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.
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.♥️
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.
It had been safely tucked away from view for 10 years. Every time I had that curious, longing itch to revisit the documents, I'd go dig it out of its hiding place, look at the words, the font; smell the pages, touch them, and stare at the two crumpled, thin, black and white paper photos with a crease right across my birth mother's top row of teeth.
My freshman year of high school, my mom took me to the adoption agency from where I was adopted to retrieve documents in a folder that were available to me.
I would find out that my birth mother was pregnant with me when she was 15.
15 years later, I would see these documents for the first time at the very same age.
I don't remember feeling much as I slowly flipped through the pages. There was a lonely stillness in my heart, like a foggy, deserted town holding its breath. Waiting. Searching.
It was a closed adoption, so I noticed that all the last names were whited out. They were all copies, no original documents. There was a stack of papers with comments of social workers who had interviewed my birth families as well as my mom and dad during their visits to each of their homes. Scenes formed in my mind as I read the narratives. My birth father's family was described as "jovial."
I had to look the word up.
I remember feeling excited as I read that my birth mother played piano and my birth father played guitar.
It was a puzzle piece that fit into an incomplete picture of me. Starting piano when I was three, violin at six, and composing when I was 10, music was about the only thing I seemed to connect with.
I was hoping to see a birth certificate, but there wasn't one (in fact, I have never seen it, and was recently informed that there are only seven states that allow unconditional access for adult adoptees).
Then I saw their faces for the first time. I wondered why I didn't get actual color photos, but it was better than nothing. It was hard to see details because the copies were so dark, but I could make out her teeth and a big smile. He wasn't smiling in his picture. It was so strange, seeing pictures of these people.
Where were they now? Were they like me? What do they sound like? I tossed the folder onto my bed and ran into the bathroom so I could hold up their pictures on either side of my face.
I was a perfect mix of both of them.
There was a poem from my birth mother, and a two-page letter, both signed, "Love, Mom."
I had a mom, so it was weird for me to see. Was it weird for her to write that? Did she still feel like my mom?
The poem was typed in Courier New font, and I read it first.
I had written poems, too, that my mom liked to taped to my parents' shelves in their office.
It was titled "Never Forgotten", typed across the top, and then underneath, "for" the name she gave me: Marilyn.
It said "by" and then her first name, with her last name whited out - all except the first three letters, which, little did I know, would ultimately end up being the key to finding her ten years later.
The letter was long, repetitive, thoughtful. It was in cursive handwriting. I could tell that she felt passionate about making sure I knew how special and loved I was. She explained why she was giving me up, how conflicted she was, how hurt she felt...how she loved my birth father so much, yet they were just so young.
Young, but in love.
I wanted them to stick, for them to fill the emptiness that had always been inside of me, but the words seemed to bounce right off my chest and back onto the page.
I had only known that I was adopted for five years after finding out when I was 10, although my body knew it before I did.
I had a family, and therefore, I should just be grateful. I shouldn't think about my past, because things like roots, where you're from, and who you are don't matter when you have such a wonderful, loving family, right? All that counts is that you're loved.
That's what I believed, though, and that's what society tells us to believe.
But how do you have language for adoption when the trauma of relinquishment is preverbal? How do you know what you feel?
You don't. So you go along with what will keep the peace at home, at school, at church, and at extracurricular activities. I wanted to be a good kid. I was constantly trying to please my parents and doing things to make sure they were still there, because that's what you do when you fear re-abandonment with such a physiological, intense terror.
I wasn't sure what to expect with my new folder of papers, but whatever it was, hurt.
At the time, I had no words to describe their value, but I kept them close to me, guarding them like they were precious gems.
I kept them hidden at the bottom of my nightstand. I was afraid that if they were visible, it might hurt my family's feelings...and perhaps also my own. They were the only pieces of my identity I now had: a further reminder that I was different. Not good enough to keep. Given away. Not chosen.
The folder was all around shameful, and it needed to be out of sight.
So I put it away, closed the drawer, called it gratitude, and left it alone.
But there's an internal battle that brews when we subconsciously deny things we're unaware of - things inside of us that bubble up for a reason. If we don't know to face them, the battle brew eventually overflows outward and into our lives.
As a 15-year-old, however, I didn't have vocabulary for this. I opened the drawer every time I felt three emotions: lonely, angry, or sad, like an adult secretly indulging in addiction to suppress those things.
I had formed this relationship in my mind with my adoption through these papers - staring at them, crying at them, crumpling them when I felt enraged, smoothing them out in desperation, and then staring at them some more as if the text on the pages were supposed to change or turn color.
Going through this initial process felt kind of like opening up a box of cereal for a nice, big bowl of breakfast and then pouring out the last few puffs. You want more, but you don't have any more and you should probably eat something healthier anyway. A part of me wished I would have never seen any of it.
What does a 15-year-old do with hope and shame at the same time?
I had opened a magic box filled with pieces of treasure. Pieces of me that could never be put back together; and therefore, I was not whole.
I'm not a huge drinker. I enjoy spending time with friends, and occasionally, that involves going out, maybe trying a new restaurant, and catching up. Even if I've seen you a thousand times, I'll still have social anxiety, so a cocktail will be ordered as soon as I sit down.
