Dirty Looks

My dad interrupted himself in the middle of his rant. “Don’t look at me that way. Wipe that look off your face!”

It was just my face. I didn’t know what else to do with it, so I looked down. The scolding continued. I watched my tears fall and melt into the mottled brown carpet.

I can’t remember what I had done wrong, or how old I was the first time I heard my dad mention it, but it became a thing in our house. My dirty looks. My adopted brother, who is sixty years old now, still talks about how I used to get in trouble by just glancing at Dad.

I’ve been told I have a very expressive face. I cannot hide what I’m thinking. I’d be terrible at poker, I guess.

In my adolescent years, apparently, my face really started talking. Dad would tell me that my face could say Go To Hell with just a glance. Were my dirty looks some sort of superpower? I wondered. I became self-conscious.

I spent hours staring into the bathroom mirror, trying on different faces, different expressions, trying to figure out which “look” was the one that would trigger my dad. There was something about my face that angered him. Was it a scowl? I tried to make a scowl in the mirror . . . a sort of frown mixed with a furrowed brow. How dumb I looked.

More staring.

Try a smile. Ugh, no. Not like that. Try again. Smile with your eyes. Don’t show your teeth. Well, maybe a little. Don’t smile too big, though, or your face looks all scrunched up. Do I have dimples? No.

Thus began a life-long obsession with my face, my expressions, and my burning desire to find someone with the same dirty looks as me.

Who do I look like? Whose face is this? Whose crooked smile? Even when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t see a familiar face. There was always something wrong with it.

I didn’t know it then, but now I realize what I was missing out on was genetic mirroring. To explain it simply, genetic mirroring is essentially being able to see yourself in your family. This is most obvious when you think about physical characteristics (for instance, my husband definitely has the same nose as his mother), but is not limited to that. In fact, genetic mirroring can be seen in mannerisms, talents, athletic abilities, intellectual strengths and weaknesses, simple likes and dislikes, and in a number of other ways. There are reasons why we see repetitive generations of lawyers, healers, scholars, actors, artists, etc. in natural families. It is not just a matter of continuing a family business or tribal tradition. It is a matter of like characteristics, traits, and personalities being nurtured, generation after generation, by genetic mirroring.

Seeing and recognizing traits in another person close to you means you are more likely to feel good about, or at least be comfortable with those traits.

When you look into your genetic mirror, into the face of a biological parent, or sibling, you know those traits have been passed down from your family. It’s comfort. Familiarity. Acceptance. Having a genetic mirror helps you to feel that you belong – helps you feel that you’re okay as you are because there is someone else just like you.

Growing up adopted, of course I didn’t have a genetic mirror. When I was teased about various aspects of my appearance at school, I couldn’t turn to a genetic mirror for comfort. I couldn’t see myself in anyone else. I felt different; unacceptable. And when my dad criticized my expressions and expressed displeasure at my face, it really hurt. I’ve never gotten over it.

I like to think of myself today as a well-adjusted grown-up. But, I know that I am still affected by the void of genetic mirroring in my life growing up. I’m fifty-seven years old, for crying out loud! But when I’m speaking with someone I know well, a friend or someone I love, it’s difficult for me to look directly into their eyes. I fear what they may see in my face. Even in deep, emotional conversation, I tend to look over someone’s shoulder. Willing them not to look directly at my face.

I know now that it is important to talk about this. To acknowledge that genetic mirroring is real and is a big deal in the development of a person’s personality and identity. This is just one of the things that is missing in an adoptee’s life. As adoptees, we should be allowed and even encouraged to think about this and even grieve it. It is important for adoptive parents to understand this, to be aware of this, to recognize the subtle nuances and unsaid words (and words that are actually said) that fill an adoptee’s mind with wonder. With longing. With sadness. With anxiety.

I’d like to be able to replace the longing, sadness, and anxiety with acceptance, contentment, and comfort. I’ll start by looking into the mirror.

Write It Out!

How writing can help you work through your stress, grief, or trauma.

This article is shared and reprinted here by permission from the National Association of Adoptees and Parents. It was originally printed in its 3rd Quarter 2021 Newsletter.

It was difficult for me to write certain parts of my memoir. As with many adoptees, my story dealt with a difficult childhood, the trauma of abandonment, the severing of my identity, secondary rejection, and generally navigating a life put together by others with purposeful deceit. I was expected to live a certain life, love certain people as “family,” and be accepting of and comfortable with it all.  

So why write about it? Why relive the pain and trauma? 

