I Have a Dream . . . of Anxiety

It’s pretty common. Our anxieties can haunt us in our dreams, and make themselves known to us in strange ways.

There are two recurring themes in my dreams. One that I had quite often when I was younger was about being in the water. Mind you, in real life, I’m a very good swimmer–I was even on the swim team in high school–so I know the underlying fear or anxiety that goes along with this particular dream can’t have anything to do with the actual water or swimming. So what does it mean? The water dreams I had always took a weird turn. I’d be swimming in a pool or in the ocean and I’d realize I’m very far from the surface and I need to get air soon. I panic. But then, I realize . . . or remember . . . that I can actually breathe under water. Like a fish. Nothing to panic about! Whew! And then I invoke my aquatic super-power and start breathing. And I’m fine.

I’ve also had a different version of this dream where I am falling from a great height and in the midst of the fall and my panic, I remember that I can fly. So I do, and I’m fine. I’ll just fly around above the trees, trying not to be seen, and wondering if I’m the only one that has this awesome superpower. I consider these flying dreams to be in the same family or theme as the breathing under water dreams. I call them my Superpower Dreams.

I’ve never figured out what these Superpower Dreams mean, or what the anxiety (or the superpower) may represent in real life. Oddly enough, I don’t have the Superpower dreams that often anymore, so whatever the stressor was, perhaps it has resolved itself. Or maybe I’ve lost my superpowers.

The other recurring dream theme I’ve had over the years (and still continue to have) revolves around being lost. It’s always a scary kind of lost, with an accompanying desperation to escape from something or to find a place or people or an important thing (like my missing purse or passport). Sometimes I’m in a foreign country, or a strange city, or traveling on a train that is going the wrong way but I can’t get off. And almost always, my purse, phone, or something else of great importance has been stolen or is missing. And I am always unable to remember the phone number or address of a person to contact for help. Or I get somewhere where they are supposed to be and they are not there.

Last night I had one of those dreams. I was lost. I was in a foreign country and couldn’t speak the language. I had lost my purse. I remembered that I had left it on a train or a tram or something, but I was wandering the streets trying to find my way back to this tram–that probably was already gone with my purse. I also knew I had luggage somewhere; back in the hotel, maybe? But I had no idea where the hotel was, because I had been wandering around aimlessly looking for the damn tram. I was surrounded by people speaking in a foreign language . . . large buildings . . . . it was getting dark. I was completely disoriented. And alone.

I woke up from this dream in a total panic. It’s been twelve hours now since this dream and I still feel the prickle of anxiety when I think about it.

Whenever I have one of my Lost Dreams, as I call them, I’ll lie in bed and wait for the anxiety to wane. Then, I’ll inevitably assess my real-time emotional landscape. What is going on in my life that is causing me distress? Usually, nothing of the magnitude of the dreamscape’s anxiety, but the feeling must come from somewhere.

So I did a little research. Maybe if I figure this out the nightmares will stop.

Cathleen O’Connor, Ph.D., author of “The Everything Law of Attraction Dream Dictionary,” says that dreams about being lost or searching for something that is lost “usually denote anxiety.” Well, duh. “They evoke feelings of confusion and frustration, or even a sense of feeling you don’t fit in,” says O’Connor. “Usually, the meaning has to do with a current situation in your life where you are anxious that you will not find your way.”

Well, that’s disturbing, considering that I’ve had these Lost Dreams for most of my adult life. I’m 56 years old. You’d think I would have found my way by now.

After a lot of soul searching, I’ve decided to face my Lost Dreams head on. If I call them out, maybe they’ll stop. That means I have to nail them down. I’ve given them a name, but I also need to give them a meaning so I can work through the details and the triggers. That’s the goal, anyway.

Of course, dream interpretation is subjective. That’s okay. They’re my dreams. My anxiety. So here’s my own amateur analysis: I suspect that the Lost Dreams are speaking to me on a subconscious level about my adoption journey. What else could it be? I’ve had some form of the Lost Dream at least once a month for as long as I can remember. I’m lost. I don’t fit in. There is always something missing. This is actually the life theme of an adoptee.

It doesn’t make me sad or angry or anxious when I think about this analysis in my waking life. It is just the way it is. It’s a fact that the emotional challenges we adoptees experience don’t vanish when we become adults, they simply morph. Or they may go into hiding, until the fog is lifted. For me, apparently, these feelings creep into my subconscious and give me these super creative (and scary) Lost Dreams.

I feel like now that I’ve hashed it out with myself and faced it, these Lost Dreams won’t be so scary. I also know I have fellowship in the adoption community where I can share my feelings of not quite fitting in. We can share our feelings of being lost at times. It always helps to share and talk about it. Just writing about it helps.

