Who Am I?

by TLB, adopted from Vietnam to Canada.

Do I look like my father or mother? What is my real name? When was I born? Who am I really? I have been going through these questions my whole life and not quite sure if I will ever find the answer.

I was born in Vietnam, adopted by a white family in Canada in the early 70’s. I am part African-American and Vietnamese but I look more African-American, and I’m also physically disabled which I contracted from polio and a gun shot wound (something I have been told as a child, but not sure if it’s true). I have always known I was different growing up, not because the colour of my skin but because I was disabled. When I arrived to Canada I had to go to the hospital for many surgeries to straighten my legs and back due to scoliosis. When I arrived home from the hospital, this is when I felt I didn’t belong in the family. As a young child I was stubborn and barely spoke because the effects of leaving Vietnam and being in a different environment, I was overwhelmed.

Being an African-American Asian disabled child, living in a white world, I knew I was different and I wanted so much to fit in. At an early age, I knew that my adoptive mother treated me different than my other siblings. They had two other biological children along with another adopted child from Children’s Aid Society, so I was the black sheep in the family and that was my nickname to other family members and neighbours. My adoptive mother wasn’t the perfect mother everyone thought she was behind closed doors. Using my wheelchair was forbidden in the house so I had to always crawl around on the floor and carpet, but leaving marks on the carpet didn’t look good and caused my adoptive mother to always vacuum, so I had to have my bedroom moved down in the basement – being isolated away from my siblings. Whenever my siblings would come down to play with me, they were sent back upstairs and told not to play with your “black sheep” sister. Being alone in the basement, I stopped talking and had to entertain myself as a child. From not talking, my vocal cords didn’t develop well so whenever I went to school, I had trouble interacting with other students and was bullied and labelled as being dumb.

My adoptive mother always told me I should be grateful to them for adopting me. I always kept my feelings inside because if I told them how I really felt, I would be beaten. I always had to thank her for saving my life every time I did anything wrong. The first time I said “I wish you’d never adopted me” my adoptive mother emotionally and physically abused me. Sometimes I wouldn’t care what she did to me, I was happier just to be in my own shell in the closet.

I was never involved in any of the family gatherings or family vacations. I would always eat alone after everyone else ate. The one memory I will never forget was when my adoptive family went away to Florida and I wasn’t allowed to go because my adoptive mother said “black and crippled children were not allowed”. I went to the mirror and looked at myself. I wanted so much to be white that I scrubbed my skin so hard but it just turned red. I pushed my wheelchair down the stairs and tried to push myself up to walk, instead I fell down and was left lying on the floor for days until a neighbour found me bleeding. Instead of being a good neighbour and help a young girl, he took advantage of me for days while my family was away having fun. When my family returned, I tried to tell my adoptive mother what happened. All she said was, “You were looking for attention and that’s what you deserved”.

I wanted so much to be a part of the family to the point that I would agree to clean the house. My adoptive mother would always introduce me to her friends as the “black maid of the third country”. My adoptive mother emotionally abused me by continuing saying she never wanted me because of my disability and skin colour. She didn’t think I would turn out to “be soo dark” and a troubled child needing therapy appointments. All I wanted was to make my adoptive mother proud of me, but nothing I did ever satisfied her. Whenever my siblings got into trouble, I would stand up for them and would lie and steal for them so they would play with me. There were times I would sneak food at night because I was so hungry but whenever I got caught, I was sent to the closet for days. Nothing I did was good enough for my adoptive mother.

When I was 11 years old, I was told that I was leaving the family and spending a few days somewhere else. I didn’t know what I did wrong. That night I stayed up all night rethinking the day – what did I do to displease my adoptive mother. All she told me was I would be going to a better place that can care for my “crippled-black” behaviour. I cried the whole way begging my adoptive mother that I would be a “good girl”. Four hours later I was dropped off to a big stone house with lots of stairs and other children running around the living room. My adoptive mother told me it was only for a few weeks and that the family will help me with my behaviour. For the next few days, all I did was sit by the window waiting for my adoptive mother to return. Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. I had to eventually realise that I was staying in this house and no-one was coming back for me.

