Deep Truths

by Anonymous, a followup from My Game Changer.

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.

Annotating my immediate thoughts following that first psilocybin experience were purely to adhere to the same process developed for the clinical trials at John Hopkins. There were indeed things I experienced during that trip that were revelatory, and articulating those experiences on paper were an important part of the integration process.

I guess they were the proverbial shovel that unearthed some deep truths that, had I not written them down, could have easily lost their profundity over time. At that time though there was no intention for others read about my psychedelic experience, though I understand it may have use for others exploring treatment options for similar situations, so I write these additional thoughts bearing in mind others may read this also.

The period of months following the first trip were of immense contrast to life before that day. But as some years have now past, I can see that the level of contrast was relative to that particular point in time.

My first trip revealed pain, pain caused by separation, and how the weight of that pain created its own undertow of suffering for decades. Looking back over the years, and through discussion with health professionals, I can see thought patterns, behaviours and feelings going all the way back to my teenage years that exhibit signs of depression, post trauma stress, loneliness and grief.

Having these things revealed to me, was the first corner turned that gave me some clarity about my “issues”. When you first turn a corner, it’s when the contrast is so apparent because it’s still just behind you while the new line of sight reveals a different perspective. There is some relief in seeing a different viewpoint for the very first time.

I was under no illusions a shroom trip was to be the only silver bullet I needed. As a health professional of many years myself, I had no expectations further progress would be consistent and linear, despite this seemingly momentous kick start. I tried to apply some faith in the process of healing, and hoped that this corner turned was the first step in that process. I knew I had to be patient. I knew I had no choice but to be patient, but the choice to feel hope for the first time seemed like something I actually had a little control over for the first time.

Immensely helpful to that process was sharing this first experience with selected friends and family who showed curiosity, care and support. Decades of relationships with these people, watching the evolution of my life and its flaws unfold, was the perfect exposition that allowed them to comprehend the significance of a psychedelic ego death experience and proclamations.

However, contrasted to this was my adoptive mother. Having suffered the loss of her husband of fifty years to Alzheimer’s a few years earlier, and still what seemed to be living a life of mourning, I was still extremely disappointed and hurt by her lack of curiosity, open mindedness and sympathy. Perhaps my expectation was too optimistic for a grieving widow, lifelong Christian fundamentalist and conservative anti-drug pundit. Many attempted conversations to be open and share myself with her about my mental health and the efficacy of psychedelics generally resulted in silence or a perfunctory and benign remark such as, “Well, so long as it helped you and you are feeling better now.” Such trivial framing. It could well have been a remark in relation to having a headache and taking some Panadol.

This made me realise some hard truths about her. Yes, I have all the thanks and gratitude for the life she gave me. But now she has nothing more to give me, whether due to limited emotional and mental capacity, religious virtue, or simple lack of obligation. I have to accept that. She tells me she loves me as her son. But it feels like a sentimental love for someone that no longer exists. It was a fictitious person anyway. She never really knew me all those years before. Now she will never know me, damn it.  She may still love me in her own way, but not the love you have with someone that comes from sharing one of life’s paths together where you will argue and fight, laugh and cry, or miss each other. My mother and I do not share any paths anymore. It really feels like a rejection. A second rejection by the second mother. My conversations with her now are as superficial as with the barista at the local coffee shop. If she asks me how I am, I don’t tell her the truth. She’s not interested. Talking through this with a psychologist, and unpacking my mother’s pre-adoption history, we deducted I was a sort of replacement child for a first birth child lost to post-partum complications. If you then throw in some fundamentalist religious framing, such as being rescued from a war-torn country was all God’s plan, then one can realise how de-validating this is and how it delayed unpacking and processing the whole adoption experience.

