How to Survive an Adoptee Conference (Part 2)
Rhonda Churchill gave a talk at the Indiana Adoptee conference that made me excited to be alive. She was adopted; I was adopted, most people in the room listening had been adopted, but her talk was more about personal choice and tenacity than fear or abandonment, and I drank in her message: chase your dream.
Caroline Myss said, “Fate is how your life unfolds when you let fear determine your choices. A path of destiny reveals itself to you, however, when you confront your fear and make conscious choices.”
The fear of abandonment, the fear of loss, the fear of no self-worth can drive an adoptee’s, a person’s, life. We can make choices that are based on away from thinking: I am marrying George because I don’t think he will ever leave me; I’m staying at this job because I’m afraid I’ll never get a better one. We do something to avoid something else. This kind of thinking isn’t empowering as it originates from weakness.
When you make decisions based on towards thinking you are the captain of your ship. You go to a conference because you want to learn tools that will make you stronger. You quit your job because your goal is to live a healthy life and you are working too many hours. You are an arrow shooting straight for the bull’s eye. And that feels really good.
Adoptees can have a hard time even feeling like an arrow, feeling like they have direction and purpose, because, for many, their feelings have not been properly mirrored by the world and so their sense of self is more air than arrow. The minute you are relinquished, the fire alarm goes off in your head (thank you, Sherrie Eldridge for this idea) and it just keeps going, but everyone around you, your parents, your friends, your teachers, tells you everything is fine. You are lucky.
They can’t hear the alarm because it’s in your head, not theirs, and if you try to tell them what you are feeling, because the alarm is not in their head and because they have not read anything about what it’s like to be adopted, they will tell you everything will be fine, that maybe you should take some Tylenol or go to a yoga class. And your airy self gets even airier, borderline invisible.
I have noticed that many adoptees love to tell their stories of relinquishment, the stories where the first mother refuses contact, the stories of loss and pain and grief. These stories are often long, and adoptees, I, will just dump them out in bursts, like Jackson Pollack painting, spattering all over the place. We carry stories, and stories aren’t mean to be kept inside the body like the liver or the heart. Stories are things that connect, but when you are an adoptee your story often alienates you, for at the core these stories are about difference: I am not like you. Your mother kept you. Mine let me go.
We need to connect to people to live a full life. We need to feel we are all one in order to feel the world and all the people in it have our back, but when we have stories that isolate us, we suffer.
So what do we do with these stories? We honor them by realizing their importance. We listen to ourselves, really listen, in order to prepare our brain to expect others to listen to us. We write. We need containers for these stories, safe places for them to be unwound and heard, and maybe this is a book or maybe this is the verbal telling into a listening ear. And even if there are big patches of your story you don’t know—who your mother was, who your father was, where you were born, who cared for you the first days or weeks or months of your life, the not-knowing is part of the story. It doesn’t mean you don’t have a story. It means there are sections where you say I don’t know. This, in its way, is a form of knowing.
It is my dream there will be a library that houses the book of each adoptee’s (and first mom’s) story. Our stories need to be public so that any adoptee can see that she is not alone in her feelings and experiences. Adoptees need places of healing in their lives, monuments that show the world understands us, or at least is trying to understand.
I am working at focusing on what I want in the future because I have tended to focus more on the past in my life. My brain hammered at the questions What happened? Why did it happen? How could my life might have been different if I hadn’t been adopted? Etc. Etc. Yawn. Writing my memoir put me both in the past and in the present because, while I was thinking about the past, I was also in the present, answering the question Who am I? I had to be in my body to write for 93 days. I had to be present to write about the past. It was like a track workout. I had to have endurance and strength and courage, and that involves both the mind and the body. The mind wants to run when the story gets difficult, but the body has to stay, and that takes present-time awareness: stay.
So now I am working on future thinking. Where do I want to go? What do I want to do next? As I head for the adoption conference in Albany next week, these are the questions I will carry with me. I’ve told my story. I still own it but it doesn’t plague my brain, and now I have room for more. For tomorrow.
I also have an increased ability to really listen to the stories of the people around me.
For, in the end, I think, life is about listening. I want to hear my heart, and I want to hear yours. And this transcends adoption. It’s just about life. Love.