On a lighter note, I do want to share with you one of my recent Lost Dreams that actually seemed to have a happy ending. Or a weird ending. I’ll let you be the judge. In the dream, I was downtown here in my hometown, but I had lost a very important backpack (apparently it was important, because I couldn’t go home without finding it). As I wandered around by myself looking for it, I ended up an area I wasn’t familiar with. It was getting dark and, as usual, I was starting to panic. I turned the corner and, low and behold, Judge Judy came barreling toward me, driving a tank. She was there to save me! Yes, Judge Judy. In a tank. To save me. Interpret that!

I wonder if any of my adoptee peers experience recurring dreams or dream themes? Let’s talk about it!

Pushy People Persevere

I’ve never considered myself a pushy person. In fact, I’m mostly non-confrontational. As a child, I rarely spoke up for myself. I accepted what I got in life and was grateful. Adoptees are groomed for that. We’re people-pleasers, for the most part. It took me a long time to realize that my own thoughts and emotions mattered, find my voice, and then learn to advocate for myself.

When I first decided to search for biological family and learn about my origins over thirty-five years ago, I had just graduated from college. I had also just returned from a year abroad with a newfound sense of independence, strength, and swagger. Truth be known, I thought I was something of a badass. Then, I found my birthmother. And just like that–whoosh–I was cut right back down to size. Rejected. Ouch. I was not such a badass, after all.

I remember my first job out of college as a paralegal. The first attorney I worked for had a reputation of being an arrogant ass. He was. I took orders, basically, and did the work. It wasn’t fun, but I learned a lot. After about three years at that job, I went to work for a larger law firm. It was weird . . . they actually wanted to know what I thought. They wanted my opinion. Does this or that apply? Can we do this? Figure this out and tell me how we can make it work. I was still uncomfortable speaking with authority about anything, but I sure as hell could write a persuasive memo arguing just about anything.

So, no, I never thought of myself as pushy.

Recently, however, I was triggered by someone who called me pushy in relation to my adoption journey. Granted, this person is not an adoptee, so she has no idea what it takes for us, as adoptees, to own our stories and search for the truth. But it got me thinking. Was I pushy? Am I just too much?

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The word pushy just seems so childish. It has a teasing quality to it as though it originated on a playground. Its use can have the effect of reducing the significance of a goal to a sort of childish whine. Now that’s triggering! Talk about the infantilization of adult adoptees. Adult adoptees are often treated as  ‘forever’ children–delegitimizing our narratives and sidelining us from inclusion in decisions affecting us. Pushy? I think not.

Being  called pushy connotes an improper attempt to charge through a barrier to achieve a goal. Well, for sure I had to push through barriers to reach my goal. All adoptees do. When it comes to adoption, people lie and falsify documents to cover up the truth. Even the law, in some cases, is against us.  California’s archaic closed records laws still exist, despite the beautiful reality and truth of DNA testing. Yes, I pushed! But, I see nothing negative or improper about it. All I was doing was searching for the truth. Working toward a goal that is worthy of our time and energy often involves pushing for something.

And look at it this way–how about those lies and secrets, closed records, and forged documents? Why are those still being pushed on us? Why do we, as adoptees, have to settle for something that’s just not right?

So keep pushing. Be assertive. You can be assertive and still be aware and compassionate. I like to think that while I may have pushed pretty hard at times during my search and throughout my journey, I held on to my integrity and was still able to respect the thoughts and feelings of others, even if I disagreed with them (like my birthmother).

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Does this book make me look pushy?

Available at Amazon

The Silver Lining

whaleThe tulips are blooming in Washington State right now. The Orcas are in Puget Sound, swimming and feeding around the beautiful islands across the Sound from Seattle. And Jonathan, my sweet, smart bio-dad, just celebrated his seventy-seventh birthday at his home in Bellingham.

Jonathan1It was five years ago this weekend (Easter) that I flew up to Washington to meet Jonathan for the first time. Here is a post I wrote later that year about the experience. Back then I was calling him “Jackson” here on the blog–I was respecting his privacy at the time because I wasn’t sure how this whole “reunion” thing was going to go. For those of you who know my story or have read my book, you know by now that Jonathan is a loving and open man and he has shared his love of life with me. For those of you who haven’t yet read my book, it’s on sale right now–a good read for this time you’re stuck at home (wink).

Anyway, I had plans to be in Washington earlier this month, but the evil Covid-19 (a.k.a. the novel coronavirus) foiled my plans.