The following months since the first shroom trip sensitised me a lot more to emotional situations. My previous years of working in emergency health, had developed a capacity to disengage emotionally from difficult situations which was a common protective mechanism a lot of paramedics develop. But now, I saw and felt everything, particularly suffering and grief. Watching things like a woman on the news cry about the death of her child, or a soldier grimace in pain, struggling with rehab exercises became unwatchable for me. That genuine deep pain and anguish instantly connected me to the pain that now lived inside me. I started to feel sorry for the world and myself. I saw so much pain and suffering in the world. It seemed to be what the world was made of. I always found children beautiful and fascinating, but even now there was something sad about being around them. Maybe it was seeing them with their own parents. Seeing that connecting gaze they make with their mothers and it being returned in kind. That primal non-verbal connection and communication. Seeing loving mothers and children do this, crushes me inside.

For the first time I felt anger towards my birth mother and later my adoptive mother. Over the years there had been attempts to locate my birth mother through search programs and personal connections. I had watched plenty of documentaries on parents and children reuniting after many years of searching and often it was not a fairy tale ending. Intellectually I could empathise with a young desperate mother in a third world or war-torn country, giving up her child for adoption. But things were different now. I often thought how things would be if we found each other now, what sort of relationship would we have, or want to have. I know culture and family tradition usually dictate how a child parent relationship operates. But things are different now and would be different. I can almost feel the aggression inside me as I kick back against the expectations of a person and situation that may never come to pass. A future relationship would be on my terms, no one else’s. Certainly not someone who left me with nothing. But it’s all hypothetical. I’m older now, so she is probably dead anyway. I think I can let it go. But it will take time.

As for my adoptive mother, her indifference and judgements still stick in my neck every time we engage in polite and perfunctory conversation. I know the suffering she has gone through nursing her only life partner, my father, through the long goodbye, but that is the cycle of life. Her textbook life. She had everything I will never have. The life I will never have. For one who professes to live in the hope of religious promises and myths, it makes little sense to me the self-centred world view she now holds, the lack of joy in her life, and distancing from her own family.

I think I’ve always been a disciplined person when it comes to doing things I need to do. I knew things like exercise, sleep, eating well, all contribute to good mental health. Reading James Gordon’s “The Transformation: Healing Trauma to Become Whole Again” encouraged me to add meditation to my self-maintenance routine. Coupled with reading Sam Harris’s “Spirituality without Religion” I was able to approach meditation as a self-authoring and awareness tool without any useless religious or esoteric fillers. Here I discovered how to find the pleasure in just breathing. We breath constantly yet we never take notice of how this simple automatic function can just feel good at. Meditation also allowed me to descend deep back into the sub-conscious on numerous occasions like a mini-psychedelic trip. With the right breathing patterns and environment, I could reach that place and further explore the depths of my own consciousness. It often brought me more tears, and pain, and new insights about myself, but also allowed me to isolate my pain to a physically definable space. Prior to the shroom trip, it was diffuse, below the surface, always dragging me down. Like treading ocean waters with the black expanse just below your feet, waiting for you to weary and sink down into in the dark depths.  Since then, with more meditation, it’s now much more apparent and explicit, like a heavy brick lodged in my chest whenever I recall the space that mediation or psychedelics allow me go to. It no longer grasps at me from below. It’s here with me now, carried close in my chest – heavy.

I continue to be patient. Putting faith in the healing powers of the body and mind. But things seem to take forever. It’s like being in a flight holding pattern. I know where I want to go but I can’t land so I keep circling, hoping the fuel doesn’t run out.

I started Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu martial arts which proved to be a great source of distraction and mental therapy, plus it’s more therapeutic trying to strangle someone than talking to a psychologist about my feelings for an hour. Being so tired and sore after training means I collapse into sleep with utter exhaustion, with no energy for the mind to start stupid conversations with itself. But as my aching joints and limbs attest, age is starting to take its toll. It seems the body cannot always cash the cheques the mind wants to write.

Before the mushroom trip, my relief was the thought of having the control to end things whenever I chose to. Whether I did or not wasn’t the point, it was the feeling that I could. After the trip, I couldn’t locate that feeling. It felt like that capacity within me had gone. It seemed like a good thing at the time. But now some days I’m not so sure. Thinking I don’t have the capacity to free myself, means I’m trapped here. The one hope I had before, the idea that gave me relief, is gone. I’m in two minds some days about whether I regret the trip or not, as it took away the one hope I had that carried me through these last decades.

