On my way home from a draining extra-long day at work yesterday, I was reading one of Anne Heffron’s latest posts and thinking. She wrote about how, for adoptees, the search for identity and the drive to inhabit and live our true selves can be a worthy life-long goal. That we are worth that effort, that we get to invest in ourselves that way, that our searches and quests and queries are useful and meaningful and worthy.
And I realized a lot of things.
I realized that my draining day, that this work challenge I set myself to, is all bound up in my search for identity. Before I went searching for my first family, I was a Good Adoptee. Compliant. Angry but hiding it even from myself. In my family, that meant getting good grades at school and not making too much trouble. School was easy for me. I’m naturally inclined towards book learning, so our educational system suits me just fine. I was never a straight A student in part because I didn’t put in the extra effort in subjects I didn’t care about, but I did okay. My a-mom’s dream for me was college, and I made that without too much trouble. I went to grad school. I got a job in my chosen field, and then several other jobs. I was defined as a good student who became a good bureaucrat. My career path took me across the country several times, and I followed the jobs because I was my Career Path. I defined myself by work.
My work is in history.
I defined myself by my work for as long as I had a giant gaping hole in my history. At work, I put things in context, I helped explain what they were and how the played a part in a larger network of things. I did for inanimate things what I needed done for me. I gave things and places stories and context and pulled from those things meaning.
My search was mercifully short. It took me 15 years to get from first tentative inquiry to actual active search, but once I did that, I was incredibly lucky. My first mom had an unusual surname. My adoptive mother was able to access some court paperwork that helped me find that name. My search angel was amazing, and between the name and the family structure we knew from non-ID, we had an address in about 3 months. It took me another month to write that first letter. About 6 months from the beginning of my active search, I met my first mom in person.
And all the answers in the world didn’t land in my lap. I wasn’t magically happy, life wasn’t perfect, and rainbows weren’t everywhere.
The real search happened after reunion. While I was building a relationship with my first mom, my relationship to myself and to everyone I knew before I knew her was shifting. I was filling in some of the holes. I was learning about my roots, I was grounding, I was seating myself in my own life. None of this was comfortable.
As I began to become real to myself, I changed. As I became more defined, I created new boundaries within my life, some walls came down, fences went up in different places. I began to be able to talk about myself, to be open, while also choosing way more carefully who I talked to about what. Not everyone liked this version of me. I was about me first, instead of about them.
My relationship to my job shifted, and I wanted more and different things. Acknowledging that was painful and left me feeling unmoored. I was becoming a person, rather than a job description, but who was I if my chosen career field no longer defined me?
Six years into reunion. Four years into an honest, open, and sometimes painful relationship that supports and sustains me. Three years past knowing I needed a drastic career shift. Less than a year past a huge, purposeful, chosen life upheaval that changed everything.
I am working in a way that allows my search for meaning out in the world and my search for meaning in my own history to overlap and bolster one another. This makes work challenges much more scary, as if I fail, I fail myself. But it also makes them more rewarding. My life includes work, a career, outside interests, and a supportive partnership in my home life. My life includes two mothers. My life includes spheres that intersect and overlap. It strives for balance and occasionally achieves it. It includes open acknowledgement that anxiety is a legacy of my life, and I deal with it. It also includes new discoveries and new insights.
One of these new insights: I feel validated and valued when my partner is comfortable enough to call me out on something I’ve done when it hurts them. I feel valued as an employee when my boss or a coworker take the time to give me feedback, even when it stings. When someone is comfortable enough with me to have an honest conversation with me about something difficult or unpleasant, I feel as though they believe our relationship is strong enough to handle it. I think my partner, who is conflict averse, thinks I’m kind of odd that way, but we’re working on it.
Adoption is one big factor in making me the way I am, the person I am. I don’t always like its influence, but I have to accept it and work with it instead of fighting it.