In my apartment building, we have thin walls. In a few small respects, this is nice. Once, I knocked over everything on my nightstand, causing a great thump. My downstairs neighbor called me to make sure I was okay. Sometimes it’s nice to be checked on.
This weekend, though, I’m listening to an extended family gathering next door, one that includes several kids. They sound young, but I don’t really know how old they are. What I do know is that yelling at a small child to stop crying is absolutely ineffective. I know it by logic, but I know it by experience, too.
I have cried out of sadness, but even today I tend to keep that to myself. But I also have, since I was small, cried out of frustration. When I just can’t get the words I need to say something in an argument (or even not in an argument), when I am being unfairly rebuked for something, when things all come crashing down and I can’t say how or why, I often cry. I find it embarrassing.
My father didn’t like these outbursts, and he would punish me for them. I would sit in a corner until I got my emotional shit together, and then again as long as it had taken me to get to that point. It was about as effective as yelling, honestly. I actually needed the time out. I needed space to get myself sorted out. I didn’t need the shaming that came with it, that I’m still trying to get out from under today.
I think this is one of the things where adoptees aren’t different from other children. When we are small, we have no words for things. We learn words from our parents. We need to learn words for sad, frustrated, angry, tired, hungry, and all the other important but not positive parts of life. If we’re yelled at rather than listened to, punished rather than taught, we become stifled. I think often we don’t learn because our parents never did — they don’t really have words either.
For adoptees, though, we also have more trauma than our parents have been taught to consider, more pain than they can imagine. They were lied to about the blankness of our slates, and in turn, they lied to us. It was not ill-meant, but the effects were still ill. Our parents, all of them, didn’t know. At least in my case, they still don’t know today. As I always thought as a child, my pain is too much for them, and sharing it does push them away from me. That fear was a true one. I have broken parts of me, and not everyone can accept that part of me.
Today, with the plethora of adults who are adopted speaking up about what it is to live the experience of an adopted life, parents — adoptive and natural — should be better prepared. I’m not sure that many of them are, yet, and my heart aches for their children. Acknowledgement of the pain and trauma of adoption doesn’t solve those things, but it does allow them to be seen and felt rather than stuffed down to fester.
Maybe with that light, adoptees will not face adulthood knowing that none of their parents know who they really are. The loneliness of living in that pain alone is still indescribable, and the frustration of that still makes me want to cry. A lot of adoptees seem to protect their parents from this, myself included. I’m not sure if I’m protecting them or my relationships with them, but I’m pretty sure it’s more the latter. What if this black hold of need is the thing that makes me unlovable? It’s like believing your worst nightmares could, in fact, be true.