Thursday, August 24, 2017

Chapter 12: Vacation to Normal

Hard to believe, but it's been almost exactly a year since I've written here on this whole adoption trip.i wasn't sure until recently why I stopped. I know that a lot has been happening in the world that deserves attention, but that’s not the whole story. The writing helps me and I've been told that it helps others.  Reading and hearing other people’s stories is good for me too in so many ways. So when people ask me, “Are you still blogging?”  I'm embarrassed to say that, lately, I haven't been. Then I change the subject to anything other than adoption. Thinking about it more and more, I can best describe my absence as an attempted Vacation to Normal, a leave of absence from everything related to… well… who I really am.
It certainly wasn’t planned in advance, nor come to think of it, was it an impulsive decision. It just happened.  And in many ways, it felt like a relief. With the exception of the late discovery group, I mostly drifted away from the Facebook adoption discussion groups and the virtual meetings. I stopped reading and writing about it. I found a new job after 12 years at my old one, settled into that, and kept my life pretty simple for a while. I focused on what was right in front of my nose, then spent time resting and with friends. Also, lets face it, there was a lot of Netflix to catch up on.  

My disconnect with all things adoption-related became obvious a while back while I was having coffee with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. She eventually asked, as some who have followed my story will, about my blog and if there was anything new to report in my “amazing journey.”

Whew... Deep breath... Right.  That thing.  Okay, where do I start? Well, first of all, the truth was that lately it hadn’t  been that amazing. It’s was mostly painful, frustrating, and infuriating. As I tried to talk about it, I found myself increasingly exhausted with every word. I started wondering why I ever wrote this blog in the first place.  In many ways, I know I set myself up for this, writing chapter after chapter like a mystery novel, each one revealing more clues taking me to the next insight or revelation about my past or, eventually, to my inevitable tearful reunion with long-lost relatives. But lately none of that was happening. I had started to set up expectations that I could no longer fulfill. The leads in my search had dried up and my desire to search along with them.  Sitting there at coffee with someone who really wanted to know more about me, I must have seemed listless and distant. I felt as though I was wading through a bog, but at the time I didn't know why.

What was happening?  A year ago, you couldn’t get me to shut up about this stuff. In fact, it was the very act of talking about it, of writing about it, that saved me. As someone who discovered proof of his adoption at the age of 43, my entire identity up until then had been a secret buried under layers of fear and shame. I never felt normal, never felt like I truly belonged anywhere or came from anywhere. Speaking up and telling my story was the remedy that I needed. Joining my voice to the voices of the many other adoptees also writing about their experiences gave me a new sense of belonging.  I wanted… no, I NEEDED to do the opposite of what I had learned to do, which was to stay silent and keep my feelings to myself. I was done with that.

It wasn't easy in the beginning. The first time I posted a blog entry about my story, I had a full-on panic attack as soon as I shared it. The first time I told a story onstage, my mouth dried up and my head went light. I thought I would pass out right there in front of everyone. It wasn't just stage fright. I'd performed in front of an audience hundreds of times. But a lifetime of keeping quiet, of accepting secrets and lies about myself, despite knowing deep down that they were wrong, had made it’s mark. I had become scared to death of what would happen if I dared to spill the beans. My mind and body rebelled. But I pushed through anyway, knowing that on the other side of that fear, something better had to be waiting. And it was. Writing, talking, telling my story… it was all an act of defiance against my past, and it did me good. I highly recommend it actually, not just for adoptees, but for anyone who has ever been taught to hide from who they are or what has happened to them. Telling your story, even to one person, can break the spell.

Another thing happened too that I am still only now coming to grips with. Suddenly, and only two short years ago, I found myself thrust into a whole new identity. In talking to other late discovery adoptees, I have only recently started to scratch the surface of just how surreal this whole experience has been, how completely and utterly disorienting.  To believe a set of facts about yourself your entire life, and then to suddenly get confirmation that you are, in fact, someone else...well, there’s nothing normal about it. And no matter how many so-called “vacations to normal” I take, I can’t escape this simple fact: that at the age of 43, I learned by mail from a government office in Ohio, what my own family had refused to tell me. 

In those early months, I felt off-balance just about every day, as if I was lost in a dream. Like a teenager trying on different looks to see which identity fits, I was once again searching for who I was. As an adult, shouldn’t I have had this figured this out by now? But there I was, suddenly learning that I’d been in The Truman Show. Surprise! To say the least, it was a lot to take in. It still is.

Then there was the search. As I entered this new world, I spoke to other adoptees who were searching and reuniting with their birth families. I thought to myself, “That must be what I should do.”

And yet, even among the other adoptees that I have come to know and love, I found myself out of synch and feeling like I had so much catching up to do.  Many had been searching for years. Most knew they were adopted since childhood and were now “in reunion.”  I still have no idea what that even means or feels like.  Most of my birth family is gone or still a mystery. I have yet to come face to face with anyone who shares my DNA, though I still want to very badly.

Since my last big break a year ago, finding one of my birth mother Judy’s high school friends and getting pictures, the search has come up mostly empty.  In the months after last August's blog post, I continued to try to fill in the gaps of my birth mother’s story, to find the person that she was. I wrote an op-ed in the Euclid newspaper asking for help.  I contacted churches.  I wrote to relatives of her now-passed husband. Nothing.  No answers, no replies. Judy’s adult life still today remains mostly a mystery to me.  

I also continued to explore DNA to find my birth father. Taking a test on, I found a second cousin, a few third cousins, but nothing that led to anything closer. Each DNA discovery created more confusion, raised more questions. My 2nd cousin sends me Facebook messages from time to time and does her best to help. But the water just seems to get murkier the more I learn.  It’s nice that I’ve found her, though. It gives me hope. 

The thing most people don’t write in self-help books, though, is that hope can sometimes be exhausting.  The fruitlessness of this search has knocked me down, I think, more than I realized. It’s not so much that I haven’t found the answers, but that I allowed myself to put so much hope and so much stock into what would happen if I did. I began to think it would be the answer. Two and a half years ago, I didn’t even know I wanted these things, didn’t even know that I could allow myself to want them. I was in denial for so long, suspecting the truth, but fearing the rejection and abandonment I was sure would come from speaking up and searching for the truth. What right did I have to ask for something that so many had decided I that should not have? It took a while to convince myself, with a lot of help from others, that I did have the right to search, that I had nothing to be ashamed of.

But hope has also kept me going. And maybe exhaustion is not a sign that I should quit, but only that I should rest a while. And maybe, just maybe, that’s all I’ve been doing. Perhaps now, or sometime soon, it’ll be time to get back to the business of being me.

Anyway, whether I like it or not, life has a funny way of keeping me from falling back into too long or too deep of a sleep.  Along will come an invitation for a storytelling event with the theme of “Home” or “Family.” Or another late discovery adoptee will show up on a message board and I will have the opportunity to help and connect. Or an opportunity will come up to go on a retreat for adoptees.

Or another DNA match will show up on Ancestry, as one just recently did, someone who just took the test and with whom I share enough genetics in common to be first cousins. Is this the big break I’ve been looking for?  Or another dead end?  I won’t know unless I get to it, will I?     

So yes, it appears that, little by little, I may be coming back.

As for normal, I don't know if I ever really got there, but that's okay. Normal was never my thing anyway. The truth is that this journey has been a lot of things - amazing, maddening grueling, exciting, heartbreaking, and empowering - sometimes all of this at once, and wonderfully, unexpectedly strange. So I'm going to show up and starting telling this story again, even if I think I have nothing to say. Thanks for listening and for coming along on the ride.