I get it. What we’re dealing with is serious. I’m doing my best to stay put at home. I’ve got a family member who is a nurse, and several friends who are in the retail grocery business–all considered “essential” workers. They’re risking their health every day they go to work. I also have family members who have lost their jobs and their income because of Covid-19 and the mandatory business closures. They are scared and stressed out about an unknown future. I’m worried about them. And then there is the illness itself. I have a couple of friends (one in California and one in Washington) who have had it. Both are recovering, thank goodness.

And what about the people among us who are more vulnerable than average? Those who have compromised immune systems due to cancer treatments or other medical issues must be extra vigilant. And the elderly have their own struggles with this pandemic. My poor mother-in-law is stuck in her assisted living facility with no visitors. She was crying on the phone today when she told us how much she misses us. She keeps asking questions about the virus . . . it’s heartbreaking!

This is a scary time for so many reasons. And yesterday, the mayor of Los Angeles announced that the stay-at-home order has been extended through May 15! This includes the social distancing, mask wearing mandates, business and park closures, etc. I’m assuming it’s only a matter of time before all of California will follow suit, along with other states and large metro areas across the country.

This is crazy. Or, I should say, I’m going crazy. I know you are, too. Let’s get real, the months-long isolation will take its toll on our mental health. How, you ask?

  • increased anxiety (about health issues and financial stress)
  • loneliness, boredom
  • anger, frustration at the loss of personal freedoms
  • depression
  • grief

I’m no expert, but I’ve done a lot of reading and research on how to protect my own mental health over the years. Like a lot of us, I’ve lived with trauma and stress related to my adoption and my adoption journey. Many other non-adoption related curve-balls have been thrown my way over the years, as well. So, I’ve been to counseling. No shame in that. And I’ve learned to cope. For the most part. I still struggle. Just like everyone else.

Anxiety lives in me. Are you ever lying in bed trying to go to sleep when you realize that every muscle in your body is tense? On particularly stressful days this is me. I have to force myself to relax. Every. Single. Muscle. Or, do you mindlessly self-sooth? Are you ever just sitting reading, watching tv, or visiting with someone and you realize that you’re rocking your leg or tapping your foot and you didn’t even realize you’re doing it? That’s me too. Self-soothing is simply a behavior that has developed over time that is originally learned when a child tries to regulate their own emotional state. There are good self-soothing techniques for adults (spending time with a pet, listening to music, etc.) and there are destructive coping techniques (risky behaviors, drugs, violent behavior, cutting, etc.). I’ll be honest  . . . having a cocktail or two to blur the stress sounds like a good idea to me sometimes. But let’s try to stay away from the negative stuff.

I just want to help in any way I can, so I’m going to share what I know. It’s easier said than done, and it’s probably more difficult for us adoptees, but bear with me. Here goes.

When the stress and the negative seem overwhelming, look for a glimmer of hope to keep yourself going. I’m not talking about a simple look-on-the-bright-side attitude. That would be ridiculous. It’s not that easy. You have to work for it. I’m talking about actively searching for that silver lining. Do something about it.

So, where is the silver lining about being stuck at home during this time? Here are a few suggestions.

  • Getting chores done – I’m stuck at home so I should finally clean out and organize me & guythat junk room downstairs. I haven’t yet . . . but I should. I know it will feel good when I do. Silver lining.
  • Learning to enjoy togetherness – I’m stuck here at home with my husband so we’re doing more stuff together. He’s newly retired, so both of us being at home together all day has been quite an adjustment. Before the lockdown, at least I could escape for some retail therapy or lunch and wine with friends. Now, we’re going on walks, watching movies together, even discussing things. It’s been (surprisingly) nice!
  • More time for hobbies – I like to cook. I’m definitely getting to do that a lot while on lockdown. I’ve been experimenting with my Instant Pot and my air fryer. I realize cooking is not fun for everyone, but what about paper crafting, sewing, painting, etc.? Get your creative juices flowing!
  • Catch up on reading – I’ve read 3 books in 2 weeks. One was a really great adoption memoir that I need to review here on the blog. That’s another thing–I should blog more often! Stay tuned for a book review coming soon!

The most important thing you can do to keep that silver lining in view right now is to STAY CONNECTED. We’re lucky to live in a time where technology has made it much easier to keep in touch. For starters, there are Facebook groups. There are many adoptee/adoption-centric groups, or other groups geared toward specific interests that may help you get involved and connect with like minds. And don’t forget Facetime, Skype, or Facebook Messenger for video calls, so you can meet socially online with a more intimate group of friends or relatives. And, of course, there is Zoom for larger groups.

happy hourI’m all for on-line social clubs, too. Indiana Adoptee Network has started an Adoptee Happy Hour for adoptees and those connected to adoption. The group “meets” online several times a month. You can check out IAN’s Facebook page for more information. The next #AdoptionHappyHour will be on Friday, April 17 and will feature guest speaker, Wallace J. Nichols, Ph.D, author of Blue Mind, a best-selling book about the remarkable effects of water in all of its shapes and forms on our health and well-being. Dr. Nichols’ Ted Talk is on YouTube–check it out.

