I’d given myself almost a full year to swim in the ocean of grief after realizing what being born to one mother and raised by another without a proper good-bye to either had done to my nervous system. I was sick of adoption. I was sick of hearing the same stories over and over. (You want to hear my generalized story of the adoptee in six words? Something is wrong. No one understands.)
I was sick of it because it seemed there was nothing I could do. Adoptees are like hungry ghosts, desperate to find out their stories, to tell their stories; desperate for the kind of attention that will finally make them real; desperate for escape; desperate to fit in; desperate to be seen for who they are; desperate to find connection; desperate to escape.
Hungry ghosts love Facebook and Twitter and Instagram because the river of likes is water to the thirsty. But just as Milo found in The Phantom Tollbooth, some things that seem nourishing can leave you with an even more raging hunger.
I tried to buy self-love on Facebook. I would check my page compulsively, scrolling down the list of people who had liked a post of mine, marveling at their accomplishments as I looked at each face, thought of their stories, marveled at their beauty. Even now, although what I am writing is true—for I have gone through my list of almost five thousand friends trying to cut out those not close to me only to I find that I want to keep everyone—I am trying to buy your love. I will say something nice about you and in exchange you will like me.
I've begun turning my phone off more. Leaving it in other rooms. It doesn't matter how many likes rain down on me if my heart isn't beating to that word as a song for myself.
I’m not sure what I was trying to do with my blog. I’m not sure I was trying to buy love. I think I'm just using it as a place to play with language and let it all out and see what happens next. It wasn’t my idea to even have a blog in the first place. (Much to my surprise, tears are streaming down my face as I write this which is a total drag because I am in a coffee shop full of amped up, intense people.) My dear friend, Erin, whom I haven’t talked to for more than five hours in the last twenty years just did it. Somehow she knew what I needed more than I did, even from across the country.
Part of being adopted, for me, meant I lived with a false self, as a false self, and false selves who claim honesty as their number one core value can’t easily blog, for how can you talk about what you feel and think when you know chances are better than good you’ll get a one star-review like the one I got the other day?
I wanted to stop blogging when I left Tulum because I was starting to feel too exposed. I was starting to feel ashamed that I told the world how much I struggled with my adopted brain and that I hadn’t been able to find the cure yet. I wasn’t better. What was wrong with me? I shouldn't talk about myself so much.
But then this person posted the one-star review on Amazon, listing things I’d been telling myself for decades, reasons to stay quiet, and I thought: Game on.
(This was the review: I've read a lot of adoption books and books written about genealogy and this is my least favorite. This was the most eye rolling of them all. Woe is me from beginning to end. Every problem in her life is due to adoption. EVERY PROBLEM. Started skimming the last few chapters. Based on reviews, she struck a nerve with adoptees who seek validation in their issues and blame it all on adoption as well.
I have sympathy for people who were adopted and love memoirs about familial mysteries and journeys adoptees go on to find their parents. This was just a victim card disguised as a book.)
I wasn’t looking for sympathy when I wrote You Don’t Look Adopted. I was trying to show what it is like in an adoptee’s brain so that maybe I could help the 16-year-old version of myself. I hurt so many people, including me, growing up as a person who had no idea who she was or why she made the choices she did. I hoped that a therapist—maybe the one at Kaiser two years ago who told me my depression could not be related to adoption because good people had adopted me—read my book and had new understanding of some of her clients.
I am so grateful to the person who wrote that review because it reminded me of why I’d headed to New York in the first place to write. Adoptees are in trouble. We try to stay quiet. We try not to sound like victims. I mean, these past weeks I tried to silence myself even after writing for almost a year straight how important it is for adoptees to be able to speak openly. I felt I had reached some limit of how much others could stand to hear about…well…me.
But part of being real is letting people know what you think, and if I tell you and then you don’t like me, what will happen? Am I still an infant being relinquished and living in terror of who is going to keep me alive? Clearly, no. I’m an adult, and I am surrounded by support and love. And some criticism. And now, because I am committed to being myself, the criticism feeds me because it makes me reaffirm my values.
I’m still so adopted. I’m still really angry. Heartbroken. Afraid of what lies both behind and ahead of me.
But I’m leaning in to fearlessness. Into humor. Into rage.
Don’t fuck with adoptees. Don’t fuck with me.
We have things we need to tell you, things we need to tell ourselves.
Shhhhh. Just listen. Don’t say what we should think or feel, and we’ll do the same for you.
It’s going to be so good.