Well, ignoring it wasn’t working. For years after my birth mother cruelly rejected me in 1987, the trauma of that secondary rejection manifested itself in many ways. Seemingly innocuous incidents would trigger my trauma and I would find myself reliving my past anxieties and stresses, and sometimes taking it out on other people. Relationships were difficult. My trauma led to anxiety, anger, and withdrawal. And exhaustion.  

I let those anxieties and stresses cause chaos and uncertainty in my life for too long. 

Some thirty years later I started blogging about my adoption journey. I finally took control of my story. Why did it take so long? 

I’ve always enjoyed writing. I’ve done legal writing in my career as a paralegal for years. I also had a food blog for a few years. Sharing my love for cooking, along with my adventures in the competitive cooking world was fun, but it wasn’t easing any pain. What I did realize through this type of writing was that expressive and creative writing was beneficial for me. Creativity (through the cooking and the writing) helped to relieved stress related to my work. 

I still had anxiety and issues related to my adoption, however. I just wasn’t dealing with them. Then, one day, I stumbled on another adoptee’s blog. She told the story of her search and the complicated reunion with her birth mother and the maternal side of her biological family. As I read, I reflected on my own story. Her story forced me to think critically through my own emotions and experiences. Reflecting on another person’s similar story gave me the ability to understand and make sense of my own life experience. I had a sudden urge to write my story. 

And so I began. 

The health benefits of writing about trauma are well-documented. For me, blogging helped me reflect on my situation, accept it, reach out to people through it, and finally, heal. By reaching out through blogging, I was able to connect with others with similar situations. I found other adoptees and those with unique family situations dealing with their own trauma and difficult emotions. By giving a voice to my pain and emptiness, I was learning to accept them as a part of me. In accepting, I was healing. By sharing my story, I was emerging from my isolation.  

Soon after I started blogging, I started reading adoptee memoirs and other adoption-centric books. This brought me more validation and strength. I used the strength to write my memoir.  

Before you emerge strong, you’ll inevitably feel the pain again. I did. Don’t let it stop you. Through the writing process, whether you are simply journaling, blogging, writing personal essay, or writing your memoir, you will learn acceptance. You will learn to accept your emotional scars and learn not to be afraid to share your vulnerabilities. Writing will help you discover what makes you part of a larger universe. What makes you vulnerable may be a direct result of personal trauma, but that trauma and the emotional turmoil caused by it are informed by systems, processes or problems in society on a much larger scale. Maybe sharing your experience will help others. By writing your story, you can take ownership of your life and shape it the way you want.  

Adoptee voices matter. If you have a story you’d like to tell, or if you’d like to start journaling with more meaning, or if you are currently blogging or want to start a blog, join me, Lynn Grubb, Marcie Keithley, and Paige Strickland at the NAAP Conference in September for our panel discussion, Adoptee Voices Matter—Options for Writing Your Truth. Panel presenters will answer your questions and share their thoughts on writing memoir, personal essay (non-fiction), writing about grief and trauma, and how to keep organized and focused when writing about such an emotional topic. Hope to see you there. 

Available at Amazon

COVID Craziness

This article is shared and reprinted here by permission from the Indiana Adoptee Network. It was originally printed in its 2020 Holiday Newsletter.

I wanted to post it here to reach as many people as possible, because we’re all still dealing with the unfortunate effects of COVID in some way (some are having a more difficult time than others) and it’s comforting to know that you’re not alone.

Case in point: early last week, my husband tested positive for COVID. Luckily, he was already doing some work at our condo in another city when he found out–so we decided he should stay there, alone, until this passes. His sister, who lives nearby the condo, was gracious enough to deliver some groceries so he wouldn’t need anything during his quarantine. This meant that he wouldn’t be home for Christmas. It also meant that Garrett and I may have been exposed. We scrambled trying to arrange for testing before Christmas. Garrett got tested on Christmas Eve and I got tested on the 26th. Luckily, we both tested negative. According to protocol, we stayed isolated here at home and had a quiet Christmas–just the two of us, while Guy ate a quesadilla and instant ramen for Christmas dinner (his cooking skills are limited). We had been looking forward to my older son and his fiancee joining all three of us on Christmas Eve for dinner and spending the night for Christmas morning and gifts and good cheer, but it was not in the cards for us. Damn COVID.

Fortunately, my husband had very mild symptoms and felt fine most of the time during his quarantine. He’ll be coming home on Thursday (New Year’s Eve) and we’ll all be getting together on New Year’s Day to have our Christmas celebration.