While staying connected is important, I also think there is nothing wrong with a little introspection, as well. Take some quiet time to assess where you are in your life. Contemplate if you’re content with who you are and what your’e doing. Be honest with yourself. There is no benefit to pretending that everything is okay if it isn’t. Adoptees are good at adapting, but move past your comfort zone and really look at your situation. If you are not happy with your professional and personal life, now might be a good time to start developing a plan or a strategy to achieve your goals. Ask for help or get a mentor. Some of us will be building a new future out of necessity after this is all over. Plan accordingly.

Unfortunately, there is going to be suffering. The goal is coping. Coping well and finding that silver lining. Share how you are coping and what silver linings you’re finding during this crazy time in the comments. And most importantly, STAY HEALTHY! Together we’ll get to the other side of this!

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This Is Us – It Wasn’t About Jack

I know it’s fiction. I know the characters are not real. But wow, do these writers know how to write emotional stories.

I have friends that say the show is “too depressing,” or just too much of a “tear-jerking melodrama,” so they don’t watch. That’s fine. I have a theory about those people. Perhaps those people are not in touch with their own emotions and watching these stories and the heart wrenching relatable life events may be uncomfortable for them. I might be wrong, but really, This Is Us is soooo good!  To each his own.

I want to focus on Randall’s story, obviously. Seriously, I cannot stop thinking about last night’s episode. Finally, Randall’s story focused on his adoption and the trauma and anxiety in his life that is related to 1) his feelings about being adopted/abandoned, and 2) how his adopters handled certain situations relating to his adoption.

“A Hell Of A Week: Part One” kicked off several weeks ago with three episodes, each focusing on one of the siblings. The episodes also effectively flashed back to the stressful teen years and a flashback to their childhood and their first night in their “big kid beds.”

randallWe know that as an adult, Randall is an over-achiever and a perfectionist. And even in the flashbacks, we see Child and Teenage Randall aiming to be a over-the-top people-pleaser and solver of all of the Pearson Family problems. Randall’s anxiety has always been central to his character. But in these past episodes, we seem to see Randall sort of “flailing in the dark” about where the anxiety comes from and how to deal with it.

Randall’s anxiety even manifests itself in nightmares and once even in a ‘shroom-induced hallucination. In the episode “The Trip,” we see via flashback that Jack, Randall’s a-dad, had no idea that Randall’s biodad, William, was alive and/or interested in his son’s life. After Randall’s interest in random black people becomes evident, Jack talks to Rebecca and suggests hiring a private investigator to find Randall’s birth parents. But Rebecca shuts him down. Her guilt is palpable. She knows who Randall’s bio father is and had even been in contact with him. When Randall finds this out, he is understandably upset. Then, back in real time, Randall is accidentally tripping on ‘shrooms at the cabin, and hallucinates a conversation with his dead a-dad, Jack. “We gave you everything we could,” Dead Jack tells Randall.  “And all I was supposed to feel was grateful,” Randall shoots back. “I was a replacement for your dead baby. That’s all I’ve ever been.”

Later, when the drugs wear off, Randall’s anger had calmed down a bit and he decided to visit Rebecca. I was thinking we were going to see some sort of reconciliation and a real heart-to-heart between Randall and his a-mom. But no. Randall was still pissed about the lie.

“You kept that secret for 36 years. That must’ve been incredibly lonely,” Randall says, standing at the doorway, refusing to come in. Rebecca begins to sob. She reaches for him, but he pulls back. “No, not yet,” he says flatly. “I’ll see you at Christmas.” Then he walks away.

Okay, so the above is just an example of Randall’s issues and anxiety. I can relate to ALL OF IT. Fellow adoptees: can’t you? It’s so obvious!

therapySo, FINALLY, Randall starts to realize, through his therapy, that his abandonment issues are at the heart of his anxiety. Interestingly enough, however, the episode is touted as a “What if Jack Never Died” story. But what really comes though, for me anyway, are the scenarios that Randall plays through his head regarding his bio dad.  Randall realizes, through is therapy, the possibility of rejection, a different kind of reunion, questions about his bio-mother, different emotions about his adoptive parents. . . all so familiar to an adoptee. For me, this was missing in Randall’s story before last night. The flashbacks never showed him wondering about his biological family. His childhood, as far as we knew, was not riddled with fantasies about his bio parents and where they were and whether they were looking for him. Perhaps he didn’t think about it as a child or as a teenager. But he sure as hell let it all out during his therapy as an adult. All the scenarios were there.Jack Randall

I felt satisfied watching this episode. I understood Randall. It felt real.

