Spent some time with a dear old friend tonight. It felt so good yet bittersweet to play again.
I grew up playing piano & violin, starting each at 3 yrs. and 6 yrs. old respectively. They were a huge part of my life; some of my favorite childhood memories involved some form of music. I grew to achieve success with the likelihood of a music scholarship at my fingertips following high school but I struggled so much internally that I abandoned both instruments for quite sometime. Needless to say, it was disappointing for those who really believed in me.
Somehow, I didn’t feel worthy of any of it.
I continued piano (what I’ve always considered my main instrument) at some point, but never picked my violin up again until years later. It hurt to even look at it so I hid it away.
When I think back on my senior year of high school — the difficult challenges I went through, the emails between teachers & parents trying to help - I have so much love & compassion for myself as a young teen, reflecting on how lost and confused I was; how much grief I had absolutely no idea I was carrying around with me; how angry I felt at the world...how much pain I was in.
Yet I don’t regret how it all played out, not one bit. It’s a part of my life I tend to block out sometimes (I’m sharing this part of me for the first time) but I’m embracing all of it these days - every single experience.
I don’t know what you all believe in, but I can confidently say I believe everything truly does happen for a reason. I’ve realized that part of what it really means to give back is taking our pain and finding ways to transform it into gains for everyone else. Sharing my story through several art forms has been so healing, especially this year. I hope that wherever you are on your journey, you will find what healing means for you too.♥️
Expressing myself from a place of objectivity after I’ve had time to process and reflect on a situation I was faced with recently.
It hurt, but I’m grateful for the courage, strength & wisdom it brought.
For the record, when you make assumptions about someone’s intentions and even make passive aggressive accusations without asking any questions or being curious to find out more — not only are you being hurtful by projecting your own pain onto others, you are also exposing your own character; your own lack of respect & integrity, empathy, and compassion.
Secondly, “support” is a two-way street. Every voice matters; every story matters.
I will listen to yours just as intently as I share mine. We can’t approach others in the adoption community (or any community, for that matter) like we are the only ones who have suffered. We have all suffered, and we all suffer differently. We can’t promote our own cause without being willing to listen to other perspectives and respond with grace. Take the time to get to know someone. Build genuine relationships. Connect. Reciprocate.
You can’t expect to make a positive impact by being argumentative - it just doesn’t work that way. This doesn’t mean I haven’t ever been argumentative. We’re human. But we‘re responsible for how we treat others, and it is our responsibility to navigate through our personal pain without lashing out at others (unless you want to look like an ass.) How about replacing “I don’t agree” with “help me understand.” Being curious about another’s pain is healing both for ourselves and for the other person.
Love can’t truly live where there’s a wrong or a right, so if not love, what are you really trying to promote? Because only love heals.
So let’s share. I’m listening.
If you are sincerely in this for the greater good, then you understand that part of what it really means to give back is finding ways to take our pain & loss and transforming them into gains for everyone else. If our hearts are in the right place, nothing else really matters.
In high school, I used to cover my face in makeup. I would even do things like drastically reshape eyebrows, use the wrong foundation shade, or pack on a lot of blush so that I‘d look like a different person. I felt like I had to be a different person, so why not look like one, too.
As an adoptee, I had no idea what my biological parents looked like. I felt and looked so different from everyone around me that I literally felt ashamed of myself. I had nothing to compare my features, personality, characteristics, etc., to. And if I was given away, then the ‘original me’ must not even exist. So I covered it all up, all day, every day. I even slept in my makeup sometimes (I know, gross - you couldn’t pay me to do that today.)
So when I met my birth family when I was 25 years old and saw pictures of my birth father (I have not met him personally, but have pictures & have spoken on the phone), I received more validation than I could ever describe here, but I’ll tell you that it changed the way I felt about & viewed myself - almost completely. I was still me, but not only was it okay to be me, I felt like I was being me for the very first time.
(this stuff is hard to talk about as it is, but if you’re an adoptee, then you totally understand that last line on this level).
That same summer, I wrote a song called ‘To Be Me.’
I am a 50/50 mix, but I truly resemble my birth father in this particular picture. It’s so crazy that I can see my birth parents in me when I look at my own pictures now. I look like the people who made me. Knowing this, and seeing this, makes a big difference.
I texted my husband this pic earlier this week and said, “I look so much like my birth father in this picture.”
He replied, “Yes, you do. How does that make you feel?”
I answered, “I finally like my face.“
Navigating through life as an adoptee has been an incredibly challenging experience, to say the least. There are definitely a handful of things I wish my younger-self knew to help get me through some of the more difficult times. However, I truly believe everything unfolds just as it's meant to. Some of life's most beautiful lessons and wisdom are a result of our deepest pain.
Here are a few of mine, that I enjoy sharing with fellow adoptees and adoptee youth.
