Embracing Therapy as an Adoptee

by Oleg Lougheed, adopted from Russia to the USA. Founder of Overcoming Odds.

I remember the first time I went to therapy.

I was ashamed of it.

I disliked every aspect of it.

I saw it as a sign of weakness.

Out of all of the things I looked forward to, this was at the very bottom of my list.

I remember the drive over.

“Why do I have to go here?”

“I don’t need this.”

“This is stupid.”

With each remark, I became more and more angry.

I remember exiting the car.

Not a single word, arms folded together, sprinting ahead of my parents in frustration.

“Welcome!” said the receptionist.

I didn’t respond.

“Through the double doors to the right, please.”

As I opened the double doors, my eyes immediately met them.

A room full of kids who were much younger than me.

I scanned the entire room.

Everybody was doing something.

Some were putting together puzzles.

Others were drawing.

“This is not for me,” I whispered.

I made my way toward the spot.

The spot I became far too familiar with throughout my life.

The corner of the room.

I sat there in silence, waiting for the clock to strike 8 PM.

“How are you doing?” asked the therapist on duty.

No response.

It took weeks before I said my first words.

I remember sitting in the corner of the room when the therapist approached me.

I couldn’t hold it anymore. I broke down.

Fighting back tears, I told her everything.

I told her how much I missed my birth family.

I told her that I was being bullied at school.

I told her about the struggles back home.

I felt a huge relief with each spoken word.

Unfortunately, this was one of the last sessions.

I turned back to what I knew best, silence.

It wasn’t until 10 years ago, I spoke the word, “therapy” out loud.

I was a freshman in college.

I needed someone to talk to.

The past was on the back of my mind.

I went straight to the counselling/mental health department.

I wasn’t ashamed of it anymore.

I remember the walk over.

The feeling of empowerment with every step I took.

I accepted therapy into my life, on my own terms.

Going to sessions helped me tremendously.

They helped me process and reframe many of my past traumatic experiences.

They helped me get curious about the subject and the stories I chose to believe in.

The stories of it being seen as a sign of weakness, not a strength.

The stories of therapy as something I should be ashamed of.

Curiosity helped me change many of these narratives.

Curiosity helped me embrace therapy as a part of my identity, part of my life.

For more from Oleg, read his last blog Adoptee Fear and Vulnerability
Follow him at Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn @overcomingodds

The Trauma Inherent in Relinquishment and Adoption

We still have a long way to go to reach the wider public and educate them about the inherent trauma and losses in relinquishment and adoption. To assist with this, I’m trying to connect into spaces that are not adoption specific and share our message.

I recently sent our Video for Professionals to an organisation Stella that provides medical treatment for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) called Stellate Ganglion Block (SGB). Who knows, perhaps it might be effective for some adoptees? Our trauma from relinquishment often has no language because it happened to us as young children or babies, so I am constantly on the look out for new treatments or options that can help give relief to the ongoing emotional minefield that many adoptees live. SGB works on the premise of dampening down our fight/flight response that results from ongoing trauma.

Stella’s chief psychologist, Doc Shauna Springer and the Head of Partnerships, Valerie Groth, both chatted with me and watched our videos. Until then, both had no idea as clinicians about the traumas inherent in relinquishment and adoption. They are inspired to join with me to help educate the public, so here is the short 30min podcast interview they conducted to help facilitate this. Click on the image to listen to the podcast.

If you already know about the traumas inherent in adoption, nothing in this will be new, but if you want a podcast that helps others understand from a first learner perspective, perhaps you might consider sharing it with them.

We also have our compiled list of resources as a starting point for those interested to learn more about the connection between trauma and adoption from experts all over the world.

Bought and Sold, This is Adoption!

by Lina Vanegas adopted from Colombia to the USA. You can follow Lina on Instagram @linaleadswithlove or on Twitter @LinaLeadsWLove

When we talk about adoption it’s important that we are honest and transparent and avoid sugar coating things or inserting toxic positivity or adoption propaganda.

