An Accounting from One Adoptee

by Mary Cardaras, adopted from Greece to the USA; Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication at California State University East Bay.

This has been an incredible couple of years but, especially, in the very year of a global pandemic. It was in this year that I found my voice as an adoptee. Seemed like the stars aligned. Meant to be at this time, in this space. I have found people, or maybe it is they who found me, who have brought me out to my community of fellow adoptees, birth mothers, activists and supporters.

It all began after the death of my adoptive mother in 2018. (My father had died 18 years prior.) Her death was one of the saddest times of my life. Left again, I felt. She and I had grown so close over the years and spent much time together, but her leaving also provided the space I needed to consider life before her. And there was a life before her, however brief it may have been. Even my tiny self had a past. It was buried, though. Obscured. In many ways, erased.

What did it matter? How could it matter?

My adoption, which I had put to the side, had been front and center my entire growing up as a child and as a teenager. I didn’t put it there. Everyone else put it there. A label. A tag. My identity was imposed. Sometimes it stigmatized me. And it definitely made me an outsider looking in to a life that I lived, but one that I couldn’t really lay claim to. As mine. From where I actually came.

What brought me to this day and what is the reason that I can now write about it?

In 2018, I wanted to come closer to my roots as a Greek-born adoptee. I signed up for Greek language lessons at a church in Oakland, California. I went to class on my way home to Sonoma every Monday evening coming from the university where I taught. Those lessons re-connected me with my culture. It was an absolute joy to hear the language, learn to speak it, and revel in its complexity with my fellow students all, at least, partially Greek, but fully Greek in their love for it.

It was during this class that I was asked, από που είσαι? From where are you? Είμαι Ελληνίδα, I could proudly say with certainty. I am a Greek. Γεννήθηκα στην Αθήνα. I was born in Athens. Υιοθετήθηκα. I was adopted. I am adopted. Like the recitation of a mantra. Those two things identify me and they are the only two things I know for certain, as I have noted in my writing before.

My classmate, Kathy, mentioned, “I have a cousin who was adopted, Mary, who was also from Greece, too.” I was immediately intrigued. There was someone else who was from where I was and who was branded the same as me?!

Adopted.

“She has an incredible story, Mary,” Kathy said. “You need to meet her and, in fact, you will. She is coming to visit and I will bring her to class.” Kathy told me the story that day and with every sentence she uttered my eyes got wider and I kept repeating the words: No. Are you kidding? Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. What? That is incredible!

Within a week or two of Kathy telling me her implausible story, Dena Poulias came to class. A pretty, blond-haired, blue-eyed woman, shy and quiet, she came with her cousin to hear our lesson. Did she want to participate, the teacher asked her? No, she demurred. She was only there to listen and to meet us.  

After class I introduced myself more fully and told her I had heard her story. I am a writer, I told Dena. I would be honored to write your story. She told me she had been wanting to write her own story for years, but she hadn’t gotten around to it. She wasn’t a writer, she said. I gave her my number and my email address. I think I reached out once, but she wasn’t ready. Hers was a heavy, painful story. It just couldn’t have happened I tried to convince myself.

Weeks later, Dena wrote and said she was ready to talk. She decided she wanted me to tell her story and so over the course of about a year, in intervals of two days here, one week there, the next month we would talk. Well, she would talk and there was so much she couldn’t remember exactly. But her husband was her memory. So was her cousin, Kathy. And her sister. And her mother and father. The story, unlike anything else I had ever written, flowed out of me. I am a journalist and so wrote news and documentaries. This was different. Literary nonfiction. I was recreating scenes and dialogues told to me by first person sources. It was visual in scope. Many who read previews said it was cinematic. Whatever it was, it was all true. Dena, finally, was telling her own story to someone and I was inspired by her finally getting it out there.

