Spending Thanksgiving on My Own

Holidays have always been a bit of a bugger, at least for me. And to make things worse, I’m spending Thanksgiving alone this year but I’m happy to at least have a couple days off this week because of the holiday! I have some new goals I will be occupying my time with too. Like for one, I hope to start taking local photographs of Hawaii. I think this goal is great because it can motivate me three-fold:

  1. My goal would encourage me to learn more about beautiful Hawaii.
  2. It will motivate myself to meet new people.
  3. I can also refresh my portfolio.

Life in Hawaii as a new single has been peaceful but I do have to admit, it can be lonely. It was tougher in the beginning but I’ve actually had some small periods of joy in passing moments these days.

My List of Little Things That Bring Me Temporary Joy (as a Newly Made Single Person in Hawaii)

  • Listening to Bhutanese pop music on Spotify
  • Sitting at my Favorite Secret Spot overlooking the ocean
  • Junk journaling at home with a movie on
  • Going for jogs next to the highway
  • Eating pokē at any time of the day
  • Talking to friends
  • Checking in with my support groups or creative workshops

Next month will be Christmas.

I’ve been thinking about what it’ll be like visiting my adoptive family in Arizona during that time. It’s been years of estrangement and I haven’t even met a handful of my cousin’s children yet too, so it’s definitely good that I meet them this year.

It will be also nice not being alone, and I hope to also blog in that time.

I’ve also been thinking about my plans in Hawaii. If I should try to move back to the mainland to live and work in a more affordable place. Right now work here keeps me going on Oahu but it’s still fickle. Another idea struck me too: I think it’d be awesome to plan a trip to the Philippines with a few Filipino-American adoptee friends who might want to explore our home country together!

Anybody interested?

Not much else to write about right now, so I will sign off. Please feel free to find me on Facebook or Instagram if you’d like to get in touch!

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

Thriving in These Shifting Times

With all this unpredictable change, it’s more important than ever to manage and conserve your energy because you fuel your entire life with it. You have four sources of energy: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. When we get triggered emotionally, we lose a lot of energy.” – Alice Inoue, national award-winning author and life expert

These are the words from my job training yesterday morning at the Hawaii Convention Center. Alice Inoue was one of our public speakers in our presentation.

I’d been a newly-employed temporary Adjudicator in the Unemployment Claims sector of the Department of Labor for the State of Hawaii. That day, I was training in the art of communicating with clients especially when they’re emotionally escalated. Little did I know, this training would be coinciding with adult adoptee life as well as the public in this time, as I’ve had to cope with emotional triggers all my life.

Now it seems emotional triggers is something we’re all dealing with on a larger scale. Spanning and intermingling with larger demographics of society.

Emotional Triggers of the Unemployed

Covid-19 is affecting all of our lives in seen and unseen ways. Unemployment to date is persisting with over 100,000 issues in the state of Hawaii. I was hired to help alleviate some of these issue. It is a full-time job.

One day is not enough time to even put a dent in this situation.

I talk to customers at work who are struggling in hard times. It can be difficult since as governmental workers we are also living in these Covid times. It is a challenge working with emotionally-triggered people who have fallen unemployed.

Especially being vulnerable to triggers as a person living in these shifting and uncertain times too. From state workers to the public, everyone has more stress, pressure and anxiety than ever. Additionally, as an adult adoptee, I find myself working with my own emotional triggers along with everyone else’s.

So, I sat with my friendly team of adjudicators who were hired on in June and listened.

What I first realized was a pre-conceived notion: that emotional triggers are mostly reserved for people with PTSD. What I learned from the presentation is that triggers also develop with people with any hurt in their childhood.

Emotional Triggers

“Growing up, we had pain that we didn’t know how to deal with,” stated the slide, with a photo of a crying baby on the screen. “As adults, we become triggered by experiences that are reminiscent of those old painful feelings.”

I listened and gulped down my coffee.

In the hour, I learned how triggers are not just in the land of adult adoptee post-trauma but also interweaves broadly in the scope of the world’s social terrain.

Another slide stated: “(Triggers are) the super-reactive places within you that become activated by someone else’s behaviors or comments.”

The Best Advice to Dealing With Emotional Triggers

“Whatever you feel compelled to do, don’t,” Alice Inoue said, as she explained the golden rule for all emotionally triggering situations. “Put your focus on your feet and toes. Feel the ground beneath you. Take yourself out of the visceral experience of threat so you respond rather than react consciously.”

More Tips:

  • Create a “counterfact” or reframe a scenario of a current situation that could be worse, so you can feel better about it instantly.
  • Control what you do have control over: your perspective, decisions and actions. Calm yourself with a “4-7-8” breathing technique.
  • Apply logic to irrational fears when something happens. And, remember the 3 As: Accept, Adapt and Allow.