The problem is, you can't tell I'm about to explode. I'm an introvert, but you'd only believe that wholeheartedly if you knew me really well. As an adoptee, I've spent a good part of my life people-pleasing, which, in my world, just means fear of abandonment in action. And as an introvert, I absolutely dread small-talk, so mastering social skills means only one thing: a genuine effort to connect; one of the most terrifying things in all existence.
I should've named this post "How To Take An Un-Reunified Adoptee To A Bar" instead. This year marks a decade since I met my birth mother in 2008. I'll be honest. There's not a day that goes by where I don't wonder if I'll finally see that e-mail from her in my inbox, and then hating myself for it. It's truly a complex battle between abandoned baby vs. adult self - and quite the balancing act. I had a friend lightheartedly ask me once, "Why don't you just let her go?" I felt that gut punch for months (she's my birth mother), but I don't know what's worse: living unawarely or being in denial. Feeling pain as a result of trauma has never been a matter of choice; the only choice here is the validation of its existence.
Before I get too off topic, I'll say this. To be fair, I understand not everyone will understand another's grief (after all, each of us are wired differently with different backgrounds, experiences, etc.), but maybe the most painful emotion to experience as a human being, is the dismissal of our pain by others.
As an adoptee, this pain cuts deep into my core wound of relinquishment - the trauma volcano that has been erupting inside of my body since before I was born.
Only within the last few years have I begun to come out of what's known as 'adoption fog', and while my heart and life have changed in the best, most healthiest ways possible, I've also been introduced to a new kind of pain that grabs you by the heart, and then sets you free...over, and over, and over again.
So, about drinks. If you’re out with an adoptee who is navigating grief, awakening, learning love; and you want to be supportive yet you’re not sure how to help, please know this:
Telling our stories is like a baby learning how to speak for the very first time. Be patient with our grief. Finding your voice takes courage; learning how to use it takes vulnerability.
Growing up, the fact that I was adopted wasn't really something that was discussed. I've been blessed with an amazing family that I am eternally grateful for. I was a happy, care-free kid full of energy and entertainment. There was this part of me, though, that I couldn't quite put my finger on; something painful that was always there. Underneath my upbeat personality were feelings of anxiety, sadness, emptiness. Grief.
Research studies show that the removal of an infant from its biological mother is intensely traumatic for the baby, and the excruciating affects remain in their physiology throughout their life. Following this separation, I was placed in a foster home where care was negligent, an environment void of my birth mother's touch, voice, or scent . . . things a baby needs when they first enter the world. These traumatic events created a psychological blueprint that remains with me to this day, and the post-traumatic symptoms I've experienced manifest themselves in different ways, affecting every area of my life.
Adoptees often carry around with them a painful sense of rejection that heavily affects their self esteem, causing them to constantly question their worth; the feeling that they're at fault always present, regardless of the background story for why an adoption took place. For me, the trauma of abandonment and post-traumatic stress became a state of mind and body with which I operated out of on a daily basis.
Open conversations within family can ease painful, confusing emotions and help adopted children feel validated and unconditionally loved regardless of their difference in biology and/or ethnicity. Avoiding the topic can exacerbate feelings of shame, intensifying the idea that there is something 'wrong' with them and that they will always experience rejection in life. Those unfamiliar with an adoptee's world might say: "Well, at least you were adopted into a family, so why can't you just be happy and thankful for that?"
If it were really that simple, research studies and statistics wouldn't reveal adoptees being four more times likely to commit suicide than children living with their biological families.
In reality, adoption is truly a unique landscape. Understanding its complexities can help children in foster care and adoptive parents build a more secure attachment, learn how to approach sensitive issues, and encourage a deeper understanding of our emotional brain development.
It was after learning I was adopted at age 10 that I began to write music. What I was unable to express with words, I conveyed through song. When I didn't know how to articulate what I was processing - I found my voice, my comfort, through music. When nothing else could, sitting at the piano soothed me.
My adolescent years are a blur of drifting in and out of depression, anger, obsessive-compulsive behavior and low self-esteem; day after day, fighting relentless anxiety in my body . . . I watched other people enjoy their families, friendships and relationships. More than anything, I wanted to have that, too - but at the time, I simply did not know how to attach to others in a healthy way. Over and over, I re-enacted abandonment and, conversely, I would abandon.
I saw my first therapist at 14, and continue to go to this day. It's my favorite day of the week. It took years to find effective, quality therapy that was a good fit for me (there are all kinds out there), but without it and/or music, in all honesty, I don't know where I'd be. Therapy is kind of like building a puzzle. Piece by piece, your original 'framework' starts to come into view . . . you can see where edits were made along the way, and why. You begin looking at a bigger picture, and more and more, you make sense. Coming to terms with the root of my pain has given me understanding, more compassion for others, and hope. The daily journey of healing and therapy continues, and while at times challenging, it's been life-changing.
As a result of these experiences, I'd always felt hesitant to really pursue my dreams wholeheartedly . . . but I experienced a huge realization recently that has not only given me new perspective on purpose and what that means for each and every one of us, but has literally broken down walls I've kept up between my heart and what's always been waiting on the other side. I believe we all have unique gifts to spread real love in this world; and by doing so, we can heal our own hearts in the process.
Artist | Singer-Songwriter | Composer