- Heather Lewis
Musings of a Middle-aged Matriarch: How do you find joy?
As adoptees, many of us have had to create our own joy. We have to work at joy because it doesn’t come naturally to us. We are too busy worrying about fitting in or where we came from or even who we are. When asked what brings me joy, it’s changed throughout the years. As we grow, so do our needs and wants. When I was younger, I thought having a boyfriend would bring me joy. All I wanted was a boy to fall madly in love with me. I’d wish upon a star every night: Wish I may, wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight…the wish was always a boyfriend. And then, I got one. And surprise, that which can bring great joy can also bring great sadness.
When I was young, I took ballet lessons. I felt free on the dance floor and expressed my emotions through movement. I was good at it. I didn’t have to think; I could just be. In college, I taught ballroom dancing as a side gig. When I turned 18, we went to a club called The Industry in Pontiac, Michigan. I spent hours dancing at that club, drinking flaming Blue Ferraris, watching the flame disappear as it was sucked up my straw. Then, turning to help my girl, Virgie, when she instructed, “Hold my braids,” as she sipped the drink of fire. As an adult, I try to dance, but who has the time or the money? Adult ballet classes are expensive. I’d love to go to the club, but I’m nervous I’ll end up on someone’s TikTok with the #MOMDANCE. And, to be honest, I don’t want to dance to current music. I want to dance to the music of the '80s and '90s. I want to be transported through time and space to when I ate whatever I wanted and didn’t worry about my pre-diabetes and high blood pressure. But, this dancing queen now comes with strings attached.
When I was younger, nothing excited me more than succeeding. I was always ready for a competition. Be it a spelling bee or a trivia contest, I would study to win. Just like Ricki Bobby said, “If you’re not first, you’re last.” I possessed a desire to prove that I could do something great, that I was worthy of praise. Outward recognition was important to me and built what little self-esteem I had. I didn’t ask for the role of people pleaser, but I wore it well.
I was always chasing happiness, always trying to get to the greener grass on the other side. Happiness was elusive. It would materialize in front of me for a hot second and just when I thought I had achieved it, it would fade away slowly, like Homer Simpson into the bushes. It wasn’t until I was older, I realized I was constantly trying to make myself happy with outward possessions like food, money, and external approvals. These things never filled the hole I felt inside. An old episode of "Oprah" had a guest speaker, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach from his talk show on TLC called "Shalom in the Home." He shared how one can never find peace until they learn to fill the hole in their soul from the inside. External material possessions will temporarily fill the hole, but it won’t last. The hole returns and the person feels empty again. Only by finding inner peace can one fill the void permanently.
I think everyone has a hole in their soul. Everyone has loss and feelings of insecurity. For the adoptee, we have our own baggage and our own hole carved out by abandonment, isolation, and feelings of inadequacy. Growing up not looking like anyone in your family can create a feeling of loneliness and isolation—that idea that you can feel alone in a crowded room. Some adoptees have trouble accepting that they were abandoned, while some find their birth family but are denied a relationship, being abandoned twice. We spend years trying to fill the empty hole from the outside.
It’s been a long road to get to this point in my life where I don’t feel the dull ache of yearning and uneasiness. I find joy in my relationship with my husband. Our marriage hasn’t been perfect, but I’m proud of where we’ve been and where we are now. I feel loved and accepted for who I am and feel lucky to have a partner in life. I love to dance and still find moments at live concerts to dance in the aisles and feel the joy of my youth surrounded by people my age, doing the exact same thing. And while I’m still a bit competitive, I’ve learned the value of supporting others and experiencing joy through success as a team. I don’t have to be the best, nor do I see it as a realistic goal. I am fine with my imperfect self and do the best that I can with what I’ve got. There are still those moments I stumble, moments I don’t think I’m being a very good sister, or mother, or wife. But I’ve learned to give myself a little grace. Adoption isn’t the perfect answer to someone’s infertility or failing marriage, in fact we come with more questions than we do answers. We are not a quick fix to a couple’s issues. We have our own issues to battle through. But, finding joy is possible through thoughtful introspection and years of therapy. I can continue to fill the hole in my soul from the inside.