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Adoption Through The Eyes Of A Child

Imagine waking up one morning and immediately being met by someone who informs you that you are moving and are leaving that day. You are allowed to take only the items that will fit into one small bag. Nobody is telling you where you are going or why you have to leave. You dress quickly and pack the items that are most meaningful to you. You take one more look around the room—at the items you will have to leave behind, the place that has always been your home, and photos of your loved ones—not knowing if you will ever see them again in this lifetime.

You get into a car and watch out the back window as everything you have ever known disappears as the car drives away. You are taken to the airport. Someone you don’t know is with you—to ensure that you reach your destination safely. You board a plane and, exhausted by the emotions and stress of the day, you eventually fall asleep. When you wake up, you look out the window at a landscape that is entirely unfamiliar to you. You gather your belongings, walk out of the airport, and get into a car as the person who is with you gives the driver the address to your destination.

Following a long drive, the car stops in front of a place the stranger next to you calls your new home. As you exit the car and walk up to the house, you are struck by how harsh the sun is and how cold the air feels. It is strangely quiet and everything smells different.

Someone walks up to the person who is with you. You have never seen a person with their skin color before. As you glance around, you realize that you are surrounded by others who all have similar features, but look nothing like you. They speak in a language you don’t understand. The person you are with introduces you and calls you by a name you don’t know.

You are hungry, and you ask the person who is with you for food. They lead you into the house and prepare a meal for you. You look at the plate in front of you. It doesn’t look like anything you have ever seen before. You taste the food, and it doesn’t taste like anything you have eaten before. You don’t like it, but you force yourself to eat it all, as you don’t want to be rude. Later in the evening, you lay in a bed that doesn’t feel like yours. You glance around a room that is cold and unfamiliar and doesn’t look or feel like home.

You have never felt more frightened and alone.
Your heart aches for your loved ones and for the place you have always called home.
You long for something or someone that feels familiar to you and may bring you comfort.
But, there is nothing.
And, there is no one.

But, this is your life now.
This is your home now.
This name and identity they have given you is the person they want you to be now…

Now, imagine this experience through the eyes of your child.

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The preceding vignette is a dramatic interpretation of a fictional experience, but it is important for you to be able to consider what adoption may feel like from your child’s perspective.

Think of a time when you have had to move or start your life over in some way.

How long did it take for your new place to feel like home?
How long did it take for you to adjust to living in a new home with someone you already knew?
How long did it take for you to meet and warm up to your new neighbors or coworkers?
How long did it take for you to acclimate to the weather or to familiarize yourself with your new neighborhood—your new city?
How long did it take for you to feel more comfortable and a little less alone?
How long did it take for your heart to ache just a little less for the friends and family you had to leave behind?

I have been asked on a number of occasions for my opinion on seeking therapy right away for a child who was adopted. My immediate response is that it depends on the child, their trauma history, mental health diagnoses, and a number of additional factors.

I don’t necessarily believe that all children, youth, and adults who have experienced adoption are in need of therapy—nor do I believe that it is something that can and should be forced upon a person—regardless of age.

When I think about this on a personal level, I have to admit that I am sometimes taken aback by the question.

Adoption is not possible without loss, and the loss of one’s birth parents is one of the most significant forms of trauma that a child can experience. With that being said, it is not unnatural or abnormal for a child who has experienced a traumatic loss to feel the need to grieve that loss and to do so in their own time and in their own ways.

I think a majority of us have faced situations that have had a profound impact on our lives. And, regardless of whether those circumstances were filled with joy or sorrow or were perceived as successes or challenges—they often take time to get used to and accept. Sometimes there is forgiveness and growth and healing that needs to happen, and sometimes additional supports like therapy are needed to help us along the way.

I have battled mental health issues pretty much all of my life and received therapeutic supports like therapy, medication, etc. as a teen. None of it was very effective when I was younger, as I was embarrassed and ashamed of having to take meds and see a therapist. As a teen, I was resistant to pretty much anything that made me feel even more different than I already felt.

