How to Support a Spiraling Adoptee

I know that I have been posting a lot about my thoughts and reactions to episodes of Grey’s Anatomy…sorry but this one is inspired by that too. As Jo Karv’s story continues to progress, I have been very interested to see how her relationship with Alex is going to be. For those that don’t watch the show, Alex started out as an asshole, I hated him. His character was snarky, mean and a gave people chlamydia. However as the seasons progress we start to notice why Alex is as angry as he is and why his world view is different. If you don’t watch the show Alex comes from a home where he basically raised his siblings. His dad had walked out and his mother had untreated mental illness. Alex was always the caretaker. Throughout this series you start to notice that he typically chooses women who need care taking.

Alex has always been able to “take care of things” when people in his life fall apart, he is there to pick them back up, put them  back together and get them on their feet again while losing little pieces of himself along the way. This episode, Jo continues to push Alex away, she is hyper sensitive to things that are going on in the hospital and Alex continues to try and support her.

Towards the end of the show, Alex is in the chief’s office and he starts yelling “I don’t know what’s wrong. I can’t ask what’s wrong. I don’t know how to fix it.” He is so upset that he has been pushed out of  everything happening with Jo. He doesn’t know what is all going on through her mind and he doesn’t even know how he can help her.

For those that have interacted with adoptees, you may have figured out that we carry a lot of baggage with us, some have A LOT more suitcases than others but either way we have suitcases nonetheless. Next I bet you’re wondering if we ever completely unpack our suitcases and find some kind of balance or “normalcy”. I’m not sure. I haven’t gone through my entire life yet. I’ll let you know when I get there.

Since I have started on this journey, I have really relied on the friendships I have made throughout the KAD community. We know the issues we all struggle with and sometimes we even hear more baggage then we ever thought were possible for another human, let alone an adoptee to carry. Whether EVERY SINGLE adoptee wants to admit it or not, we ALL trauma, even if it is something we have never addressed or come to admit but it is ALWAYS there. There have been numerous studies that show no matter the age of a child, even from infancy separation from the bio mother changes the way that child develops. Numerous studies have shown that this separation causes a lack of production with a neurotransmitter of flight or fight and it has been linked to anxiety as well as depression.

On top of that add in some abandonment issues and you’ve got the work cut out for you. For those adoptees that are aware of all of this, we know it’s a lot, we know there is a lot of work to be done to handle all of our issues and maintain normalcy in our relationships. We don’t need to be told, we already are aware. We know we have issues. Do we always want to talk about them? No, especially since not everyone is able to handle the complexity of our issues.

How do you support us then if we don’t want to discuss with you? First, give us our space. Throughout the journey of finding my birth family, I have gone through a ton of emotions. I have been at highest high and I have been at some pretty low lows. To try and describe it even now is difficult to put into words. As I’ve been on this journey I have reached out to other KADs, specifically ones that have already gone through the search and have either reunited or have found their birth parents but the parents do not want any contact. For lack of a better excuse, it’s just easier. These people just know what you’re feeling. You don’t have to explain what’s going on in your head, they just get it.

Sometimes I want to talk to other people about it, some of my closest friends that I have known for decades but there isn’t that level of empathy. They can listen and hear us but sometimes that isn’t enough. Sometimes I need someone else to understand what emotions I’m feeling to reassure me that I’m not alone, that these feelings are as normal as possible and I am not driving myself crazy. Please, if an adoptee you love is spiraling and doesn’t want to talk to you, give us our space. Most of us will talk when ready.

Second, know our triggers. Whether or not we are aware of them, we’ve got them. I’ve slowly been trying to identify mine. When you add in the abandonment piece to the initial trauma add in a few more triggers. For me personally, if you start to pull away from me, I’m done and I can tell you exactly what I start doing. I pull away from you and withdraw emotionally. I go into self protection mode because the story in my head is that you are obviously going to leave if you are pulling away from me. Most likely after that I self sabotage and make sure you leave…and there are many different ways that I have done this over the years.

