Life Lessons from an Adoptee – Part 7

This is a series written by Tamieka Small, adopted from Ethiopia to Australia.

Doubt yourself and you doubt everything you see. Judge ourselves and we see judges everywhere. But if you listen to the sound of your own voice you can see forever’ – Nancy Lopez

Your voice matters. Our voices as adoptees matter. When you’re a person of colour, an international adoptee, queer person or a woman we all experience unique aspects of oppression from society. Our experiences are valid, our trauma, our abuse are valid and real.

Quite often there are people who try to tear us down, discount marginalised groups and gas-light us into believing that our pains and hardships were just a figment of our imagination; that we’re overly sensitive, that we’re ‘snowflakes’, but we must not let them have power over us, and over our minds. We know deep down when something isn’t right, when we have experienced something we shouldn’t have.

You have a voice, don’t let anyone make you doubt yourself. Don’t let anyone repress your intuition. Stand up for yourself, call people out, speak from your heart because your voice matters, and you’ll be surprised just how many people will feel the same as you, who will resonate with you. You will always find someone trying to bring another person down but we cannot let that dictate our lives in any way.

Life Lessons from an Adoptee – Part 6

This is a series written by Tamieka Small, adopted from Ethiopia to Australia.

‘Be your own hero, be your own saviour, send all your suffering into the fire. Let no foot, mark your ground, let no hand, hold you down.’

Patrick Wolf

I don’t know about you but as a woman we are force fed the idea since we were little girls that a big strong man will come along and ‘save us’ from our troubles and fix all of our problems. And maybe not everyone believed that literally but I think you will find that especially for women the fantasy may linger in our subconscious more than we think. It can sometimes be a narrative we subconsciously place ourselves into, especially in relationships where all our inner fears and unhealthy beliefs are mirrored to us.  I also know especially for the younger generations that love is painted as this happily ever after where the partner will come along and solve all our problems if we just find the right one, when really it is no one else’s responsibility but our own to fix our problems.

Maybe that’s just the nativity that comes with youth and young love. And for me personally I believed that as a little girl and when I got older I thought that to an extent that my partner should be there to go through every battle with me, to hold me up, be a shoulder to cry on, to cheer me on, to be everything to me, and I went through an abusive 3 year co-dependent relationship to realise that is not love. Its co-dependency. And co-dependency tends to happen with people who haven’t worked on themselves and their unhealthy coping mechanisms to defence mechanisms to having an unhealthy definition of what love is.

With being adopted as a little girl in some way or another I would dream of getting a letter from my birth family to come in the mail and to come tell me everything as to why they abandoned me. To come and save me from my loneliness, from feeling like I don’t belong in this country or community. It felt like I was an alien that fell out of the sky with no history, no past, just a blank canvas. I remember watching films like ‘Lilo and Stitch’ and feeling like Stitch exactly; who was exactly an alien with no real parents and trying so hard to understand why he didn’t. I felt like every hero and heroine who had no back story, and would often fantasize about being suddenly whisked away on an adventure, where I would find out an epic story about my roots and my birth family and realise my place in the world.

Basically, I was waiting for someone to come save me, to help me understand my pain but no one ever came. And that was devastating.

What I realised growing up, and from having experiences in different relationships that I was the one who had to save myself. I was the woman who had to pick up the sword and fight my own battles, to find out my own truth, to wipe my own tears from my face. I had to be the hero in my own story. I had to be the one to unpack my trauma and unhealthy coping mechanisms, unhealthy definition of love, and heal myself because no one else was going to do that for me. And frankly it’s no one else’s responsibility but mine. I think as adoptees we need to realise that, take accountability in our pain and trauma and take the steps in unravelling that and healing ourselves.

Because honestly if we’re told since children or traumatized into a narrative where we have to rely on others for our happiness and our rescue from our pain or suffering; we rid ourselves of our own personal power to do so. We put ourselves into a narrative where we become even more powerless than we already imagined ourselves to be as orphans or children or adoptees. But we have a choice when we get to adulthood; we can choose what our narrative is, we have the power, the proverbial pen to our story in our hands.

Life Lessons from an Adoptee – Part 5

This is a series written by Tamieka Small, adopted from Ethiopia to Australia.

‘Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but rising every time we fall’.

One of the quotes that has sat for me since my high school years is this one; one I feel embodies the symbolism of the phoenix rising from the ashes, much like the previous quote before this is rebuilding ourselves anew. This one is more about never giving up no matter what. That a quitter will never be a winner, but a failure, or someone who fails but continues to try will one day in fact be a winner and be successful in whatever endeavours they find themselves on. Inner strength can be evident in the moments we pick ourselves back up and keep moving forward. Not giving into our most basic instincts and our egos (shadow self) or a negative-self-talk is so fundamental to our survival and wellbeing.