It wasn’t until I was in my 20s and I was able to make the decision for myself that therapy truly became the support that I needed to help me process and heal. The need for therapy isn’t a one-size-fits-all or cookie cutter type of situation, and therapeutic supports sometimes aren’t helpful until we are in a place where we can trust, open ourselves up to, and work with someone like a therapist to help us on that path to healing.

I wholeheartedly believe in the power of therapy, but it isn’t for everyone. And, that’s okay.

I think the reason why I experience a somewhat visceral reaction to the notion that all children who are adopted are in need of therapy is the insinuation that it is the child and the child’s response to being adopted that is abnormal.

It is important to understand that parents should not default to putting the onus on a child to change in order to help them heal. Oftentimes, the change that is truly needed is for the adults in a child’s life to acknowledge their own blind spots and be open to looking at the big picture in order to figure out how to change and adapt for their child—rather than focusing solely on the behaviors and challenges that they may view as abnormal or unacceptable. Because, more often than not—the struggles and challenges experienced by some children who have been adopted are actually very normal reactions to abnormal situations.

As a parent, if your child is struggling, it is important to stop asking “What is wrong with my child?” and start asking, “What can I do to change my responses to my child and to these situations, and how can I create an environment for my child that will best support their needs?”

Sometimes, the answer may involve therapy for your child or for your family as a whole. But, as a parent, you need to first ask yourself if your attempts to “fix” your child have more to do with your own resistance to introspection, your rigidity, your inability to change your responses to your child’s needs and behaviors, or your inability to change the environment (physical and emotional) in which you are raising your child—or if there is actually something more going on with your child that may require additional services and supports.

*****

Note: I am not a mental health professional, nor am I an expert on mental health issues. My personal and professional experiences form the foundation for many of my opinions, which I do often share on this page and on my blog—but my thoughts and opinions are my own and should never be used in place of the advice of professionals or your own gut instinct as your child’s parent.

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Anger and the Not-So-Angry Adoptee

I am angry.
Really, really angry.
It scares the crap out of me.
And, not because I fear causing physical harm to others, as that has never been an issue with me.

It scares me because anger scares me.

When I was younger, I certainly had my bratty moments, but I never raged or had moments of extreme dysregulation. There were certainly times when I could have, and probably should have—but it never really happened to my knowledge.

Because the stakes were too high.

Though my parents were very committed and weathered a lot of storms with me, I never felt like I could expose those feelings of anger to the world.

I did a lot to avoid experiencing anger from others.
Because anger terrified me.

That fear was paralyzing at times.
And, the anxiety was always there.

Attempts to avoid the anger of others came at a great cost—which continues to profoundly impact my life and who I am today.

I lost myself in my efforts to avoid conflict and making others angry. I could even go as far as to say that I missed out on a crucial part of exploring my identity by not allowing myself to feel or express anger as openly as I should have and face the anger of others.

And, those efforts to avoid anger were endless.
Apologizing for everything.
Remaining silent at times when I wanted to scream.
Giving up or giving in to avoid a fight.
People pleasing.
Flying under the radar as much as possible.
Isolating myself.
Going with the crowd.
Hiding in the shadows of others.
Allowing others to shape my identity and make decisions for me—even at the expense of my values at the time, my dignity, and the sense of who I thought I was and hoped to become.
Speaking softly in hopes that nobody would hear me.
Keeping everything bottled inside.
Not speaking at all.

As I have grown, matured, and experienced the world as an adult—I have allowed myself to feel and express my anger more freely. But, I have found that I can be somewhat immature emotionally.

Because I don’t always handle my emotions well and missed out on developing ways to cope with the emotions I rarely allowed myself to feel.

I have never harmed anyone physically, but I have said things that are hurtful more often than I would like to admit.

I lash out at those closest to me.

I fixate on things that make me angry, and even though I use opportunities to vent and process—some things are really difficult to let go of and move on from.

I use food as a coping mechanism—vacillating between overeating and not eating at all.

I completely check out.

And, every time I allow myself to be vulnerable enough to expose my anger to others—the guilt that follows is all-consuming and overwhelming.