Would I do shrooms again or recommend them? Definitely. It gave me a diagnosis. It got to the core of my problem. But after a few years, I needed to re-evaluate my position. I needed a prognosis of the situation because it seemed things had stalled, or possibly regressed a bit from the contrast I first saw.

I planned another day for a psilocybin trip. But after twenty minutes of looking at the dried ground up dose on my kitchen bench, I couldn’t bring myself to do it again. Last time was so heartbreaking.

I had a small tab of LSD in the freezer, as I do, and decided to take half a tab and do some meditation. LSD has the same effect on the mind as psilocybin. I only took half as I didn’t want a heavy trip like last time. Just enough to shut down the default mode network and let me evaluate things.

I think I’d forgotten the concentration of the tabs as the effect came on the same as the mushrooms, stronger than I was prepared for. Perhaps the equivalent of about ¾ of the original dose. I could feel myself slipping into my own mind like before, not as deep, but enough to see myself.

This time, there was a house and I was sitting in it alone in the dark. There was no feeling of angst, urgency of escape. Only resignation. This house was me. A representation of myself and my life, but it was off kilter and unsafe. I had to build this house by myself with no help and without the right tools. I still managed to put something together that looked like a house. But I knew it was incomplete and had missing foundations.  From a distance it appeared okay, but when I got up close and inside, I could see it wasn’t right. No one would want to stay here. It’s too late to tear everything down and start again.

What a disappointing prognosis. Perhaps I’ve been overestimating myself and expected too much too soon, so it’s back to business as usual. Keep doing the things the experts say I need to do.  I have no choice really. I can suck it up for a while longer, even though it feels like I just want to go home. That’s how it feels now, like I’m waiting to get home wherever that is, this life or the next. I just want to go home. I can’t wait to go home.

Digging in the Dirt

#NotMyNAAM

If you want a garden to grow, you need to prepare the soil and tend the earth. Removing weeds is essential prep and maintenance work. Without weeding and fertilising, your flowers and vegetables can’t grow properly.

If you want a wound to heal, you need to clean it our before you stitch it closed or bandage it. If you leave debris inside the wound, it will become painful and infected. And it will need to be re-opened, cleaned, and treated further.

Sometimes, when I tell people I attend a support group for adoptees and first moms, they ask why I would want to be around people who just sit there and talk about their sad stories. Aren’t we all just dwelling and being downers? My answer is a strong No. The times in my life when I felt the lowest were the times when I was completely alone in my trauma, before I found an adoption trauma-competent therapist, before I found a local support group, before the internet and the creation of FB groups, before I became active in the intercountry and transracial adoption community. Having a community around me of people who share the same primal wound and learning and working together to move forward in a healthy way, is very healing, though it can be painful.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, post-adoption services are critical for all adopted people. And I’m talking about the provision of FREE adoption-trauma-based therapies; local, adoptee-run support groups; access to OBCs and DNA tests; travel budget set aside for trips back to the country of origin; language lessons and translation services for intercountry adoptees. Without adequate, available, and competent pre and post adoption services, we are expecting lush gardens to grow on unprepared land. We are expecting wounds to heal without first helping to clean them out, or worse – by not even acknowledging them in the first place.

To all of my fellow adoptees who are out there, getting down and dirty in the trenches, pulling out those weeds and planting new seeds, I dedicate Digging in the Dirt, by Peter Gabriel.

About Abby Hilty

The Caged Soulmate

by Jonas Haid, South Korean adoptee raised in Germany

The eyes are the mirror of a human’s soul where, if you look deep enough, you will see the deepest pain and trauma from our big loss. This loss is what connects intercountry adoptees from all over the world. Some of us have the ability to strengthen others through positive energy, but when we doing a deep dive into ourselves, the inner pain is omnipresent.

