An Adoptee Discusses Feeling Wasted
My first husband once said he didn’t understand why I wasn’t an alcoholic. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t, either. I would have loved to be high all the time, numb to my life and to the confusion that reigned in my head.
The problem was that because my head was already spinning, drinking alcohol only made me more confused, more unsteady. Drinking alcohol wasn’t awful—I could have a drink or two and then I’d get silly and weird and say stupid things—but I am like this in real life, walking the thin line of inappropriate behavior more often than I’d like to admit, and so adding alcohol to the fire of me was like painting a red wall red.
When I did drink, I’d come down from the sugar high and feel bad about myself, my behavior, and anything I'd ever done or said in the past. Adoptees often struggle enough as it is with depression when they are sober. Adding alcohol, a depressant, to the mix only made life for me that much harder, so even though I craved escape, I didn’t crave it enough to swim in a beer ocean and drown myself that way.
I have the feeling that in my next life, in the life where I get to be myself (although since I wrote my memoir about being adopted things are rapidly changing, and I may be living my real life now!!), I’d live in a trailer, tend bar, and live with whiskey in one hand and a cigarette in the other. I’d be good and drunk all the time. I’d finally be able to relax. I’d finally feel at home sitting on the battered steps of my old trailer, no longer trying to please the world by trying to be good.
The way I get to be “bad” is by eating. I can spend a whole day being “good”—doing my work, listening more than I talk, working on keeping my Bostonian upbringing in check and waving at other drivers instead of flipping them the bird. What I look forward to is what I get to eat when I am done. If it was a really long, hard day, I might think about a whole pint of Ben and Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk. I might go downtown and get a quesadilla first, thick with four different kinds of cheese and eat it quickly so I could get home to the ice cream.
I need to know that I am going to feel full after emptying myself. I need to know that someone, me, will be taking care of me. I need to know that I will feel grounded, full, when I get home, and so that is why I plan big meals, meals that will make me want to lie on the floor afterwards so I can give my stomach room to spread out and recover.
But here’s the thing: I’m lactose intolerant, so eating the quesadilla and the ice cream will make me sick. After I get to feel full, I get to feel sick, heavy with my body’s inability to digest what I fed it. My sleep will be interrupted. I will spend a lot of time in the bathroom.
And that is what adoption has been for me: an experience I haven’t been able to digest. Eating foods that compromise the smooth run of my body let me make real the feeling sense I carry most of the time. Sick with cheese and ice-cream, I get to feel wrong. I get to feel immobilized.
It’s my own way of being an alcoholic, an addiction to feeling not at home in my body.
There are so many ways for an adoptee to feel wasted.
But I’m convinced that what I’m doing here, this—writing—can change everything. It’s why I keep telling all the adoptees I know to write down their feelings, their thoughts, their actions. I think we eat and drink to hide, to disappear, to numb the pain. But what if, instead of taking it all in, we let it out? What if we let people know what it is like to be adopted?
And that, I believe, is where storytelling comes in, a way for us to create our own healthy sense of self with language that we chose. So many of us grew up with others telling us our stories of origins, but now we are big enough to tell our own stories.
We can even make up what we want to hear most. If no one will tell you who your father is, then who says you can’t create him? Make him king of the world. If no one will tell you the truth, then no one can say you are lying. You are doing the best you can with the tools you have. You are making your life into what you want.
What’s the first thing, the thing you want most from this life?
Say it. Write it. Then go get it.