On the Road to Recovery

I am a 36-year-old Filipino American adoptee and my road to recovering from being orphaned as a baby has never come easy. I didn’t have the resources to return to the Philippines to restore my heritage. I never had the resources to mend the problems I had with my intercountry adoption placement. So, I had to find creative solutions to recover from all of this.

I can’t promise any tips to save anyone from the complications of being adopted or adopting. What I can do is give a few personal solutions that I found in my own adoptee life that helped on my road to recovering from my intercountry adoption journey.

5 Things I Did to Reclaim My Adoptee Life

  1. Creating. I first studied writing and then library and information science. My interests led to making mixed media art and information products that helped me voice my transracial life’s losses and restructure a new sense of identity in innovative ways. I could transform my grief with art and education. For instance, I made a digital archive showing my adoption process and the biological identity that I lost when I was born as an orphan in the Philippines in 1985. You can view my archive here and my Instagram here.
  2. Retreating peacefully. In-between a rock and a hard place, I had to choose what was best for me psychologically and emotionally. I started retreating from the norm in my early twenties. I separated from my adoptive family through geographic and social distancing. I retreated from all of the past relations that failed me in the past and the bad relationships I had. I moved to Hawaii in my thirties, a place I had been mysteriously called to for years. There, I let go. But despite letting go, I never gave up on myself, or the love I have for life, my ideals or the world around me. And to keep myself well in Hawaii, I continued my meditation practices and holistic therapies.
  3. Focusing on Work. There are pathways in Buddhism where one can practice meditation optimally and achieve liberation through intensive work and labor. Work has been the best practice for me. Work caters to my studious personality. It is the best physical, emotional and psychological outlet. I can rebuild a sense of identity in work as well.
  4. Being Involved in Communities. I got involved with supportive communities and support groups. I gravitate towards people that practice meditation, people that are devoted to art or learning, or nonprofit endeavours. I enjoy being a part of supportive networks with people. I ask questions. I volunteer. I like to believe that I restructure the broken bonds of my history by being involved today. Being a part of communities helps me cultivate a sense of belonging. I build a positive foundation around me and support structures.
  5. Taking Care of My Relations Today. Relationships keep me regulated in my daily life. My relations include unconventional ones like taking care of my plants, my cat, work relations and with myself. I’ve started adoptee counselling on a regular basis to cultivate a better relationship that I have with myself and my adoptee world. I am also returning to my adoptive family this Christmas to visit and help heal my relations with them. My relations help me keep well in life today.

Yes, I still feel echoes of my broken bonds affect my life today. I still ache from having been born into destitute poverty in the Philippines so long ago. I still dream of the older Filipino American brother whom I lost in this intercountry adoptee experience. I still carry the void where my biological family’s voices are forever gone. There is no easy answer to recover from these paradoxes.

Despite it all, I do know that I am finding my way day by day. I have been coming out of the fog, and it has been a good thing.

Read more from Stephanie:
Reconstructing Identity & Heritage
A Filipino Adoptee’s Plea not to be Erased

The Here and Now

One of my local beaches in Hawaii

It’s been a while since I’ve last posted at ICAV and a lot has happened. But I’m okay. I’m living in a small studio apartment across from the beach now. In a coastal town next to Honolulu. After a pandemic school year of substitute teaching at Kamehameha Schools, teaching Digital Photography and creating a Yearbook for the 8th grade, I’m now a full-time adjudicator at the State of Hawaii, helping out the claims backlog that happened due to Covid. It’s a conditional job, supposed to end in December, but there’s a chance it’ll be extended for another 6 months. I had to take what I could since the field of substitute teaching everywhere is simply not stable anymore.

I’m newly single although I don’t know for how long as I’ve already met someone who makes me laugh which is great. I recently broke up with my ex-fiancee in whom I’d been with for about two years in Hawaii. It was good for me to separate from him although hard, it’s always hard letting go of someones I once loved even though he didn’t treat me well. I think it was the pandemic and all the unexpected variables that brought up behavioral patterns he didn’t know he had. I guess I can’t give excuses for him not treating me well. I just had to leave and I’m not on speaking terms with him anymore.