In the course of writing, I needed some important information. I was about to implicate a respected Greek organization in some scandalous adoption practices during the 1950’s. Even poking around on my own on social media and asking questions brought some pretty hateful online comments. When I contacted the organization itself, it predictably denied any wrong doing. The president literally said, “I have no idea what you are talking about.” Come look through our files in Washington, D.C., he said. “We have nothing of the kind and no such history.”

Enter one Gonda Van Steen, one of the world’s preeminent scholars in modern Greek studies. In my research, I had come across her new book entitled Adoption, Memory and Cold War Greece: Kid Pro Quo? I wrote to her out of the blue, introduced myself, told her I was a reporter, and asked about this particular organization. Did she know it? Was it involved in the trade and, in some cases, in the “selling” of babies?

The organization was indeed involved in these unethical adoption practices. It was certainly part of Dena’s story. Gonda had said, in the course of our conversations, that the story I was writing sounded awfully familiar. In fact, Dena Poulias appears on pages 202 and 203 of her book and was one of the cases she had followed and chronicled. She said it had been one of the more “moving” stories that she had encountered. Gonda began to fill my head with history and put my own adoption in context.

I kept writing.

In early 2021, about the time I finished Dena’s story, I read another incredible book about adoption called American Baby, written by the brilliant, best-selling author, Gabrielle Glaser. I could not put it down and was transfixed by yet another incredible, unbelievable adoption story that was similar to Dena’s. This book is focused on domestic adoptions, which were just as horrific as what was happening on the international scene. Glaser’s writing both broke my heart and shook it awake somehow.

I decided, after consultation with Gonda, to collect stories from Greek born adoptees and put them into an anthology. This group of adoptees, “the lost children of Greece,” had never been heard from before! During conversations about approaching authors, Gonda suggested, you know, Mary, you should reach out to Gabrielle Glaser and ask her if she would write the Forward. On one hand, I thought that was a crazy idea. I mean, right. Gabrielle Glaser?! Really? Then I thought, well, why not? I wrote to her as I had written to Gonda. Cold. But she was there. She answered. She was lovely. And today we are friends. Her book also made me re-evaluate adoption itself. Including my own.

As I explained in a recent online forum about adoption, I felt like the Lion who found his courage, the Scarecrow, who found his brain, and the Tin Man who found his heart all at once. Dena gave me courage. Gonda made me think about what happened to me and thousands like me. And Gabrielle helped me to feel the beating of my own heart.

Through them I found my way to Greg Luce and Lynelle Long and Shawna Hodgson and so, so many others far too many to name. I stand now with them and our allies, talking and writing and advocating for adoptee rights.

That is how I came to this point. But why do I write here and now?

The sharing of my own adoption story has roused feelings and thoughts in others about me. They wonder. Why and how do I feel the way I do? Why didn’t I share before? My feelings make them sad. They thought I was happy. They simply don’t understand. And you know what? They may never. Understand. And that’s ok. I can’t and I won’t defend my feelings, which are real, however foreign and unreasonable they may seem to others.

I don’t have thoughts about whether or not I should have been adopted. I don’t have thoughts about whether my life in Greece would have been better. I don’t blame anyone for what happened to me and how it happened. I can’t go back and have a do-over with the people who were doing whatever they were doing. I do know they were making decisions that they thought, at the time, were in my best interests.

They didn’t realize that my birth mother was suffering. That she had a family, who had abandoned HER because she was a teenage, unwed mother. She was cast aside and she was relegated unimportant in the story of my life. How can that be? She and I were once one. She was promised by a proxy, that no one would “bother” her ever again. Has she ever recovered from the shame imposed on her? And from our separation? She needed support and love in order to make a sober decision about her baby, her own flesh and blood. I don’t care if she was 14 or 24. She needed help.  

Queen Frederika of Greece started a foundling home in Athens 1955

I have recently learned the number I was assigned when I was placed in the Athens Foundling Home on January 11, 1955. It is 44488. This means thousands of children came before me, all relegated to numbers. The number, cold as it is, can unlock some information I want and need. I checked some old letters back and forth from the social service agency that handled my case. One letter says there are two people listed on the papers when I entered that orphanage. A mother and a father. I have her name. I want his. Who am I? From where did I come? And what happened? Fundamental to every person’s wholeness is knowledge about their past.

