It was clear that appearances were everything for me: I was named after Miss America, Lee Ann Meriweather, and everything, including my adoption at age one and my life with a new family hinged on a photograph from which I’d been chosen from the orphanage. I was uncertain. Could I maintain appearances to keep that new life?
You can guess that I would have a big empathy for outsiders, for people who are forgotten, neglected or ignored through the system, who are insecure; also, for animals who need adopting, and even for inanimate things that are discarded. Many curbside finds like old Orientals and lamps populate my home and have since I was a young girl.
Sympathizing with others also soothed my question of self-worth: I felt better inside. Maybe someone would come along and do that for me? Besides, I’d found my tribe in the disenchanted. Many overcompensations for my questions of self-worth and value – People Pleasing, Lack of Boundaries, and Performance Drive – kept me functional. These modus operandi are in capitalized letters because they are the proper names of characters inside me. What I couldn’t do was express an authentic self. Too risky.
Until uncovering my genetic identity and the impact of meeting biological family, I was best at performing prescribed roles, yet remained unsure of their relevance. This begged the question, did my wants and feelings count for anything? Would I articulate my needs, or would I go through life ghosting people rather than express displeasure?
I had to stand up for myself when I met my biological family. How else would they know me? It was then, that I realized that my performance had been in relation to loss, to abandonment. Excelling and perfectionism was to win approval, and to experience a love that might never disappear. It was pretty anxiety producing. Doing something just for the pleasure of it seemed unwarranted. There was a lot at stake in being simply real.
At the bottom of all my questions of identity, of self-worth, in closing the circle of information and reflection, was a simple need to have my life acknowledged. Did I matter to the mother who surrendered me? When my biological father contacted me in 2002, those questions were in part satisfied. Yet, in a primal way, my biological mother held the set of keys as to whether or not I existed as a person of value for myself.
What I’ve learned is: None of what my ego said I needed matters. That’s just the voice that tells me how to act for reward. It’s who I declare myself to be that counts, not the social or cultural labels – adopted, illegitimate, surrendered, or foreign – and, not even the specter of abandonment could diminish that. I was ready for the truth. But I was completely unprepared, in the best way possible, to learn that my biological mother took a job in the orphanage to be with me that first year. Elatedly, positively validating.
There was first though, a transcendent moment when I’d declared that I was not my adoptive parents’ expectation, was not defined by rejection or acceptance. That’s so basic, it’s almost embarrassing. Our human blindness had precluded me seeing it, like the refrigerator blindness that precluded me seeing the bright green apple on the shelf.
But, I’d had a sixth sense of myself from the time I was twelve. Now, I’ve gone back to her and re-connected. She came to me through intuitive knowledge. I’ve made a pact with that fully realized sense of self, the self-concept that I grew — that I’ll be only her.
Every so often, I’ve gotten lost in other agendas. I’ve assigned myself roles that were carved out of other people’s needs. It’s incredibly easy to do. As an empath, we feel other’s desires like a radar that transmits to respond yes to an invitation to fulfill for others what they won’t do for themselves; that as a result, we don’t do either.
My childhood role was ensuring that others were taken care of. As I helped my dad find the way amid the channel markers on the Chesapeake while motoring in our blue and white cabin cruiser, I eased everyone’s fears – his, my mother’s and my own — that we’d be lost. I pretended to ignore other concerns. Though I might be tossed overboard in those rough seas, my job was to stand firm, my bare feet sloshed with waves, the mineral smell of the powerful churning sea swirling in me.
Now that we’re in the time of Covid-19, it’s clear that no one is coming to help us. Our government does not have a plan to take care of us and that is scary. The important thing is to not act as though we’re not scared. Fear is a big motivator. As we take matters into our own hands as citizens, let’s join hands too, to create the widest, most inclusive circle of defense for survival — and to answer our hearts’ truest yearnings.