Friday, May 3, 2013
Watching Someone Rise from the Ashes (and why you Should Still Listen When a Story is Sad)
Yesterday was a gorgeous spring day. My screen door clapped against its frame behind me as I stepped out into the sunlight. My children played happily in their sandbox as I clinked the yard gate shut and knelt down on the fresh earth in front of me. On my knees, I waded through a mix of hostas that had burst through the ground and those stubborn wild onion weeds. Our garden soil is always rich and full of wriggling earthworms; an underground stream runs somewhere through our yard. Still, though, the weeds are difficult to render from the earth. As a cold sensation soaked through my jeans, chilling my knees, I remembered that it had just rained. It is always easier to pull weeds when it rains. I began to yank the green intruders from my garden in handfuls, easily unearthing their tangled bulbs. I recalled being a little girl and thinking that the rain was the earth's way of having a good cry.
When I left off here last, I was in tears. Well, I was in the story that I told, at least. I told the story of a few years ago, during one of my first classes, when I was unexpectedly asked to talk about my family in front of a large group. At the time, I had recently embarked on reunion. "Family" for me was separated into two distinct family systems, half of which I had just met, whose roles and meaning in my life I had just begun weaving together. As tears began to fall onto my notebook that day, I excused myself from the room. I had a good cry; there were some things I needed to weed out.
The story was about what I had overcome but not how I overcame it. I purposely never got to that part in the original post. I wanted to honor the struggle by giving it a post of its own. I know that sad stories can make people uncomfortable. Why bother telling one at all?
Reflecting on a tough time allows you to identify skills you used to survive so that you can go on to conquer other challenges. It also gives you the bigger picture of life which is full of trials to overcome, whether you are adopted or not. Can I be the hero of the story if you don't know what I conquered? Can you understand how far I have come unless you know where I have been? Can you cheer for me if you do not know what challenges me? Can you congratulate me for a job well done if you do not know what I did?
What has helped me the most in this experience of assigning meaning to adoption in my life in early adulthood is writing. Exploring adoption in my life helped me discover that I enjoy writing. As for the challenges that had piled up to that day, acknowledging them allowed me to tackle them. I have taken my relationships one day at a time. I followed through on the health care issues and did not test positive for skin cancer. I have learned to listen to people who identify my strengths and challenge me. I began engaging in adoption discourse and reading adoption literature both to help me understand adoption and to use that information to try to make a positive difference. It has been a process of growth and self-discovery.
The reason my personal triumphs in life are worth celebrating is because they were hard to begin with. Human resiliency is always worth celebrating.
I finished that class, and I went on to finish the entire program. As a part of graduating, I have written a personalized letter to every professor that I came into contact with during my undergraduate social work experience. It does not matter if I had taken their class or not. If they had ever crossed paths with me and had given me feedback, I wrote to them. Every contribution, no matter how small, helped shape me into a the person I have become. As part of these letters, I made sure to tell my professors a story. The young woman who left class in tears that day has gone on that introspective and extrospective journey and is able to speak and write her story with her head held high. It is a story of a young woman who had trouble identifying her own strengths which turned into a seemingly endless journey of finding a place in the professional world. It is the story of a young woman who, with the guidance of her friends, educators, and mentors, became empowered. It is the story of a young woman who found her original family, found even stronger bonds with her adoptive family, found her professional calling, and found herself. And she liked what she found.
When I tell you a story of what it is like to be lost it is so you can fully understand what I mean when I tell you what it is like to be found.
I won't always tell a sad story. To be honest, it wouldn't be a reflection of my life if I always told a sad story. I do not live a sad life. But I will not undervalue a story just because it is sad. If I walk away from the parts of living life that are hard,c I will never get to witness the beauty of a storyteller rising from the ashes.
Posted by The Declassified Adoptee
Amanda Woolston, MSS, LCSW, CT is an adoption and child welfare focused scholar, author, therapist, activist, and leader. For over a decade, her work has reached millions globally through media, public policy, and writing projects.