Life is full of the sounds of the highway, the sight of a glittering ocean, beaches, Aloha Aina. My kitty, Pualani, has been my rock and cord connecting me to this earth as a 35-year-old Filipino-American adoptee. My studio is full of plants, junk journaling materials, penpal letters, flip flops, basic necessities. I have certain stones and crystals that keep my energy grounded, balancing the chaotic cosmos within.

Life these days has been a whole new chapter, working full-time, making ends meet in Hawaii on my own. I started playing Dungeons and Dragons on Monday nights, and Fallout 76 with my new next door neighbor in whom I’ve been hanging out with almost everyday. He’s been inviting me out and keeping me productive, meeting people, exploring Hawaii, beach-going and supporting my secret nerd hobbies simultaneously. I can’t thank him enough for being able to get me out of my shell even just a little bit, which is miraculous.

I sometimes wonder where my life went. I sometimes feel like a failed attempt at a normal adult because I should be married with kids by now. I should own a home, going to parent teacher meetings, I should have found a place to belong in by now, but haven’t. I’m surviving in Hawaii with all these unwritten books inside me, waiting to be let out. I still haven’t found that job I can grow in for the rest of my years to come, but I want to. It’s a constant conflict here in Hawaii because it’s too expensive to own a home. But, it’s a beautiful place that is constantly in flux with all the right kinds of elements that keeps me on my toes everyday. Keeps me trying, everyday.

The city is awe-inspiring. The ocean, a constant mystery and companion to my soul’s never-ending quests. The Hawaiian culture is one that I respect and connect with on an unspoken, intrinsic level. I love living next to a highway where the library is in walking distance and so is a beach. I see the beach everyday now, waking up. It is magnificent. Giving me a profound sense of relief everyday.

In Hawaii, my adoptee past looms ever-present as a silent, disenchanted world of loss that lives in the heart of me, no matter how beautiful the day is. But, more and more, I feel like I can come to grips with my past out here. Somehow, I’m just doing it, moving through it maybe, without knowing why or how. Somehow, I found myself here, living on my own and doing okay, despite the heartache.

The Push-Pull Dance in Adoptee Relationships

I remember back in my mid 20s when I had been in a serious intimate relationship for 7 years – my first love! Do we ever forget our first? No! For me, it was sooooo intense! The first person who I felt truly loved me as I was – warts and all. The first person who really tried to understand my mind and heart. The first person whom I felt “safe” with. As an intercountry adoptee, I had grown up in an adoptive family that hadn’t been an overwhelmingly positive experience and I yearned to feel love, yearned for a connection that wouldn’t be scary or hurtful. I remember my adoptive dad saying more than once not to be so “clingy” to people when the occassional visitor gave me attention. I craved their warmth and nurturing mannerism! The words of my adoptive father made me feel there was something wrong with my desire. In his words I was, “All over them like a bad smell”. But looking back, I recognise this now as the adoptee within who was hurt, abandoned and seeking the connection with a mother figure who wouldn’t let me go.

I kept looking for that “connection” and into my young adult life, I had several serious intimate love relationships. Each time, when it ended, as it inevitably did – it really hurt! I desperately wanted to be loved but I also needed to keep the person at a distance so they couldn’t hurt me too much. My experience of life was that people who said they loved me, either left me because I was “too much” or they hurt me.

Through alot of therapy in my mid 20s and 30s, I eventually recognised what was going on. I call it the push-pull dance that we adoptees master. The dance says: I want you close but I want you far away. It is the powerful dichotomy that we adoptees live. It reflects the dance we have going on within ourselves of wanting to believe we are loveable but living a reality that says the opposite – if we are loveable, then why are we left alone on our own, without our mother. We then subconsciously search for that connection to repair the hurt damaged child within, to want to see a reality that says “we are loveable”. I internalised my relinquishment as “there is something wrong with me” which was enhanced by an adoptive family environment in which I was neglected and abused. These experiences compounded into a feeling that I was always inferior, of no worth and why would anybody want to stay with me. The damage was so immense that I did actually hate myself and this was reflected in self harming behaviours such as suicide attempts. My self hatred was turned inwards upon myself. Others may show it in different ways.

