by Anne Heffron
It can be tricky making friends when part of your brain thinks if your mother didn’t like you, why would anyone else. Maybe the making part isn’t as hard as the keeping part. You can make a friend in an instant, but then you can say or do the wrong thing or get triggered or trigger someone and then, in an instant, because you are having a hard time thinking straight because too many alarms are going off in your mind and body, you can lose a friend.
I’ve never met a group of people so prone to cutting someone off at the knees, slamming the door forever, feeling in their soul that the relationship is dead. I thought that was one of my strong qualities, my ability to end things suddenly and walk away, but now that I understand a little better the importance of connection, I see that facing the fire of fury, heartbreak, confusion, and/or disappointment may lead to a clearer sense of myself and a less lonely life. Dawn Conwell Mulkay made notebooks for a group of adopted people who recently met in person in Boston after a few years of meeting weekly on Zoom. She put a quote by Jim Henson on the back cover: “There’s not a word yet for old friends who’ve just met.” Inside the front cover, she wrote, “Adopted people kicking the hell out of their lives. Emerging from the false self and negotiating life on new terms.” This notebook is now one of my treasures. It’s a tangible object that reminds me of people I rarely see in real life but whom I consider dear friends.
It’s okay for me to have friends.
Is that a weird thing to say?
Part of me thinks I’m like this space cowboy who is supposed to negotiate life on my own, floating out there in my own little space bubble. Friends, real friends, are something other people have. Real friends are for people who can stay, people who can be relied on, people who have a strong sense of life and purpose. Real friends are for people who are real.
What the actual heck? I want to erase that last paragraph, but there it is. I said it, and so now I have to look at it.
I’ve been actively working on cultivating real friendships in the last few months because I’ve come to see the difference between existing in protection and connection mode. Robyn Gobbel’s recently released book, Raising Kids with Big Baffling Behaviors, does a really good job of explaining the two states of being. I have been in protection mode most of my life. The point of each day is to survive. That kind of mindset is exhausting and lonely. I don’t want to just survive. I want to go out to dinner with a friend and laugh.
You know what I mean?
It’s funny how relaxing and letting go can feel like climbing an impossibly high mountain. I guess, as with so many things, maybe the key is taking baby steps and having a sense of where I want to end up.
With you, laughing or crying or telling each other our secrets or whatever else it is that friends do.
Anne Heffron is an adopted person and the author of You Don’t Look Adopted. She is currently wrapping up To Be Real, a sequel that also includes the work of other adoptee writers she worked with over the course of a year. She is a writing coach and advocate for the voices of the adopted. In October, she will start a year-long ZOOM writing class for adopted people (Tuesdays 8-9:30 PM EST) and is hosting an in-person writing retreat for adopted people on Cape Cod, November 2-6. Visit anneheffron.com for info on retreats, classes, her blog, and her books.