The reality is that many people do not truly understand adoption, what it it entails, what it is and the impacts, trauma, grief and loss.

To break it down, I was bought and sold in 1976. I lost everything and my identity was erased. This is heartbreaking and devastating to me. It’s hard to wrap my head around it. I can’t honestly fathom how this could have happened. The tragic thing is that I am one of millions. Yes M I L L I O N S. There are an estimated 7 million adopted and displaced people and the number is growing. 2 million of us are intercountry adopted.

I just saw a comment on Facebook last night that was commending a white adoptive parent for sharing a positive adoptive story and they also stated we need more positive adoption stories. If positive is what you want then adoption is not the topic to equate with it. There is always trauma, grief and loss with adoption no matter the circumstances. This is a given and guarantee. When we talk about adoption, we must be honest about what it entails. It’s not beautiful, a fairytale, rainbows, sprinkles and unicorns.

I was bought and sold in 1976. This is my lived experience.

You can read Lina’s other articles shared here at ICAV:
Demystifying the stigmatization of Adoptee Suicide

A Vigil for Christian Hall, 1 Year On

On 30 December 2021, 7-9pm CST we gathered in social media application, Clubhouse to participate in an online vigil, created and led by Vietnamese adoptee Adam Chau. The event was organised in conjunction with Christian Hall’s family who created the physical in-person vigils at various cities around the USA. The purpose of the vigils was to honour Christian’s life, raise awareness about and bring the impacted communities together in solidarity to seek Justice for Christian Hall. You can read their latest articles here and here.

A number of adoptee guests were invited to share our thoughts for the online vigil: Kev Minh Allen (Vietnamese American adoptee), Lynelle Long (Vietnamese Australian adoptee), Kayla Zheng (Chinese American adoptee), Lee Herrick (Korean American adoptee).

I share with you what I spoke about in honour of Christian Hall.

My name is Lynelle Long, I’m the founder of Intercountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV). I’d like to thank you Adam Chau for organising this online event today in honour of Christian. Thankyou Nicole, Christian’s cousin who is on our call, for allowing us to join in with this vigil. I’m so sorry for your family’s loss! It’s a privilege to be able to speak. I am a person with lived experience of intercountry adoption and like Christian Hall, I am of Chinese descent … except I was born in Vietnam and adopted to Australia, whereas he was born in China and adopted to the USA.

The common thread that unites me with Christian Hall is that we both experienced abandonment as an infant. No matter what age we are, for an adoptee, loss of our first family as abandonment/relinquishment is a raw and painfully traumatic experience. It stays with us throughout life in the form of bodily sensations and gets easily triggered. When this happens, these sensations flood our body as fear, panic, anxiety.

Worse still is that when our abandonment occurs as an infant, we have not developed a language as a way to understand our experience. We are simply left with pre-verbal feelings (bodily sensations). It took me over 20 years until I read the first book, The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier which changed my life in terms of coming to understand how abandonment and adoption had impacted me. That book was the first to help give words to the experience I felt up until then, as an entirely somatic experience, as uncomfortable sensations in my body, that I hadn’t understood, which I’d spent my life running away from every time they re-emerged.

The other common thread that unites me with Christian Hall is that we both experienced suicidal ideation and attempts. For him, it tragically meant the end of his life by police officers who did not understand his traumas. For me, after numerous failed attempts and ending up in ER, it meant a long process of awakening to the trauma I had lived. 20+ years later, I have spent most of this time helping to awaken our society to what adoption is really about for us, the adopted person.

Being adopted never leaves us. We might try to escape and pretend that it has no impact but deep down to our core, our abandonment wires almost every aspect of our being – most importantly, how we connect or not to others around us and to ourselves. At its core, intercountry adoptees experience loss of identity, race and culture. Unless we have supports around us that understand and help us to overcome the trauma of abandonment early on, we stumble in the dark, completely unaware of how our abandonment impacts us. Many adoptees call it “being in the fog” until we become awakened. Today, decades after Nancy Verrier first wrote her amazing book, we now have many, many books written by adoptees who are THE experts of our own lived experience. These books are a written testament to the complexities we live through adoption and how this impact us.