And every time we fall and pick ourselves back up we learn something new and shed outdated beliefs or perspectives that no longer serve us, whether those beliefs be about ourselves, the world at large or how we perceive love or success. In each mistake there is a new lesson to be embraced and a new aspect pf ourselves to be explored, and we can expand and become more than we ever imagine ourselves to be; and no longer limit our potential by limiting beliefs or perspectives which is essential to personal growth and life.

Life Lessons from an Adoptee – Part 4

This is a series written by Tamieka Small, adopted from Ethiopia to Australia.

‘When we are at our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change’.

Avatar Aang

I think it’s safe to say that for almost every person they may hit rock bottom at some point in their life or very damn near close to it. For adoptees, a lot of us endure some of the most painful experiences and battles, from being abused or neglected in orphanages or families, suffering from homelessness, being kicked out of home, substance abuse, child trafficking and the list can go on.

This is another quote I learnt from Avatar: Legend of Korra when the heroine’s past-life-self came to her when she had lost almost all of her powers as the Avatar. Aang appeared and told her this; that when we hit rock bottom, when we lose so much or everything, we have our minds and souls are so cracked open and vulnerable that we are exposed to seeing new perspectives on life and our pain; in a way that we can help rebuild our lives in a new way; that we can start over anew. We can finally see what we did that wasn’t working then we have the chance to use new tools or solutions to our problems. When we have fallen so far, it is a good opportunity to rebuild ourselves anew from the foundations of the ashes upwards. When we become humbled this way, our ego has less of a hold and power over us, and we choose to transform and change into a better version of ourselves that serves our highest self and happiness.

Life Lessons from an Adoptee – Part 3

This is a series written by Tamieka Small, adopted from Ethiopia to Australia.

‘If we look for the light, we can often find it, but if we look for the dark it is all you will ever see.’

Uncle Iroh

This is truly one of the best quotes I stumbled across from, yes, Avatar: Legend of Korra (an Americanised fantasy/spiritual anime based in an alternate reality). It was quoted from Uncle Iroh when Korra stumbled across him in the spirit world in her child form. In her child form she was crying and giving into her negative thoughts and the audience got to see how it impacted the world around her; making the other spirits angry and sad, and turning the sky dark with clouds and anger. Uncle Iroh emphasised to her how powerful her inner thoughts are, how our thoughts can impact our perspectives on reality; and dictate our beliefs about our reality, and ourselves and how it can bring down and uplift up the people and environment around us.

It’s important as a human being, and especially as an adoptee to not give over our power to our negative thoughts, and I know that is easier said than done. This is especially hard when living with trauma or other mental illnesses, sometimes it’s a constant battle we all deal with maybe all of our lives. But it’s important to realise that there is plenty of darkness in the world, and in our personal lives, but if we give in, we give in to our most basic instincts, we give into our egos and all the things that tormented us as children. And these thoughts can taint how we see the world around us, the life we live in. If we let the darkness in by just an inch sometimes it can overwhelm us, and feel like that is all we see in the world; and when you turn on the news it’s easy to give into the belief that we live in a dark world. When we live a difficult life it can make it even harder to not fall into this type of headspace, so it is important for our survival and our sanity as well as our wellbeing to leave a light on for ourselves; to give to ourselves the chance to live a happier life by choosing every-day to choose to see the light in every chance we get and in every challenge life throws at us.

When we start to put in a little effort every day to see the light we do have in our world it makes it just that much easier, and the light will shine back on us. When we build a reserve of light and happiness for ourselves it gives us more to ground ourselves when we face any hardships in our lives. Sometimes light is what we give ourselves in our darkest moments, a gift we give ourselves as a form of self-care; kindness and understanding and self-love.

Life Lessons from an Adoptee – Part 2

This is a series written by Tamieka Small, adopted from Ethiopia to Australia.

‘Forgive those who have wronged you, not because they deserve forgiveness but because you deserve peace’.

Depending on your unique individual adoptee story, adoptees in general experience a lot of hardships, from trauma, separation trauma, to abuse. Trauma can rewire the brain sometimes in a way that makes us more susceptible to pain, whether that be from rejection, bullying, abuse or stress. It’s very easy to hold onto pain and build resentment and anger, and I know for me personally growing up I was the type to hold grudges, even years after the wound had been inflicted.