Thriving with a Post- Adoptee Skillset

The world is changing everyday due to Covid. Amidst this time I have found untraditional footing in the world because of my own life’s experiences.

As an adult adoptee, I am armed with all of the therapy and coping I’ve done in my past, to where I am educated. Additionally, I can extend my practices into a profession where I work with an emotionally-triggered public in this time of Covid-19.

It was like an epiphany, training in how to thrive professionally and personally as one. My adoptee solutions coincided with serving the public together. Thus, in this time, I have been seeing how each of our own rivers can one day meet the ocean. While learning, how life’s challenges can also become our greatest tools of transformation.

“From every crises and challenge emerges blessings,” Alice Inoue said, at the end of the presentation. “You have a lot of blessings coming to you.”

Sunday Junk Journaling

Today was a difficult day. It was hard picking myself up after falling down. It was harder still, to do the task I had set for myself which was to finish this junk journal spread on this Sunday in Hawaii. Gravity felt like weights pulling down on me. Gradually I felt lighter with each layer of mixed media I applied onto the page. Paintings, a doily, an envelope reconstructed, a little space for handwritten poetic thought written in cursive, cut out images of yellow flowers, Victorian art and pieces of vintage book pages. I finally published it and although my work is never perfect to me, I feel a sense of exultation when my secretive mixed media gets posted, shown for the world to see. I don’t feel as lonely when that happens. I show myself in the most beautiful of ways, showing all the best parts of me. So I try to junk journal on a regular basis, at least one post a week if I can. Today was difficult but I published one spread and that helped me keep going.

What was one thing that helped you keep going today?

Please comment here or write me at starwoodletters@gmail.com

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.

Reconstructing Identity and Heritage

I made “Roses” from old magazines at a time in my life when I felt lost. I tore up and cut out tissue paper from earlier art projects, from pages out of books and discarded scrapbook paper. I assembled the mixed media on square backing. The word “heritage” was glued in the background.

The roses became the focal point. These turned out most clear and prominent in the piece, which hadn’t been planned at all.

As I begin to blog on behalf of orphaned issues and intercountry adoption, I realize this art I’m making revolves around having an orphaned identity, that I’ll try to address with my own perspective in this post.

Overall, there are many hard things to confront with this disposition even before healing can begin. In my experience, I had to confront how I was born, which meant accepting the most difficult part of the past that had undergone the trauma of severe displacement. Next, I had to mend the trauma with ongoing personal efforts of reconstruction and the power of belief.

A resolution that I found in having an orphaned identity is the promise of a new day. A promise that the sun will rise. That within the complex landscape of our lives there is a rose growing in the midst. And if we focus on what is blossoming, we might be able to tend to this new growth.

To those who have an orphaned past, who have experienced ultimate displacement where there is no going back, I can relate.

My feeling on this, is that this is where one can begin to move forward.

Step by step, day by day, we can reconstruct our lives and what heritage means to us, today, and with every new day ahead of us.

Stephanie’s Column, Filipino Intercountry Adoptee

My First Blog Post

I’m in the shuttle, sitting in the back seat with my headphones on listening to Krishna Das. It’s 6:49 a.m. and the sun is rising above the horizon. As the van turns to leave the bus barn near the mall, I can see the sky lightening. Pink, yellow, and purple, with low streams of clouds. The train passes by as we stop and turn left, soaring down the access road to the freeway. As I write, the sky transforms into dusty, baby blue and lavender. Green ponderosa pines pass my window as we make our way to the elementary school I work at.

My name is Stephanie and I’m a 32-year-old adoptee living in Northern Arizona. I was born in the Philippines in 1985 and relinquished to an orphanage at birth, where I was taken care of by Catholic nuns. My birth name was Desiree Maru but it changed to Stephanie Flood when I was adopted at the age of two. 

I’m starting this regular column, Stephanie’s Column, Filipino Intercountry Adoptee because I want to start voicing myself as a past orphan, adult adoptee, and a woman who carries past traumatic wounds no matter where I go. As I heal, I write in hopes to raise awareness on critical subjects and bring new dialogue to a space where many can’t tread unless they’ve been there.

I’m here to fill this space with needed perspective. With humanity. My humanity. So overall this blog will contain my whereabouts, thoughts, actions, insights, memories of my past and hopes of my unseen future.

I think it’ll be an adventure having this column.

I am writing this first entry on my way to a school out in Leupp, Arizona on the Navajo Reservation. I work at a school library as a library media assistant/librarian and I run the library by myself. This school is about 45 minutes from Flagstaff where I’ve been living for the past ten years, attending college at Northern Arizona University and now I’m an online student with San Jose State University studying Library and Information Science.

The atmosphere in the van today feels thick with tension.

I always have music playing in my ears on these shuttles to work and back in an attempt to make these daily trips a pleasant, contemplative voyage.

There is so much gorgeous scenery that passes by.