I was living in a house with 25 other children. I tried to fit in and be a part of the family but still felt like an outcast. Even though I was not the only disabled child, I felt that I didn’t belong. I found out that the foster mother of this home, was the woman who helped my adoptive parents adopt me from Vietnam. The foster mother had an organisation that helped Canadian and American families to adopt children from third world countries out of orphanages that she opened. I wasn’t the only child adopted and sent to the foster family. During the years, living at the foster family I became a reserved and quiet child and during my teen years I still wanted to know “who am I”? I asked the foster mother if she knew anything of my birth mother and every time I asked her, the answer was always, “Wait until you are eighteen”. From then I just left the question alone and tried to live my teen years in the home.

When I first went to the foster family, I was placed in a school with other disabled children but I felt it wasn’t for me. I wanted to be independent and be left alone so I became very stubborn especially during therapy sessions. Having therapists lift my legs and try to stretch them wasn’t working for me, they tried to get me to use braces and crutches, I definitely didn’t want that. So they finally agreed for me to use a sports wheelchair and what freedom I felt!! Using the wheelchair built up my teen arms and I became very strong, during recess time. While other children were at therapy, I could be found in the gym bouncing basketballs. This is when a sports coach saw me throw my first basket and she asked me, “Do you want to be an athlete and travel?” I quickly answered her, “Yes!” Little did she know that I didn’t just want to be an athlete but I wanted to travel so I could be out of my foster house as much as possible. My foster father was abusing me whenever we went to the family home in Montreal every summer, so whenever I found out that I would be travelling in the summer – I looked forward to the summer knowing I would be out of the country!

If it wasn’t for that sports coach, I wouldn’t have been able to be the Paralympian athlete I am today. I have travelled to many countries and won numerous medals, but a part of me felt that I didn’t deserve it. Whenever I was away, I still felt like an outsider to my team mates and other athletes. Deep down I believed they all knew who they were and they always talked about their family. With my timidness, I still had trouble interacting with my team mates. By the end of every trip, I dreaded going home because I knew what I was going home to.

My foster family didn’t really recognise my athletic achievements. There were times they didn’t even know I went away for a week because there were so many children in the house and the foster mother was busy with her work. I remember one time I arrived home from my first competition where I’d won my first 5 gold medals (being the youngest on the team) and when I arrived home, I just sat at the front door with my bags waiting for someone to greet me. When my sister came down the stairs to see me she just said, “Are you running away?” From that moment, my enthusiasm just dropped from my heart and I wished I could just run away. So from then on, I just continued on with my competitions with no feeling of accomplishment, feeling like a nobody.

I competed in two Paralympics, two PanAm games and many small competitions. When I won my first Paralympic 5 gold medals, I was interviewed by the paper but a lot of the words written were just not true. The story portrayed a young girl winning medals from a foster home that cared for her, but they really didn’t know the truth.

I am grateful for the foster family to let me stay with them, but behind closed doors they portrayed themselves as looking like the perfect couple helping many children. The house was not accessible, I continued to crawl up and down stairs to get to my bedroom, and I had to crawl up and down and bring my chair down stone stairs outside to get to my school bus.

My whole life living in the foster family, I wanted so much to be out and living on my own. When I turned 16 years old, I finished high school and left the foster home. I went to college and received a degree in Business Administration.

Throughout my life, I always felt unloved and not wanted by anyone. I thought of my biological mother not wanting me, my adoptive mother not wanting me and within the foster family, I was just “another child”. I have tried my best to do right things, never gotten involved on the wrong side of the law, etc. I always felt I didn’t fit in anywhere, had trouble with social gatherings and interacting with adults my age. To this day, a large part of me continues to feel isolated, not wanted and most of all not knowing who I really am.

