Friday, October 22, 2010

The Silent Suffering of the Adoptee

The following is some pretty vulnerable and intense stuff. I don't necessarily know why I feel compelled to share it, other than to try to communicate the kind of silent suffering that adoptees often endure, and the intense lostness that persists coupled with the lack of understanding from those around us.

My experience may be a little more on the extreme side of the spectrum, simply because I am an extreme kind of personality--deeply emotional, incredibly passionate, prone to melancholy, and inherently rebellious.

And although I may have expressed and acted it out in extreme, even frightening, ways to some, I know that I am not alone in how I suffered and wrestled amidst unresolved confusion, unrecognized grief, and profound pain--all for which I could not identify a cause, because no one around me seemed to have the first clue about the consequences of adoption on a person's life.

I also want to admonish those who would come to the conclusion that I did what I did because I had "bad adoptive parents" or because I was a freakish kind of exception--be cautious and careful, slow and humble when making such conclusions...the pain and suffering of an adoptee remain no matter how loving and how caring an adoptive home may be...and so often that pain and suffering goes unrecognized because we, as adoptees, have no safe place to express it.

So, we put on our smiles. We adapt. We push to achieve and to please, because we know that's what the people really want to see. And hence, our suffering becomes ours and ours alone.

If you were to meet me, you'd never know, outwardly, that I would have ever acted out in such ways or that I can be so fragile at times. Adoptees know how to appear strong. We know how to perform our expected role. We know how to please those around us. We know what folks want from us, and we know how to deliver it.

I was 19 years old when the events recounted below occurred. I'm 35 years old now. A lot has changed in the 16 years between. I have changed a lot in the 16 years between. I am in a different, I believe healthier, place now.

It all feels as though it was a lifetime ago. But the pain still festers. The silence often lingers. And I am still trying to find my way...

But I think at least now I know what I am looking for, who I am and who I want to be...

I share the following account to give voice to and to honor those fellow adoptees of mine who have suffered in silence, who, like me, are still trying to find their way--hoping that we can know we need not suffer alone...

* * *

[The below poem is to preface the personal account that follows it]


when you hop in your car and begin driving to you don't know where.

just anywhere. but here.

without any plan of return,

you’re thinking that this might be it.

and it seems to

surface seemingly from nowhere.

jumps inside the

labyrinth of your mind and gets. lost. it is

lost until you find it. it has been there forever

just wandering around and

suddenly your thoughts stumble upon this:


and at first:

you tell it that it is trespassing and that.

it must leave. immediately. but



puts on the moves. it’s a smooth.


and it says that it's here to help. you.

if you would just show it the way out, it will. help you. it tells you

it knows you don't want some stranger inside your head.

it starts to make sense. to you.

it starts to sound. logical. to you.

And so you show it the way out, and

you hop in your car. And

you’re driving. You’re going down.



And then

when you’re six hundred miles south—

you start to think again.

and you wish you hadn't let that stranger out.

because that


is you.

* * *

Lesson # 1955:

Running = Dying = Resurrection

I awaken.

I feel something like sound and moisture pour out of my mouth. I think I am screaming for help.

One of my brothers appears in the doorway of my bedroom. He looks like an angel. No, he looks confused and terrified.

He yells out.

* * *

I wake up in the ER. They're making me vomit.

* * *

I stay in the care of psychiatric professionals for months. I run through Prozac and Zoloft and Effexor. My shrink is an egocentric Freudian thinks-he-knows-it-all. He experiments with me like a hamster, poking at me with his snide smiles and slivered eyes.

* * *

Just three months prior to the episode of the overdose, my parents had hired a private investigator. I had disappeared from my college campus during a weekend.

They probably never would have known had I not stolen three hundred dollars in cash from their personal bank account. I would have taken more, but the ATM would not let me withdraw more than that.

I woke up in a hotel room somewhere in Tennessee to a loud banging on the door. It was the private investigator. He had found me.

The funny thing is—to this day—I still have no recollection of how I ended up in that hotel room. I just remember getting in my car, turning the key in the ignition, and merging onto the freeway. After that, I don't remember a thing before awakening to the loud banging on the hotel room door, and even that’s a bit grainy and hazy.

* * *

After the private investigator tracked me down, I do remember standing next to my Mom, getting checked into a psychiatric unit. As my Mom signed papers, I noticed a wrinkled curly-haired woman wandering around stark naked. The nurses tried to corral her—she swatted at them like they were giant insects. Another woman, thin with long black hair, walked laps around the unit with a plastic look on her face, clutching a handbag closely to her body.

As I stood there awaiting my fate, I felt equally terrified yet relieved.

* * *

I was in the coo-coo’s nest for only one week that first time.

In comparison to all my fellow comrades on the unit, I must have appeared as stable and as sane as the U.S. Constitution to most of the doctors and nurses.

But I was sure to tumble that assessment.

* * *

Less than three months after my release, on Easter morning, I decided that I wanted to sleep. For the rest of my life.

What better day to sleep than on the day of resurrection.

I thought that if I could somehow die like Jesus then maybe I could somehow be resurrected like Jesus. I imagined that I could lay to rest forever all my wrongs and all my pain, all my loneliness and all my selfish crimes. And upon my awakening, all that would be left would be everything good and happy.

But it doesn't work that way. I wasn't able, that day, to kill the darker parts of myself. It's all or nothing. And I came up with nothing. Or perhaps, I was secretly hoping to find it all.

It would seem that no resurrection came to me that day. At least, not the resurrection for which I was looking.

Instead of waking up anew, I woke up vomiting. And like I said, I got a three-month vacation, munching on anti-depressants and playing hamster for the shrink—somehow still waiting, still hoping, for that elusive day, when all that would remain would be good.

* * *

[For more personal accounts of my experiences "Growing up as a Korean-American adoptee" click here.]


Anonymous said...

thank you for sharing this, melissa. so many of us adoptees know this pain and attempt to deal with it in different ways. you are courageous, and we now know that we don't have to suffer alone. XO

Von said...

Thanks Melisssa for telling us how it was/is when a young person reaches that time of life when these things can happen but for adoptees there can be so much more to deal with, so much that doesn't get resolved because it has no resolution and we learn to live with it, accept that's how it is and make a life, as you have done in the best way you can.xx

Jessica said...

I just finished reading "Family of Adoption". I read it in one sitting. I had so many epiphanies while reading it. There was nothing particularly specific that lead me to a better understanding of the adoptee voice while reading the book, but that, along with your post today, wow. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

These are such vulnerable accounts, Melissa. Thank you for trusting us to sharel these with us. Yes, anything to numb the pain, the loneliness. And the silent screaming and sobbing that no one else understands.

Kim M.

Jennifer said...

Thank you for such a raw, honest account of your pain.

Mia_h_n said...

Wow, Melissa. That's some pretty heavy stuff. I'm sort of at a loss for articulate words...

I'm glad you feel at a better place. Thank you for sharing.

Terri said...

Thank you for sharing this part of your story with us, Melissa.

scotched said...

I've lost count of all the stupid things I've tried and continue to do to hurt myself. I could never pull the trigger tho...

I guess I'm too stubborn.

For that reason, I refuse to let you beat me on this one. If you can make it to 35, then so can I.

Mila said...

Scotched--Seriously, if I can make it to 35 (almost 36), then yes, you can make it. ;)