Truth

I am a transracial adoptee, born in Taipei, Taiwan, adopted at the age of four months, raised in Bossier City, Louisiana, by a White military family. The region I grew up in is known as the Ark-La-Tex where the Southern states of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas abut and join together. Shreveport, a major city, sits adjacent to Bossier, and the city where I attended college. As you can imagine, there was little diversity in these communities. In fact, the college I attended had no faculty of color. I was the only Asian student, and the only other people of color were janitors and cafeteria workers. I have no idea if much has changed since then. I wanted to go to college out-of-state, but when it came down to it, my grades weren’t good enough, and I got a music scholarship at Centenary, so I ended up staying in Louisiana.

It was not easy growing up in Louisiana. By the time my parents adopted me, I had already spent the majority of my life in an orphanage. As we now know from research, separation from birth mother causes a significant trauma. Many are under the false assumption that adopting an infant removes risks associated with a child’s birth family and/or potential maladaptive behaviors. This is not true and is the kind of wound that exists invisibly, yet needs healing, nonetheless. Because I did not develop a secure attachment to my adoptive parents while growing up, and in particular, to my adoptive mom, the wound never healed.  It was never addressed and caused problems later on, like intense separation anxiety, panic when being left at daycare or elementary school, nightmares, stomach problems, fear, grief and loss that caused such pain, it felt as though the whole world was crashing down around me. But, when you’re an infant or a young child, you have no language to express such pain. Instead, my adoptive mother disciplined me for “acting out,” usually via a spanking, anger, yelling, impatience.

In elementary school, I stuck out like a sore thumb. Kids pick on what’s different. I was teased by peers because I was Asian – you know, the typical gestures, like pulling up the corners of the eyes, “Chink,” and generally being “othered.” I believe that there were teachers who also discriminated against me. So, the wound just festered, and I internalized the hurts. No one ever talked about race or culture, no one asked what it felt like to be adopted, no one saw the hurts. Yet, I was constantly told how lucky I was. And, I believed it. In those early childhood years, I learned that authority figures were scary, mistrustful, and downright mean at times. They were also to be obeyed. Guess what? I became a super compliant kid…and grew up to be a super compliant adult…The truth is, the adults in my life were ignorant…my parents, teachers, coaches. They did not know how to support a transracially adopted kid. And, adoption workers at the time were ignorant of the impact of adoption on the development of a child emotionally and developmentally.

During adolescence, I tried to take back what was never mine…control. I rebelled. I did stuff that pissed my parents off, especially my adoptive mom. She tightened the “control”  while my dad passively stood by. I raised hell, which in some ways wasn’t too different from other typical teens. Yet for adoptees, child/teen development is much more complex. The root of my rebellion came from rejection, shame, and loss. Our home was always tense. Beneath the rebellious behavior, though, I was fearful. I was afraid of my mom and generally all adults, and I was afraid of rejection. I was too afraid to speak up. Multiple losses, trauma, and development of identity, if not supported by an attuned, educated adoptive parent, can be a landmine.

Patterns that develop in childhood due to trauma don’t just go away. Trauma stays in the body, trapped, until it is acknowledged, processed, and healed. I generally present to others as calm, patient, kind, soft-spoken. I’ve heard it time and time again from others. Yet, this is very often not what’s going on internally. I suffer from social and generalized anxiety. I tend to be hypervigilant. I get chest pains with increased anxiety, yet very often play it off. I have difficulty speaking the truth, especially with people I consider unsafe, usually people in authority or “over me.” In other words, I monitor what I say to unsafe people, or minimize the truth. Call it people pleasing. It has caused damage in every sphere of my life. Not speaking the truth, not standing up for oneself, is emotionally draining. It takes a toll and very often causes increased damage. When you speak the truth, not everyone is going to like you. Not everyone is going to want to hear what you say, nor agree with it. Not everyone will accept you. Rejection…

Over recent years, adoptees have bravely raised their voices, individually and collectively, to speak the truth and to “flip the script,” at the risk of rejection. The predominant voices in adoption narrative and policy continue to be adoption professionals and adoptive parents. I look forward to the day this changes and the script is flipped. I work for a foster and adoption agency (I could write an entirely different post on this), something I never imagined I’d ever do because I’m an adoptee. Everyday, I see adoption “authorities” make decisions for kids in care. Rarely do the kids get asked what they want, and if they do, usually the “authorities” still make final decisions (granted there are many workers who genuinely care about what’s in the child’s best interest). I train foster/adoptive parents who come into the process ignorant of how trauma impacts the child in foster care or the adopted child…Ignorant to their own biases and how those biases will impact the identity development of a transracially adopted child…Ignorant to their own trauma. It’s astounding that such ignorance around the impact of adoption on children continues to exist. Furthermore, when adoptees grow up, many still can’t get access to their own original birth certificates, depending on the state. It seems like a no brainer that this is a piece of an adoptee’s identity and history, something rightfully theirs. Likewise, thousands of U.S. adult intercountry adoptees don’t have U.S. citizenship due to a defect in current legislation. Some have been deported back to their country of origin without supports and without speaking the language. This is a tragedy that can be fixed, yet remains unresolved.

