“Like most abused children, Fiora had no language to describe what was happening to her. She lived most of her life deep within herself in a split-off world of partial awareness, with no friends to support her.” -Dusty Miller, Women Who Hurt Themselves.
This passage received a visceral reaction from me. Though this “split-off world” Dusty Miller talks about was tied to a woman’s abuse story (and her subsequent eating disorder), it resonated with me as an adopted person completely.
I would like to acknowledge that some people in the community have referred to this idea recently as “the third space”. I am not sure what the second would be. There is a theory by the same name and you can read more about it here. Perhaps there are parallels to be drawn.
Anyway, I have always explained this “split-off world” as an (obviously) invisible secret space in my mind where I have to keep adoptee thoughts to myself and experience adoptee experiences alone. Other human beings do not walk around with these kinds of fractures. I believe that’s why community members become so hurt and dysregulated when non-adoptees (aka “kept” people) tell us/them to be grateful for being adopted or try to speak on our behalf. Unless you’ve lived with this kind of mental affliction, you cannot possibly understand.
When adoptees meet with other adoptees, we can go into this secret area of our brains and start sharing, which assists in eroding feelings like shame, guilt, isolation and abnormality.
Until I came “out of the FOG”, I couldn’t articulate properly what was going on in my complicated brain. Because of that, experiences in my secret space manifested into moodiness, behavioral issues and more. As an adult, I have often struggled with doctors attributing my now diagnosed neurodiversities to behaviors connected to mental illness that I know have a direct connection with my relinquishment.
Unfortunately, there is no way to integrate this hellscape. Just like we can’t combine timelines and we can’t fuse our families together.
If I had to re-write the above passage from Women Who Hurt Themselves…
“Like most adopted children, Emily had no language to describe what she was experiencing in the world around her. She lived most of her life deep within herself in a split-off world of partial awareness (in the FOG), without support. When she tried to express herself she was shut down. People’s words felt cruel. Her pains intensified. Unable to recognize and heal from peer questioning, in-family bullying, disenfranchised loss and grief, she turned to food and later alcohol and cigarettes in an attempt to regulate her nervous system.”
This part of my mind was also the place where I would dream about my biological family as a child. I would ask my brain at night to manifest ideas that would point me in the direction of where to find them. I would do a lot of thinking about who they were here.
Let me know if you relate in the comments below.
Edit: People have also referred to this masked place in our minds where we exist as adoptees as a liminal space. I will be co-hosting a conversation with Amanda Baum from Fireside Adoptees on the idea June 1st. Stay tuned if you’d like!
I can relate to this so deeply. I was punished if I spoke about being adopted or God forbid I mentioned wanting to find my biological family. It occurs to me that this issue is very much like masking for people with autism. An autistic person is told they must 'be like everybody else' and a concerted about of their energy is invested in trying to appear typical. With an adoptee, it's a constant mental game of pushing down the feelings of disconnection or fear of being cast out.
It's worsened if your parents would say, "I never should have adopted you!" when they were angry. So you're not allowed to talk about the sadness, disconnection, longing to know your roots, but the current situation could cast you adrift at any moment if you do not be or act as they command. Sounds so much like the consequences autistic people face if they don't mask because typical people are so intolerant.
I can relate as well. I am 60 years old, and when I look back on my childhood, it all seems gray. I must've been happy sometimes, but I just can't remember it.
I had to hide so much.