Every human being has a powerful desire to feel loved and for adoptees – it is enhanced on steroids. Our rejected inner child drives our motivations and instincts to recreate and bring back that connection which was unfairly severed with our mother who carried us in-utero. We never really get over that loss of “mother”. I’ve done alot of therapy in my life but fundamentally, it still hurts to have lost her and never know who she is, to be held within her arms as a babe usually is, and to never hear her soothing voice or be held up to see her smiling, adoring face. We adoptees lose those precious moments forever, even if we manage to reunite and find each other again it doesn’t undo the trauma imprint left upon our heart and psyche. So it is not surprising that we carry on our search for that magical “mother-child” intimate connection through our romantic adult relationships.

The hard part is, when we feel so unloveable there is a mismatch between what our heart and our mind says. Our mind says what we all know logically – that every human being is of worth. But yet in our body, our heart, we don’t feel loveable. So our mind wants us to believe we can be in a relationship and that somehow we will find that one relationship which will wash away our pain – we pull people towards us, desperate to find that connection. But in our body and heart we don’t feel we’ll ever be good enough and therefore we push them away. We then get into a cycle of judging ourselves harshly for being in these patterns, saying, “See, told you so! Nobody will ever love me. I’m not loveable”, and it becomes a self fulfilling and cyclical prophecy.

So the question remains: are we adoptees left to forever be incomplete in someway? Going through the motions of this constant push-pull dance? I believe through my own experience, that we can find healing and it can vary for individuals as to what that healing looks like. For me, it was the deep body reconnection therapy I did which helped the most. It was a powerful moment when my therapist helped me recognise that my mother and I are not separated forever – that I am a part of her, that I haven’t lost her, for she is actually within me. That I carry her within me! That blew me away to actually feel this truth. I finally grieved and consoled my inner hurt child.

I also had spent several years working through the negative impacts of my adoptive family and the damaging messages I had internalised. But eventually, it all came together through perserverance and commitment to being on the path of self recovery. Once these things happened, I learnt to reconnect with myself and stop pushing away my own inner feelings of hurt, loss, rejection and to deeply love my inner child, accept her and not make her feel bad for “being needy” and wanting love. The subconscious instinctive response to push people away no longer controls me and I’ve been capable of being in a healthy positive intimate relationship. I now understand why many of us adoptees can journey along without ever being aware that we have “adoption related issues”. It is not until we see the repetitive cycles of our intimate relationship patterns, the push-pull dance, that we begin to fathom how much our relinquishment impacts our life. For some of us, it can be the first overt signal that something is not quite right.

A really useful book that helped me along while being in therapy, was Harriet Lerner’s The Dance of Connection. (The first book of hers that I read, The Dance of Anger, was so important to my healing!)

If you are an adoptee reading this blog post and you can identify with the pattern of wanting people close to you but subconciously pushing them away, you are not alone. This is a completely normal response to a difficult beginning. We act this way for a reason and the good news is, it can be changed. It starts with a conscious decision to learn as much as possible as to why we became this way and how the pattern began. Then its a matter of finding a way for yourself that helps free you of the subconscious drivers. I refer to this as being on the path towards healing and recovery.

In the past month, I’ve become a fan of Anthony Robbins after watching his Netflix I Am Not Your Guru show. So much of his approach matches my healing journey where I learnt to accept and nuture my wounded child. I think that’s why it’s so devastating if we have an experience of an adoptive family who never fully accepts (or even understands) our wounded traumatised child within. When adoptive parents reject and push that hurt child away, it gives us the subconsciuos message that our child is not loveable and therefore, we as adults replicate what they’ve done because we don’t know any better. We push our inner hurt child away too but yet, the real path to finding healing from our relinquishment, is to embrace our inner child, love it, nuture and protect it and then allow it co-exist with our adult self. Only then do our beginnings no longer control our destiny.

Our path towards healing and recovery can start any moment. It is a choice. We don’t have to be controlled by our beginnings forever. A healthy positive intimate relationship is possible! Reaching out to post adoption supports are a great place to start. Finding a therapist who suits your style and personality is another. Doing yoga or meditation is another. But give yourself the chance and be gentle on yourself. This stuff doesn’t change overnight, it can take years of commitment to healing and recovery. It starts with awareness and the desire to figure it out.

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