How do you survive an adoptee conference?
(Hahaha. That was for you, Stephanie.)
I didn’t leave, but I did go straight to the bar.
I’m pretty sure “beer” and “tequila” aren’t in any health-minded person’s manual for how to thrive before, during, and after an adoptee conference. I didn’t nail myself to the bar, but I did drink as soon as I arrived, and that isn’t something I normally do. I mean, I drink, but I don’t have to drink in order to have a conversation. In fact, when I drink it’s difficult to have a conversation because my brain starts to shut down and my body starts looking for a place to take a nap.
But I went for the bar when I arrived at the conference because as soon as I got there I wanted to leave. And it wasn’t because the people weren’t welcoming or kind or normal-looking. They were all of those things. When you open an envelope, part of the joy is the sound of the paper tearing. I walked into the adoptee conference and it was just like walking from room one into room two. I needed a flash of light or the sound of a slap or a new hairdo. Something outwardly dramatic to mirror what was happening inwardly—I had crossed from the world of people who didn’t understand me into the world of people who did. And yet it felt the same. But not. It was like seeing two wires and knowing that one was blue and one was red, but also knowing both were blue.
Hence the bar. I needed to do something to mark the shift that had occurred. Maybe if I had come into the hotel wearing an astronaut's suit I could have stripped down to jeans and a t-shirt and metaphorically walked around as "myself", but nothing changed when I walked through the doors except that I was surrounded by people whose brains worked more like mine than any other group I had even been with. Someone, please, tear paper, make a noise, set off fireworks!
The conference was two days long, and although I thought I was fine (fine, the other f-word), I was sick to my stomach for a week after I returned. I thought I had the flu or food poisoning, but then it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, I had conference-itis. It was as if someone had punched me in the stomach or as if a once-vital baby had died, and I was carrying its poisonous being deep in the scoop of my guts. It may have taken me fifty years to figure this out, but adoption, for me, lives in my intestines, and when they are in trouble, so am I.
It didn’t matter how many hugs or how much love was in the room when I was at the conference, I still came home feeling beat up, and I wanted to see if there was a different approach to this whole staring adoption in the face business, a way to feel stronger, more realized, more wildly happy.
I called my life coach, Katie Peuvrelle, to ask her about ideas for how to thrive at an adoptee conference since in a week I’m getting on a plane and going to my second one.
First of all, she suggested, I could rethink my goals. What was I hoping to achieve by going to a conference? It’s not like I was approaching the ocean and could just throw myself into the waves—or, I could, but it would be more productive if I knew why I was throwing myself into the ocean, why I was going to an adoptee conference, and what I hoped to get out of it.
I had gone in blindly, without a lot of thought. Mostly I wanted to see what it felt like to be in a room with other adoptees. And what I found was that it was both wonderful (they understand me!) and traumatizing (they have experienced the same things I have and are in just as much pain as I am!).
What if, for this second conference, I get real intentional about the whole thing and make a plan? What if I say I am going because I want to heal?
What does healing even look like?
How would I even know when I was healed?