Land you can’t fully fathom unless you’re here and you have a reason to traverse this well-preserved part of the world.

Rolling hills in the distance. Once we hit Leupp Road, the ponderosas change into thickets of juniper pines that are as large as trees. They’re these bristly, round, green pines that smell so sweet. You can burn the dead branches for incense or prayers, and they make good kindling for wood stove fires.

Now the light is awake. It’s golden and raw, raking the Earth, sweeping over this high desert landscape with honesty. Finally, it is warmer in the vehicle. I can take my sweatshirt off since I have a sweater underneath. It’s been cold in the mornings in Flagstaff, especially at 5:30 a.m. when I wake up.

The land looks so beautiful when it’s aflame with sunrise.

As we drive, I can hear the teachers in the front get louder but I focus on the music blaring in my ears. The light glares in my eyes. I keep writing. I breathe and focus on my breathing, because what I’ve come to recognize is that I get anxious easily, especially around hostile or fast changing environments. 

At this school, the students can suddenly be aggressive with each other without warning. I’ve been yelled at by two teachers while I’ve been just doing my job too since I’d been hired here in August. To keep my composure here and my job, I keep my distance. I enforce strict, professional boundaries because I work better in positive, enforcing environments.

I like uninterrupted, positive and focused work flow too.

Although here at this elementary school, it’s like I’m at times bulldozing unseen walls just to do the work needed at this school library.

I fight to keep focused on the library’s needs and the Navajo children, as I’m pulled with other requests and stresses. As this library is grossly under national standards, every day is a fight to keep what I care about afloat.

I pass three crows sitting on a wire fence.

Tiny, little houses sparsely speckle the open, wild but barren landscape that spreads out for miles out here.

Hogans. Grassland. Trailers. Open range.

In the distance there are mesas now and the horizon is shrouded in blue hues. The junipers are gone. Groups of cows pass by. Then more open land.

I can hear the teachers in the front of the van raise their voices again. They get louder. I look down at my necklace that I’m wearing.

It’s the Tree of Life hanging on my pendant from a red, leather band.

I wore it this morning to remind myself of my own values that I’ve cultivated since I was young, growing up in Wisconsin, mostly on my own since my other adopted older brother had severe post-traumatic issues and my parents were often working. Since childhood, I’ve cultivated my own value system that has been rooted in personal growth and spiritual philosophies.

Faith was my support system. Although this faith has changed over time.

It now appears like we’re looming closer to the school.

I secretly fear the secretary here but I know it’s mostly all in my head.

I realize, I am at times prone to a casual victim mentality—having grown up accustomed to being so extremely affected by my external environment and not having enough resources to support me as an adoptee.

Now an adult, I’m understanding the issues that had arisen from my extreme upbringing. And, I see that it is more important than ever to break away from certain bad patterns that have prevented me from moving on, and reinforce my obstacles into opportunities to learn and change for the better.

I go to the morning meeting circle and it looks like Peta is bothered by something. She is in 2nd grade and very quiet. She chooses to stand next to me for a bit.

I ask her a few questions while everyone is gathering:

What animal is that on your shirt?

An elephant.

What did you do this weekend?

Mumbled something.

I like your glitter nail polish.

And still, there is trouble in her eyes.

Peta has shiny almond brown eyes and dark silky hair. She is a soft talker like me and lately she’s shown other aspects that remind me of me. She likes being helpful in the library and often asks to assist me. I see that she does fit in, but at times, she doesn’t due to her offbeat behavior, like me.

Peta is standing next to me as the circle started to congregate.

A girl walks up to her, one of her peers, Taima, another 2nd grader in her class who is often really confident, happy and social.

Taima stands boldly in front of Peta. She stares directly in Peta’s eyes, and they gaze at each other silently, face to face, like quiet warriors.

Taima asks what is wrong.

Peta stares back at her unflinchingly and doesn’t respond.

Taima looks up at me, questioningly.

She’s thinking, I say to Taima.

Taima walks away, and later, Peta goes to her class. For a few minutes, I wonder about Peta and all of these children on the Navajo Reservation.

In the school library, I have melodic music playing on Pandora at my desk computer. It eases my deep, mysterious soul and the feelings of isolation out here since I’m not friends with anyone at work either.

At my desk, I have a sticky pad of call numbers and book titles about adoption.

I also just wrote:

NOVEMBER

National Adoption Awareness Month

on the dry erase board in green marker that is in front of room.

On this particular day, I had started collecting adoption books from this library and other district libraries, displaying them at the dry erase board.

This is a step for me to start including new and diverse perspectives to this school library. I had originally imagined adoption in the Navajo community too but mainly, this was a step for me to start bringing myself out a little more.

Adoption is not just people and family members, I had told the students when I introduced these books on check-out day the next day.

You can adopt creeks, nature, animals, dogs, even hamsters!

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