I have been struggling for a while and my mental health has suffered greatly. And, I am finding myself in a place I have never been before—vacillating between feeling nothing and feeling so much anger.

I am so angry. So angry.

And, that scares me. A lot.

Because the one emotion that I have spent most of my life trying to escape and avoid is the only emotion I currently have the capacity to feel. It seems to be the only emotion that is reminding me that I am alive and still fighting.

I very much own where I am right now, and I am taking the steps to stop the downward spiral, take care of myself, and access the supports that I need to work through this.

I feel fortunate to be in a field where I have been able to develop skills and knowledge about being able to address situations like this safely and appropriately, but I wonder about others who have experienced adoption and foster care as a child and feel as I do, but may not have access to the same resources and supports.

As parents, we worry so much about the emotions our children express, and sometimes forget that expressing those emotions is so healthy and so incredibly important for our children to be able to do. There are absolutely cases where the dysregulation and emotions expressed are not healthy or “normal”, and that absolutely needs to be acknowledged and addressed in safe, supportive, and appropriate ways—and possibly with the help of professionals.

However, we need to also remember that through the release of emotions and the processing and support that usually follows—your child is working to form their own identity; they are fighting to feel safe; they are testing the limits of your love and commitment to them; they are navigating boundaries set for them and working to form their own; and they are working to develop self-awareness and coping skills that will profoundly impact the way they experience the world.

This world can feel pretty lonely, overwhelming, and hopeless when you haven’t developed the ability to name and freely express the emotions you are feeling and lack the supports to help you through.

The limitations in rarely allowing myself to feel and freely express emotions like anger as a child were largely self-imposed and fueled by the fear of another rejection or abandonment—another loss.

And, those limitations I set for myself as a child have made it extremely difficult for me to cope as a deeply feeling person in this world.

Even though I have a wonderful support system and access to resources—I often feel very lonely, misunderstood, overwhelmed, lost, heartbroken, and like I am a constant burden on those around me.

Please, please don’t let your kids grow up to be someone like me.

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The silence is so deafening and the depths of loneliness can sometimes feel like an endless abyss. There are many, many days where I am very present in the moment and I can feel my heart open to the love and support around me. I cherish those moments and hold onto them for dear life in hopes that they will help me through the inevitable dark moments—the moments that feel so suffocating and heavy where I am surrounded by loved ones, but can’t seem to shake the feeling of being so completely and utterly alone, or where I find myself briefly letting my walls down and pouring my heart out—only to be left feeling so heartbreakingly dismissed and unheard.

Can one ever truly understand how excruciating, hopeless, and complex it can sometimes feel for some people to simply exist?

There will always be people who understand your heartbreak and your grief in their own way, but they will never truly know how you carry your pain and how you feel your pain. They can never know what it feels like to spend your whole life trying to repair the broken pieces of your heart. They can never truly know what it feels like for you—the despair in knowing that the missing pieces of the puzzle will always exist…the heartbreak in acknowledging the voids in your life that no amount of love, or answers, or connections will ever be able to fill.

There will always be people with lived experiences similar to your own, but they can never truly know how you have experienced your life and what life feels like for you.

I fail to find the words to adequately describe what it feels like to sit in a room with people you have known and loved your entire life and feel like you don’t fit and that you never truly belonged. Like you are the consummate stranger. Like you will spend your entire life forever trying to prove yourself and prove your worth and that your life has value when the actions of others have caused you to feel otherwise. Like you have somehow failed your loved ones by never being able to fully heal, to fully let go, to fully embrace them and let them in, and fully believe that they won’t one day decide to leave you or decide that you’re not good enough.

No words can fully describe the guilt of knowing how hard they tried and how hard they have fought for you…how hard you have tried and how hard you have fought for them.

But you just…couldn’t.

Because, even as adults with partners and children of our own—it can feel impossible to shake that ever-present fear of loss. It can feel impossible to allow yourself to open your heart and trust the people in your life after being hurt time and time again. They may not even be the source of the hurt or the broken trust, but they pay for it.