Unfortunately, there is an entire group of TIU fans who think the episode was really about “what if Jack didn’t die?” And they’re disappointed with the episode. They didn’t “get it.” Uh, no.

It was about all the fantasies and emotions and anxiety and control issues stemming from Randall’s adoption. And we get it, don’t we?

Closure . . . or Peace?

I’ve read quite a few things written by adoptees (and others) where their end goal is some sort of “closure.” Whether adoptees are searching for bio family, or trying to end a toxic relationship with an adoptive family or bio, or trying to figure out how all of the complicated emotional layers inherent in adoption fit into a normal or well-adjusted life, adoptees are looking for closure.

For me, closure is a complex, elusive, and even somewhat scary, monster. And I’m not sure I want it.padlock-690286_1920

I believe life is a journey. Every point of interaction with another human being, and every bit of knowledge I seek, along with all the stumbling and bumbling along the way, come together to form who I am and what I believe. My truth, if you will. The journey, along with the growth and the pain and the learning—the highs and lows–never ends . . . until I end. Which I hope isn’t any time soon.

Closure” or the need for closure is defined from a psychological standpoint as “an individual’s desire for a firm answer to a question and an aversion toward ambiguity. The term “need” here denotes a motivated tendency to seek out information.”
Closure means finality. I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing. I’ve definitely experienced failures in this life, as well as regrets and terrible disappointments. My life, like everyone else’s, is complicated. But those perceived negatives make me who I am! I’ve accepted my past, but there will never be closure while I’m still living.

open armsI’m open, and I hope I remain open, to new experiences, ideas, friendships and people. People change their minds about things, too. People evolve. The way I felt about something yesterday (or ten years ago) may not be the way I will feel about it tomorrow (or five years from now).

Take, for example, the rejection (at birth and later in life) from my birth mother. It was a crushing disappointment at the time. I was in my early twenties the first time she rejected me as an adult. The second time was in my late twenties after I had my first child. I naively thought the photo I sent of myself sitting on my white picket fence in front of my little starter home holding my newborn baby boy might melt her heart a little. It didn’t. How does one put “closure” on something like that? You don’t.

The rejection and sadness I felt was like an open wound. But it didn’t last forever. I grew and I learned and I healed. I dealt with the pain and eventually, the sadness was lifted. I moved forward. Counseling, friends, and family helped. I also met other bio family members. I met my aunts (my bio mother’s sisters) and spoke to other family members who helped me to understand where my bio mother came from and who she really is today. I’ve decided I’m better off not knowing her. That’s a decision for now. But who knows how I’ll feel five years from now?

path moorFor some, finding closure implies a complete acceptance of what has happened and an honoring of the transition away from what’s finished to something new. I guess in that sense, I agree with closure, in theory. I still like to think of my life as a journey—a windy road with all kinds of pitstops, detours, forks, and even potholes. Hang on, it’s a bumpy ride!

 

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Buy Laureen Pittman’s memoir here:

THE LIES THAT BIND

An Adoptee’s Journey Through Rejection, Redirection, DNA, and Discovery

What Are You Looking For?

“What we see depends mainly on what we look for.” This quote is credited to John Lubbock, who lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was an English aristocrat, banker, Liberal politician, philanthropist, scientist, polymath, archaeologist, and writer. Basically, this guy was an over-achiever. I bet he was a positive thinker, too.

glass half fullI don’t  usually make New Year’s Resolutions (okay, I make them, but I never keep them), but for 2020, I’ve decided to be more positive. I’ve made a pledge to myself to be a “glass half full” kind of gal. Don’t laugh.

It’s not going to be easy, I know. I’m a worrier. Seriously, I worry about everything. Constantly. I worry about fleas on my cats, the leaky faucet (which makes me worry about whether there are leaks somewhere I cannot see), money, my son in college, the loose pavers in the walkway out front, weeds, ants taking over my orange tree, the health of friends and family, getting old . . . etc. Worries are the first things to pop into my mind when I wake. They’re the things that keep me awake at night. I even worry that I worry too much. Duh.

Medication helps. I’m not embarrassed to say that I have been taking medication for anxiety for years now. It takes the edge off and I am able to be more aware of when I might be starting out on a crushing worry-spiral. If it’s a serious worry, I’ll give it its due and sit with it, worry about it, and force myself to think of solutions. Sometimes there are none. Sometimes the solution is out of my reach or beyond my control. I am learning to let some things go. It’s not easy.

