I'm Not a Baby
I’ve been in adoptionland for about a year now, and it has been an amazing experience to see that, in fact, I’m not alone. I’m not alone in carrying long-term side effects of relinquishment in my mind and body. I’m not alone in feeling I come from another planet. I’m not alone in lacking some basic tools most of my non-adopted friends seem to have: the ability to maintain a romantic relationship; the ability to maintain (have) a career, the ability not to jump when someone comes up behind me, the ability not to turn every little setback into catastrophic thinking: My massage client cancelled his Friday night appointment and now I’m not going to have any money coming in and will starve and then die.
I have found that recognizing I am not alone in living out the effects adoption trauma has had on me can also feel like drowning. If everyone around you is suffering, how can you individuate and grow and feel better, healthier, while still honoring and remaining in community?
Because my mind is so often on food, I’m approaching health and community and adoption by working on what is on my plate.
I was talking to my chiropractor, my self-appointed health coach Dr. Mark Lucas, about this the other day. He knows all about my story, my physical and mental struggles. I have shared an office space with him, doing massage, for over five years, but I’d always focused on the health of my clients while I was there, not myself.
I know. When you are on a plane, in the event of an emergency, you put your mask on before you put one on your child. You have to take care of the planet before you can take care of the stars. But, well. I forgot.
Here’s an even more truthful answer. It wasn’t that I forgot. It had to do with value. I would have had to value myself pretty highly to ask Dr. Mark to make me a priority. I would have had to not just suggest that perhaps adoption had done real damage to my mind and body, but put myself out there and find voice in my feelings and beliefs. I think I am busted, and I need your help. It’s so much easier to focus on others and help them than to stop and grab the mask and strap it on.
Historically, I have managed (?) myself through a self-medication routine that involved eating carbs, drinking caffeine, spending money, falling in and out of love, rarely staying in one place for more than a year. These things almost always guaranteed an initial up. They always almost always guaranteed a down, but, like any addict, I was focused on the sparkle, not the cost.
But then some miracle happened a few months ago: I gave up caffeine. I still don’t even know how exactly it happened. I was standing there at Peets, and I took my first sip of the morning, and I felt I was poisoning myself. I felt my guts clench and my brain start to spin. Coffee no longer represented freedom to me. It felt like danger.
I had started getting migraines almost thirty years ago when I moved to Eugene for graduate school and started drinking coffee. I got medicine and continued with the coffee and the migraines. I told people I’d rather die than give up the caffeine because the high was so, so wonderful. Every morning, right from the first sip, I loved the world. I had ideas and my brain started connecting dots it hadn’t even seen pre-coffee. I called people and set up dinners that, post coffee high, I cancelled. I loved the idea of being an extrovert when I was caffeinated, was pained by it when I was back to my quiet, introverted self.
I spent three days in bed when I stopped drinking coffee. I lost the will to move, to shower, to go see a movie. But this time, for some reason, I wasn’t scared these feelings would last forever. I just waited the lump stage out. And it passed. And the things people said would happen if I gave up coffee happened: the migraines stopped. I had more energy. I was less moody.
I had done the unthinkable. I was my own surprise. God only knew what I was going to do next.
And then I did it.
On the advice of Meg Reul, a fellow adoptee who happens to know a lot about nutrition because of her diabetes, I gave up sugar and processed carbs after she and I had a long talk about my moodiness and frequent light-headedness. Let me tell you something about my last meal: it’s a morning glory muffin. My second to last meal? A piece of pizza. My list of lasts would be long before I wrote fatty meat, eggs, or salad. And yet that is pretty much what I’ve been living on for the last three weeks.
People start getting super opinionated when you tell them about your diet, and so, let me tell you right off the bat, I’m not asking for judgement. I’m doing an experiment on my mind and body, and if this experiment means I’m going to wear bacon and eat kale covered in avocado, just watch as you would any member of the circus. I’m not trying to be right or good. I’m trying to be Anne.
Cutting back on carbs was like pulling the batteries from a toy. The no caffeine had shocked my body into a flu-like stupor, but cutting carbs made me feel, for three or four afternoons in a row, like I was at the botton of a lake. I could not move. I was either in a coma or very, very relaxed. When I finally got up, it felt like the world was in slow motion. It was not the life I was used to living, the heartbeat of it and me slowly pacing along.
It was wonderful. I had never experienced my body living with this kind of inner peace. And so I kept with the eating plan even though I really, really wanted a big muffin and a cup of real coffee. I stuck with the bacon and eggs and decaf because I was beginning to see that there might be ways of existing in the world that I wasn't even aware of. What if I hadn't even known what true, deep, contentment felt like in my guts? What if that was a place I could get to? It was worth some experimenting.
Today I woke up and walked half a mile to Verve coffee for a decaf iced Americano with enough cream in it to make it beautiful. I went back home and did half an hour of Pilates and fake burpees where I pretended to do those things but really I was just doing broad strokes so I could keep breathing. I had breakfast: 2 tablespoons of almond butter, half a cup of coconut milk, a cup of flax milk, and ice all mixed in a blender. Six hours later I got hungry and, because I was far from home, I went to a restaurant and ordered a burger patty on top of a side order of Brussel sprouts.
So, as is so often the case with food, I’ve already told you a lie. I had the smoothie before I did the burpees, etc., but it was a disaster. I could hear the liquid every time I moved and I did not feel like an athlete. I felt like someone who was still at the breakfast table. I’d like to pretend I knew better, and so I lied to you, but I am really trying to come clean to myself and to the world and so now you know. Whatever.
I was telling all of this to Dr. Mark, spilling my story all over him in a big, How am I going to do this? I want to be healthy and it’s all so confusing and I work in the health field and I should just know all this stuff already. I should be fine for mercy’s sake, and he crossed his arms and cleared his throat when I was done.
He told me a story about the golfer Jordan Spieth, the recent winner of the British Open. The thing about that tournament was that, for a while, Jordan Spieth looked like he was going to win and then he started making errors, and then he made a really terrible error and the announcers called him finished. They saw he’d fallen too far to get back into the game. And yet. And yet. Well, you already know, because up above I told you he was the recent winner. Later, when asked how he’d recovered and won, Jordan Spieth said it was because he was a professional, and professionals don’t focus on the past, on what had gone wrong. Instead, they focus on the game and on the win that they want.
I grabbed Dr. Mark’s arm. “Yes!” I said. “That’s it! I want to be a professional adopted person!”
“I used to be an amateur,” I said. “Five minutes ago that’s who I was, but now everything has changed. I’m a professional.”
He smiled more.
“Can you help me?”
He shook his head no. I stared at him.
“Just kidding,” he said. “Of course. It would be my pleasure. When do you want to get started?”
I slapped him on the shoulder.