You pay dearly for it, too.

It sometimes feels as though it has cost us everything.

Our relationships.

Our ability to open our hearts to give and receive love.

Our ability to believe that love can and should exist without condition.

Our ability to embrace who we are and find value in our existence and all we have to offer the world.

Our ability to experience life and be open to truly living it.

How do you grieve the loss of someone you don’t remember knowing? How do you miss a voice you don’t remember hearing? How do you miss the warmth of an embrace you are not sure you ever felt?

The ever-present messages intending to minimize or explain away your pain and disallow your need to grieve your losses demand a level of acceptance, submission, healing, and resiliency that some may never be able to achieve.

Because how do we get over it, really?

How do we trust the people we love and care about to sit with our pain without attempting to fix it—to fix us? How do we trust them to not attempt to minimize or explain away our pain? How do we allow them to attempt to understand the level of pain we are feeling if we are too afraid to open up to them in that way? If we don’t understand it ourselves? How do we allow them to acknowledge and validate our pain and show empathy and compassion without feeling like a victim or like the poster child for brokenness?

How can anyone—including ourselves—attempt to understand how profoundly we have been impacted by our lived experiences when nobody will ever know the whole story?

An Adoptee’s Perspective: 10 Things Your Child Needs to Know

10. You have a right to feel the way you do about your adoption journey.

Adoption is complicated and messy and wonderful and heartbreaking. Life may feel wonderful to you now or it may feel confusing and awful. Know that your feelings about being adopted are valid and will likely change throughout your life—and that is completely normal and okay. There is no right or wrong way to feel about adoption, and there is no right or wrong way to navigate your adoption journey. You have a right to explore what it means to be adopted in your own time and in your own way. Your experience is your own and you are the only one who knows what is truly in your heart.

9. Know that you may see and feel the world differently due to the traumatic losses you have experienced in your life.

Many adoptees are also mental health warriors and brave their battles valiantly every day. Know that you are not alone in this and it is okay to ask for help if you reach a point where you no longer feel as though you can brave your battles alone. You don’t have to do this alone—we don’t want you to go through this alone. Your life has value and your light is so very needed in this world.

8. You have a right to fight until you feel safe.

Regardless of the age at which you joined your adoptive family, you may find that forming a connection with them is extremely difficult. Whether you joined your family who adopted you as a baby, as a teenager, or even as an adult—the fact of the matter is that you were biologically connected to your birthmother for nine months before you came into this world. You heard her voice and you felt her heartbeat from inside her womb and you have her blood running through your veins. That matters. The connection you formed with your birthmother matters. And, that can make it difficult to form a connection with the family who adopted you. You may have endured traumatic experiences in your life beyond the loss of your birth family and your culture and community of origin. While you are not what happened to you, those experiences can very much affect the way you view and form relationships with others. You may need to fight against forming connections or receiving love from your family until you can truly believe in your heart and in your gut that you are safe and that nothing you can do or say will be enough to push your adoptive family away from you or make them love you any less. It won’t be easy for anyone involved, but you need and deserve to know that you are worth fighting for and that there are people in your life who will fight to stay just as hard as you fight to push them away.

7. Your sense of identity is your own.

Adoption is the result of a series of decisions that have been made for a child. As an adoptee, you may feel as though there are many things in your life that are out of your control. You may have had your name changed, you may not know your true date of birth, or you may have been raised in a racial and cultural community that differs greatly from your race and culture of origin. All of these decisions that are made for you can profoundly impact your sense of identity and the world’s perception of you. As you mature and grow in your understanding of yourself and your adoption journey, you may begin to see yourself differently and reject or embrace parts of who you are. There is no right or wrong way to form your identity as you navigate your adoption journey. And, the way you currently identify and see yourself may completely change in a few years. The process of forming your identity may include exploring your past and seeking connections to your family and culture of origin. You have a right to seek out the missing pieces of the puzzle, and you have a right to search for a connection to the people and things that may fill a void in your life and help you feel whole again.

6. You should never have to choose between loving the family who brought you into this world and the family who adopted you and chose to raise you.