In the past 2 months, I have worked with others to speak out about the impacts of abandonment and adoption trauma and the direct connection to risk of suicide. I acknowledge that Christian’s family do not relate his tragic death to suicide, but I suspect his feelings of abandonment were triggered as key events led to him being on the bridge that day. I hope that more adoptive families will educate themselves about the complexities we live as people who get disconnected from our origins via intercountry adoption. There are almost 2 million of us worldwide and we are speaking out en-masse to help the world understand it is not a rainbows and unicorns experience. We require lifelong supports from professionals who are trauma and adoption trained. In America alone, there are hundreds of thousands of intercountry adoptees – America remains the biggest receiving country in the world. Too many are struggling emotionally every day, yet in the USA, there is still no free national counselling service for intercountry adoptees and their families. There is also NO national post adoption support centre in the USA funded to help intercountry adoptees grow into adulthood and beyond. Isn’t it a huge shortcoming that the largest importer of children in the world has no lifelong supports fully funded, equitable, freely accessible – how can America expect positive outcomes for children who are amongst the most vulnerable if we don’t fund what we know they need?

I never knew Christian personally. I only discovered him through his death. I wish I had known him. From the many intercountry adoptees I connect to, I know we gain so much emotionally from being connected to others just like us. Being connected to our peers helps reduce those feelings of isolation, helps us understand we aren’t the only ones to experience life this way, helps connect us to sources of support and validation that we know has worked. I wish Christian had met our community. I’ll never know if it would have made the difference so that he wasn’t there that day on that bridge. As an adoptee, I suspect Christian most likely wanted help that day, help to ease his hurting soul, not death. 

Also, let’s take a moment to remember his biological family in China. Whether they ever truly had a choice in his relinquishment, we’ll probably never know but from my knowledge in this field, it’s most likely not. Christian’s adoption was likely the result of the 1-Child Policy era in China where thousands of families were forced to relinquish their children, many of them ending up intercountry adopted like Christian. Please take a moment to consider that through adoption, his biological family don’t even have the right to know that he has passed away. 

The travesty in adoption is that trauma is experienced by all in the triad (the adoptee, the adoptive family, the biological family) yet the traumas continue to go largely unrecognised and unsupported in both our adoptive and birth countries. We must do better to prevent the unnecessary separation of families, and where adoption is needed, ensure that families undertake adoption education, learning about its complexities in full and having free equitable access for life to the professional supports needed.

My huge thanks to his extended and immediate family for being brave and opening themselves up thru all this trauma and allow these vigils where his life and death can be honoured for the greater good. I honour the pain and loss they’ve lived and thank them immensely for allowing our intercountry adoptee community to join in with them in support.

Thank you.

If you would like to support Christian’s family and their push for justice, please sign the petition here.

If you would like to better understand the complexities involved in intercountry adoption as experienced by adoptees, our Video Resource is a great place to start. Wouldn’t it be amazing to create a resource like this to help educate first responders to better understand the mental health crises that adoptees experience.

Adoptees and Suicide at Xmas and New Year

Christmas and New Year is a time when we usually get together as families, celebrating and reconnecting. For some adoptees, this is a particularly tough time of the year because not all of us are closely connected with our families (birth or adoptive). Often it is this time of year that can be the hardest for it brings up painful feelings of not being closely connected .. to anyone. It can remind of us how we don’t “fit in”, how we are forever in-between spaces, or of how little we are understood by the very people who raise or birthed us.

Grieving the Child of the Past by Dan R Moen (Filipino adoptee)

Adoption is based heavily on loss – loss of our origins, loss in knowing who we came from and why, loss of our culture and traditions we are born to, loss of our extended families. And adoption does not always replace everything we’ve lost. Adoption is also heavily based in trauma – it is the trauma our generations went through that often result in us being relinquished for whatever reason. Or it can be the trauma our country went through, a result of war, famine, natural disasters, etc. We adoptees carry these losses and traumas within us, often we are unaware we carry it, until we do some deep diving into our origins and reconnect to some of our most primal feelings of abandonment and grief.

