Adoptee-centric spaces and healing.

I spent part of my weekend at the American Adoption Congress conference in Cambridge. When I first heard about the conference, which I think was last fall or winter, I was excited. This seemed like a really good way to reach outside of my own experience and go meet other people involved in adoption, probably in a way that would be positive for me. So I became a member and registered.

But as the conference approached, my apprehension skyrocketed. The weekend before, I started having all sorts of bizarre nightmares and sleeping poorly. All week, I was agitated and anxious and just completely out of sorts. When time came to leave Thursday, I wanted nothing more than to go to bed and pull the covers over my head and not come out until — oops — I missed it.

As an adoptee, though, I’m used to pushing down feelings and just getting on with what I need to do to live a seemingly normal life. I’m not as good at this as I used to be as I’ve spent 3.5 years working in therapy to acknowledge and then to pick away at the wall I’ve shoved all the feelings behind. Now I know that I’m anxious and agitated, and I usually know why. Here’s the thing about knowing, though — it doesn’t make any of the feelings go away or not happen. You still have to feel them. I’m just learning that I can feel them and that I can survive it.

So I went to Cambridge.

Before the first morning session, as other people milled about talking to friends and acquaintances, I found a table with one other person at it and asked if it was okay for me to sit down with her. She nodded, but I hadn’t chosen all that well — she was either very nervous or just uninterested in talking. But other people sat down and introduced themselves and we chatted. My name badge had a “first timer” ribbon on it, and that seems to be a marker for some people to go out of their way to say hi and see how things are going. This is an excellent practice, and I highly endorse it. It made things easier for me.

I learned so much that I have to think about and process and grapple with — but grapple with in a good way, as tools that may help me sort out moving forward in my adoption journey. More than learning, though, I found acceptance, understanding, and a space where one of the things that defines my life journey, adoption, is not a thing that makes me stand out. The source of my otherness, was a source of connection. Being in a large group of people where adoption was the norm, not the oddity, gave me context for my journey. I didn’t know I needed context. I did.

For the first time, I felt able to share thoughts and feelings about adoption and have another person say “I know! Me, too!” The relief in that is indescribable.

I am not now magically healed. But this journey of learning about adoption and myself and my world feels like it is on a much more solid path, now. Rather than bushwhacking through untouched territory, I feel like I’m walking alone on a path that many more people have traveled before me, and many more people are coming behind, and the information we learn on this journey can help those behind us have a better trod, more solid path. This is what acceptance and understanding feels like.

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