So, hang in there. I’m thankful we didn’t get hit hard by COVID. Some of you may have already, or may in the future. I hope not. Please, stay safe, healthy, and sane!


COVID-19, Coronavirus, the “Plague.” Whatever you want to call it, we’re all still dealing with it. STILL!

Back in March, Lynn Grubb (No Apologies for Being Me) and I did a lighthearted Indiana Adoptee Network Happy Hour Zoom “meeting” (IAN’s first one) about the subject and how it might affect adoptees and those in the community in ways different from the average “Joe.” We talked about silly things, too, like substitutes for toilet paper (the shortage was real!), and Zoom mishaps in this new age of video conferencing (like forgetting to turn off video when you step into the bathroom—oops!)

But the real issue was, and still is, how to deal with this new stressor (COVID), when many of us in the adoption community are already dealing with trauma, anxiety, and isolation? How is dealing with COVID different for adoptees and others in the adoption community?

It’s a fact that adoptees are a vulnerable population.

  • Adoptees may have felt like outsiders their entire lives—different in some way. We grew up separated from our biological families. Society as a whole does not truly understand how isolating that can be—not knowing who they are, or knowing who they are, but not having contact with them for some reason or another. These feelings are normal for an adoptee, but add social distancing, stay-at-home orders, and even quarantining to the mix and our sense of being alone in the world is heightened.

Adoptive Parents need to be aware of the anxieties and feelings adopted children may have.

  • Adopted children may need more frequent reassurance from adults during these uncertain times. Some children may be thinking about how COVID-19 is impacting their birth family. Adoptive parents should not shy away from bringing up these concerns or fears, if the child is old enough to understand the situation.

For both adoptees and adoptive parents, anxieties can merge.

  • Disruptions in family life due to the pandemic, such as economic hardships, transition to online learning, and cancellations of social and recreational activities can bring up feelings of confusion in adopted children, and helplessness in adoptive parents. The journey to forming a positive identity as an adopted person may be impeded by these events, which further disrupt continuity. Again, depending on the age and developmental level of the adopted child, parents can, and should, initiate conversations with their child about these issues.

There are so many complexities and nuances. How it affects each of us is going to be different. How do we cope? Lynn and I had some suggestions for that, too.

First, understand that anxiety is completely normal in this situation. Accept what is happening and make space for it, even if you don’t like it.

CONNECT! We think this is the most important thing of all. IAN created a platform for us to get together and share our experiences, including our struggles and our successes. IAN Happy Hour is bringing the adoption community together every Friday (and sometimes on Mondays) with helpful topics and discussions as a healthy way to engage with others in the adoption community. We are fortunate to be living in a time of technology which has given us the ability to connect from our homes. In addition to IAN  Happy Hour, there are Facebook Groups, and other organizations across the country that offer support and engagement for those in the adoption community.

You may find strength and comfort in other communities, too, like your faith-based community. Find ways to continue to rely on what makes you feel safe and happy. Many churches are putting their services online. There is also a myriad of podcasts that provide reinforcement and encouragement, whether you are looking for connection through your religious affiliation or through other genres of spirituality.

Another way to cope–stick to your routines. Or, if your routine is too much with the added stress, relax your routine. Self-care, whatever that looks like to you, remains important. For some it’s meditating, for others it can be as simple as taking a bath or a walk.

Some other things to keep you busy on a positive level:

  • Make time for hobbies! If you don’t have one, get one! Get creative with crafting, cooking, collecting . . . appreciate once again your the small pleasures you derive from your creativity.
  • Connect with people by talking on the phone, Facetime, Skype, or Zoom. In addition to video live-chat apps like Snapchat and Whatsapp, which I can guarantee that your teens have on their phones, there are some others that seem to be drawing the “more mature” crowd, like Marco Polo. The average age for users of Marco Polo is adults, ages 25 to 54, who simply want to stay in touch on a more personal level than just texts, but who maybe don’t have time to live chat on demand. Try it!
  • Read an adoption memoir (and write a review).
  • Write that adoption memoir you’ve been thinking about. Or, just do some journaling. Journaling can improve your mood by helping you prioritize problems, fears, and concerns. It can also help to reset that positive self-talk you need to hear!
  • Spend time with your pet! It’s proven that interacting with a friendly pet can help reduce blood pressure and improve overall health by causing our brains to release endorphins that produce a calming effect. This can help alleviate pain, reduce stress, and improve your overall psychological state.
  • Listen to some music. Music therapy always lifts the mood (make a playlist of quarantine theme songs!).
  • Research and plan your next vacation for when travel restrictions are lifted. It may seem like we’ll be in this lockdown status forever, but I promise we won’t!