Recently, I decided to register with 23&Me to know my background and I discovered I have many 2nd and 3rd cousins out there. I was surprised to know that I have some sort of distant family out there but disappointed to not have any information about my parents. I just want to have the feeling of belonging. Growing up, I never had that feeling.

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.

Adoptee Activism in America

Listen to Adoptee Voices

Adoptee advocacy and activism for me, is about adoptee healing and claiming back our power.

This week has been so powerful but raw on so many levels. I have travelled to America to attend the Dept of State’s Intercountry Adoption Symposium (Sept 17 & 18) which brought together all the government bodies and NGOs related to, and fulfilling, intercountry adoption processes, the accredited entities which include IAAME and the adoption agencies, and for the first time, representation from the adoption triad. After this ended, some of our American intercountry adoptee leaders and individuals who wished to be involved at government policy and practice level, met with the Dept of State (Sept 19) and had a chat about how we might interact/liaise together in the future and what our goals are and issues of concern.

The following are my thoughts after attending these past three days.

Hearing the same chants for “more adoption” that I’ve read about across the waters but got to experience for real, has been nothing short of gut wrenching.

Getting to personally understand the life experiences of some of my fellow activists has been an honor.

The question was asked to our adoptee group why few American intercountry adoptees in recent years, had until now, not risen to involve themselves at policy level.

After being in America for a week, seeing the level of anger for those who dare to voice any truth that doesn’t match the “we want more children” chant has been a massive reality check. America the land of the free! Well, I see it’s more the land of the free for those who share the dominant discourse — but it can also be unkind and lacking compassion to those who express a different story.

The scale and depth at which intercountry adoption has been conducted in America, that adds avoidable emotional damage to some adoptees, has finally helped me understand why their voices have not been at the table. The ability to rise above one’s terrible reality of adoption is a massive ask. What struck me in coming to personally understand these journeys en-masse over the years I’ve been connecting to fellow adoptees, is how much worse it is here in terms of size and scale. It is not just the historic adoptions from the 50s to 80s. I’m meeting adoptees from the 90s to 2010s and hear the same terrible experiences! I’m also not denying there are probably a ton of intercountry adoptees who have little motivation to make things better because they already had it wonderful. Their reality is not dismissed and neither should the other range of experiences across the spectrum.

Some of the audience responses were so dismissive of our struggles citing that we were just a “moment in time”, or unlucky enough to be a consequence of “a few bad apples”. As I said on day 1 in response to Laura Ingraham’s speech, one terrible adoptee experience is one too many! So please, if you really want to hear what we have to say as adoptees, believe me when I say – “these bad apple adoptions are still happening since the past 20 years”.

Hearing calls and support for “less regulation” and “streamlining” is not the answer in the face of the huge reality. What do we need governments and stakeholders to do differently that hasn’t been done, either at all, or enough? We need them to acknowledge the wrongs of the past to the present. We need full acknowledgement that the decisions made FOR us as vulnerable children, have been terribly painful, terribly damaging for too many .. we need to hear it not just once, but over and over many times so that we know you do not forget the mistakes of the past and those who have been a victim, can feel safe knowing we have learnt the lessons, or at least are trying to.

From my own personal journey of healing, I know how incredibly important it is to hear, “I’m sorry it has been a terribly hurtful experience” from a heartfelt place. Not only do we need to hear that you’ve heard and acknowledged our pain, we need you to give us time to then process that acknowledgement, allow us to move further in our journey — and then ask us to focus and work together on how we prevent it from ever happening again.

For adoptees it is terribly triggering to be dismissed, our reality denied, and our concerns brushed over with “it’s not like that now”. Yes things have changed … drastically, but they need to change more! Support services for the duration of our lifetime, need to be implemented that help us move past the damage. We need reparation that allows out of the box solutions for individual journeys of healing. We need to see that sending children back AS SOON AS WE KNOW something isn’t looking right, is totally a first option that will be supported by all the players who facilitated the adoption. Keeping the child as the only option adds further complications that we adoptees are eventually left to sift through.

