Feeling Your Way to Joy
The easiest way, for me, to exist as an adopted person would be to have no body. It would have been easier to be born and to have had my body disappear when my birth mother also disappeared, but that didn’t happen. I had a body that was immersed in trauma, possibly even created from it.
What this means, for me, is that I am like a sponge that is already soaked, so when I try to absorb more water, I struggle. What this looks like is if I have a list of things to do, I can easily become overwhelmed. The sponge of Anne is already saturated by being in a body.
It would be cool if there was a neurological reset machine that relinquished babies or children could be put in that would link to the limbic brain and take out the alarms flooding the body with a life-time bath of hormones that cause the brain to think You are in trouble. You are unwanted. You are about to die. and replace these with You are safe. You are wanted. You are alive.
One definition of whelm is to engulf, submerge, or bury. I get overwhelmed a lot. My mother used to tell me that as long as I got enough sleep and had food in my belly, I wouldn’t do my falling apart thing, crying for seemingly small reasons, making mountains out of molehills. And largely this is true, but it wasn’t just about sleep and food. And so I fall apart a lot.
Here’s what set me off this week:
I forgot to return a library book. (You are so stupid. You are not dependable. You should just kill yourself so you can finally get rid of this pain of being alive.)
I put a dinner date in the wrong night on my calendar and disappointed my friend when I did not show up at the appointed time (see list above)
I parked my car too far from the curb. (see list above)
I saw that I had new age spots on my leg. (see list above)
I got in an argument with a friend about a creative project. (see list above)
I was driving. (see list above)
I was walking down the street. (see list above)
I was lying in bed. (see list above)
Here’s the thing. Suicide is not an option for me. It never has been. But I often have the urge to disappear, and it is strong. More than an urge. It’s like when you stand in the ocean and feel the ocean pull at you. It’s a tidal pull that feels organic and is therefore difficult to dismiss because it feels like part of who you are. It feels like following your gut. Like what your yoga teacher tells you to do.
This urge is also scary and heartbreaking. It’s like realizing you are not safe with your mother. That sick in your stomach feeling of I am in so much trouble. Only the trouble is you, yourself. You are your own trouble and so there is seemingly no escape.
I look at people carefully. If their eyes move around a lot, if they have trouble staying still, if they seem scattered, somehow wild, like a fish fighting the hook, I think: I bet something happened when they were small. Trauma wedges itself like a poisonous worm in the guts or the heart or the brain, and children who lived trauma tend to be adults who are trying to twist away from this dark worm.
But I figured something out. After a lifetime of running. A lifetime of overeating, overspending, overdating, overmoving, I figured out that if I didn’t tell my story, I would never really live, and so I wrote about what it felt like to be adopted. This was not a smooth process. I threw up once while writing. And then, when I finished the book, I cried for a year. I’d thought that telling the story would be the cure, but it was the start of the cure. It was the ripping off the bandage part. The feeling part came next. And then the healing.
One day I was in the fetal position on the kitchen floor, sobbing, because I had thought about what it might have been like to be a baby who was not handed to her mother. I cried so hard I thought I might turn inside out. But here’s the thing: I let myself go there. I just let myself be a crying baby on the floor.
And then I got up.
I felt a lot for the past year. I just felt and felt and felt. I didn’t work much because I had too many feelings to live a normal life. I never knew when I would start crying, and I created a life where I could lose it and then get up and go on my way. I had incredible support. People gave me a place to live. I had friends who fed me. But, despite all the wonderful community I had, at the end of the day I was alone in this falling apart life, and I had to see that I could survive my worst fear: the fear I probably felt in the black space between being born to one mother and then having to live ten weeks before being handed to another, a mother who was my mother and not my mother. The fear that said: you are not going to survive this.
I discovered something a few weeks ago. I learned how to be bigger in order to contain the joy that increasingly was filling me, waves and waves of ocean light filling the skin of me. I wanted to be able to feel joy as well as I could contain fear and sadness. It’s interesting how painful it is to feel so good. It was like stretching a tight muscle: the alarming burn that was either terrible or wonderful, the sweet deep sting of you are alive.
Every time I go to get a massage I’m told to relax. First of all, I wouldn’t be paying for a massage if I could relax on my own. Secondly, being told to relax is like telling a starving person to be full. I had to find a way to relax on my own. I had to develop my own joy workout.
I imagined myself like a single cell. Just a little bag of Anne. I imagined how this single cell has generally been constricted. Tight. I imagined that I was a cell, and, when I was feeling the vibrating rush of joy, I breathed into the walls of this cell, and I let them expand. I let my cell take up space. I let myself become bigger. It felt so good. I expanded until the walls evaporated into light, into joy.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I found all of this a month after I’d given up refined sugar. I have been looking to fill myself with sweetness since I was born, starting with formula and progressing to cereal, donuts, peanut M & M’s, Diet Coke, morning glory muffins. But with sugar comes depression if you have a body like mine, and with depression comes overwhelm.
I have been afraid of disappearing most of my life, and the irony is that after all the work I have done in figuring out how I can best exist as a person who was adopted, it is in disappearing I now find myself swimming in joy.
One day at a time. One hour at a time. One breath.