While staying connected is important, 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 you’re 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. And most importantly, STAY HEALTHY! Together we’ll get to the other side of this!

Randall – A Study in Coming Out of the Fog

It’s no secret that I am a super-fan of the NBC television show, This Is Us. It sucked me in starting in Season One, with the complex family story, which included threads about everything from drug and alcohol abuse, weight shaming, obesity, fierce sibling rivalry, adoption, and so much more. The masterful storytelling kept me coming back with all the surprises, clever and well-placed flashbacks, and shocking plot-twisting endings to almost all of the episodes. What’s not to love! The characters are so real . . . so honest . . . so flawed.

The Season Five premiere earlier this week confirmed that the show wasn’t going to shy away from the reality of current times. In the first few minutes of the show, the challenges of the coronavirus were incorporated seamlessly, with Beth’s revelation that “Tom Hanks has it,” and Kevin and Madison’s pregnancy reveal to Kate and Toby at a safe distance. The current Black Lives Matter movement also played into the storyline, especially for Randall’s immediate family. The scene where Randall, Beth and the girls were watching the news about the death of George Floyd was especially heart wrenching. Randall insists he’s not having a breakdown. He’s just “really, really sad.”

Some viewers didn’t like the inclusion of COVID and the racial tension in the storyline, saying that they watch television to escape reality. That doesn’t work for me. I generally don’t enjoy watching or reading something that is obviously not rooted in reality. This is why I’m not a fan of books, movies, or television shows with the genre or theme of science fiction, fantasy or superhero fiction. To each his own.

Let’s get back to Randall. Most adult adoptees in real life know about The Fog. For those not familiar, for adoptees, the phrase “coming out of the fog” refers to adoptees coming to terms with feelings–often supressed emotions–and realizations about adoption and their adoption experience. It is an awareness that evolves, or comes on slowly, that the reality of the adoption experience may not fit the mold society or adoptive families have constructed for adoptees. You are immersed in The Fog if you are an adoptee who believes that relinquishment and adoption are completely positive events and have no effect on your life or your emotions at all. Adoptees living in The Fog are mostly grateful and may believe that they were “saved” by their adoptive parents from a sad life of being an orphan, or being raised in poverty, or worse. These ideas are often instilled in the adoptee by his or her adoptive parents. Adoptees are often told they were “chosen” and are “special.” Adoptive parents may mean well by telling these stories, but for an adoptee, the reality will hit at some point.

The reality is: biology does matter. Being separated from your mother at birth or even later causes trauma. This trauma can affect the development of a child on many levels, including physiologically, socially, and emotionally. Identity confusion is common for adoptees. As the realization of this trauma comes to light for an adoptee and evolves, the feelings and emotions start to flow: rejection, grief, confusion, mourning, denial, anger, bargaining, and, hopefully, acceptance. This is coming out of The Fog.

Truly, what I’m writing here is such a simplified version of what adoptees may go through when coming out of The Fog. Libraries are full of research articles by experts and books written on the subject. It’s a real thing. And I believe that Randall is just starting to come out of The Fog.

Randall has been under an enormous amount of stress since the beginning of Season One. He’s a people-pleaser. He’s an over-acheiver. He didn’t think that his stress had anything to do with his adoption, but it obviously did. During the first season, he searched for and found his biological father! We all grew to love William during their ‘reunion,’ but there is no denying that this event confused Randall, and challenged much of what he believed about himself. Also revealed to viewers were the secrets that his adoptive mom, Rebecca, had kept from him. The secrets, on top of all of the other stress, force Randall to face his demons. He goes to counseling.

I actually wrote a post after Randall lost it last season (remember when he chased down the purse snatcher and beat the crap out of him?). I think this was the start of Randall coming out of The Fog.

Now he’s facing the racial issues of the current social climate as a black man who had been raised in a white family. His identity is being challenged even further by his emotion and the reactions and feelings of those closest to him. He realizes that they (Kate and Kevin) are not able to fully understand what he is going through. Again, all of this is pushing him out of The Fog even more.

I’m looking forward to seeing how Randall’s story evolves. There must be an adoptee or two on the writing staff or consulting with the writers because, in my opinion, they seem to get the adoption storyline right every time. And it’s only going to get more interesting now that we know (SPOILER ALERT) that Randall’s birth mother didn’t die after she gave birth.

Interested in another adoptee story? My book is on sale at Amazon!

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?

child

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

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!

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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