People and countries make mistakes .. we are only human. What’s currently missing is the acknowledgement and the sensitivity across the SPECTRUM of players to recognise the trauma from decades (yes, 70 years!) of intercountry adoptions done poorly. The reality that the current and previous American administrations have failed to address intercountry adoptee citizenship, the basic cornerstone of permanence, continuity, and family— clearly demonstrates how little understanding and support exists for the displaced adoptee. This is brushing the wrongs of the past under the carpet on a massive scale!

I realise why adoptees have not been at the table pushing their way in. The depths of pain can be too raw and the risk of receiving further trauma by those who invalidate our experiences, is incredibly high. For a country as religious as America, it sure has little understanding of the need for the power of healing and the acknowledgement of wrong doing. All Americans should be praying not for adoptions to be increased but for the ones who are here already, to be given the right support in order for them to find healing. For the ones deported to be given the supports they need along with their broken up families.

Only once we are fully supported to heal as those who have already suffered, can we truly contemplate ethically adopting more — at least then, we can be confident that despite mistakes being made, the great America has the maturity to help the victims overcome.

My heart breaks for my American brothers and sisters who struggle to rise from out of their ashes. I found it fascinating to see the 9/11 section of the Newseum and the way in which so much compassion is portrayed for those victims, yet in intercountry adoption – I ask where is that same compassion? Is there any recognition of the collective suffering that too many generations of intercountry adoptees have been experiencing in America?!

No! They remain a blip on the radar screen, barely seen, largely misunderstood because they are cloaked with, “You should be grateful to be in this amazing country” banner which denies the tragic realities of so many!

I am compelled to lead by example and demonstrate that adoptees can find their power. My path is but one way to rise above the ashes. I have learned for myself how incredibly healing it is to turn my pains into triumphs and to attempt to make this world a better place and I always wonder what I would have achieved had I been left in Vietnam (my adoptee sliding door/ parallel universe musing). This path of adoptee advocacy is my way to make sense of my adoption and life . Perhaps I was saved to give this message — to be this voice, to truly represent the “child’s best interest” and make sure it is not shoved away?

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I hope that this week has been the beginning of the start, that momentum will flow because …

it only takes one to take a stand for truth, for another to find their courage.

What a week of learning, what a week of connecting! I hope America will come to embrace the mistakes of its past in intercountry adoption and provide a safe space for the many intercountry adoptees who need healing and be given many places at the table, not just one place filled by an Australian/Vietnamese.

I also want to acknowledge the many true supporters of adoptees who came from so many stakeholders groups. It is incorrect to assume all government workers, all agencies, all adoptive parents are against us speaking our truths. Despite the intense and sometimes times painful challenging moments, I was uplifted by the volume of supporters who told us they were so happy to see us and hear our voices. I hope I live to see the day when they will become the majority AND the loudest voice we hear from.

I was told that supportive adoptive parents have sat back from the table, out of respect to allow us adoptees to take the platform, to make space for us — but I want to tell those parents and advocates, please don’t be silent in your support. We are at a critical point where intercountry adoptee leadership is emerging and we need ALL the support we can muster.

What I deeply respected was my fellow panelist, the natural mother representative, Claudia D’Arcy,  who demonstrated no fear in telling her truth, nor the consequences for doing so. Whether we agreed with her views or not, I imagine her journey of overcoming the stigma, fear and trauma throughout her life has helped her realise there is little to lose, in having the courage to speak her truth. As two representatives of the adoption triad, we both know “the cost of remaining silent”.

Her ending sentence was so respectful and she said, “It should be the adoptees who you listen to the most”. I can only say how much that meant to us. This is the message we need our supporters to uphold – it will encourage us to rise above our pain and fears. Please don’t be silent — it is too open to interpretation!

Huge thanks and respect to the adoptee leaders who gave of their time, money, and energy to be at these forums.

Joy Alessi – adopted from South Korea, co-director of Adoptee Rights Campaign.

Cherish Bolton – adopted from India, co-director of PEAR, academic.