There is room in your heart to love both. You can feel blessed to have a family to celebrate milestones and holidays and birthdays with and to have your needs met while mourning the loss of your birth family and the connections to your heritage and your past. Loving your family of origin and yearning for a connection to your past doesn’t have to mean that you love the family who adopted you any less. It is okay to miss your birth family and wonder about what might have been. They will always be a part of you. You have a right to wholly embrace the many aspects and people that contribute to who you are.

5. There is beauty and heartbreak in being perceived as different.

It is not easy being different and living and going to school in a place where nobody looks like you and nobody seems to understand what you are going through. The questions about who your “real” parents are and why you can’t be with them, the endless taunting and bullying, the assignments you can’t complete due to the countless unknowns in your life—all are incredibly heartbreaking reminders of the losses you have experienced and how different you truly feel. Being different can be lonely and terrifying, but it can also be inspiring and beautiful. We are all unique in our own ways and life often deals us cards that we aren’t prepared to play. But, it is in those moments of adversity where we discover our strength and resiliency—where we fight to hold onto the things and people in our lives that bring us joy and foster hope. It is in those moments where we are presented with opportunities to educate others and create awareness about the issues that we face as a result of our experiences in life. It is in those moments where we get to decide how we react to difficult situations—where we must gather the strength and courage within ourselves to find light in the darkness and fight to rise above the adversity—where we can choose to combat hatred with kindness, compassion, and love.

4. Allow yourself to let go of the guilt that you feel.

As adoptees, we tend to blame ourselves for the things that have happened in our lives that were out of our control. We ask ourselves questions like:

“If I hadn’t cried as much, would they have kept me?”

“If I had helped more or if I hadn’t made them so angry, would they have taken me away?”

“If I had been better or if I had tried harder, would they have stayed?”

We feel guilty for not feeling happy about being adopted and for not being able to be the children we believe our adoptive parents want us to be. We hear stories from other adoptees who have experienced trauma and abuse in their adoptive families and we feel guilty for not having had those experiences as well. We feel guilty for missing and loving our birthmothers and we feel guilty for the hatred and anger we feel towards them. We feel guilty for loving our adoptive parents and we feel guilty for not being able to love and connect with them in the ways they wish we could. We feel guilty for the constant anger and sadness we feel. We feel guilty for how lost and alone we feel. It is important to remember that we are not what happened to us. We had no control over the choices that were made that led to our relinquishments and subsequent adoptions. Adoption is so incredibly complex and there is no right or wrong way to feel about being adopted. We have a right to not feel okay about what has happened in our lives. But, we also need to do what we can to not allow ourselves to get stuck there. We need to allow ourselves the time and space to heal. We need to attempt to forgive others and ourselves in order to heal and work towards finding some semblance of peace in our lives.

3. You are worthy of love, and you are worthy of being loved exactly as you are.

There have been experiences in your life that may have caused you to feel like you are not good enough and are not deserving of love, but you are. You should not have to compromise who you are to prove to others that you are worth loving. Love is something that should be given without expectation of anything in return, and you deserve to have that kind of love in your life. You should never feel like you have to buy love or friendship or a sense of belonging with things like gifts, money, your body, good grades, perfection, loss of identity, or anything else that may compromise who you are and who you believe yourself to be. You are worthy of love without condition or expectation. You are worthy of being loved for who you are—beautiful and messy and wonderful imperfections and all.

2. You matter to this world.

It can be difficult to understand why people in your life chose to make the decisions that led to your being adopted. Some of those decisions may cause you to feel as though your value in this world is less than others whose birth parents chose to raise them. I want you to know and to hear me when I say that your life, your voice, and your story all have value in this world. Regardless of how you came to be adopted, I want you to know that you matter and you have the capacity to do amazing things in your life. Never forget that this world needs your light.