1. Evaluate the friendships/relationships in your life and decide who is safe, and who is unsafe. Surround yourself with those who are compassionate and loyal.
When I re-branded as an artist this year, I began posting a lot about adoption and my experience, which also meant that I was also talking a lot more about it. It became very clear to me, pretty quickly, which friends truly cared about my well-being, happiness, and healing, versus the ones who just enjoyed conversations on the surface, hanging out over drinks.
Adoptees need a strong, emotional support system, and I realized that I was at a point on my healing journey where it wasn't only healthy for me to begin exercising boundaries with certain people, it was necessary. It's incredible what happens when we no longer tolerate toxic friendships/relationships and when we start saying "no." We make more room for those who are healthier for us in our life. We make more room for ourselves.
2. Adoption-competent therapy.
I just made a post on this recently. I have been in therapy since I was 14. I had talked about being adopted with my therapists, but no one ever connected any dots for me until I was introduced to adoption-competent therapy in 2014. It was then that everything was clarified, re-defined. This means having a therapist who is well-informed on adoption trauma and all the ways it can manifest on not just a psychological level, but a physiological, biological, and neurological level. Get referrals, seek recommendations from other adoptees in the community. Do yourself (and your bank account) a favor and look into adoption-informed therapy.
Don't be afraid to ask for help.
I am in therapy with my husband (who was adopted by his dad) every week, and we look forward to it every week. Adoption is trauma, and it is vital to get the appropriate kind of help so that we can fully recognize what we're struggling with. Relinquishment trauma affects every area of our life, especially our relationships - and relationships are everything.
3. Meditate. Do yoga. Go to the gym. Take care of your body.
Lots of people like yoga. I still need to try it! Going to the gym is part of my regular routine during the week. I have ailments related to my PTSD, and I've found that meditation and taking care of my body physically correlates with how often these ailments show up. Make it a point to eat a healthy meal daily, and have a balanced diet. Limit the alcohol if you can. We didn't have control over being taken from our mothers, but we can control how we treat our body. It makes a huge difference.
4. Tap into your creativity.
You don't have to have a talent or hobby to tap into your creativity! Creativity is such a healing outlet. Sometimes I'll just sit at my piano and play, but creativity for me also means cooking something new or even just organizing around the house (one time I organized two entire boxes of tools, and it was so therapeutic) - it means whatever it means to you. Being able to explore this side of us allows us to dig deep into our grief, pain - all the emotions - and express them however we want. Find whatever that looks like for you, create, and release your heart into the Universe.
5. Meet other adoptees and build friendships.
I went to a conference recently where I was in a huge room filled with other adoptees. It's truly amazing to know other people who get it, and aren't afraid to talk about it! In a world where adoptees feel isolated and alone, it really helps to know others who share the same primal wound of relinquishment. Sure, we may have different stories, but having validation for what we experience is so important for the healing process. It's difficult enough already to attempt having a conversation about adoption, and not having someone look at you like you have six eyes is awesome.
"Why don't we just look up a Filipino last names database and see what comes up?"
That was the question that would lead me to my birth parents' marriage record on Ancestry.com and, ultimately, change my life.
I hadn't thought about searching in a long time. The last time I had tried, I was about 18, and the lady on the phone with the adoption agency told me it would cost me $500 for them to facilitate the search with possibly more fees if I wanted a mediator to assist with reunion. We'll call her Tina.
I didn't have $500. I was also scared about people finding out I was interested in searching - what they would think, what I would look like, how ungrateful I would seem.
How ungrateful I would feel.
There's an overwhelming guilt many adoptees carry for wanting to know who and where we came from. Not only are grief, trauma, and loss implanted deep in our psyche at separation, we grow up living under the expectation of gratitude - that of others and also our own.
Regardless of what the rest of society wants to believe, when we're talking about the psychobiological, neurological, psychological, physiological (the list goes on) affects of adoption trauma, the primal wound of relinquishment and family separation - knowing and/or not knowing these answers affects every aspect of how we relate to the world and ourselves.
And relationships are everything.
So I stepped down from the place of hope and excitement and retreated where pain, grief and loss were home and familiar. It felt safer in the moment. Searching felt too big. Maybe I wasn't meant to know. It'd probably be nearly impossible to find my birth parents after all this time anyway. They were both young, but what if something happened and they weren't alive anymore? What if they didn't even want to hear from me?
I hung up with Tina. I had no idea I'd be calling her back in another seven years.
Ready or not, this was the day.
It was the summer of 2008, ten years after my mom had taken me to the adoption agency to get my file folder that I mention in Part 1.
I was sitting in the living room of my tiny apartment with my then-boyfriend who I'd been dating for a couple of years. We'll call him Sam. I'd been cleaning because my apartment was a mess, and there it was, the folder I took out once every few months or so. I showed all the documents to Sam as if it were the first time ever (he’d seen those papers several times) yet he participated with the equal interest and curiosity.
