I have been paying attention to adoptees a lot lately. How they speak. How they look when they speak. What their hands are doing when they are speaking. How they relate to their own story. Where they over explain or under explain. How much they yearn for and how much they wish they could forget. What is spoken and how much is unspoke\nn.
As I have become more comfortable in my own adoptedness, I have made real connection with other adoptees. Recently, a group has formed in my home town of Las Vegas, NV. It is an Adoptees Connect support group. I also have a group of dear adopted friends from the Beyond Adoption: You retreat. I have adopted friends who are “nerdtastic.” I have adopted friends who have become my best friends. I have grown up with adopted cousins. With my parent’s friends who adopted children. I have clients who are adopted. I have adopted friends whom I have never met on Facebook. I really have been around adoptees a lot this past year and a half. Making these connections has changed me, deeply and in such meaningful ways.
As a therapist, I am trained to pay attention to nonverbal cues. The looking down, and away when sharing the longing an adoptee has for their story, their people, their beginning. I always feel this is a sacred time for a person to say out loud, and sometimes for the very first time, “I want to know where I came from….who is my mother, my father….?” Or, they share their reunion story, often painful and filled with experiences of secondary rejection. Again, eyes down, often filled with tears, voices full of emotion and the weight of the story so evident in slumped shoulders. Or, they searched only to find a grave….now experiencing disenfranchised grief, that so many are unable to understand, is so unbearable. So much pain, so much hand wringing, looking away, eyes closed, feet shifting, and gazes diverted.
Each time, how deeply I want to reach over, touch their chin gently and say, “I will hold your eyes with mine while you share your deepest ache.” Connecting with eyes is the deepest manifestation of empathy humans can offer each other. The holding of eyes releases shame and heart stings become entangled together, creating a lasting, meaningful bond.
I have noticed that many adoptees start their adoption story with, “I have always known I am adopted.” I have been thinking about this statement.
I also have always known I was adopted. I have also always known I was taken away from my mother at birth. These two facts seem separate to me. My coming to know I was adopted took some time.
Born. Taken away. Placed. Taken away. Placed. Taken away. Placed. Adopted.
Told I was adopted. Figured out what this word meant by watching others who were not adopted. Spent my childhood making up stories about why I was adopted. Making up stories about who my birth mother might me. Making up stories to placate the non-adopted as to why I was adopted so I wouldn’t feel like such a square peg in a round life.
And so on and so forth until the weight of the making up the stories got so heavy that I went off to find the truth, my truth of who I came from.
Adoptees search for many reasons. Searching is the ultimate Hustle for Worthiness. What I have found with many adoptees, including myself, is that many of us have trouble feeling completely comfortable wherever we are—no matter how welcomed we may be.
This not fitting in feeling is sometimes seen by the non adopted as distancing, aloofness, shyness, disinterest, rudeness, an air of superiority, and weirdness. When truly, the adopted person desperately wants to feel they have a place at the table, to fit in with others, to be accepted, acceptable, cherished, wanted, worthy. And, we work our assess off to fit in with others, even though, deep inside, we feel like fakes and frauds.
Imagine carrying a backpack of exploding rocks around with you 24/7, and you never know when a rock will explode. This backpack is not only heavy, but it is also terrifying! To me, this is what being adopted has felt like in my life. An exploding rock represents a rejection. Rejection is always expected, and always devastating.
What can the ‘non adopted’ do to support adopted people? (great question!)
- Please don’t say things like; “you must feel so grateful to have had a good family take you in” and other such statements. Say something like, “I am interested to know what your experience has been like as an adoptee.”
- Listen. If an adoptee is open to sharing their story, just listen. No need to interject opinion or your thoughts. Just listen.
- If you have a friend who is adopted, a cousin, a child, a neighbor, a niece / nephew, a student etc, don’t assume we all have experienced adoption in the same way. Some adoptees are very content with their lives and adoption and some feel differently. Accept the adoptee where they are and let them know you will not reject them. This will be the best thing you can do and say.
- If a child is adopted, and struggling, or acting out, suggest the family find an adoption competent therapist. This means a therapist who understand that adoption is trauma and will treat the child for trauma, not just behaviors. This may mean the family talks – a lot – about adoption. And, that is OK. The child may need space to process and feel as though their longing for biological family is safe, accepted and supported.
- Please don’t tell us you know how we feel, UNLESS, you are also adopted. Seriously. Please just listen.
I have spent 52 years being adopted. And, truthfully, I have spent a lot of those years trying to figure myself out. It is an ongoing process. One, that at times, I have loathed as it was emotionally painful to look in all my dark corners. Just this past weekend, I had information shared with me about my own adoption that I did not know, had never heard and that made me literally feel as though I would lose consciousness. I had to breath though and reach out for support. My adoptee tribe held me up, fully understood my response and used appropriate name calling nouns to validate my experience. Community is everything. Healing will take time. Support is present.
Here is what I know for sure: Knowing my story, I feel more confident and happy than I ever have. Yes, I have days when being adopted takes the wind out of my sails and I want to sink to the bottom of life’s ocean. But, I have the support I need to blow into my sails so I can make it back to the shore of safety.
If you are an adoptee, reach out, find other adoptees. I am right here, steering my sailboat to find you.