Day 14 - What Happens When You Open to Yourself and Your Life No Longer Fits?
I’ve been writing a lot about being yourself, opening yourself, finding yourself. But what happens if you do these things and then you sit at the dinner table and suddenly can’t tolerate anyone sitting there? Or you go to work and you can barely push yourself through the entrance? Or you look at your closet and can’t find a single thing you want to wear? Or you go for drinks with friends and find you have nothing to say?
Part of stepping into your truest self is letting go of what you don’t need or what doesn’t work for you. This sounds wonderful until you realize your best friend is one of those things. Or your job. Or your marriage. Or your whole life.
It can be tempting just to say forget it and go back to your old habits: drink a lot during dinner, space out at work, think about what you’ll buy as your friend tells you her woes for the ten millionth time. You worked your whole life to get to this moment and the moment is wrong? This is not good news.
Unless you are willing to do the work to claim what is most important to you, the things and people that make you hum. Then, as Katie Peuvrelle said to me on Day 12, it’s all about taking baby steps to get there.
In my twenties, I drove across country about ten times. It looked like I was running away, first from my life on the East Coast and then from my life on the West Coast, but what I see now from this new perspective is that what looked like running away—the driving—was the thing that made me feel most myself. The lives I was leading on either coast were ones full of a self-conscious need to make other people think I was doing okay, think I was a good person, a good daughter, a good friend. I just couldn’t get comfortable, and so I kept thinking the right life was on the other coast, but really the right life was in the middle when I was alone and dreaming of things I could do while I looked out my window at the world.
But who can make a life out of that? Out of being alone and looking out at the world and dreaming?
It took me 50-some years to give myself permission to live a life for which I had no role model, for no one else I knew was living a life like mine: one where I get to walk for hours every morning, taking pictures, dreaming of things I could do, connecting the dots in my head. One where I don’t go to an office. One where I can get on a plane pretty much any time I want because I never have to ask for time off. One where I can write whatever I feel like writing. One where I can make connections with interesting people on a daily basis. One where I can focus on exploring the health and well-being of adopted people because they are so important to me. One where I can cheerlead people to live lives of wild creativity because I see how happy it makes them when they do it.
It took me a while to realize it was okay to live like this because there are parts I thought were wrong. I still thought I was supposed to have all the stuff that comes with being an adult in America, you know: a husband, a mortgage, a job I hate, a Viking stove.
I can live like this right now because other people provide my housing. My sweet friend Rhonda gave me a killer car. Yes. That’s right. She did. Dr. Mark gives me office space where I can do massage.
There was a stretch of time when I came back from writing You Don’t Look Adopted and made almost no money because I went into shock. I’d chased a huge dream, realized it, and was penniless. The penniless part had not fit into my life plan. I didn’t know what to do, and I was too worn out to bounce up and just get a job. I was dealing with the intensity of realizing what it was like to be an adopted person, just how deeply the fibers of my being were affected by relinquishment, loss and a shaky sense of self. What I saw was that the universe had my back, truly, and that miracle after miracle happened and kept me on my feet.
I am more myself than I have ever been before, and the payoff is in the quality of connections I have made with other people. I can’t even begin to list all the people I have fallen in love with in the last two years. Next week I get to do a Write or Die with Haley Radke in San Francisco. Her podcast Adoptees On was a life-changing find for me when I got back from New York. I listened to each new episode at least twice, and now I knowHaley and I get to hang out with her.
I met Kitty who changed my life with her insight that what I needed more than anything was space to write. I met Cheryl and Lorna who reminded me of the radical love writers carry for the world.
I met HBL and learned about collaboration and support and playing well-matched tennis and the fact that I could depend on someone other than a parent.
I met Pam Cordano last year and we clicked right off the bat. We had a dream of doing a retreat for adopted people together, and we made it happen and it was glorious. So now we are dreaming more, doing more adoptee retreats and adding creative retreats for all people to the mix because we have seen just how we feed each other and how our lives are bigger and more exciting and truer because the other is in it. Together we make things happen. It feels like magic, and it’s really, really fun.
When my stomach doesn’t hurt and I don’t hate my job or have a laundry list of things to do that make me wish I could just go to bed, I have so much more energy to love people and to show up for them. It’s so simple.
It’s so simple it’s crazy. It’s like I’m in kindergarten again, just loving everything. I guess I had to go through the wringer of school and Should City until I got to the place where I realized a Lexus F-Sport really wasn’t worth all the work it took to get it. I could have my fancy car or I could have the freedom to do what I wanted.
Sometimes the fancy car is worth the work. But in my case, it wasn’t.
I’m a dreamer. I need to dream the way other people need to have a nice house they can invite family and friends to for dinner.
A life well lived is about figuring out what makes you feel really, really good. Good as in cold water on a hot day good. This kind of good is the kind that helps all sorts of other people along the way.
It’s a clean kind of good. Musical.
My daughter is coming to dinner tonight. I went to the farmer’s market and bought food I thought she’d love. I bought big rounds of naan. Strawberries. Chicken. Little gem lettuce. Rapini.
Okay. I don’t really think she’ll like the rapini. I bought that for me.
Bitter greens are amazing. I never knew I liked them until recently, and now I eat them all the time. They are a clean kind of good to my body. Musical.
I thought I loved ice cream and dark chocolate, but it turns out my brain loved the idea of these things, but when I started to pay attention, I noticed the things themselves made me sick, made me feel not like myself. So now I eat bitter greens and hum.
It’s hard letting go of things you think make you who you are or things that remind you of childhood or things that make you feel safe. It’s hard until you realize those things are actually stressing your system.
Then it’s about being willing to create new memories, new associations, new friendships.
It’s not something you have to do. It’s just there if you’re interested.
See you tomorrow.