This Christmas and New Year period, I hope that we can be mindful of our fellow adoptees for whom this can be an especially triggering time of year. Last year in Europe the team of adoptees who are therapists at AFC knew at least 6 adoptees from their immediate circles who suicided between Christmas and New Year. This year, globally who knows what our numbers will be – for we’ve also lived through another tough year with COVID-19 and that has further heightened the sense of isolation for many, adopted or not.

I’ve just finished participating in two major events this year to raise awareness of the connection between between being adopted and experiencing suicidal feelings or actions. The first was a webinar with lived experience where we shared openly. You can view it here:

The second, which followed on from our first, was a Twitter event in which more of us shared our lived experience and thoughts which you can read here as a summary wakelet.

Huge thanks to the sponsoring organisation United Survivors and intercountry adoptive mother Maureen McCauley at Light of Day Stories, who organised these 2 incredibly powerful and much needed events.

I wanted to share my answers for Question 4 which asked us, for fellow adoptees who are struggling, what would I say? My response is:

You are not alone! Many of us have been in that space, I know how tough it is to find a way through, but it is possible. Please reach out to your peer support spaces – there are so many of them. If you need help finding them, ICAV has a list of intercountry adoptee led orgs around the world.

Please also don’t be afraid to try and find a mental health professional. It can make a world of difference to be supported by someone trained to understand our lived experience. If you need help finding them, ICAV has a global list of post adoption supports as a great starting place.

Adoption begins with traumas and most of our life, we spend unpacking that and making sense of our life, who we are, how we came to be here. But once we surround ourselves with support and commit ourselves to working through those painful parts, our life can change and we CAN find healing and connection.

It begins with ourselves, finding connection back to ourselves – who we were born to be, not necessarily who we are adopted to be.

Our life as an adoptee does not have to be controlled forever by our beginnings but it is so important to not deny and ignore the pain, but to offer your inner hurt child a space where her pain can be heard, and where healing can begin.

My message for adoptive families and professionals who struggle to understand how/why adoptees can feel suicidal, I highly recommend you watch our video series which covers the universal themes I’ve observed, reflected through the stories many adoptee have shared with me over the past 20+ years. It is SO important adoptees feel heard, validated, and given the space to share from our hearts, without judgement or expectation.

Part of the vision I created and still hold for ICAV remains very true at this time of year:

A world where existing intercountry adoptees are not isolated or ignored, but supported by community, government, organisations and family throughout their entire adoption journey.

Does My Perspective Matter?

by Dan R Moen, adopted from the Philippines to the USA. This is the 2nd of a 3 part artwork piece by Dan that explores being adopted.

Does My Perspective Matter?

One of the key things that has been an eye-opener for me is understanding what’s appropriate to say to somebody who’s grieving or going through pain.

We have failed to understand each other and to utilize tools to cultivate real empathy — not sympathy. Unfortunately, because of this, difficult conversations can cause alienating, victimizing, or gaslighting the individual. We oftentimes want to give advice or external perspectives, but oftentimes it’s unwarranted when the person is going through pain in the moment. This is in large part because we have been taught that giving advice equates to helping. Humans have a natural instinct to want to fix; the idea that anything that doesn’t fit the standard needs to be repaired and repaired quickly.

All it does is alienate the person and make them question if they have a right to feel human emotions. Without consciously doing it, this can easily come off as egotistical and one can project their own ways of dealing with life expecting the person grieving to meet that same standard — even with the best intentions at heart.

The key to really helping somebody going through grieving or troubles is to really listen and validate, validate, validate. This being said, that does not necessarily mean agreeing with the person, but it is humanizing the person and allowing them to have a place to cry, feel, and go through the emotions necessary for growth.