Think of this. If you were not adopted, as you grew up you heard your own story, perhaps over and over again. It was sweet and sentimental as you listened to the story of your own birth and early days. You were conceived under a certain set of circumstances. You were born under a certain set of circumstances. Your parents remember that day. They tell you about that day, what you did, what they did, how you looked, what you weighed, what it was like when they brought you home, what kind of a baby you were. In sum, you had a story that people shared with you. My story started the minute I came into the arms of another family that was not my own. There was something, however brief, before, and I do not know it. That is the point.           

I was placed with wonderful adoptive parents and into a large, loving Greek-American family. I did not lose my language or my culture. My parents were incredibly loving and I cannot describe the depth of my love for them and for my grandparents. I appreciate the life they gave me. I appreciate my family and my friends. I was a happy kid and an even happier adult. Those who know me would likely describe my love of life and laughter and my level of commitment to the things and people I care about.

BUT this has nothing, nothing whatsoever to do with what came before. These are two separate things. The adoptees I know strive to become complete human beings. That means they had a past and need to know fully about it. They deserve open adoption records, original birth certificates and citizenship of origin, if they want it. Adoptees are entitled to these and we are also entitled to our feelings and thoughts about our own lives. As one adoptee recently explained, meeting a birth parent enables you to cut the emotional umbilical cord. We invite others to ask questions because they care about understanding us, but please don’t put us on the defensive. We don’t have to explain. We are tired of explaining. We are just thinking through our own, personal experiences, which are all different.  

I crave connection. Deep, unmistakable connection to others. You know it when you feel it with another human being. Maybe you feel it so completely that you feel like you have known them all your life or in another life. You know what I am talking about. For me, that connection is almost something divine. I run toward the light and hold that little flame like a precious, fragile flower. I take care of it. Nurture it. I love to feel like I belong and sometimes that feeling, so beautiful, is elusive in the mind and heart of an adoptee.

This adoptee is also gay. So, there are two points of difference that I have had to navigate.

I have been with the same woman for nearly 30 years. Fifteen years or so ago I adopted her sons from a previous marriage. There is no easy way to say this, but their father abandoned them when they were small. I was every bit a parent with her from the time the boys were 2 and 3 years old. They could not have been more “my children.” Our friends recognized my place in their lives, of course, but there were others who never could and never did.

My partner was the “real” parent. Those were “her” boys, not mine, never mine in the eyes of some. I was not a part of their family, but merely an outsider. This was incredibly painful. In fact, just recently the boys (now men) were introduced as her sons while I was standing right there.

What meaning does adoption hold? No, I am serious. Hell, I don’t even know and I was adopted and have adopted!

I was able to re-establish my Greek citizenship years ago and I am happy for it, grateful for it.

Being able to attain it has been the exception to the rule, I have learned. It was, in many ways, a humiliating experience trying to prove over and over again who I was, where I was born and to whom. There was the problem of an altered birth certificate, which never should have happened and it certainly didn’t help, but that’s another story.

My partner is fully Greek (American). The children are fully Greek (American). My partner got her Greek citizenship through her parents (who were born in Greece) and we wanted the boys, too, to also have their Greek citizenship in case, in the future, they someday wanted to work in Greece or within the EU. It was going to be an uphill battle to prove the Greek connection through their maternal grandparents and then also through their own Greek father and his parents, with whom they are no longer in contact. But wait! I was their legal parent and also born Greek. A citizen! They could get citizenship through me, a legal parent. Couldn’t they? Easy, no? But just hold on!