Adoptees are the authority on adoption in terms of what it’s like to be adopted. Some  may not want to hear what we have to say, especially if it is delivered from a place of hurt and anger. As I tell foster/adoptive parents in trainings, look beneath the “behavior” and find the unmet need. Behind angry words, there is an unmet need. Anyone who has suffered a traumatic experience needs healing. Being witness to another’s story can begin the process. In my experience, adoption healing occurs across the different life stages because adoption is a life-long developmental process. The truth is, our experiences matter. Our expertise matters. We must keep speaking the truth so that change and healing occur, not only for ourselves, but for others. It is not easy for me to speak the truth, but I am learning and trust that I’ll get there. Another way to speak the truth is through art. It’s a nonverbal way to communicate and express. I have always loved drawing, but have never made it a real hobby or taken art classes. Three years ago, it became a more serious endeavor, and I started making art journals. The piece above, “Truth,” is a sketch I drew and painted using mostly acrylics. Like speaking the truth, my artistic skills are growing and evolving. It’s a place, however, where I can be completely truthful.

braver than you believe

“You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

Namaste! Did you know that May is National Mental Health Awareness Month? In my opinion, it should be mental health awareness day, every day. As NAMI asks, “Why care?” Because 1 in 5 people will be affected by mental illness in their lifetime. Many do not disclose struggles with mental health/mental illness due to stigma, shame and others’ general lack of understanding. Don’t let not knowing what to say prevent you from reaching out to someone who may be battling depression, anxiety or a more serious mental illness, or getting help for them.

I have struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember. I hide it well. Many times I’ve been told that I appear to be a calm, peaceful person. Inside, however, it’s often a different story. Yoga has helped me tremendously as I’ve gotten older to feel and stay grounded. And music is one of my first go-to’s when feeling stressed. Yes, I listen to really loud music in my car on the way in to work and on the way home after work! Lately, I’ve been listening to the “Songs that Saved My Life” playlist on Spotify (as well as a lot of 80’s music).  Songs that Saved My Life is a charity compilation of songs for mental health awareness and suicide prevention. The album is centered around music that played a pivotal role in the lives of artists and fans that benefits mental health and suicide prevention charities. Artists cover versions of  songs that helped them get through tough times and share those stories.

The art piece above was inspired by wanting to promote greater awareness and understanding around mental health. I drew it this morning before heading to lunch for Mother’s Day and worked on painting it this afternoon using acrylics, watercolor and colored pencil. It felt good to draw today, as I’ve been so busy with other things that I haven’t gotten to it in awhile.

To learn more about mental illness, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness. And check out the STSML playlist on Spotify, and follow #STSML on Instagram. There’s some really great stuff. Two of my favorites are “I Spend Too Much Time in My Room” by The Band CAMINO and “Torn” covered by Neck Deep. Lastly, I love the quote above by Christopher Robbins to Winnie the Pooh. When I’m feeling self-critical or exhausted from a long work week, it helps reframe my thoughts. I hope it does the same for you.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: Call 1-800-273-8255 for 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.

Crisis Text Hotline: Text HOME to 741741 – for free, 24/7, crisis support in the U.S.

 

making space

matcha green tea wafflesHappy Friday! I’m thoroughly enjoying the beginning of a three-day weekend due to the Easter holiday. It couldn’t have come at a better time. I truly live for the weekends and recharging.

Today, I visited a new coffee shop, Roots Cafe Co., and tried their Matcha Green Tea Waffle. It was pretty yummy.  So glad I had the opportunity to make a visit today! Afterwards, I worked on an art piece that I drew last year. I’m feeling more comfortable painting these days and fuss less over mistakes. I used acrylics and watercolors primarily. One day, I’d like to have more time to experiment using some of the art journaling techniques I see on Tamara Laporte’s site, Willowing Arts. I love her work! I just don’t have the time to experiment with gel mediums and collaging, and all the fun stuff like fancy brushes, paints, inks, etc. add up!

I still have a long way to go in becoming more skilled at drawing and painting, but I really enjoy making space for creativity and exploration. And sure, it’s also self-care. Wishing you all a lovely Easter weekend!

Cheers…

melancholy

I haven’t had much time to draw over the past month, as work has really been keeping me busy. In fact, this has been the busiest season yet since moving to California in 2016. Last weekend, I really needed a creative break from reality. I’m experiencing not only how fun it is to draw and paint, but how much it relieves stress and anxiety in my own life. I struggle with social and performance anxiety, which is so ironic given the profession that I chose to work in. I’m surrounded by people all day long, working with clients, families, youth, co-workers, treatment teams, etc.  I put on a smile and very often, “fake it until I make it.” At the end of the day, I crave solitude. Just give me Netflix or Prime and a brownie-a-la-mode (or anything chocolate-y), and I’m good (totally obsessed with “Hanna” and “The Killing” on Prime).