1. You are not alone.

Being an adoptee can be beautiful and lonely and wonderful and devastating. It can be difficult living in a world of people who breathe the same air as you, but will never understand what you have gone through and why you feel the way you do about it. That sense of belonging can feel so fleeting at times—it is something you may never fully be able to experience. It is never easy to feel misunderstood. It is never easy to feel lost in a world that you are encouraged to embrace but never fully feels like your own. It is never easy to hear that you were given “a chance at a better life” when all you want is to experience the life from which you were torn away—a life you may never have had the chance to know. Please know that you are not alone. There are entire communities of adoptees who have had similar experiences and know exactly what you are going through and truly understand how you feel. Reach out to the people in your life who love and care about you. Talk to them about the things that hurt, and talk to them about the things that bring you joy. Too many adoptees have lost their lives with too many words in their hearts that they felt were unspeakable. While the words you need to say about what you are feeling may be hurtful to your loved ones—the pain will heal with time. However, the pain of losing you would create a deep and devastating wound that your loved ones would carry with them forever.

Please know that you are so very loved.

You are seen.

You are wanted.

You are irreplaceable.

You are never, ever alone.

It will get better, and there is always hope.

I Am Depression, Hear My Cry

I am depression, hear my cry.

I am the voice inside that tells you how worthless you are and how you will never amount to anything.

I am the reflection in the mirror that tells you how fat and ugly you are and that nobody will ever love you.

I am the knife that tears at your heart from the inside, leaving wounds that may never heal and scars that hide the innocence you once knew.

I am the war that constantly rages inside you—never allowing you peace and always forcing you to imagine the worst in every situation—in every person you meet.

I am the part of you that pushes away the people who love and care about you because you are not worthy of love—you are not worthy of someone who cares.

I am the piece of your soul that forces you to stop caring—to stop caring about everyone and everything that once brought you joy.

I am the words that you are dying to say—but nobody wants to hear.

I am the cries that nobody believes—the cries that are ignored and stifled by people who tell you to just be happy and to get over it and to stop being so dramatic.

I am the reason why everyone disappears—because nobody wants to be around someone who is always so sad and angry.

I am the reason why people stop asking how you’re doing—because they know before you even say a word, and because they don’t want to know.

I am the eyes that were once so full of life—the eyes that can no longer hide how hopeless and lifeless and empty you feel inside.

I am the blade that pierces your skin and the poison that ravages your body when you reach that moment of utter darkness and despair—that moment when you would give anything just to feel something again.

I am all that is left after you are gone.

I am the reason why they say you were selfish for leaving them all alone.

I am the reason why they blame you for not trying—for not fighting harder.

I am the secret they say you never shared.

I am the cries for help they say they never heard.

I am the reason why you’re gone.

I am depression.

Nobody heard my cry.

I am a person who struggles with mental illness—a person who is asking for help to find joy in life again.

I am a person who carries the burden of living on her shoulders every day and views life as a messenger of an insurmountable amount of loss, grief, and pain.

I am a person who tries to live and love with a heart that has been broken into a million pieces.

I am a person who feels she has become a burden to the people she has leaned on for support.

I am a person whose eyes people refuse to meet—because she is known as the thief of people’s joy.

I am a person who knows the pain of wanting to die every day that she lives.

I am a person who fights a never-ending battle with herself—a person who struggles just to get through each day.

I am a person who is drowning and struggling to stay above water—a person who needs help.

I am a person who is screaming for someone to listen and pleading for someone to believe that she really is hurting even more than she lets anyone know.

I am a person who is willing to fight, but knows that she can’t do it alone.

I am a person who is pleading with you to not turn away—to not ignore her pain because it’s too hard or because it makes you feel uncomfortable.

I am a person who has so much to live for, but needs someone to help her see—someone to remind her of the beauty in living.

I am a person who needs to be reminded that there is hope and that there is promise in the future.

I am a person who is more than her mental illness—a person with so much to offer the world.

I am a person who is asking you to fight with her and to not shy away from the conversation.

I am a person who is asking you to take her hand and walk this journey with her—to see her as whole, and not broken.

I am a person who is strong and brave and capable of amazing things—a person whose life is worth fighting for.

I am a person who suffers from depression, and this is my battle cry.