This was not to be. Because I was not a birth parent, lacking that biological connection, it was not allowed. People are getting Greek citizenship through parents and grandparents. Others are being granted Greek citizenship because they are famous scholars or actors or authors, having no biological connection to the people of the country. But me, a Greek-born adoptee, who happened to adopt two Greek-American boys, could not establish citizenship for my sons. Are they less my sons because we are not biologically related? Are they not my sons at all?

Adoption.

You see why we feel the way we do. It is complicated and it often means little in the eyes of some. There remains a stigma. There is discrimination. Still.

Blood is thicker than water. You enjoy the company of some families almost as an honored guest, but often not as a bona fide member. You’re out there of someone else, but not fully theirs.

I don’t blame anyone. I’m not angry. But this is my reality. I own it all and I’m ok with it. I have to be. But to all friends and family of adoptees, please understand that not only are we entitled to all our records. We are also entitled to our experiences and our feelings. They do not reflect on you. They’re not about you. Let us have them. Let us own our cause. And please try to listen first. 

About Mary

Mary holds a Ph.D. in Public and International Affairs and is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication where she teaches Political Communication, Journalism and Documentary Film at California State University, East Bay. Mary is currently compiling an anthology of Greek adoptee stories and has 13 contributors for the collection with the working title “Voices of the Lost Children of Greece”, to be published by Anthem Press in 2022. If you would like to participate, please contact Mary.

For more of Mary’s articles, read Bring them Back and Demanding What Belongs to Us: Our Greek Identity.

Surrender

by Marijane Buck Huang, adopted from Taiwan to the USA.

Mateo and Marijane

A Trauma-Focused Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy Experience

Yesterday, I met with Linda for another equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) session. I had not planned on requesting a session, but Alice, who has been “helping” me learn and practice with Mateo, is out of town this week, and I felt the need to process my last practice session with Mateo, which Alice video recorded for my Natural Lifemanship (NL) Intensive training video assignment. Mateo is a 20-year-old Mustang who was rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and for the first 10 years of his life, had a variety of training experiences. He was then adopted but didn’t get much human interaction. As a result, he returned to a somewhat feral state and became very untrusting of humans. He was then adopted by another individual who provided guidance, patience, and lots of positive reinforcement, and he is enjoying life more in relationship with his herd of horses and humans. Alice is a trained equine specialist, and Linda is an equine-facilitated psychotherapist. Linda is also trained in NL. Equine-assisted therapists and equine specialists, or equine professionals as they are called in NL, partner to facilitate therapy, and both have unique skill sets. One brings a clinical perspective and the other, a horse perspective to the therapy process. The Intensive training I’m currently in is Level Two of NL certification. It’s quite different from the Level One Fundamentals training I just completed, which I greatly enjoyed and learned so much from. 

It’s so good to come into this morning’s therapy session with Linda knowing that there is no expectation, except for the one to just let go and have absolutely no agenda with the horse. I don’t need to do anything but just be. It is a warm day, but not as hot as my previous practice session with Mateo and Alice when it was 91 degrees out, unseasonably warm for southern California and even warmer in the direct sun. My phone overheated for Pete’s sake as we were recording. Before my therapy session begins, I tune into the birds singing, the pitch of their song fluctuates ever so slightly. I try my best to attune to my body and my surroundings. I feel grounded and present in this moment. I feel warmth in my gut and chest, and this warmth extends to my extremities. As suggested by one of my NL trainers, I purposely expand my visual circumference as a way to stay connected to my body…to be present and to engage my whole brain. I take in the trees around me, all of the different horses as I walk past their stalls, their color and markings, the sound of soft nickers and neighs, the sweet smell of hay mixed with horsey smells, which I can almost taste. I enjoy the calm, gentle breeze that caresses my face and arms. I bring to mind that I am the client today, not the therapist in this moment. What transpires in therapy is important for me to capture and recall not only in my mind, but body.