For adoptees FOMO or fear of missing out is all too real. We feel as if we are constantly missing out on something, if someone doesn’t include us, we jump to fear or assume that person is no longer interested in being friends with us. It sounds so stupid when I type it out but it’s a very real and true thing. Because of our trauma, because of the way our adoptee brains are wired, we immediately react (flight or fight) when we are triggered the way we always have, our brains respond sometimes without us knowing why, it almost goes into auto-pilot. Sometimes we are able to control it and sometimes it gets the best of us.

The ways that you can support us is just to be there. Give us some reassurance that everything is okay and that you are there for us. Personally, I know that when there is conflict in any of my relationships, friendly or romantic, I need that reassurance that even though something isn’t good right now that it doesn’t mean I am any less important or cared about by them, a little goes a long way.

I’m sure there are thousands of ways adoptees need support. These are just a few of the things that I need, things that I have come to identify. If you think of anymore leave a comment.

 

Always,

J

Advertisements

Thoughts on Jo Wilson on Greys Anatomy

For those of you who have followed this season of Grey’s Anatomy you have slowly follow Jo’s story. From her very rough start of living out of her car, her extremely abusive ex-husband, to now where she is happily married, about to start a family and starting her birth family search. I wasn’t sure if Shonda would ever give us more of a backstory about her but thankfully this season we start to see Jo’s story and specifically her adoption journey unfold as she and Alex discuss starting their own family.

*SPOILER ALERT*

This past episode we got to see Jo after what seemed like a while to process the brief interaction between her and her biological mother. Over the past couple of episodes we have seen her withdraw from Alex and the rest of her friends, she hasn’t been work, drinks more than we typically see her drink and appears jilted, angry, numb and depressed. When she emerges from her bed and starts back working she immerses herself at work, continues to push Alex away and finally is confronted that she was drinking while in the lab.

The end of the show is an argument between Alex and Jo when he confronts her about her going to work drunk and she continues to push him away. By the end of the show, I could relate to Jo on so many different levels.

I have read a few comments from other viewers about how “Jo is the worst” and she is “always in so much pain…Alex doesn’t need her…she is so petty”. The review was hard to read because Jo is incredibly relatable to many adoptees. For those that have followed my adoption journey and now with the potential of reuniting with birth family, I can understand 100% why she withdrew from loved ones. I don’t agree with her showing up drunk on the job but the degree of her heightened emotions could cause people to do irrational things.

I’m sure the million dollar question is why did Jo withdraw and didn’t explain herself to Alex. As an adoptee, who has spoken with other adoptees, specifically Korean adoptees, some who have reunited with family, some where the birth family continues to deny their existence, some who are in process of searching and other who will never know their birth family and on some level we all relate. We all have this collective experience that is unique to us that we understand all the different emotions we experience as we walk along this journey.

There are times, I admit that I prefer to speak to specific KAD friends because of where they are in their birth family search, or because of other similar circumstances we have. I do not mean to withdraw myself from my other friends and loved ones, however adoption and the trauma surrounding adoption is something that we all KADs just understand. Some of these women that I have become close friends with I have only met a handful of times but on some level we just all “click”. We understand the struggles all of us have experienced and empathize in our current struggles of having our feet stand in two different worlds.

I am by no means excusing Jo’s drinking behavior or showing up to work drunk. What I am saying is that her portrayal of what adoptees go through during the birth family search is something ALL adoptive parents should see. Her story shows the darker side of adoption. As I have mentioned before, not all adoptions are happy endings, some have a very dark side. I am extremely grateful that Shonda is shedding light on adoptees, our journey, our pain, our struggles and has given us a realistic portrayal of us on prime time.

Monday evening, I finally got the courage to call the organization I have been working with. Unfortunately, the person who answered did not speak very good English so I will have to call back later this week. I am nervous and extremely anxious. I don’t speak Korean and having to explain where I am at in my search is nerve-wracking enough.  For now one day at a time, one step at a time.