Trista Goldberg – adopted from Vietnam, founder of Operation Reunite, educator.

Marijane Huang – adopted from Taiwan, social worker in adoption and foster care, educator.

JaeRan Kim – adopted from South Korea, social worker and PhD research academic.

Kristopher Larsen – adopted from Vietnam, co-director of Adoptees4Justice.

Monica Lindgren – adopted from Colombia, barrister in family law.

Reshma McClintock – adopted from India, founder of Dear Adoption, co-founder Family Preservation365.

Patricia Motley – adopted from Peru, member of Peruvian Adoptees Worldwide.

Diego Vitelli – adopted from Colombia, founder of Adopted from Colombia, studying masters in counselling.

Resource

Lived Experience Responses for Illicit & Illegal Adoptions, presented at The Hague Working Group July 2020.

My Game Changer

by Anonymous

Note: ICAV does not condone the use of illegal substances. This post is shared in the spirit of highlighting how everyone finds different pathways to healing and the depths of the trauma in relinquishment.

One high dose trip changed everything for me. I wish I did it 20 years ago. When I thought there was no other way, I managed to still have a little bit of imagination and curiosity to wonder if there existed another way – other than self destruction. I never thought I’d still be here. I don’t think I’m out of the woods yet though. I’m still processing the experience at both a conscious and subconsious level which will take some time. 

Yesterday was 6 months to the day since I tried a mushroom trip. I reflect on it a lot, and just thinking about the experience is emotional. But I really think I only started on the road to healing after the trip. Afterwards, it was a similar feeling to when someone close to you dies, like a sadness or loss, but it also felt like a completion of something. It makes sense that the healing part of trauma can’t commence until the origin of the trauma is faced and I think that’s what the trip did for me. Now I have to be patient. Before the pain was vague and diffuse, dragging me down. Now it’s stark and in front of me.

As like the clinical trials that I’d researched before embarking on this journey, as soon as I could, I wrote down my self reflections and observations of what I could recollect from the trip and then for a couple of days after. Here is an extract from my writings below. I don’t think I could ever have had an experience like this any other way.

“…. I start feeling cold and start to shiver slightly. I get into bed. It doesn’t take long and I start to feel the descent. I’m breathing quickly. I’m twitching and shaking. Then I remember to relax my breathing, let it go, don’t fight it. Then all references and rationale disappear. The ego is gone. It’s just me.

Then I’m there. I’m in a cave. There is only enough illumination to see a few inches in front of me It’s not light, just faint illumination. Beyond the illumination it’s just blackness. Fear. Loneliness. Abandonment. No sense of direction or which way to move or face. No comprehension of what to do. There’s no-one out there. I’m reaching out in the darkness but there’s only emptiness. There’s no-one there. I’m alone. Totally alone. I don’t know what to say.  I’m confused. Scared. There’s no comfort. There is no hope. The consciousness is beyond pain. Pain is physical. My cries and tears are physical. This isn’t pain. It’s more painful than pain. It’s utter despair. It’s utter anguish. It’s utter wretched hopelessness. This is my consciousness. 

It was always you. You. You. You! Damn it! It was always you. I had to come to this wretched place to realise it was you. Come and get me! Come and help me! Come and comfort me! Get me out of here! I look up and can see in the distant dark a vague figure of a woman. I can’t see your face, but I know it’s you. I can’t get to you. There is too much darkness between us. There’s just too much. I don’t know how to get to you. I’m waiting for you to come and get me. I’m just here! Please don’t leave me here alone. How can I survive on my own like this, in a place like this? You put me here, you’re supposed to stay with me. Now you’re too far away.

Why is there no help? I’m confused. Scared. So scared. So alone. So alone. Who am I looking for? It feels like forever, frozen alone in the darkness, then I realise. 

Yes, it’s you, my mother. 

I don’t understand why. I can’t comprehend this here, alone in this cold darkness. 

I can’t do anything about it. She is gone. She is gone forever. Never coming to get me.  I will never see her face again. Her hands will never touch me ever again. 