I’ve discovered, too, that worrying is not always a bad thing. In fact, worrying may be good for your health, if it is understood correctly. There are studies that suggest that “worry is associated with recovery from traumatic events, adaptive preparation and planning, recovery from depression, and uptake of health-promoting behaviors.” (Kate Sweeney,  Professor of Psychology, University of California, Riverside.) This is a great article to read if you want to remind yourself that worrying is not always a bad thing.

I believe that thinking positively goes hand-in-hand with filtering out the worries. I just need to do it more. I don’t know how I’m going to succeed with this, but I will. I’ll start with reviewing just a few of the positive vibes and events of the last decade.

positivityI have a friend who beat Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in the last decade. He and his wife could not have gotten through it without positive thinking. It was a life-changing battle for both of them, their families, and friends. I’ve watched in awe as he and his wife faced challenge after challenge with poise and positivity. He had a bone-marrow transplant in 2011. It was successful, but brought with it a host of other complications. He has basically been fighting for his life for the entire last decade. 2019 ended with a double lung transplant, and this, too, has been a success! We had dinner with this couple recently, and I was nearly in tears just watching our friend as he was more animated, engaged, and happier than I’ve seen him in years. Garrett, my now 19-year-old, wants to get a tattoo of a pair of lungs to commemorate our friend’s success in this battle and as a tribute to him as a positive role model. He is an inspiration to us all. The power of positivity. 

JonathanAnother good thing that happened: thanks to DNA, I discovered my biological father! He’s alive and well and I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to meet him and have a relationship with this extraordinary, talented, and smart man. He didn’t even know that I existed. And I gained a sister and a niece and a whole new extended family. It’s been a weird and oddly satisfying journey. Our relationship has evolved in a way I could never have imagined. We have been working together for the last 5 years to seek out hidden truths about his life and (our) family.

Writing and publishing my book, The Lies That Bind, was another positive for me. By writing, I was able to share my truth–my adoption story. Writing helped me to make sense of my world and the people in it. It also helped me to understand, to a certain degree, the people who are not in my world. If you’re adopted, you know what I mean.3d mock1

So, I’m going to be more positive about who’s in my world and appreciate everyone for who they are and what they contribute. And here are some of the things I’m going to try to do to radiate positivity in myself:

  • Look for the best in others.
  • Forgive easily.
  • Be thankful for all blessings, big and small.
  • Treat myself with kindness.
  • Be optimistic; expect good things to happen.
  • Avoid complaining.
  • Smile more.
  • Compliment others more. 
  • Be more tolerant.

I’m sure there are more positive things I can be or try–feel free to leave me suggestions in the comments!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Adoption is Everywhere – It Cannot Hide (Or Can It?)

I have a friend. She is older than me. Old enough to be my mother, in fact. She knows my story. She knows that I was adopted, that I was born in prison, that I struggled with my identity in my youth, and that I was cruelly rejected by my biological mother when I searched and found her over thirty years ago. She knew I continued to struggle over the years with feelings of anguish and inadequacy after the rejection from my birthmother, and that I wondered constantly about my biological origins. She listened sympathetically and supported me fully (or so I thought) as the story of finding my biological father unfolded.

After over twenty years of friendship, and me spilling my guts about my crazy adoptee-centric issues (closed records, lies, shame, rejection, fantasies, social media, stalking family members, DNA, family trees, etc.), my friend dropped a bombshell. A big one. One night, after a couple glasses of wine and talking about everything and nothing at all, she confessed: “I gave a child up for adoption the same year you were born. My daughter would be just a few months older than you.”

Uh . . . what!? I was dumbfounded. After picking my jaw up off the table and consciously unknitting my brow, I took a big gulp of wine.

At first, I was sympathetic. She told me she was shunned by her own mother and father and sent away to live with a relative during her pregnancy. She described being shamed by her family for being pregnant at eighteen and how she was coerced into relinquishing her daughter.

I think at this point I was uncorking another bottle of wine.

I asked her if she had ever heard from her daughter or from anyone on her behalf. She said no. I asked her if she had ever tried looking for her daughter. She said no. She went on to explain that through the years she “made sure” that if her daughter was looking for her, she had done everything she could to make herself “easy to find.” It sounded like she was simply waiting to be found.

I asked her if she wanted help finding her now. She said, “If my daughter wanted to find me, she could have. And she hasn’t.”

There were tears and more drunken talk . . . and when my friend left that night, I felt sorry for her. I felt sorry for her daughter out there somewhere. I wanted to do something about it, but it wasn’t my thing to do anything about.

That was nearly five years ago. Over time, I’ve given my friend’s situation a lot of thought. We’ve had a few discussions about it . . . but each time I bring it up, I get hit with, “You just don’t understand!” Really? Or, “Quit trying to push your agenda on me.” We end up frustrated and upset with each other. Now we don’t talk about it. It’s like this awful, sad, secret, adopted elephant in the room. Our friendship has suffered.

