she hates you do it? What about Is that cancer? My thoughts leaped from topic to topic without stopping to think.
When the timer went off, I wrote down the thoughts I wanted to have, and what I wrote was this: nothing. I wanted to have no thoughts. I wanted just to see the world for what it was. To be.
That takes a lot of pressure off me. What if it isn’t my job to listen to the chatter in my head? What if I just understand that part of being 100% me is that I come with a crazy radio just as the sky comes with clouds.
What if being 100% me is a quiet thing? A not-about-feeling different or better thing, but just a thing. Does the sky wish it were different? Does the rain? Why am I any different? It’s because I have a staticky radio, and I make the mistake of thinking the radio is the show, when it is the silence behind the noise that is the real deal.