Yesterday was an amazing day. It started when I listened to the most recent episode of Haley Radke’s show Adoptees On where Haley interviews a therapist, Pamela Cordano, an adoptee who specializes in working with other adoptees. It seems it doesn’t matter how many times I hear about how adoptees suffer from feeling they aren’t good enough or that they inherently believe something is wrong with them, I cry every time. Mostly, I think, because I worry about my daughter. How do we know our children’s concerns and fears? How do we know what they think about when they lie in bed at night? How do we know what limiting beliefs they have they were created because of a radical and deep misunderstanding?
Clearly this isn’t just about adoption. It’s the human condition: the belief that we aren’t good enough.
But back to my amazing day. Even though I was crying over this interview, I was outside hiking, and it was finally not raining. It was sunny and I was getting to live my feelings. Feeling sad or moved to tears is not bad—it’s just a lower note on the cello. So I was playing B flat as I walked instead of a more excitable C sharp. So what? I was still just…playing.
And then I listened to April Dinwoodie’s podcast (I think I hike just so I can listen to podcasts…and eat. I hike so I don’t kill people and so I can eat even more.) Born in June Raised in April, and I listened to it three times in a row, pausing to stop so I could email her and tell her how great it was to hear this list that was her list of what she, a transracial adoptee, wanted in her desire for romantic love, but her list that could have just as easily been my list. Or my daughter’s. Or almost anyone I knew. Primarily we want to feel seen and heard, and that goes beyond lines of race or origin.
So I’m out there hiking and crying and so happy, and I’m thinking that, for the first time in my life, I have this community of adoptees with whom I share so many similar feelings and thoughts, and that the very things that connect us also connect me to the world at large, for what adoptees yearn for--love and acceptance--is common to the general population. And so I was feeling wildly connected, so connected it almost hurt, like the world was pulling at my skin, claiming me.
Jane Guttman, the author of the book The Gift Wrapped in Sorrow I had been reading the night before, wrote back to me on Facebook, and as I hiked and typed (I know, I know—but I do live in Silicon Valley) to this birth mother who had written a remarkable story of what it was like to relinquish and then attempt a reunion with her child--this woman who was now also reading my book about being adopted--asked me if I would like us to write letters to each other, documenting our burgeoning friendship: a birth mother and an adoptee creating relationship through common experience and story. I wept when I read her message. It was almost as if I had finally been invited into my own birthmother’s life. I felt so excited by the possibility of healing in a way I had never considered. What if I didn’t need connection to my birth mother to heal that hurting place? What if connection to a birth mother would do it? And how exciting just to try!
The wild rains of the past weeks had changed the Los Gatos creek from a gentle place of small waters to a roaring brown river that had jumped its banks and was taking down poorly rooted trees and, in the consistent swirl of movement, was threatening tall trees that were even more deeply bedded. I walked and looked at the river and thought about how people don’t seem to understand what it is like for adoptees not to know their stories of origin. People seem to think that roots are something we are inherently born with and therefor are always part of who we are, but if you don’t know who your birth parents are or anything about them, how really can you know yourself? You know the part that is aboveground, but when a big storm comes—in my case when your mother dies and you divorce and you lose your job, then it is easier for you to be knocked over. But many people who are not adopted don’t understand this. They think that one family is just as good as another. And it almost is.
But hold on, once again, I want to get back to my excellent day.
I got to go to my office and do an afternoon bodywork session, and my client said she wanted to help me promote my Write or Die classes, and I asked what I could do in return, and she just sighed. “It’s not always about what you can give back,” she said. “Just let me do this. It makes me feel good.” Earlier in the month a friend had handed over the keys to her car, for nothing. This week, another friend had given me a room in she and her husband’s Santa Cruz condo so I could have a place to write for six months. It felt like there should be a limit to how much goodness I could receive, and, surely, I was near or past the red line of what was acceptable...
And then I came home from work and read wonderful messages from people who had read my book. I mean, they liked it, and not one of them even mentioned the typos!
I felt so good I didn’t know what to do. The cup of myself truly felt like it was running over. It wasn’t necessarily a good feeling—there is a lack of control when you are spilling something, especially if the thing you are spilling is yourself. My cup was too small and the goodness that it was trying to contain was too much.
I had to fuck it up.
So I sat down to write about eating, just to make sure the world knew just how messed up I really was.
As I wrote, I realized pretty much my whole life, every time things went really well, I’d either get depressed or I’d do something so I could feel bad. It was like I’d made a contract with my birth mother when I was born and she relinquished me: Okay, I got it. You don’t feel good about me, so I won’t feel good about me either. High five. That common decision will keep us connected forever in my crazy limbic brain that doesn’t even know how to put words to thoughts.
But then my parents came along and adopted me and they were crazy in love with me and I was crazy in love with them and so the deal was: Be really happy. You are so lucky to be here
I heard the other day that the German word for guilt shuld is the same as the word for debt. I think my brain is hardwired to feel both guilt (my birthmother didn’t want me but she still had to have me) and debt (my parents adopted me--they rescued me!) and so happiness is a threat to my sense of well-being.
Let me say that again so I can see how crazy I am: happiness is a threat to my well-being.
Last night when I wrote about eating, I got to feel crappy about myself again. I got to fall off the high of the day and see, yet again, that I was a bottomless pit of need. I got to see that I was one problem after another. I got to look at my hunger and see there was no solution, even though I had wrapped up the blog post in a way that sounded sort of happily ever after. Fake it ‘til you make it—that’s my motto these days as I strive to be an adoptee who thrives instead of an adoptee who repeats the same behaviors ad nauseam, but, holy cow, is it work. I thought power yoga was hard. Being an adoptee who thrives calls for minute by minute mindfulness as I work to rewire my brain, moving from stories of loss and grief to stories of connection and joy.
I have a friend who suffers from depression. She’s one of the funniest people I know. Once when we were out walking, she told me she’d decided she was going to say, “This is the best day of my life!” every time someone asked her how she was. We laughed our heads off as we practiced on each other. “This is the best day of my life!” we kept saying, and it made us laugh and laugh. Who cares if we were miserable? It was the best day ever!
That’s what I want: for every day to be the best day ever, even if the day totally bit it. So that’s what I’m going to say: This is the best day ever. My brain can try to bring me down. It can tell me I made a deal with my birth mother and that garbage can’t have a good day, but my sweet brain needs to go to Big Girl Anne School and change its tune because I’m sick of the old way. I want the new way. The fun way. The way that makes me laugh. The way that tells me that to thrive is not just a choice, but my birthright, and the birthright of all people everywhere.
I am going to learn how to make the cup of me bigger. I am going to see just how much happiness I can contain. I am going to Supersize me. I hope you come along. I hope you Supersize you. Let me know how I can help. I want this to happen for all of us.
Now would be good. Right now.