I shared a hotel room with a fellow grad student from CA, also an adoptee. Quickly I realized that I'd never before had a friend who was adopted. Neither had she. We connected on so many levels, and as the weekend went on I realized that I had more in common with those 300 strangers than I'd ever had with anyone else in my life. Ever. Because we shared that key fundamental, foundational experience that has shaped our lives. Adoption.
I had finally found my tribe. People that carry within their bones amazingly similar struggles.
All the conference presentations were fascinating. There was a depth of understanding of the adoptee experience, the frustrations, the deep sorrow, the loneliness, the isolation, the feeling that you cannot trust your emotions, the fear of being abandoned, that I hadn't heard articulated so well before. Something started to fall away as I heard these motions of my own heart voiced. I learned about something called cellular memory. People think that because separation from the birth mother happens in infanthood that the child does not remember. But it does. That child has formed an emotional bond to the mother, and it feels quite deeply that separation. Because the logical part of the brain is not developed yet, as this begins to happen only after several months, the memory is totally emotional.
So that thing that we carry around inside us, that pulls us into confusing sadness? Grief. It's our subconscious mind, that layer that remembers within our marrow, within our cells, that terrifying separation that happened when we were at our most vulnerable. We need to grieve for our birth mothers and honor that feeling, or it will never go away. Sometimes it can pull us into destructive situations and cause us to replicate our abandonment in other ways in order to call attention to it.
One example is of Daryl McDaniels, of Run DMC, who attended the conference. He found out he was adopted at age 35 by accident. He had been feeling a strange sorrow that he did not understand. He was rich, successful, happily married, yet he kept contemplating suicide for no apparent reason. Then his parents told him he was adopted and it started to make sense.
He did not know on a logical level that he was adopted. But he felt the grief for his mother.
I can't describe in a length suitable for a blog post what all of this began to mean to me. Something within me started to fall away. It was a loss, but not one that threatened to pull me under. It was a closing of sorts. Perhaps a filling of that hole that has resided quietly next to my heart for a long time. I had grieved for my mother. I have begun to grieve for my father. But to hear that others are experiencing it too, to understand how those feelings have played out in my life, and to feel PERMISSION to feel them was such a sweet validation. I felt also absence--not an absence that left me empty, but one that made me feel lighter and more free. An absence of that old butterflies-in-the-stomach longing that I've had for as long as I can remember when I felt any kind of connection to someone. It's not a feeling that I associated with something negative. I thought it was positive--it was excitement. I would get it when I would first start to make friends in a new town. Or when a professor remembered my name. Or when someone would invite me to their home for Easter or Thanksgiving during college. Anytime there was a hint of the possibility of me belonging somewhere or to someone. This feeling I know so well appears to be leaving me now, and I think that's a good thing. Because I finally belong in my own skin.