 

-J

The Adoption Narrative

I can’t for the life of my find the right words. I’m overwhelmed, discouraged and disgusted. The adoption industry as a whole has turned human trafficking legal and turned children into one of the most profitable commodities. Like many other KADs, I know that the money that was paid for my adoption didn’t go to assist family supportive programs, or any other type of social service, instead it went to help rebuilding South Korea after the Korean war. To be frank, we were the nation’s hottest commodity and around 20 thousand or more per child, you can imagine the amount the country made on our behalf. Without thought of the future, Korea went as far as to try and erase our history and our past with the hope that we would never venture away from our newly found country and attempt to retrace our roots. Korea was wrong. Every month, every day, every summer KADs fly from all over the world to try and find their roots, to search for lost family members and put together pieces of a puzzle that never quite fit. We go back trying to be part of a culture that wanted us to move ahead and never look back, a culture that at times even rejects us now. We aren’t Korean by their standards and yet we try to fit into their world that we were never a part of or have forgotten. We can feel the stares when we are unable to speak Korean or when we do not know the social norms and customs. We are fully aware that we exist in two different worlds with one foot in each…and yet people still pay thousands of money each year to adopt a child from another country without knowing the impact it will have on the child.

We, as adoptees know all too well the affects that have haunted us. We are plagued daily with our own sense of abandonment, even with something as trivial as someone forgetting to call us back. We feel that sting each time. We know that eventually there will be questions that are unable to be answered or things we cannot explain. There will be things we may remember but do not know anything more than that. We will have to be reminded each time of our adoption when we go to the doctor and are asked about our family’s medical history. Each time in school we are reminded when a genetics project is assigned. We feel all those pains and those never really go away. We feel each impact that someone else made on our behalf as an infant or young child, taking us from a country we were born into and moving most of us half way across the world.

I have been fortunate enough to be on both sides of the equation. My daughter is adopted and I know that she will have questions. I know exactly what kinds of questions she is going to ask and the types of things she is going to feel. Even though she was adopted through foster care and our situations are not the same, I know there are some things I will be able help her through.

Now comes the uncomfortable part, the part where I can imagine that by all of these comments that I am somehow ungrateful that I was adopted or unappreciative of the life I was given. You’d be wrong if you think that, but I know that won’t stop you. You know who you are and your opinion of me will never change. I am not ungrateful in any way, shape or form, nor am I upset, bitter or even resentful that I was adopted. What I am saying is that adoptive parents don’t always know the impact that adoption has or will have. Even as babies, we are not clean slates. There have been numerous studies that show babies are able to identify their biological mother after they are born. Ripping them from that is traumatic whether you are able to admit it or not, there are plenty of studies that will confirm that it is traumatic for an infant to be separated from its mother.

The adoption narrative needs to change, how it needs to change isn’t something that I’ve been able to find a solution for yet. I know that there are millions of adoptee voices out there each with their own opinion on adoption and each with their own experience and story and they need to be heard. We are the experts. We are willing to sit down and have a conversation on what an adoptee means to us and how it has impacted who we are. The conversation only happens when people, mostly people who want to adopt and those who perpetuate the adoption commodity are willing to listen.

Self Destruction in 3…2…1…

At some point in our lives we self destruct. Am I right? Maybe it’s the pressure of every day life debating whether or not you are spending too much time at work or not enough time at work. It can even be that your child’s birthday party wasn’t like the one you saw on Pintrest or their classmates. Whatever the reason, we some point we hit our breaking point, the point in which we can no longer bear the weight that has been placed upon our shoulders.

Even now, years later, I can still recall my though process prior to making an impulsive, self destructive decision whether in middle school or even into adulthood. My thoughts were always the same, I had made up my mind that whomever I was currently infatuated with, was about to leave and had lost all interest in me…even though those thoughts were based off of my own feelings and not facts. Since whomever I was with at the present moment was about to leave, I justified my behavior believing that I was only moving on and showing the world that I was not hurt on the inside…that I was as tough as I claimed to me. This was not the case, the strength I pretended to have was a facade, it was all pretend. It was the way that I had learned to protect myself after years of feeling left behind and rejected.