But now I know who you are. Now I know it’s you. It was always you.

I know you loved me. I know you did, I really do. I know it’s not your fault. But it hurts so much all the same. I’m sure you loved me. But it’s painful all the same.

All you have left me with is this pain.

Am I only this pain and despair? Is this all I am? Is this all I will be. But it’s all I know. I know nothing else. It’s who I am. How can I change it? I don’t know what to do. It runs so deep and black. There is just too much of it. I want there to be more than this pain and unfettered sobbing. Please, this can’t be all there is. I want to find where it ends, where it stops and something else starts. But there’s just too much of it. It’s all I know. It’s all there is. There is just too much of it. It’s all I will ever know. It’s all I can ever be. 

I peer into the blackness. It’s an endless cave of unlit tunnels and openings. I know this is my pain. If I can fully explore and map it, and know everything that’s out there, then I can know where it ends. But it’s just so large. It’s just too big. I’m scared to go too far. I don’t know where it will take me. This is far enough. If I go any further I might not come back. 

If I am not pain, who am I? If I am not hopelessness, who am I? If I am not despair who am I?  It’s all I know. It’s all I am. I cease to exist without it. 

But what about those that love me? They’ve given me all the tools I need to be more than pain and despair. Yes, I can see them laid out neatly at my feet. I just need to use them.

But I don’t know how. I don’t know what to do. They are foreign to me. They make no sense. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do. If only I knew what to do. Why can’t anyone show me? Surely someone has the answer? I’m so frustrated. My fist and teeth clench in frustration because I don’t know how to do what I so want to do. 

I’m so sorry to you all. I’m so so sorry. I’ve let you all down. I’ve failed. I’ve failed. I’ve failed.

I can see you all on the other side waiting for me, reaching out your hands for me. I can’t believe how patient you are. I don’t know if I can ever get there and be with you. I know you love me so much and wishing I could hurry up and figure it out. I am sorry to keep you waiting. I’m a failure. I’ve failed. I’m so sorry. I’m a total failure. Maybe you shouldn’t wait. I’m holding you all up. You’ve got your own problems and lives to move on with, I’m just a burden on you all, holding you back, dragging you down. Draining you with my failure. I’m too broken. I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. I’m so very, very sorry. 

I’m so ashamed about all this. It’s all my fault. I’ve got the tools and I’m wasting them. But I just can’t figure out what to do with them. What they even are. If only I knew what to do.

But maybe I’ve been using them all this time and I didn’t even know it. I’ve gotten this far haven’t I? Yes, but it’s been so hard. I can’t keep doing it this hard. I’m scared I may slip back to that darkness forever. The place where there is no-one to help me no matter how much I cry.  If I go there and stay, my pain will become everyone else’s to. 

Here or there, I’m a burden.  I don’t know what to do.  I wish someone could give me the answer ….. “

Resources

Some informing links about psylocybin, the psychoactive compound found in psilocybin cubensis mushrooms, or more commonly known as magic mushrooms. 

Prof Roland Griffiths is the lead researcher at John Hopkins in the USA. There are heaps of interviews and podcasts with him on Youtube talking about his psilocybin research. Maybe start with his Ted Talk which is only 15 min long. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81-v8ePXPd4&t=447s

https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2019/04/13/exploring-the-frontiers-of-psychedelics.aspx

Other things that helped me understand psychedelics and how the mind works are a few books I read beforehand:

Sam Harris Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality without Religion. I can’t remember why I started reading this but it was so useful in understanding the state of mind when your ego is dissolved during a heavy psychadelic trip.

Michael Pollen How to Change your mind, What the New Science of Pychedelics Teaches us about Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence. There are heaps of interviews on Youtube with Michael talking about this topic.

Whilst it’s been a game changer for me, I’m not about to start evangelising to everyone to use psychadelics. Everyone is different but it seems there is some legitimate efficacy to their measured use that is being further substantiated in ongoing research.