Even if happiness and joy is in front of us, we tend to see the bad in the good. With this artwork I want to show that if we release ourselves and turn our head to the right side, we can see the good things better i.e., use the sunlight in the right way and we can free the shadows which are caged in ourselves.

Artwork (c) Jonas Haid 2019 who created it for ICAV.

Inner Work for Adoptees

One of the highlights in travelling to the Netherlands last month was to finally meet in person Hilbrand Westra, a fellow intercountry adoptee born in South Korea and adopted to the Netherlands, whom I have liaised and worked with since the beginning of ICAV. Not only did I get to meet him in person, share a few meals, laugh and pose for photos like above .. but I also got to hear him speak. He was previously one of the key adoptee leaders in the Netherlands, advocating for intercountry adoptees at government level and was awarded the Order of Orange-Nassau for his amazing contributions to the adoptee community.

In the past few years, he has taken a back seat in advocacy but has turned his efforts to his other passion with adoptees – of providing professional emotional support. Like myself, he has also observed that advocacy is best done when an adoptee has healed their inner self and often the biggest barrier to this healing, is the lack of professionals who have methods and experience to truly help us move past the traumas of the past. I love that Hilbrand is now focusing on providing for this gap in what we need most!

Here is the video recording I made of his presentation which gives you a little insight as to how he operates. It is 23.4mins long so make sure you have time to listen in full. Apologies for the slight fuzziness in the recording, I must have knocked the lens when I zoomed in.

He works utilising the well known European models of adoption constellation and systemic work to help adoptees (and fostered people) shift through the layers of trauma we inevitably acquire, due to being relinquished or removed from our families of origin.

For those who want to know more about Hilbrand and the coaching team he is building in Europe to provide vital, professional emotional support to fellow adoptees, please see his website (dutch) or here (english).

Huge thanks to Chilean Adoptees Worldwide who hosted the event and invited Hilbrand, myself, and other key adoptee leaders as guest speakers. It was an AMAZING and memorable day!

Finding the Right Therapy as an Adoptee

Over the past 20 years, I’ve probably seen at least 10 different therapists in my life. I’m an intercountry adoptee from Vietnam to Australia, prior to the end of the Vietnam war. If you met me now, you might question my claim to seeing so many therapists. I am not the same person as I was 20 years ago. Back then, I was in the fog – I had no real idea of how being adopted impacted my life. I was raw, reactive, highly volatile, emotionally dead, a real go-getter with drive that most of my peers couldn’t fathom. Now, 20 years on, I’m more mellow and I’ve found my peace! Not that one ever arrives at some destination but I am certainly no longer living the inner turmoil I use to try and ignore. The journey to finding my real self, my identity in-between Australia and Vietnam, hasn’t been smooth or easy but it was certainly enabled by having the courage to see some amazing professionals and ask for their help and support.

I’ve seen these counsellors on and off over the years, depending on what the issues were. I’ve covered major life issues of relinquishment/abandonment, abuse and negative family dynamics that impacted my ability in intimate relationships. I’ve also had therapy to help me be a better parent and become aware of how my history impacts my style of parenting .

I certainly wasn’t raised in an adoptive family who saw “therapy” as a means of seeking help. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen my parents reach out for professional help – they will only go to a medical doctor if they are seriously seriously ill but often deal with health issues on their own, seeking natural remedies where possible. So in my adoptive family, seeking help was not the done thing. Perhaps that is a reflection of the era in which they were born? And perhaps my psychology training at university influenced my perspective – but I will say I learnt nothing about trauma in my psychology training! Not one subject on the impacts of childhood trauma in the 4 years of my undergraduate degree! I didn’t realise I had any “issues” until I noticed relationship difficulties and patterns, depression and self harm. I only saw the surface symptoms I exhibited with no clue as to what was underlying.

The therapists I have seen, range in qualifications from counsellor, psychologist, psychotherapist to psychiatrist and what I’ve learnt, I’d like to share because I know in speaking to other intercountry adoptees, it’s not easy to find one that works for you! Some adoptees might wonder what therapy is all about and have no faith it will actually help them. Some might have been once and found it so uncomfortable they don’t want to go again. So here are the things I’ve learnt along the way that might help in case you’re considering therapy for the first time or again.

