Adopted People and Their Creative Brains
After doing an Adoptees On podcast with Haley Radke and Pam Cordano last week, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be both adopted and creative.
The more I think about it, the more I think adoption makes many adoptees creative. In my last post, I wrote about the soup of loss a caterpillar must endure in order to become an entirely different creature, going from a worm-like being to something closer to an angel.
For most of my life, I have been steered by my brain just as a newspaper-reading train passenger is driven home or to work by a conductor. However, since waking up to the effects adoption has had on my brain, body, and actions, I am a lot more aware of what my brain is doing, of what it is not doing.
I understand why being in long-term romantic relationships seems impossible to me; I understand why I didn’t do as well in school as my test-results indicated I was capable of doing; I understand why I both kept leaving home and returning; I understand why I had eating disorders; I understand why I stole, why I lied; I understand why I struggled when my daughter left for college; I understand why I can’t work a “normal” 9-5 job. Before I understood that the brain of a child who was relinquished is more often than not the brain of someone who needs very special care and understanding, I berated myself, wondering what was wrong and what it would take for me to get my act together.
But now I see things differently. I have an idea, and since the medical field seems to be in no hurry to get the brains of adopted people under the study scope, I’m going to make my own theories and stick by them until they are disproved by someone who knows better. Here is one theory: I think some of my brain is like the substance that is between caterpillar and butterfly. I think where non-traumatized people have brain cells, my head is littered with imaginal cells, cells that contain information that will help them become something other than what they were at the beginning.
Cells that imagine the past, the future. Cells of creativity.
Robert Frost wrote about the road less taken, about a fork in the road and about choosing one path over another. An adoptee doesn’t have this kind of choice, and the fork is a brain fuck where the brain thought it was headed in one direction (Mom!) but it ends up somewhere entirely different (Mom?). The brain doesn’t know what to do with this kind of radical fork, and so, I think, it some cases, in mine, it does this weird thing where it both shuts down and accelerates. Where it starts to feed on itself in shock. Where it becomes full of imaginal thoughts: I was hers but now I am hers. I had a name and then I had a different name. I had roots and then I had story roots. Anything is possible. But what if I just want to go home? What if there is never a home to go to? What if home is nameless? What if I am? What if I am the space between people? The thing that never happened? What then?
I think many people resent or at the least are simply confused by adoptee angst. Adoptees are lucky, many people think. Their life is a blank slate. They can be anyone. Where adoptees see loss and grief, non-adopted people see opportunity and freedom.
I have realized I can use my adopted-brain to my advantage when I stop trying to be like everyone else. What if I NEVER get my act together enough to pay my own rent? What if I never have a marriage that lasts more than seven years? What if I never stay in one place for more than a year or two?
Well. What if? I’ve survived this far.
What if I use my brain for what it does best: connects disparate parts and makes sense of them? I am like a human funnel. I can listen to what people say to me; I can watch their body, and I can see their whole self. I can see the person’s dreams, her roadblocks. I see the truth in his body that he can’t quite manage to speak out loud. Yet.
I have talents as a creative person because my brain knows what it is like to make up a life and to struggle for a sense of authenticity. Being adopted has taught me how to live in the gap between reality and dream. Being adopted, for me, is like being drunk or high on drugs. People spend hundreds of dollars just to get high and to feel how I feel almost every moment of my life.
I could see my liminal living as negative, as something ungrounded and dangerous, or I could see that I live on the knife’s edge all the time between existing and not-existing, living in the moment between mother and no mother and surviving, over and over and over again, knowing that the world is not what it may seem, and so I can make things up and decide for myself how I want this one life to go.
And so, of course, can you.