It’s good to see Linda. Our last session was about a month ago. We have built a great therapeutic rapport, and today, I feel more comfortable and at ease in her presence. I think fleetingly of my own trauma history, how I lived primarily in the lower regions of my brain, the survival part, for some time, hyper-vigilant, fearful. The neural pathways here have been “muscled up” over the years, causing disconnect between the upper and lower regions of my brain. The result: fear, alarm, insecurity, shame, difficulty regulating my body at times. I have become increasingly aware of this during my NL training. I recognize that I can be easily triggered at the hint of stress or anxiety, no matter the situation, as the brain and body remember, but in particular during situations of interpersonal conflict. 

I share with Linda the deep disappointment I felt after video recording my assignment with Mateo. I recall to her how I had come into the session feeling anxious, worried, and pressured about shooting the video, as I only had an hour to “get what I needed” for my assignment. Truly, that wasn’t enough time. The heat was suffocating that afternoon, and Mateo was spooked by a very large, silver trailer parked to the right of the round pen, an unfamiliar object that caused his arousal system to amp up. This caused my arousal system to go up, too. I have not particularly liked working in the larger pen. I prefer the smaller round pen, which offers a bit of privacy and feels more intimate, but it was under construction. In a nutshell, internally, I was all over the place, and Mateo, who is quite sensitive to pressure and expectation, picked up on it immediately. Horses, because they are prey animals, are extremely attuned to their environment, hyper-vigilant. They’re wired this way for safety. They rely upon their herd mates for safety and connection. They’re social animals and can build deep, connected relationships with their herd mates, much like human relationships. They’re extremely sensitive to what comes up in humans internally, one of the reasons why they are such wonderful therapy partners.

Alice continued to instruct me as she recorded my video. “Turn around this way and see if he follows you…,” etc. I felt stiff and awkward. When someone is dysregulated, there is a disconnect between their brain and body occurring. Giving verbal instructions or cues may cause the individual to attempt to stay in their neocortex (thinking/upper part of brain); however, it only causes further disconnect and dysregulation. The brain has trouble processing all of the stimuli. We need to communicate with the part of the brain that will help that person calm down. I needed bottom-up regulation, or movement and sensory input that would address the lower regions of my brain (primitive brain). No matter what I tried, I couldn’t regulate myself, and though she was only trying to help, Alice unknowingly increased the disconnect between my brain and body with her verbal cues. When I reviewed my video later, I was amazed at how arhythmic my movements appeared as I worked with Mateo. I was having a hard time taking in instruction while trying to regulate my body and connect with Mateo.

I explain to Linda that Mateo spent most of the practice session resisting my requests for connection. He was not to blame him. I would not have wanted to be around me either. Alice informs me later than when a horse picks up on all that messy internal stuff, humans can actually appear fuzzy to them, which to a horse is unsafe and unpredictable. Some horses avoid us when this occurs. This is vital information for a therapist to be aware of during a therapy session, as the horse is picking up on what’s happening in the client’s body. Sometimes, the client is so disconnected from their body that body sensations are outside of their conscious awareness, particularly when in a dissociative state. Each horse responds differently based on their own history, personality, window of tolerance, etc. Looking back, shooting that first video assignment was such a rich learning experience, as the feelings of frustration, helplessness, dysregulation, and anxiety I felt will certainly be experienced by clients I work with in the future. It’s part of the therapist’s role to help the client process how the horse responds to her and to begin to attune to her body sensations. I’m so glad that Mateo had the opportunity to resist…he had a choice. In this approach, we do not want to force a horse to do something he does not want to. Rather, we work on building trust and connection through attachment and detachment work. We want consent from the horse, not compliance or submission. Although it was quite frustrating in the moment, I’m grateful that I learned more about myself and Mateo and recognize how much anxiety I carry internally.

At the end of the session as I was talking to Alice, Mateo walked right over to me and touched my shoulder with his nose until I acknowledged him. I rubbed under his lower lip for several minutes, that soft, velvety area I love, which he typically doesn’t really like. Those moments were so tender, but rather than zoning in on that, I was so preoccupied with my own sense of “failure.” Alice said, He sees your “authentic self” now, not the one with expectation. I love that about horses. Yet, this was a lot to process.