I have included the links to the books that have helped in my self sabotaging behavior and helped me identify my triggers while showing me tools too help become more self aware. If you have the chance, please check them out. They have been worth every penny that I have spent. The following books have given me more explanation, tools and self realization than I thought were possible. For a long time I always felt alone and out of place. It was as if my experience made me unique and stand out from the crowd. It wasn’t until decades later that I would meet others that shared in the same type of struggle, that knew the types of feelings that I had experienced.

The light bulb above my head had been turned on and once I had gotten explanation for what I was doing to hurt those I cared most about, I knew it was time to fix it. Fixing it ended up being one of the hardest things to heal from. In fact, I am still healing. I believe this healing journey will be life long. I will tell you that there are days and situations in which I end up thinking the most irrational and ridiculous thoughts but now I know those thoughts are coming and I am prepared for them. Take care of yourself.

 

J

 

The Journey from Abandonment to Healing: Revised and Updated: Surviving Through and Recovering from… by Susan Anderson 

The Abandonment Recovery Workbook: Guidance through the Five Stages of Healing from Abandonment… by Susan Anderson

Taming Your Outer Child: Overcoming Self-Sabotage and Healing from Abandonment by Susan Anderson

In the World of Adoptees

Since the debut of my book, I have had a lot of conversations with a variety of people. Some are planning to adopt, some have already adopted and others are other adoptees. While I was writing Ode to Bermuda Grass, I never thought that I would have some of the conversations that would occur or the stories I would hear from others. It has given me the opportunity to not only share my story but share some of the darker stories from adoptees. Not everyone knows that there is a very dark side of adoption, that there are children who are place in adoptive homes and abused physically, emotionally sexually or that there are international adoptees whose parents did not finish their naturalization paperwork and therefore they are not naturalized citizens. These are not the stories that adoption supporters don’t want to hear or are even aware of.

Does this mean that I don’t support adoption? Of course not, I believe that there is a place for everything, even an adoption. Although I don’t know the story surrounding my adoption and my birth mother’s circumstances, I choose to believe that she made the best choice because of her situation.

I don’t believe that I see the world through rose colored glasses, but I was not aware that such stories like these existed in the adoptee community. These stories exist and their voices are not often heard. Like all things there is an ugly dark side of adoption, one that is not frequently talked about or even addressed. I have heard stories of adoptees being “returned” by their adoptive family and felt rejected from not only their biological family but by their adoptive family as well. The devastation that this creates in unimaginable and heartbreaking.

I say all of this to say that adoption shouldn’t be taken lightly, that there are a multitude of attitudes, feelings and situations that we as adoptees face. Does everyone understand them? No. Are there enough supports for adoptive parents and adoptees? I don’t believe so. Even if these darker stories are not shared from those who have experienced it for one reason or another, it is something to be aware of. Take the time to understand us adoptees, our stories are not always fairy tales with storybook endings, sometimes they are tragedies, thrillers or dramas.

Why Can’t I Visit Them?

It has finally happened. The questions I have been dreading for the last four years. My daughter has started asking why she can’t see her “other parents”, her biological parents. I partly blame myself since I have been talking about the fact that I have most likely found my birth father in Korea. The thought of explaining to her why she is unable to have any contact with her biological parents is something that has weighed heavy on my heart.

Recently it has been brought to my attention that I claim to be an “adoptive” parent however I am not on my daughter’s paperwork. This is true, and if I have misled you in any way, you have my apologies. However it does not change the fact that paperwork does not define a family, that is exactly what it is, just a piece of paper. Throughout my life, I know families whether, through law or otherwise who aren’t on each other’s papers, that doesn’t make them any less family. If you ask my daughter she will tell you I am her mother. To HER I am her mother, that’s all that I need.

Since she has come into our care, we have always kept things at her level. We try to explain different situations in a way that she will understand. When the topic of biological parents would come up, she typically would use the term “other parents”, a term she continues to use. It what makes sense in her head. Eventually, I know there will come a day where we have to the hard conversation about why she can’t see them and the circumstances that lead her to come into our lives.