Then I handed him the poem my birth other had written to me titled 'Never Forgotten.'
It was a closed adoption, so the last names had been whited out on all the documents for privacy, but on this particular poem, whoever was whiting stuff out left the first three letters visible. I'd seen those first three letters countless times before, never thinking anything of it other than, oh, look, they forgot to white-out those three letters. But that's when Sam said, "Why don't we just look up a Filipino last names database and see what comes up?"
I had never thought about doing that before. There are a million different last names in the world, quite possibly. I wasn't sure about Filipino ones, but I knew a large number of them were Spanish, and some Filipino, depending on your family tree.
But his idea seemed worth a try. Her last name started with an 'A'.
With our laptops set up back to back on the kitchen table, we were on a mission. Searching simultaneously, to my surprise, a database came up where there were only a handful of names hers could have been!
I took a guess as to which one was hers, picking the one that felt most familiar. Somehow, I knew it would be hers.
I had both of their first names, so I signed up for a free trial on Ancestry.com.
Literally, within minutes of searching that last name, my birth parents' marriage license popped up on my screen, and my heart stopped.
I screamed. There they were. Inside of my laptop.
My sister-in-law gave this bracelet to me a few years ago, and I’ve been wearing it a lot recently. I love the message on it: “woman of power.”
Many different things come to mind when it comes to “power,” and it means different things for different people.
Money. Resources. Career. Family. Passion.
I’ve learned, especially this year, that power, to me, means vulnerability. I have it most when I’m in that place because it enables me to be the most authentic version of me, which transcends into everything I do — my work, my music, my creativity; the way I love my husband, my family and friends.
It means being raw and honest with not just others but most importantly, myself. It means knowing the difference between giving up and understanding who/what is no longer worth my energy — and as an adoptee, knowing that it doesn’t mean I just abandoned someone or something, but that I needed to pay more attention to the needs of my little girl.
It means speaking and living my truth, regardless of who likes, dislikes, gets, or doesn’t get it, because in the end, power is knowing my journey is mine, no one else’s.
It’s being awake & in wonder, which, to me, is what it truly means to live.
Sometimes power is feeling strong mentally & emotionally, or simply just making it through the day, but today, it means knowing that nothing has never, can never, and will never break my spirit.♥️
I was removed from my mother at birth and placed with strangers before I was placed a second time with more strangers a handful of months later, who then became my adoptive family.
Yes, this has had a significant traumatic impact on me — my mental & emotional development, body, health, psyche, and life — all of which I was unaware of until a handful of years ago.
Healing is a journey that one chooses to be on; not one everyone is willing to explore.
When it comes to the complex experience of adoption (and reunion), too many assumptions are made where questions should be asked, but I’ve learned not everyone is genuinely curious; judgment is easier for some.
That’s okay though — this is my journey, and they’ve got stuff to figure out on theirs.
There plenty more, of course, but I wanted to highlight a small handful of these from my personal adoptee experience:
I never knew my birth mom or family so I “don’t remember” the events.
Research shows that bonding occurs before birth for an infant, and the separation from its natural mother - relinquishment trauma - is the worst thing a human being can experience; the affects of this primal wound remain with the adoptee throughout their lifetime, regardless of their “adoption experience.”
I am ungrateful for the life I’ve been blessed with because I choose to look deeper into my adoption, origin, history, trauma, and subsequent challenges.
Grief & trauma have never been about gratitude. I can love my family and grieve my birth family at the same time.
I can hold both, and still embrace my journey.
Babies don’t remember their mothers.
Yes, they do. My body not only remembered instantly, but had an overwhelming reaction to mine the moment we hugged.
I’m a victim of my circumstances surrounding adoption.
Finding your voice takes courage, and learning to use it takes vulnerability.
I am no victim, but a warrior.
This isn’t just about adoptee stories, but everyone’s story — we all have one, and every story matters.
The dismissal of another person’s pain is the denial of our own.
’Primal Wound’ by Nancy Verrier
‘Adoption Healing, A Path To Recovery’ by Joe Soll
Some people believe trauma only happens to certain people. We have all experienced trauma at some point or another. Just different forms of it.
Grief and healing look like different things for different people.
As an adult adoptee who’s been ‘out of the fog’ for some time, those two things have been quite the maze to navigate. Just when I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on where I’m at, something finally breaks through the surface that I didn’t even realize I was desperately seeking to understand.
When it comes up, fear is relentless, even physically paralyzing for me. I can only say a handful of words: “I’m scared. I’m scared.”
My husband is the the most supportive, loving man in the universe, but he hasn’t always known what to do or say when I‘m in that state.
I haven’t always known what was happening when I’ve been in that state.
