Day 41 - Addiction #2 - Nostalgia, Motherlove, and the Heat of Your Skin
I have found the safest place for me as a person, as a person who was adopted, is anywhere but here.
The past may be the best because I can put my hands around its neck and comment on it, feel in control. The future was better when I was younger and could talk about the places I would go, the things I would do, the people I would be—the whole Dr. Seuss gamut, but the future thing stopped working after I wrote my book. Writing a memoir is one good way to staple gun yourself to yourself. It’s harder to escape your story when you are selling it on Amazon for $15.00. It’s harder to imagine there’s a different life out there for you when you sat down and named it and gave it chapter headings.
The cool thing about not drinking coffee is that life is in slow motion, and I’m able to see things more clearly. What I see is that living as an adopted person has been like trying to gather the universe together in a teaspoon so I could swallow it whole and feel at home. I almost always feel scattered, stars spread willy nilly around me, living with the hope that, as it has happened enough for me to think this is how it should be all the time: the elements will fall in my favor and there will be a bit of time where I feel as if the world with me in it is in sync. Then I can get things done.
But as it is, my brain is uncommitted to just one life. It’s committed to the one I’m living now, and it’s also committed to the one that got kicked into gear when my birth father and birth mother did the love dance that drunken New York night. How can I fully commit to one path when parts of my body/mind and my DNA are committed to another? The lack of understanding about this ambivalence is why so many adopted people struggle with this one life we all lead. It doesn’t make sense for us: most of us don’t fit into the single-track run that is called “I.”
I am almost halfway through the 93 days. I have the familiar feeling that I’m not doing enough, that things aren’t going well, and that I am in trouble because I’m not on any productive path—not on the right path.
This world that we live in for many adopted people is like putting a skier on two skies in a single track. The skier will lift one leg to keep from crashing, but, oh! the deep fatigue, the confusion, the internal war. (Why does everyone else have just one ski? Why does no one seem to notice or care about the skier’s dangling leg? The skier berates himself: if no one else seems to think the extra ski is a problem, why does he insist on focusing on it?)
This is one reason it is so much more pleasant to be in the past or the future. Looking back, you can see you survived the one ski, you can see that everything, perhaps, looked just fine. Better than fine: beautiful. Happy. Sweet. That means the past is better than the present because the discomfort you feel now with your one raised leg is missing in the past. You survived that time. Everything was okay.
More than anything you would love for someone to come to you now, this moment, and tell you, promise you, everything will be okay. Maybe then you could relax. Looking at the past, seeing pictures, having memories, is almost as good as this: everything was okay. If only you could go back and feel that.
The other day I ended up looking at a box of old photographs and I swam in nostalgia. I looked at photos from when I was small, from when my daughter was small, and they all seemed so precious. They hurt my skin. I didn’t know whether I wanted to cry or gradually inflate and float away.
In the 80’s, Calvin Klein taught us to lie on the bed or the floor in order to zip up our jeans. The feeling of tight triumph when the jeans were zipped was marvelous. You could barely breathe, but your hips were secure and your lower body was now like a straw. You were safe. You had your Calvins on. The struggle moments--when you fought to keep hold of the pull tab and each set of connected teeth was a battle won, that’s often what the present feels like, like the before the photo moment. The before the button closes moment. The time when you are fighting yourself in order to be presentable.
I have noticed in the past 40 days that I am used to avoiding what is by either thinking about what could be or thinking about what was. I realized I’m just not used to accepting what it feels like to be alive, now. Now. And again, now. Being present is confusing because there is no conflict.
I am training myself to acclimate to a life of less conflict. I imagine myself like a hose with the river of now running through me. Since it is possible that the moment after my first breath I was taken away from my mother, perhaps my brain and body have rejected the present moment as soon as I left the fluid world and came into this one. So perhaps my body/mind has rejected the experience of being alive as soon as I started to breathe air because it interpreted the world as unsafe and wrong.
What if I sit quietly, here, now, and breathe and feel the breath go into the hose of me—into my nose, into my lungs, expanding my ribs, pushing down my diaphragm, expanding my belly, engaging my pelvic floor, my legs, the soles of my feet if I’m really breathing like I mean it? I cannot tell myself story and breathe into the soles of my feet at the same time just as you can’t pray and chew gum if you are really, really in deep communion.
My stories bring me comfort. My anxieties. My fears. They shelter me. They remind me of who I am.
They are my brain’s way of letting adult me suck my thumb and hold on to my blankie.
I have noticed in the last 40 days that my body and mind can get very quiet, and just as when you are sitting outside on a summer afternoon and you notice all the birds stopped singing and it’s like you are in the cupped held breath of the world, I don’t know what to do with that kind of internal quiet. I was brought up believing you must produce to have value, that life is one big check list and you better not be wasting time. I was brought up to believe that mental chatter was a sign of health and well-being.
I think in another life I was a rock. Being still feels very familiar. It also feels scary because rocks aren’t famous for epic to-do lists. What if I get too comfortable as a rock? What if I end up doing nothing? Being nobody? This planet is covered with people who are afraid they are not good enough. What if I I really am not good enough? Then what happens?
The other day I was walking with my daughter and I was talking about that moment of awe you feel when you look at something like a mountain or the ocean, the spontaneous sigh that happens from deep in your gut, and she said, That’s called evolution. I stopped walking.
Have I been out of school that long? How did I forget? We crawled out of the sea. We are a process. We are incredible. The next day I stared at my arm as I did a massage. I could barely stand it. How had this happened? This arm? This place? This building? This town? Who made the sheets I was using? What hands?
When my client left, I sat down and put my hand on my arm. I closed my eyes and tried to see if I could know for sure it was my arm under my hand. How did I know I was touching skin and not the massage table? How did I know I was touching myself? I couldn’t sense my hand, couldn’t sense my arm. All I could feel was the heat between the two things. The more I sensed it, the warmer it got. I was not a hand touching an arm. I was heat. It felt so good it was almost unbearable. It was too pure, too nameless.
I thought about how it would feel if it was someone else’s hand on my arm touching me with the same intensity of attention. I would fall in love. The heat is alive, and it is both hunger and food. That touch could drive me insane, make me want to crawl inside myself to feel more. The irony is, of course, that I will have disappeared into sensation so there would be no I to say I love you. There would just be heat, presence, the awareness of energy, and the inability to name it.
We work so hard to be present, to create a presence, and yet true happiness may be in the dissolution of the very things we thought were essential to live a good life.
What if in the moment after a child is born, the mother reaches out and touches the child and, in that moment, all the stars in the universe gather and the child knows itself as an I? What if when a child does not receive this mother touch she or he spends the rest of her or his life seeking the confirming moment? What if we can be our own mother? What if our own touch can bring the stars together and land us home? What if the rest of our lives is the practice of tolerating this new feeling, this feeling of I am here and everything is alright?
This makes me so hungry.
See you tomorrow.