From the very beginning, being adopted, I already know the type of questions that she is going to ask. I know the type of information she is going to ask. As of right now, she continues to have a relationship with her maternal grandmother, however eventually I know that will not be enough. As she continues to watch me walk down my journey, there are going to be a lot of similarities and differences. There will be questions that I won’t be able to answer and ones that I never thought she would ask.

Over the last four years, I have gone over and over in my head the type of information that I would want in her position and go from there. Like any good parent, I have wanted to do everything possible without hurting her to shield her from her previous circumstances. There are experiences that a two-year-old should never be exposed too, words that they should never hear and situations they should never be placed in. I know that one day, I will have to answer the hard questions and walk beside her as she slowly starts to discover the truth. My only hope is that I can be the mom she needs and use my experience and journey to help her when she walks through the valleys.

Always,

J

Adoption Awareness Month

I have shared this picture before, not recently but I feel since it is “National Adoption Awareness Month” it needs to be shared again. Both as an adoptee and adoptive parent, this quote resonates with me on every level. Like everything and everyone, there are vast varieties of feelings adoptees have with regard to adoption. There are “angry” adoptees, adoptees that have no intention of finding their roots, others choose to address any and all issues that have come from their adoption.

Every year I would proudly support National Adoption Awareness Month, a month that I would celebrate my adoption and the pride I have from it. Which I still do, however, there are a lot more issues that usually aren’t addressed. When I was younger, I always wanted to foster/adopt, mostly because I wanted to give a child the same opportunity that I was given. I still have that desire, however, I feel as if I have come full circle and have been able to see adoption as a whole in a completely new light.

When I was younger, I wanted to adopt a child of a different race, I never really knew the reason why but looking back from where I am today, it was because I didn’t want to be the only non-white face in a crowd. I thought that my entire life I would constantly be in the minority and I used to have a sense of loneliness that came with it. Growing up there were other adoptees, several in fact but all of us never really would hang out or even talk about what it felt like to be adopted. Maybe it was because we never knew how much adoption can impact someone.

Once I started fostering my now daughter my viewpoint started to change. During the adoption process I found myself wanting to ensure she would be connected to her roots, even if that just meant appropriate pictures I could find on Facebook or anything really. These were some things that I never had and I wanted to make sure some of her eventual questions would be answered. It was then that I ran across this quote.

I never really looked at it from another perspective. I had just always assumed that I was given up for adoption because that was the “best choice” at the time. However after speaking with some adoptees, ones who have reunited with their biological families, mostly Korean adoptees, I know that some were relinquished through coercion or some were taken away and given up by extended family members. These ideas had never crossed my mind. I guess I had always had a rosy picture of adoption, at least until I met my daughter and walked through part of her journey.

There is a weight that comes with adoption, for the children and the parents. I know that I will be questioned as her mother because we are different races and that there will be some questions that I may not be able to answer. There is a weight that comes with knowing all of that and knowing that she will have her own unique set of struggles. I know that I cannot protect her from everything and that eventually, she will have to walk on her own journey through adoption as I have.

Some adoptees have used National Adoption Awareness Month to advocate to keep biological families together. I am neither pro or anti-adoption, my situation is not the same as all other adoptees, we can relate on similar feelings and have a “me too” moment but our journeys and struggles are not all the same.

Instead of using this month as a way to advocate one way or another, I want to use it to bring other adoptees’ voices to light. It’s time to listen about the impact that it has on us, that some of us were not adopted into loving homes, some are estranged from their adoptive families, others have suffered neglect and abuse, some international adoptees have even been deported because their adoptive parents never completed the naturalization paperwork. These are the voices that you need to hear. It is their stories that matter. Not all adoptions have happy endings some are short stories and some tragedies and those stories need to be told.