It wasn’t until I stumbled across this quote that it shifted my perspective on forgiveness; that it isn’t something we do for the other person, but what we do for ourselves, for our own sanity, for our own healing and wellbeing. Carrying around pain (and this is not to say we have to do this to deal with trauma as trauma is more complex than that, that’s not to say it cannot be a part of that process) is a heavy burden to carry, and you might not think so, but when you begin to unravel all the past pains, whether that be on your own or in therapy, and you see how it can affect you emotionally, psychologically as well as physically, and spirituality you will be surprised about how big of an impact it can have on a human being.

Carrying around anger or resentment is like carrying around poison, it may be repressed and under the surface, maybe buried down deep, but it can eat away at the beautiful soul you have underneath all that pain. You can easily spot someone who is plagued by their past and pain from a mile away, you can feel the weight of their pain within the way they carry themselves, the way they speak and speak about themselves and the world around them.

When I found this quote and I truly embraced it into myself. I felt so much weight being lifted it was almost euphoric; although for me I carried around years of pain and anger, from being bullied all my childhood to separation trauma and neglect. And truly I did sit there and think ‘why should I carry around this pain while this other person goes on with their life with no care in the world? Why should I suffer for their mistakes or their mistreatment made from another human being?’

Sometimes it’s a choice we make for ourselves, whether or not to move on, or carry that pain with us, or to let it go so that we can find the peace and happiness we deserve.

Life Lessons from an Adoptee – Part 1

This is a series written by Tamieka Small, adopted from Ethiopia to Australia.

‘Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life, don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking, don’t let the noise of other people’s opinions drown out your inner voice, and most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.’

Steve Jobs

There are studies that show it is common for adoptees to create a false sense of self – usually between two identities – the perfect golden child who does everything for the approval of their adoptive families so they will never face rejection, or the rebel who may reject their families before they can reject them (again). The golden child can look a lot like the astute student who pours hours and hours into their classes, gets straight A’s, is terrified to get anything less than this, someone who never disagrees with their parents opinions or ideologies, and may claim there is nothing to complain about in terms of being adopted. They may end up being the type in fact (and of course you don’t have to be adopted to do this) but to live out the life their adoptive families want for them. They may want them to study to be a doctor, a surgeon, a scientist, an engineer instead of doing what their heart truly desires.

For me personally, I was definitely one of those types of false selves that adoptees may tend to fall into, the over achiever, the perfectionist, the one terrified of their parents’ disapproval, or letting my teachers and mentors down. For me ever since I was a child, I always wanted to be an artist. I knew deep down that’s what I wanted to be my whole life; and my parents were very aware of this. However, they tried to bring me back down to reality; saying that I had to be the best of the best in the industry like Picasso or Van Gogh to get anywhere in that field. They especially emphasised this when I got to late high school and had to think about seriously what I wanted to do in my life as a career.

I ended up choosing psychology as that was a science, something tangible and structured that I could follow according to society’s expectations. Don’t get me wrong-psychology; human and social psychology and behaviour does interest me but it didn’t ignite a fire or a spark inside me the way that art does. In the end I chose to study Animal Behaviour when I graduated and got accepted into university. When I was exposed to the outside world, the real world I realised how much of my life I was allowing to be dictated by my parents. I realised that I had to live my own life and my own dreams. And yes, it was scary to face my parents and tell them I was transferring to the Bachelor of Arts and I wanted to be an artist. But I paved a path in my life of so much self-discovery and knowledge; where I met so many wonderful people, I aligned with in so many ways. I don’t regret it to this day.

Let me just say this from personal experience to fellow adoptees; live the life you want to live, not what society dictates you should do; not what your family or friends think you should do – do what you want, what brings you joy, excitement, what makes your heart sing and your spirit soar.

Because when your family and those friends or whoever aren’t in your life anymore you are going to be stuck with the life and dreams that you made. No one else has to live it but you, and you will experience your happiness or lack of happiness, not them nor anyone else. You will be the one who will go to bed every night feeling either fulfilled or unsatisfied with the decisions you make every-day, so make sure you forge your own path, your own dream so you can find true happiness. It isn’t easy sometimes, but nothing in life that is worthwhile is.

Bitten and Suffering

by Lily Valentino, Colombian adoptee raised in the USA.

We adoptees are absolute masters at compartmentalizing, I am no different. I can go on my way, not acknowledging, ignoring and stuffing my shit in the back of the closet. But it never fails that eventually something will trigger me into facing my feelings, and downward I usually go for a few days, and sometimes weeks and months.

Yesterday was one of those days, it was like walking through a field and getting bitten by a snake! It happened fast, yet while it was happening it was playing out in slow motion. But now it is nearly 24 hours later and I can quite sharply feel those words coursing through my veins like the poison of a snake.