I don’t get it. She’s successful, retired, single, and has a grown son. Now that she’s retired she throws herself into volunteer work, which includes helping orphans in Mexico and mentoring foster children in her own community. As for the mentoring, she’s actually been mentoring foster kids for years—even before she was retired. I had always admired that she gave so much of herself to these motherless kids, but now I’m seeing it in a different light. In my mind, it’s like she’s trying to make up for orphaning her daughter. Of course, I shouldn’t assume this.

And about her being always “out there” to find . . . I’m not so sure she’s been truthful about “not hiding.” When she finally joined Facebook, she used a fake name. That’s kind of a big deal. Social media is one of the easiest ways for adoptees to track people down these days.

Of course, my assumption of her reluctance to be found makes me think of my own biological mother. She absolutely didn’t want to be found. That hurt. Now I have this friend who is behaving in a way that I believe is hurtful. I don’t think she’s dealing with her own emotions about relinquishing her child so many years ago. Maybe I’m wrong.

Anyway, it’s not my thing. It’s hers. I’ll continue to advocate—adoptees need to be heard. Birthmothers, too. Some just aren’t ready.

My birthmother didn’t want to be found, either, but I found her anyway. Read my story, The Lies That Bind, An Adoptee’s Journey of Rejection, Redirection, DNA, and Discovery

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Release Your Truth . . . Find Your Strength

If you follow my blog (or any other adoption-centric blog or group), you already know it’s National Adoption Awareness Month (#NAAM). And you probably know that adoptees are making a concerted effort to switch the focus of the awareness to the people involved in adoption that matter the most: THE ADOPTEE.

It’s complicated. Most adoptees, at one point or another, deal with one or more of the following confounding issues:

  • loss of family (even if he or she gained a “good one” through adoption)
  • unknown or confused heritage
  • unknown health history
  • sealed records
  • family secrets
  • lies (sometimes)

And these issues often lead to anxiety, identity confusion, depression, low self-esteem, and more.

It helps to know and talk with other adoptees experiencing the same issues. It helps to bring your fears out into the open and deal with them. Release your truth and you will find your strength.

Last March, I attended the Indiana Adoptee Network‘s Annual Conference . What an eye-opener. It was fantastic to be with such a large group of people who just “get it.” While I was there, I was lucky enough to meet a woman who truly understands the power of opening up. She wrote a book about it. And guess what? She’s not an adoptee. She’s a birth mother (or “first mother,” if you prefer). I love what she’s done–for birth mothers and adoptees. And for anyone else holding in the pain of a traumatic event.

Shoebox Cover

In her book, The Shoebox Effect, Marcie Keithley tells the heart-wrenching story of relinquishing a child for adoption and how it affected her life and the lives of her family. As an adoptee, Marcie’s story helped me to understand the heart of a young mother suffering through her quiet desperation during a difficult time.

But, Marcie goes beyond just story-telling in her book. Marcie wants us all to open our hearts—and our shoeboxes—to let out the secrets and explore the truths within. There is healing in sharing. There is freedom and peace in understanding why we pack away and hide what hurts us. Marcie’s book offers a guide of sorts at the end of each chapter, to help us coax out our own secrets and unpack the shame, guilt, and unresolved grief. I wish my own birth mother would read this book . . .

Too often, we go through life as intimate strangers with the people we love. We avoid certain topics in fear they might open up a Pandora’s Box, so we take an opposing approach. Many of us stuff reminders of those topics inside shoeboxes or other containers, in hopes we can hide the situation away. But this is a mistake. –Marcie Keithley, The Shoebox Effect

This book is not just for birth mothers and adoptees. It’s for anyone who is hiding away bits and pieces (or big ol’ chunks) of his or her life in the hopes of avoiding difficult feelings. I highly recommend actively reading this book!

Marcie’s book, The Shoebox Effect, Transforming Pain Into Fortitude and Purpose, will be released November 12. You can pre-order it now on Amazon.

Click on the links here if you’re interested in learning more about the Indiana Adoptee Network and the Indiana Adoptee Network 4th Annual Conference.

Be Aware: Read an Adoptee Story

It’s National Adoption Awareness Month (#NAAM). Traditionally, this month is promoted by states, communities, public and private organizations, businesses, families, and individuals by celebrating adoption as a positive way to build families. Celebrations include activities and observances across the nation, public awareness and recruitment campaigns, and special events to promote the false narrative of the fairy tale of adoption.