Be mindful of what you say to individuals when they look overwhelmed, dealing with anxiety, or going through a loss. I must remind myself this all the time. I slip up too. What you say to them can deeply impact them either positively, or unfortunately, negatively. Do not make it about yourself, and above all else…. DON’T tell them how to feel. Sometimes, remaining silent, but being an active listener, helps the other person tremendously, and phrases such as “thank you for sharing. I’m sorry you’re going through this. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help” will help them and give them a sense that they can go to you for support.

These are reasons why we as adoptees have, on a much larger scale, so many mental health problems going on that unfortunately get undiagnosed, untreated, and invalidated. When we see crimes happening there is something more deeper going on that we don’t see. Crimes in society from stealing to murder, are symptoms of deeper and more complex needs by humanity.

Keep in mind more scars are invisible than they are visible, this means you do not know what the person is going through. There could be much more from their history and lived experience that you may never experience. What we are witnessing when someone is grieving may be rooted in something much deeper and more historical in their own lived experience. So why would we compare our lives to each other? Life is not a race to the bottom, nor a race to the top. We must be able to be like glassware. Wine glasses hold what they can hold, shot glasses hold what they can hold, and punch bowls can hold what they can hold. One cannot pour the same amount of liquid from a punch bowl in to a shot glass; it will overflow. However, people are not static, they can handle the amount of stress that a shot glass can hold, and slowly move up to a punchbowl, and then back down again.

I recently had a conversation with a wonderful friend of mine who is Indigenous, about the Native American community and how they view about giving advice:

Elders do not give advice or perspective in every situation they get an opportunity. Instead, they understand that a young person will have a different lived experience than an elder and in order to get advice, one must give each other bundles of tobacco. Tobacco is sacred in many Native Americans traditions and cultures as it is a medicine used for prayers, communication, and messages to the Spirit World. Elders will give tobacco bundles to the youth if they need advice and young people will give tobacco to elders if they need advice. This is seen as an offering gift. I absolutely admire that, and I wish people would practice this concept way more: even in therapy there are codes of conduct about giving unwarranted advice. When the phrase, “What do you think? What would you do? Do you have advice?” Is uttered, that’s the invitation. If you ask, “May I offer perspective, advice?” and they don’t want it. Don’t give it. Let the grieving person BE HUMAN.

For Dan’s 1st artwork in this series, see Grieving for the Child of the Past.
For more on Dan visit his website.

Grieving for the Child of the Past

In November 2021, I was asked by the Australian Department of Social Services, to source artwork by intercountry adoptees that would fit with their artwork brief for a literature review they funded reviewing the research available on Adoption and Suicide.

ICAV approached various adoptee artists known for their work by ICAV and requested if they wished to submit any pieces. Dan, a Filipino adoptee in the USA, had only weeks before just joined the ICAV network and I had seen his artwork as part of getting to know him. His artwork blew me away with its depth and intensity. So I’ve asked him to share it with you all here. Artwork is such a powerful medium to portray the adoptee lived experience! I hope you enjoy the next 3 blogs whereby we share you Dan’s incredible talent, his artwork and the meaning behind each piece. He presents to you his 3 part series, all related to being a Filipino intercountry adoptee.

by Dan R Moen, adopted from the Philippines to the USA.

Grieving for the Child of the Past

This represents both my present and my past simultaneously going through emotional turmoil. The child is suggested to be naked in representation of being completely vulnerable. With both arms surrounding the adult form of themselves, the child desires nothing more than to be loved, protected, and to not feel orphaned—a real sense of belonging.

The adult, however, represents my current adult self. The old world/Victorian/Edwardian clothing represents a connection to history; the love for studying and learning from our ancestors and a passion for those who came before, and yet, completely ignoring the child in the present. The red vest represents love but is covered and not revealed by the partially closed frock coat. He is looking away from the child suggesting that there’s a disconnect. He is looking in towards the darkness knowing that the world isn’t all shiny and glorious. He too is also grieving but not fully connecting to the child. One arm is wrapped around the child suggesting there is some small connection to his past self, but the other hand is completely in the pocket suggesting that there’s a sense of standoffishness, including cognitive dissonance—needing to grow up and to move on. He is displaying the inner turmoil of accepting the idea of “that’s just life” – while simultaneously, not granting himself permission to fully mourn with the past child.

