Broadcasting ‘The Shame’

Why would an adoptee bear his soul on social media? The answer is pretty easy to understand … it has always been easier for me to reveal my innermost demons to strangers. But what of the consequences?

In my case, my sister-in-law got hold of my postings and revealed them to my (now ex-) wife. I never trusted her with my secrets, so this was a serious betrayal.The price of that has already been determined.

In my case, I’d spent precious time trying to figure things out in the open when I should have been only focused on helping my growing boys figure things out. The true price of that has yet to be determined.

On social media, there’s been an outpouring of inner issues from ‘bastards, orphans and other social outcasts’. The unique combination of democratized media and psychology available to the ‘me’ generation has done wonders for the ‘health and wellness’ of our inner selves, but what of the consequences? As adoptees, we carry around ‘the shame’, a sin we didn’t commit, but is ours to bear nonetheless. ‘Outing’ ourselves has reduced the sense of isolation, we adoptees have similar experiences, similar issues, and we seem to be part of a ‘community’ I called the ‘Ghost Kingdom’, long before I’d happened on Lifton’s writings. I don’t claim any originality, it just felt that way to me — Part of the world, but not; supposed to be dead, but not. We’ve been given a name but it’s not ours; we’ve been given a past but it’s not ours.

There is a poignant passage in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath that struck me.

In Chapter 20, just following the inciting incident in the Hooverville. Tom and the Joads are rescued by Casy, ‘the preacher’ after they dealt with the contractor and deputy. As the men folk tried to figure out why the preacher had turned himself in, Uncle John finally started to talk. He had been trying to keep his ‘sin’ under wraps for years, but upon seeing the preacher’s selfless act, he wanted to reveal things.

So, as the deputies took the preacher away,

“Uncle John scratched the earth deeply with a long rusty nail. ‘He knowed about sin. … Uncle John’s eyes were tired and sad. “I been secret all my days, … I done things I never tol’ about.”

Ma turned from the fire. “Don’ go tellin’, John, … Tell ’em to God. Don’ go burdenin’ other people with your sins. That ain’t decent.”

“They’re a-eatin’ on me.” said John.

“Well, don’ go tell ’em. Go down to the river an’ stick your head under ‘an whisper ’em in the stream.”

Pa nodded his head slowly at Ma’s words. “She’s right, … It give a fella relief to tell, but it jus’ spreads out his sin.”

Uncle John looked up to the sun-gold mountains, and the mountains were reflected in his eyes. “I wisht I could run it down, … But I can’t. She’s a-bitin’ in my guts.”

Now, in this case John’s sin was that while the travellers had run themselves right out of money making it to the Hooverille in California, he had hung onto five dollars so he could get drunk, because,

“I knowed they was gonna be a time when I got to get drunk, when I’d get to hurtin’ inside so I got to get drunk. Figgered time wasn yet, an’ then — the preacher went an’ give ‘imself up to save Tom.”

John had lived most of his life trying to cover up his guilt, his shame. He had been running away from facing it and the pain it brought, the erosion of his soul, his self-esteem, his self-worth, he found it absolutely necessary every once in a while to ‘just get drunk’ to bring him just a brief period of relief from the unrelenting guilt.

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