Today, my therapy session begins in Mateo’s stall. I check in with myself prior to going in, placing a hand over my heart. “Breathe in, breathe out. Listen to the birds singing. Observe other horses in stalls next door in my peripheral vision.” I walk into Mateo’s stall and check in with him. I stand there for a few minutes just watching him eat hay from his hay bag. I’m wondering how much repair I may have to do with him because of the stress he experienced in our last practice session. Linda then walks over. She is standing just outside his stall. I move closer into Mateo and begin gently stroking his neck, attuning to my body sensations. “Stay calm, Mj. Breathe in, breathe out.” I observe Mateo chew, rhythmically. He loves his food. It feels good to stroke Mateo’s neck. I move to halter him, showing him the halter first, then gently drape the lead rope over his very tall neck. He puts his nose down to allow for the halter. Oh good! I was worried he would try to avoid me. After haltering Mateo and walking outside his stall, he almost trips over his feet. Linda and I notice that he has a limp, and as I walk him out and then around the stalls, it becomes more noticeable. Poor guy!!! I lead him back to his stall, as we don’t want to worsen whatever is going on. I hope it’s nothing serious. Linda asks me if I’d like to work with another horse, and I choose Journey. I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to work with Journey! Linda asks what differences I notice between Mateo and Journey as I introduce myself in his stall, stroking his nose and face. I notice immediately that Journey has a more mellow, maybe even more tolerant, temperament. We spend a few minutes together as I continue to stroke his neck and muzzle. He allows me to halter him, lowering his head as I bring the halter toward his nose. As we walk down the middle of the stalls to the round pen, he doesn’t try to eat the hay laying on the ground as Mateo always does. He stops at the large round pen, the one I don’t like working in, because this is where he’s usually turned out. But then, when I ask him to come with me, he eventually follows. The clip-clop of his hooves on the pavement is soothing. We enter the newly renovated round pen The pen feels smaller than before, and the dirt on the ground is different, more sandy. I feel slightly bothered by this, but try to be more curious.

We give Journey several minutes to settle in. He finally takes a roll, his front legs folding as he lowers himself to the ground. For horses to do this, they have to feel safe, so that’s a good sign! I love the sound horses make when they roll and how they shake themselves off afterwards. Linda and I commence with some EMDR at the beginning of the session. I feel vibration in my hands as I hold the buzzers. The buzzing alternates from one hand to the other. I honestly can’t remember fully what the focus was initially…I think it was on the anxiety I was feeling with Mateo and then what I was feeling in the present with Journey, but it usually shifts based on what comes up. Journey is standing at a slight distance from us as I’m processing, but my gaze is softly on him. At times, I look away, to take pressure off him – this is a thing for me, not wanting to put excessive pressure on the horse. Linda asks me several times what is coming up for me in my body. Mostly, I feel calm, perhaps slightly in and out of some anxiety related to how Journey feels about being with me. There it is…overthinking… Journey is a veteran at being with clients while they are doing EMDR, Linda tells me. What I notice the most is that I feel calmer and safer with Journey. He just seems more friendly and open than Mateo, and I am drawn to this. He feels like a friend and my co-regulator. I note this to Linda. It’s like, “I’m here for you.” In comparison, Mateo avoids me when I am experiencing increased anxiety. 

As the session is nearing the end, Linda asks if there is anything more I’d like from Journey, like to move closer to him. I’m hesitant because I’m concerned how he might respond. I take some deep breaths and inch my way closer. Then I slowly reach out my hand, and he touches it with his nose. I begin stroking the side of Journey’s head and inch even closer until I’m so close that I could give him a hug. Unlike Mateo, Journey seems okay with touch and doesn’t jerk his head away. 

