I wrote in my last post I thought I’d come unzipped during my first conference for adoptees.
I did drink more than I usually do—once at the hotel and twice by myself in a bar. I’m someone who doesn’t drink a lot, so one drink can be a trip to the moon. Almost as soon as I arrived at the hotel and ran into other people who had been adopted, I went straight to the bar and ordered a tequila and a beer.
I wanted to both be there and not there. That is a familiar feeling for me.
Marcie Keithley came up and gave me one of the many hugs I would get that weekend. She had a present for me: a package of yellow Peeps. She was worried about me because she had read my post where I wrote I was anxious about going to the conference. (If you want to feel loved, hang out with adoptees. They care about how you feel.) I was with my peeps, and she wanted me to know I was going to be okay.
Pam Dixon Kroskie, an Indiana adoptee who had spearheaded the change in Indiana law that allowed adoptees access to their original birth certificate (They’re still not allowed to go to the bathroom on their own.) (Just kidding.) had given me the trip to the conference as a gift, the conference she had made happen. She told me I needed to go. I told her I was broke. She made the reservations and got me there. I had been on her Indiana Adoptee Network podcast a couple of times, but we had never met face to face, and yet there she was doing all she could to help change my world for the better. That woman fights the good fight, and she is flipping funny. She’s like a torpedo with perfect hair and a sense of humor.
Adoptees often struggle with the feeling they are not real. It’s one thing to have a community of Facebook friends who are adopted and it’s another to have them under one roof. You know when you walk past a window and catch a glimpse of yourself how sometimes you look away because you don’t like what you see and sometimes you slow down, touch your hair, wishing you could stop and stare because you look so flipping beautiful? That’s what being with a bunch of adopted people was like for me. I wanted to walk away and I wanted to stop and stare.
Isn’t that what real is? Both terrible and beautiful? Isn’t that what The Velveteen Rabbit is all about? But when you fear abandonment, you also fear the terrible, the bad, the ugly. And so you drink, you diet, you overeat, you don’t look into mirrors, you stare too long into mirrors, you cling, you hide, you do everything but sit still and be yourself because that is certain death.
When the conference was over, I got a Facebook message from one of the attendees that asked if disappearing was my thing. I wrote back, “Yes.” We had never found time to connect and talk during the conference because I was always on my way somewhere else. I connected with many people, but I’m like an extension cord or a short glass. There’s only so much I can hold. I don’t know if this is an introvert thing or an adoptee thing, but for as much as I gain talking to others, I lose an almost equal amount in energy. If I spend too much time with others and not enough time alone, I feel erased and sick to my stomach. So part of being at this conference, for me, was about survival.
I saw a lot of people crying those two days, mostly casually, the way one might lightly sweat. I wrote in my last post that I was afraid I was going to dissolve into tears, but I didn’t cry once. I was more angry than sad. Angry that adoption has caused so much grief. Angry that these people needed to come from all over the country in order to feel a sense of community. Angry that almost all of us seemed stuck in the past, locked into our stories of loss.
At the conference, I was thinking about how trauma, how adversity, can be like a sword, and how you can spend your life jamming yourself in the guts with that sword or how you can use the sword to hack a path through the forest of loss to a brighter future.
I was angry that I hadn’t been taught this life skill in school. Why did I not learn how to have the strength of body and mind to be myself? I didn’t come with an owner’s manual. Hell, I didn’t even come with a real birth certificate.
People ask me what my takeaway from the conference was, and I’m still thinking about it. Primarily I am moved by Pam’s dedication and generosity. She made that conference happen. She created it out of nothing. Because of her, adopted people had a place to come together and connect. That was tremendous. She fed us. She made sure we all had nametags. She housed some of us. She gave us the opportunity to speak, listen, learn, and change.
I got to hug Sherrie Eldridge whose book Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adopted Kids Knew had sat next to my computer while I wrote my book. She's little, but she's a mighty writer. And hugger. I kept going back for more.
The closest I came to tears was when Rhonda Churchill spoke about searching for her grandfather, a man she’d learned had loved her as a baby and had been against her adoption. Her search was almost Indiana Jones in its wild circumstances. Her story was the hero’s journey, and it made me excited to be alive, excited to have the opportunity to chase after my dreams. I’m not sure I breathed the entire time she spoke. Afterwards I went up to my room and did yoga because I wanted to both sit and move with what I had heard to make sure it got into my flesh, my brain.
What I realized on the plane ride home from the conference was that writing You Don’t Look Adopted had already unzipped me, and that I was more at home in my body and my life than I had ever been. I also realized I was more curious what was on the other side of being adopted, the side where I take the sword of loss out of my own guts and use it as a tool for good, a tool for change.
Sometimes a sword is a sword. Sometimes it is a pen. Sometimes it is a mouth.
I’m partnering up with Reshma McClintock and Stephanie Mays Staats on a project called Talk Adoption. We’re recording our first show this Friday and we’re going to fight the good fight. I know my life will never be the same. I can’t wait.