It’s kind of hard to express needs let alone explain them when the trauma of relinquishment is preverbal.
Realizing that, in that non-verbal, traumatized, infant state, I had been approaching him as if he is my birth mother and/or the negligent foster care caretaker has been so clarifying and significant in my healing process.
This is, at its core, abandonment/relinquishment re-enactment on so many different levels in both the body and mind.
In that state, I literally cannot tell him what I need sometimes, but I’m learning.
We’re learning how to provide lightning-speed relief for the other.
We’re learning each other more and more every day.
It’s important to be aware of how prolonged distress is really, really hard on the body, and those working with trauma know that timing is everything.
Figure out what works — touch, voice, words, no words, etc.
I’m right here. I love you. I’ve got you. You are safe now.
Practice it. No one is perfect (there will be drops!) so work on repair speed.
It sounds like a lot, and that’s because it is, but we all deserve to heal.
We’re all worth it.
At the root of fear and rage is pain.
For adoptees, it is the devastating, excruciating trauma of relinquishment: the primal wound of being separated from our mother. Research shows that this separation is the worst thing a human being can experience. I actually didn’t learn that until this year.
I’m here. I’m in one piece, even though it doesn’t always feel like it. I may be in a shit load of pain, but I only know how to love fiercely and I’m learning how to soak in all the love my husband pours into me daily.
I’m healing just as fiercely, and
I’m embracing my journey as a proud adoptee — aka, warrior.♥️
Those who have experienced & have recovered from emotional abuse tend to recognize the signs of it much sooner (thus, are able to place boundaries where necessary) than those the manipulator victimizes.
For example, it’s extremely common for spouses, family members, and/or friends to co-depend or even continue supporting the narcissist, as they don’t always recognize the subtleties in which they are being used, abused, and manipulated — to them, their behavior is ‘just their norm.’
However, it’s essential to realize that these people are SUFFERING and do so unawarely. I don’t typically like using the word ‘narcissist’ for this reason; narcissism in and of itself stretches a vast spectrum, varying from individual to individual for a variety of root reasons. It’s important to know that it’s a coping mechanism that gets developed as a result of early childhood trauma and/or environment (i.e., families with low EI, or emotional intelligence).
Healthy narcissism is necessary; unhealthy narcissism is hurtful and toxic.
It IS possible for them to get help (in fact, many are successful at getting help & healing), but it would require for them to have the capacity to realize they may have a painful, deeper issue - and, unfortunately, most who suffer from this will immediately shut down the possibility, as it would change the narrative of who they are in their own mind.
📚 Book recommendation:
‘Rethinking Narcissism’ by
Harvard Medical School psychologist & Huffington Post blogger, Dr. Craig Malkin.
I love the compassion Brené Brown delivers on just about any topic. Narcissism is complex to navigate, and requires us to exercise compassion (for ourselves & others) in order to process it thoroughly.
When we think of the word, the automatic, common response is that negativity must be associated with it, but the reality is, it’s far more than just ‘good’ or ‘bad’. You won’t get an accurate picture from reading a few articles, either.
Healthy narcissism is actually necessary for balanced, healthy mental/emotional health & self esteem.
Unhealthy narcissism, however, can develop as a result of an array of reasons: family dynamics with low e.i. (emotional intelligence); child neglect; experiencing rejection as a child; abuse/trauma, etc. - the list goes on.
Because narcissism fluctuates, has many variabilities and is not ‘one-size-fits-all’, it’s helpful to understand the unique ways it can manifest in ourselves; evaluate if what we’re feeling towards someone or something is healthy or unhealthy (those who genuinely cannot tell the difference or are unable to self-reflect likely suffer from the narcissistic personality disorder) and what to look for when it manifests in others in a way that hurts us.
One example of unhealthy narcissism would be trying to control the actions, opinions, or feelings of others (anyone from your child, spouse, dating partner, friend or coworker) according to how you feel they should or should not behave, versus reflecting on, being curious about, or having compassion for what they may be personally experiencing.
For adoptees relinquished at birth, the majority of us tend to lean towards the low end, thus, resorting to people-pleasing in order to avoid re-abandonment (a huge component of my therapy work over the last five years). You can imagine how being introduced to an environment where narcissism is prevalent can be extremely painful, traumatic, and even detrimental for an adopted child. Learning how to recognize the difference between healthy parent/child dynamics, relationship and/or friendship dynamics vs. unhealthy is vital in order to create boundaries where necessary and/or even go no-contact when situations are so toxic, it becomes necessary.
Perhaps what is most challenging, yet most powerfully liberating is having the ability to practice compassion for those who struggle with any illness, especially unknowingly. This quote evokes just that, is a strong reminder that true power is compassion, and always wins over judgment.
Artist | Singer-Songwriter | Composer