Then I get brave and ask if I can work on attachment with connection with Journey. Linda moves outside of the pen. As I begin, I experience “butterflies,” as I remember how difficult it was with Mateo in my last practice session. I take some more deep breaths. I move my body around to put pressure on his back hip, focusing my body energy there, and start making clicking sounds. Journey doesn’t cooperate right away. He’s standing, looking away, or grazing the ground. I increase the pressure because he’s ignoring me by snapping my fingers, calling Journey’s name, clapping my hands, moving my arms up and down, making more clicking sounds while maintaining the pressure on his back hip. “I think I’m feeling gun shy in asking Journey for connection,” I say. After a couple more minutes, Linda aks, “What do you think might be preventing you from really making the request?” It suddenly dawns on me that I’m not committed to the request. I’m curious, why is that? I don’t believe I can ask! I muster more intention, and then Journey cooperates! He turns into me, and as I move, he follows, and we walk together, side by side, around the pen, calmly, rhythmically. When Journey sighs, I sigh. When he lets out a little raspberry sound, I do too. He gets a little distracted, so I ask to re-connect, and he again turns into me to follow. Our session soon ends. In processing with Linda, I realize that it’s very difficult for me to ask for what I need from others. I am afraid of being rejected. I do things myself to avoid asking. We discuss how it takes vulnerability to ask for our needs to be met. I can easily help others, submit to others or comply, but rarely do I ask for what I need.

Linda tells me that she saw the exact moment when something in me shifted as I asked for connection from Journey, and that’s when he turned and noticed me, then cooperated. A subtle, yet intentional shift in my body energy – I committed to the ask, internally. I asked for what I needed. I needed connection. Linda also noticed that when Journey got distracted and I asked for re-connection, Journey cooperated much quicker. So, something I’m observing in my work with both Mateo and Journey is that both horses get distracted and disconnect. I’m curious if it’s something in me that’s causing this…am I disconnecting, perhaps shifting into my neocortex and disconnecting from my body? Overthinking? Very likely. I think I get worried that the horse will disconnect instead of trusting that my horse will stay with me. Disconnection from the horse is akin to rejection (for me). I’m worried the horse will reject me, just like in human relationships. And rejection hurts…abandonment hurts. Something to explore as I continue my own personal work and practice.

That moment of connection with Journey was so sweet and memorable, as it was with Mateo. Because I have experienced that connection with Mateo previously, it was tough when he avoided me during my last practice session. And that my video assignment appeared so erratic to others when I know I have it in me to connect with a horse was hard. I must remind myself that it’s about the process, not perfection. I just began working with horses for the first time in March during the Fundamentals training, which was 10-weeks long. I literally had no horse experience prior. I will learn from these moments.

I truly long to own or lease my own horse so that I have access to practice more freely and without cost. I pay Alice weekly for her time with any one of the horses. I’ve had to get creative in finding ways to make this happen. It’s quite expensive to own and care for a horse properly, and things could happen at any moment regarding their health. Large vet bills are a concern. Despite these obstacles, my hope and dream is to have a private practice facilitating trauma-focused equine-assisted psychotherapy (TF-EAP) and to work specifically with adoptees. How this could bring such healing, connection, and growth. My personal work in equine-facilitated therapy has been healing in a much different way than traditional therapy. It has provided increased self-awareness and insight into my own body sensations, increased connection to self, an understanding of how working with equines helps build better human relationships, and it’s brought profound joy, feelings of safety, and connection with horses. I’m learning ways to better self-regulate, and this work is helping to building new neural pathways in my brain. It all takes time. My healing journey continues.

Although gaining access to work and practice with a horse is challenging, I keep on. It isn’t easy. When I begin to doubt myself, my former clinical supervisor, who is also trained in NL and practices TF-EAP, encourages me to not give up. She reminds me that I was drawn to this work for a reason. Perhaps it is a calling. This is not the end of the story.

*Names of humans have been changed to protect privacy.

ICAV (c) 2021. This article cannot be copied or shared without direct permission from Marijane.

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.