I understand that there are orphans and foster kids out there with complicated or troubled families of origin that need permanent homes. I know that adoption has a place in our society. It’s just that it needs to be taken out of the spotlight as a fairy tale solution for the childless. In addition, by celebrating the fairy tale of adoption and ignoring its complexities, we continue to drive a billion-dollar, for-profit adoption industry. This is an industry that exploits the desires of childless couples or other people that have an “itch” to raise or “save” a child. This is an industry that also exploits pregnant, confused young women.

The unavoidable truth and the crux of adoption complexity is that it necessitates the undoing of one family so that another one can come into being or add to its brood. The singular most important fact about adoption is that it causes trauma, loss, and grief for both the biological mother (and often for others in the original family) and the adoptee. And most importantly, the fairy tale narrative of adoption denies adoptees the acknowledgement and support necessary to process their experiences across a lifetime. Because being adopted is a journey that lasts a lifetime.

I have a friend who adopted a toddler from a Russian orphanage (before the 2013 ban by Russia of the country’s children by U.S. families). He’s now a teenager. She’s a fabulous mom and her son is a smart, socially well-adjusted kid. We were talking and the subject of adoption came up (I was probably updating her on my crazy adoption journey). I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I used the word “adopted” to describe her son. She corrected me. She said, “He was adopted.” She emphasized the past tense and went on to explain that she didn’t use that word to describe her son. He’s simply “her son.” I get that. And I certainly didn’t mean to offend her. But the words “adopted” and “adoptee” aren’t bad words. At least they shouldn’t be. I felt the need to gently explain to my friend that her son is adopted and will always be an adoptee. He certainly doesn’t need to wear it as a badge of honor, but the fact that he is adopted and there is another family out there that he belongs to just as he belongs to her family, needs to be acknowledged. He may have feelings and emotions about it that he wants to talk about. He may have questions about his heritage and ethnicity. She should acknowledge that it is and will always be a part of his identity.

I cannot begin to describe all of the complexities of being adopted. It is a complex journey and different for every adoptee. Depending on the adoptee, it may involve searching for biological family. It may involve reunion. It may not. It may involve sadness, loneliness and depression. I hope not, but statistics do indicate that adoptees far outnumber non-adopted youth in all types of psychiatric treatment facilities. Some adoptees may feel like they have, in fact, lived a fairy tale life with their adopters. That’s great, too, but I hope there is some support out there for every adoptee when and if it is needed.

In the end, we all need to realize that at the center of every adoption is the adoptee. And I’m all about adoptee stories. I want to hear them all. I’ve read many of the adoptee memoirs out there (and still reading!). Take some time to read an adoptee story. Take some time to understand the heart of an adoptee. Celebrate National Adoption Awareness this way.

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Secrets, Lies, and DNA

I read an article today on Huffpost.com titled: The Death of the Family Secret. In a nutshell, the article is about how, with the use of commercial DNA testing, people are uncovering secrets, lies, and hidden truths about their families. The article discusses the ethics involved in exposing such secrets AND questions where privacy fits into the equation for those who desperately want to keep such secrets. Ethics? 

If you’ve read my book, THE LIES THAT BIND, you’d know that I believe that a secret or a lie that covers up the core of another person’s identity is not okay. Never. Ever.

My story deals with the secrets and lies that go hand in hand with closed records adoption. Other scenarios that cause people to keep secrets include the use of sperm donors, egg donors, surrogacy, or even just flat out lies to cover up an affair. No matter what the reason, lies about a person’s biological origins–heritage, medical history, family legacy, relatives . . . are not OKAY!

This is the quote from the article that got me going:

“Where do your rights to learn these secrets end and the rights of others to keep them begin? What makes a family? What role should your DNA play in your sense of self or identity?”

A right to keep a secret about another person’s identity? I don’t get it. That’s not a right.

What role should DNA play? Well, no one can answer that. DNA plays the role it plays. It’s science. Human body systems, organs, tissues, and cells play roles in identity. It’s the nature vs. nurture argument all over again. To understand where one comes from is to begin to understand one’s identity.

DNA has been, and continues to be, a lifesaver (literally and figuratively) for adoptees. And it’s not going away. Funny thing is, a majority of the states (California included!) are keeping the closed records rules in place, despite the increasing popularity in commercial DNA testing. DNA testing, combined with the growing trend (and big business of) genealogy, are blowing apart the archaic rules and legalities behind closed records adoptions. It’s about time.

By the way, Happy Father’s Day! Thanks to DNA, I found my biological father. Read more about my story in my book, THE LIES THAT BIND. And, I’m celebrating by having a sale  for both the paperback and ebook at Amazon! It’s a shameless plug, I know. But, I would like to know your thoughts on the article and about DNA uncovering our truths.

Happy Father’s Day!

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