“….they were brought to this country, were stripped of their names, language, culture, religion, god and taken totally away from the history of themselves”

These were words I heard in passing yesterday, that were the initial sting, bite, if you will, which left me literally stunned. These words came out of Luis Farrakhan, and as I was listening to him speak them, it hit me, he was talking about the slaves brought to America and I too, I too, was sold and brought to this country away from my birth land, for money.

As these words slipped down my throat, I thought of being minority, being Hispanic and how my white adoptive mother pushed and tried to get me to date white guys. How she often spoke about how she wanted me to marry an Italian man. This thought always makes me sick and the term, “whitewash” comes to mind as being her motive. Memories of how she spoke of Hispanics by referring to them using the racial slur, “spics” rush to the forefront of my mind.

It left me shrinking into my seat for the rest of the day. Choking on thoughts of all that I have lost and continue to lose, my culture, my language, my native food, my name, my family and mi tierra (my land). Thinking of how my world is literally cut in half (because I have my birth family that live in Colombia and my husband and kids here in the US), how true happiness of having my world combined will never be had, true belonging is a shadow that I’m forever chasing just like time lost.

I sit here uneasy, fighting the tears from filling my eyes. I’ve been in deep thought about this sudden cry for human rights that does not seem to include adoptees, yet we are walking a near similar path to the slaves of 300 years ago. The difference, we were not bought to fulfill physical labor but to fulfill an emotional position for many white families. Some of us were treated well, part of the family like nothing “less than” while others remained outsiders, forced to fit into a world not our own and punished emotionally and physically when we could not meet their needs. When we stood up for ourselves and decided that we no longer wanted to fulfill that emotional roll to another human for which we had been bought or withstand the abuse, we have been cast out and off of the plantation and told never to return.

The crazy thing is that it is 2020 and my basic human rights to know my name, to know my culture, to grow up in the land that I was born in, to speak my native language, though violated mean nothing, as nobody other than other adoptees are concerned, or have a sense of urgency about this violation.

Adoption is Complex

by Rowan van Veelen adopted from Sri Lanka to the Netherlands.

My two mothers

ADOPTION

Am I unhappy in the Netherlands?

I’m against adoption and still happy with my beautiful life in the Netherlands. It’s not as black and white as everyone thinks.

I can be happy in the Netherlands and at the same time unhappy about the lack of not knowing my biological family.

ANGRY AT ADOPTION IS NOT THE SAME AS ANGRY AT ADOPTIVE PARENTS

My adoptive parents did everything out of love. What they couldn’t give me as adoptive parents is the mirroring and the comprehension of my losses.

It is very simple to see that they are my parents but there is also the character part, which is organic and where we differ.
Why would I be mad at them about this? This is something unfair to expect from adoptive parents because they can’t give that either.

Just like every parent, they make mistakes in education and that’s okay! So I’m not mad about that either. So I can say personally, I am against adoption but at the same time grateful for who my adoptive parents are. At the same time, I missed my biological parents.
Being adopted is not black or white but grey.

AGAINST ADOPTION BECAUSE .. ?

I found my biological family and my papers were correct. So why would I oppose adoption? As mentioned above, I have good parents, so what’s the problem then?

The problem is that money is made from me at my most vulnerable moment in life when I was a baby.

The moment I depended most on others, my vulnerability was taken advantage of.

For others to make money, I feel like something that was traded. It’s a scarey feeling that people arranged everything in the procedure to get me to the Netherlands. It’s not a safe feeling. This makes sense because it was never about my safety but what I was worth as a baby for sale.

So yes, I’m super happy that my papers were correct and that after 27 years I met my family! But that doesn’t change the way this went and the negative consequences on my development because of these events.

NOT ONLY IN SRI LANKA

Then why am I against adoption from all over the world?
Because as long as money is made from adoption procedure, children’s rights will be violated.

As long as demand from the West exists for babies, the supply will be created in poor countries.
This doesn’t stop until the demand stops.

If you have to adopt if necessary, do so from within the Netherlands. Believe me, I understand how difficult the choices are for being childless, but you must never forget the importance of the child.

What Needs to be Done about Abuse within Adoptive Families?

Part 3 of a 3 part series on Sexual Abuse within Adoption

In memory of Oscar André Ocampo Overn, adopted from Colombia into a family in Norway. He was murdered last year at the age of 15 years old, by his adoptive father after speaking out about the sexual abuse he endured at his adoptive father’s hands. Look at the price he paid for speaking out! Abuse in adoptive families happens. It is one of the most hushed up topics in adoption. Perhaps we fear the reality will shatter the illusions of the happy forever adoptive family marketing myth?