The first thing I had to learn was to ask myself: Do I need help? Am I going around in circles repeating the same cycles? Do I feel like my reactions are outside my control? Am I overreacting to things (being triggered) and not understanding why? If so, a professional trained in the area of my difficulty might be a great idea.

After some years of undergoing therapy, I realised I should approach therapists a bit like a job interview. I found there is value in “first assessing the therapist” (preferably over the phone or face to face) to see whether they have the right skill set and personality to fit with me and the issues I want to deal with. Don’t just see the first therapist you stumble upon. There is no point seeing a therapist for relationship issues if they have no speciality training in relationships — and there is much to be said for seeing a female “mother-figure” therapist for abandonment mother issues. I learnt to ask whether my therapist had speciality training in “trauma”, have a chat to them over the phone for free first to get a feel for whether I’d be comfortable sharing with them. If so, I would then usually try for one or two sessions first and see whether there is a good “fit”.

After going to a few therapists, I learnt not to blindly continue seeing them just because they are considered an “expert”. I learnt over time to check my gut feeling on whether there was a good “connection” with my therapist. The therapeutic relationship works because we learn to develop a trusting relationship with them – they become the other significant person whom we work out our complex issues on. We transfer our issues onto them instead of playing out these issues in real life with unsuspecting and untrained people. The therapy won’t be effective if we have no trust or connection with the therapist. So like with any other “professional” whom you seek expert help from, check their credentials, check that they act professionally towards you at all times, check that they have safe and appropriate boundaries, and ask around from people you trust (your adoptee peer group) as to whom they found as good and effective therapists.

Unfortunately, if you are like me, my most turbulent years were also at the time when I was not financially stable. That meant, I usually couldn’t afford the high fees. Therapy is not cheap (rarely free) and excellent therapists usually have long wait lists and higher fees. I did learn to ask for a fee based on a sliding scale of income. This meant I could afford the same therapist as someone earning a full professional income.

I also learnt there are different methods of therapy. In the beginning I knew only of the traditional “talking” or “cognitive” therapy: commonly we think of Freudian days, sitting on a couch speaking about what we have going on in our heads. But over time, I came to realise talking therapy was limited and didn’t really help me to change the patterns I was living. Yes, I could now identify the issues and patterns, but changing them was something else. I eventually stumbled upon “body” therapy modalities and found this to be much more effective in changing persisent patterns and helping me to reconnect within myself. Once I did this type of therapy, I was no longer split between my mind/head and my body/feelings. I was able to re-integrate my sense of self and I felt a sense of harmony within.

The final point I will make, is I learnt that the type of “qualification” of the therapist was almost irrelevant as long as they had qualifications, training and experience. What I mean is, don’t assume a psychiatrist is going to be better than a psychologist or counsellor. They each have their own area of speciality training – a psychiatrist is medically focused so very essential if you also suffer from a mental illness and need prescription drugs. A psychologist also has years of academic training and a psychotherapist and counsellor has various routes to become trained so often I found this attracts more “mature aged” people with lived experience compared to those who enter university and come straight out with little life experience but loads of academic knowledge. My point is, don’t get hung up on what “qualifications” they have but more importantly, ask at the beginning what their approach, style and experience is and give it a try for a couple of sessions. You’ll quickly know whether this is the right fit for you or not.

I’ve recently shared at ICAVs private facebook group (for intercountry & transracial adoptees only) and our ICAV Newsboard (open for the public), a great link that lists adoptee therapists in the USA from one of our intercountry adoptee therapists. Wouldn’t it be awesome to see that replicated around the world! Nobody knows best what our journey is like and how to support it, than those who walk it!

In ICAV and amongst adoptee led groups, part of the benefit of connecting together is that we can share via word of mouth about who the awesome therapists are and the many other amazing modes of healing. I’d love to hear from you as to what works. Please feel free to comment!