Grief…what it’s really like

The beginning of October is an emotional rollercoaster for me. October 1 is my mom’s birthday and October 8 is the anniversary of my dad’s passing. Grief is something that I had become accustomed too even from a young age. After losing my mom in grade school, it became something familiar. Years would pass by and the sting of losing someone you love whether expected or not still hits you in the chest. There are days where things are alright and you have accepted the great loss but you can expect days that drag you down and it takes everything in your power not to scream each moment of the day. Throughout my life, I learned that grief is not linear rather that it comes in waves like the ocean. Waves of acceptance and peace wash over you and the world around seems just as bright as when they were a part of this world. Once the waves go back out into the ocean again the wounds reemerge only to feel as raw as the day the loss occurred. Those days when the pain is real and raw are some of the hardest days to keep a smile on your face.

When you lose someone you love you want the world to remember to stand still even for a moment to recognize what the world has lost. That the loss you have suffered has affected those around you. For those that have not experienced such a loss, it is hard to put yourself in our shoes. We belong to a “club”, one where membership is involuntary. The loss of a parent is something that you can’t put into words, it is something that pours over into every aspect of your life. There are moments that I want to call my dad and tell him about the newest thing that his grandchildren are doing or ask his advice about home renovations. Some days I try so hard to try and remember my mom’s infectious laugh and continue to wonder if I resemble her in any way.

Grief challenges you, it makes you dig deep and find a strength you never knew about, not because you want to but because you are made to pick yourself back up and continue to stay a part of the world with only the memory of someone you love. We have to find the strength in the midst of a loss to smile and enjoy life again.  If you have lost someone you love, I understand. I may not know the circumstances or can relate 100% but I can tell you that I have felt the pain and sting of loss and it absolutely sucks. I feel ya. I get it. I live with it. Hug your loved ones and never let them forget how much they mean to you.

Always,

J

Dear Adoptive Parents Everywhere,

What you have is a blessing and a curse. The mere foundation of your family is built on someone else’s trauma. This thought of happiness founded on trauma never really occurred to me. Honestly, I had always assumed my biological mother was “better off” and that her decision to place me for adoption was in my best interest and hers. After speaking with other KADs, some of whom have reunited with their biological family and others who have decided the unknown will never be known. There is a possibility that some of these birth mothers were coerced into giving their child up for adoption. The circumstances surrounding adoptions may never truly be known and the intentions unclear.

As an adoptive mom, I know some of the struggles that my daughter will have. There are times even now that I have to be very mindful of how I word things or how things are phrased. She remembers that she has another set of parents, but she doesn’t remember what they physically look like. One time she even asked me why they couldn’t keep her and when she came to live with us. After speaking with her therapist, our answers continue to be age appropriate. We have never spoken badly of her parents to her, we simply stated that they were unable to keep her safe. “Safe”, a word she knows very well and a word I still struggle to feel. My daughter likes being protected, she needs to know and feel that someone is with her, that someone won’t leave her and that either myself or her dad will return. For now, that is the best answer I can give her.

Adoptees struggle being stuck in two different worlds, at least those in transracial adoptions. We belong to a culture that we don’t identify with yet we identify one in which we were raised. There is a constant inner struggle that goes on within each of us between the two worlds. We are not white enough to be white, and yet we are not culturally Korean enough to be Korean. We may look the part of being Korean, but most adoptees still struggle with identifying with the Korean culture.

Whether you are transracially adopting or not, it is important to know that we as adoptees have a lot going on underneath the surface. We may have memories that may be triggered by smells, locations, seasons, food or even sound. Personally, I am not sure that I have any memories sounded by these but I know there are some that have them based on food and seasons. We don’t always remember events, but our bodies do, we don’t remember any possible neglect or abuse, but our bodies do, and we especially don’t always remember the trauma of being separated from our biological family but our bodies do. Please support our emotional health as well as our physical, we may not know the cause of our pain but help us get the support we need.

Remember to show us compassion and love, sometimes we need an extra hug or an extra reassurance that we are safe and secure. Remember to support us if we decide to search for our biological roots. We are only curious to see where we came from, you cannot blame us for being curious, but we would never replace you.

*This may not apply to all adoptees, but in my experience, this is what I have seen*

Always,

J