Sexual abuse within adoptive families needs to be talked about. I didn’t say “.. talked about more” because it currently just isn’t talked about at all! The only sexual abuse the adoption community openly talks about, is that which happens in orphanages which acts as a way to further demonise our origins and make our adoption fantasy seem even more like saviorism. I know intercountry adoptees who suicide where sexual abuse within the adoptive family was a known added layer in their traumas, yet adoptive families fail to understand why their child decided to end it all, or their role in this death. We need to help adoptive families reach out for help when they become aware of sexual abuse happening in their environment. We need more education on what are the signs and symptoms to look out for in adoptees who suffer sexual abuse, we need deeper psychological assessments of prospective parents to understand more how their own traumas can manifest in the lives of their prospective children, we need further resources to guide adoptive families on how to respond to sexual abuse. Silence should never be an option!

Due to my own life experience, I have a strong sense when other adoptees have lived a similar experience without saying so in absolute words. I know how to gently ask and it saddens me each time I meet another and they tell me what they’ve rarely or never told before. I hear all the scenarios – mother is abusive, father is abusive, grandparent is abusive, uncle is abusive, adopted sibling is abusive, parent’s biological sibling is abusive, close family friend is abusive. It is rarely a stranger! Adoptive parent preparation sessions and post adoption education sessions need to include more discussions on sexual abuse. Sometimes sexual abuse might be talked about in the context of children being removed from a family because of abuse and hence available for adoption or abuse that happens in the institution before arriving to adoptive home, but it is rarely considered that a child can be placed into an abusive adoptive home.

We need adoptive couples to be mindful of what healthy boundaries are so they can identify early on when things do not seem right. We need to create an environment that doesn’t result in hushing things up, burying the knowledge. I cannot say more loudly and strongly enough how damaging it is for an adoptive family to ignore any sexual abuse that occurs within the family dynamic. When left with no professional support, we develop coping strategies that are unhealthy for us and leaves an aftermath of destruction. Suicide is one path of that destruction, there are others like alcoholism, drugs, prostitution, perfectionism, over achieving, workaholism, eating disorders. As Bessel van der Kolk says, the body never forgets. Adoptees who have been sexually abused have to find one way or another to deal with the dis-ease that sits within us.

If your adopted child tells you of some form of sexual abuse, please believe them and seek professional help immediately. Report the issue to the police. Do the right thing even if it is your spouse, your other child, your family friend whom you have to report! I am told too often of adoptive families who treat the victim as if there’s something wrong with them, saying they’ve lied, made up stories, saying they have a mental illness and cause trouble in the family. Most children do not make up these stories and the child should never be made to feel it was their fault in any way!

We need the adoption community and professionals to talk more openly about these questions: how does sexual abuse within the adoptive family occur? How does demonising the birth family with a history of abuse set us up to heroise the adoptive family as if they are immune from being as abusive? How are adoptees more vulnerable to abuse than the non-adopted child? How can we better prevent sexual abuse in adoptive families? How can we better listen to adoptees who struggle with this type of trauma? How can we better record and capture data to reflect how often this occurs? How can we better assess prospective parents? How does sexual abuse impact the whole adoptive family? How does sexual abuse compound the relinquishment trauma already held by an adoptee? How can we help family members come to terms with the terrible deeds of the perpetrator(s)? How can an adoptive family heal and move forward from what has happened?

I’ve lived years of seeing exactly what happens when these questions aren’t discussed or addressed. It’s devastating for all family members and leaves generational impacts. We need to help shift the fear, shame and guilt that prevents adoptive families from openly acknowledging when sexual abuse happens so that adoptees and the family can find healing.

By not responding appropriately, the trauma of sexual abuse within the adoptive family is compounded with our relinquishment trauma.

Do not allow adoptive family shame to be more powerful than love and honesty.

For adoptees who’s adoptive family closes their eyes to your abuse, I hope you will one day find your voice and speak your truth. Your vulnerable child did not deserve abuse and it’s okay to walk away if your adoptive family are not capable of bearing their truth and giving you the support, love and protection you deserve. It’s taken me 27 years to be this open about this topic, being abused and adopted certainly is not an easy journey! The hardest part has been feeling so alone and wanting to belong to a family so desperately that even an abusive one will be okay. I share in the hopes of encouraging others who walk this path. Don’t give up on you. You do not have to feel alone. Find professional support, connect into your peers, don’t isolate yourself. Create a new sense of family for yourself. Find other “mother” or “father” figures in your life who CAN be nurturing and supportive. Fight to give yourself the healing you deserve! Speak up!

Resources
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