Have you ever been hungry for something really good….but you have no idea what that really good thing might be? Then, someone asks you, “What do you want to eat?” And you say, “something good….but I don’t know what…..”
This is the best way I can describe what it is like to search for something that has no face, no name, no known location…. and yet, you want that something. That elusive something that will tell you all the information that is missing from your life. This is the adoptee inner world. This is how being an adoptee felt for me for so many years, and truly, I still feel this way sometimes.
When I was a senior in High School, I wrote a poem about sitting on the school bus, with the laughter, loudness and the chaos of a school bus going on all around me. I wrote about feeling completely alone on this crowded bus, on the center row, on the center seat, invisible to the world and lonely.
I still think of this metaphor as a way to explain the inner loneliness that I and many adoptees feel. Still, all these years later, I still have this loneliness as my daily companion. It sits just above my lungs, weighing down on them to remind me of the ache I have for connection and acceptance as an adoptee.
What I know about child development of adopted children is that as they mature and try to understand their adoption, many will develop feelings of loss, grief, anger, or anxiety. Many never lose these feelings. And, these feelings live within them during their lifespan, often coming to the surface at milestone times. Especially around their birthdays, Mother’s and Father’s days.
For children who are adopted, their identity forms differently than non adopted children. During the adolescent years is when the child’s identity really starts to form, but for the adopted child, this is often a time of confusion. For the adopted child, they continue to wonder where they came from, who they might look like, they want to understand their feelings and why they feel so alone or have a deep longing for something they can not name. Some will act out, some will act inward. Many will be confused about who they are and where they fit in the world around them.
When adopted children start to understand and explore who they are, where they came from, and their purpose in life, adopted children form questions about their identities and their “real” families. Sometimes they will ask and sometimes, they will not out of fear of hurting their parents feelings, or they have heard the message in their life that they should not ask.
I remember asking questions, such as, “How tall were my birth parents?” I was as tall as my adopted parents at age 10, and I remember being 100% positive that my birth parents were giants. (not true….birth mother 5 ft 4 in, birth father, 6 ft tall.) I would ask, “Where did I live before you got me?” ( I used the word “got,” as that is how my parents referred to me…. “We got you.” ) My mom always told me they did not know where I was before I was with them. This one fact bothered me the most then, and it still bothers me now.
Being adopted is like searching for that elusive delicious food you can never describe. Looking for car keys everywhere in the house, including the trash can, but never finding them, ever, and having to make new keys, only to lose them all over again. Or, looking in all the school’s trash cans when you left your retainer on your tray at lunch. Or not being able to find your car in a huge parking garage……. you get the idea.
Adoptedness is the perpetual search to meet a need that is so elusive in description that even the best wordsmith can not come up with a way to describe how it feels.
It is a feeling of loss and grief and panic grief and longing and looking and that missing puzzle piece. It is the core wounding that there is not enough medicine to cure.
The cure is the truth. And, even when you have the truth, the school bus still feels lonely some days.