Surrounding them, there are different colors suggesting fire of meanings. The dark greens represent the forests that I visited throughout 2020 and all the secret spots that I like to go to for healing. Many of these locations were off the nature trails, and for one to visit them, they would have to trek deep into the woods to find these locations.

The red represents the blood of those who have died at the hands of bad policies, politics, racism, ignorance, and to Covid-19. As does the white, which represents the countless spirits and souls who have passed onto the next world.

The yellow represents the fire with chaos and change. There are hints of gold metallic paint suggesting the idea that there is healing within the chaos, but it depends on individuals’ perspectives. This is represented physically by the viewer as the angle that you’re looking at the painting determines the visibility of the metallic paint. So, when multiple people look at the painting at the same time, some will see the metallic paint while some will not see it, that’s the point.

Many of us, as adults, sometimes forget that the raw emotions we feel, are human, just human. No logic is needed in the moment of grief. Many of our fears, woes, and deep inner turmoil come from our past, and sometimes, we mourn our childhood – as we haven’t given ourselves permission to fully grieve and feel these raw emotions. We must give ourselves that permission; any advice from others or opinions from others will not be fulfilled if we don’t allow ourselves to feel first and validate how feel internally.

You matter too. You are #1 in life; from birth to the next world – learn to live with yourself, not by yourself.

Coming next, Dan’s 2nd art work piece Does My Perspective Matter? in his 3 part series.

To find out more about Dan and and his work, check out his website.

Relinquishment, Adoption and Grief

by Bina Mirjam de Boer adopted from India to the Netherlands, shared for November Adoption Awareness Month at Bina Coaching.

At the moment when adoptees experience that they have lost part of themselves due to relinquishment and / or adoption, they suddenly come into a grieving process. A kind of mourning that they themselves, but also their surroundings, often cannot comprehend or contain.

A special event such as a pregnancy, the birth of a (grand) child or a wedding can suddenly lose its colour or shine. A demise, loss of work, or a move can suddenly become the most dramatic and prevailing event of an adoptee’s life.

The previous loss that hitherto sat dormant in the unconscious is triggered. Suddenly the unconscious wakes up in the conscious and throws back the adopted one into the previous loss trauma with the corresponding behavioural change. The emotions that come with this seem to absorb everything, structures and controls disappear and chaos prevails.

Often adoptees who previously considered themselves “fortunately adopted” suddenly feel the emptiness and try to fill it up by looking for their self, their identity and / or their mother. But the emptiness, sadness and fear does not dissolve during this quest or in reunification. There often remains the history, the secrets, the guilt and the shame between both.

Because of the fact that this form of loss and mourning is not recognised in our society, adopted people do not have the option (e.g. leave period) to mourn, give meaning to their loss or experience a farewell ritual like a funeral of their adoptive parents. And often they have no memories of their first parents with whom they can comfort themselves. Because of this, it will often remain a never ending story and the wound will remain open.

A mother and child separation causes lifelong loss, which we carry in our body until the end of our life and is also transferred to the next generations.

That’s why it’s important to raise awareness for the loss and trauma during relinquishment and adoption and the impact of missing our descendants data. Adoptees should experience as much entitlement to support in their grieving process as those not adopted.

For more from Bina, read her other ICAV blogs:
Imagine losing your parents twice!
Forget your past

Origins matter

by Mimi Larose, adoptee of Haitian origins raised in Canada.

Have you adopted Haitian kids ? My adoptive parents haven’t talked to me yet about the earthquake that just happened. In 2010, when that earthquake happened, they accused me of being too emotional about the devastation and incredible loss of life that resulted.

Every time they don’t say anything or don’t seem concerned, it deepens the divide between us.

Adoptive parents, you should check on your kids and allow them the space to grieve. They might be thinking about their parents, thinking they might have lost an opportunity to ever meet them. They might be hurting in silence because they feel you don’t care when you stay silent.

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