Art can be not only a solitary activity, but used powerfully in group settings for self-exploration, to explore feelings, emotions or to simply let off some much needed steam. When I began the piece above, I was tired, feeling a bit melancholy, and just couldn’t put anymore into my brain. I set out to create something different, and the piece turned out to be one of my favorites. I’m continually struck by the fact that every once in awhile, I actually create something that I truly like. Most of the time, I’m pretty critical towards my own work and don’t like how a piece turns out. But this one I liked, despite the proportions not being exactly right, maybe a little off center. I think that explains my life to a tee right now. There are seasons where you feel that life is a grind, or you’re “killing time” to get to an end goal. These seasons come and go. What I try to hang on to during these rough patches is that ultimately, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. All of the bumps and curves along the way that were perhaps unexpected lead to a lot of growth.

What season are you experiencing right now? May you find something this day that brightens your inner being and brings you peace, even if it’s something as seemingly insignificant as a brownie.

Cheers…

Saturday Wait

Lately, I’ve been really digging Phoebe Bridger’s cover of Friday I’m in Love by The Cure. I love Indie-rock singer/songwriter, Phoebe Bridgers, who joined forces with two of Indie-rock’s other new songwriters, Lucy Dacas and Julien Baker to make the album, boygenius. Phoebe also teamed up recently with Conor Oberst to form Better Oblivion Community Center and record a new folk-rock album. The duo is currently on tour and performed at two sold out shows in Los Angeles.

The chorus of Friday I’m in Love goes like this:

Saturday wait

And Sunday always comes too late

But Sunday never hesitate…

You have to listen to the whole song, which I’ve linked below. It’s a happy little song about being in love. Bridgers does something very cool to the song, stripping it down to an acoustic tune built around a pedal point on G major, which is played softly on keyboard/piano. It has a quiet, lyrical feel to it. I sketched the piece above yesterday, Saturday, with this song in mind and inspired by Phoebe Bridgers. I don’t know her, of course, but I admire her talent, independent spirit and music. I’m sure that there is much more to come from this talented young artist. Have a listen below to Phoebe Bridger’s, Friday I’m in Love.

Cheers!

This is going to be a quick post. The past two weeks have been busier than usual at work due to some trainings that I have been preparing for. That means that I’ve had less time and energy to indulge in creativity. I sketched the above yesterday and painted using acrylics, watercolor and Tombow markers. It morphed into something completely different than what I’d originally set out to create. With less time to practice sketching and painting, I feel that I’m not growing in the way that I’d like; however, everything has a time and season, so to speak. Hoping you have a week where you make time to delve into something that sparks your creativity and joy!

Cheers!

safe

A good friend once told me that I invite challenge and risk into my life. I was kinda surprised and had never thought that about myself. After letting her words sink in, though, I realized that there was some truth in what she said. I was grateful for her insight. I often leap into things or tasks, especially when inspired. I may or may not know all the facts or understand the depth of what I’m getting myself into, e.g., how much work it will require of me to accomplish said “thing.” Interestingly, someone else recently shared, it’s sometimes the amping up of starting something new that is most appealing, not necessarily the task or thing itself. I had to  unpack that, too. It made so much sense. Kicking off something new is like an adrenaline rush. I can’t even count the times I’ve taken on some new task only to ask myself later, “What was I thinking?!” I get carried away with inspiration.

I guess art is like that in a way. I’ve started this new journey, sketching and painting something new every weekend, but I realize that to get better, I need to take on a certain amount of risk.  I need to continually give myself increased permission to experiment without judgment. So hard! I’ve been keeping it safe. I feel like the piece above is just that. So, I’m going to purchase a couple of different sketchbooks, one for practice and experimentation, and the other for more refined work. I really do enjoy drawing so much and never get tired of learning. I know that there are oceans more to explore creatively, and I can’t wait to discover what more I can do. May you also take some risks in whatever fuels your passion(s)! Happy learning and creating!

Cheers…

picking grapes or sorting laundry

We have arrived at the first quarter moon! I only know this because the yoga teacher I follow posted a new yoga video called First Quarter Moon Practice: Aligning with the First Quarter Moon. I highly recommend visiting her website, Roaming Yogi, and checking out her wonderful yoga videos on YouTube.

Pencil sketch

One of the intentions I set at the new moon was to increase creativity and self-confidence, especially in my professional career as a social worker and therapist. As I worked on the piece above, I noticed that I carried less tension as I drew. I wasn’t nearly worried about making the piece perfect. And, as I began to paint, I didn’t rush, but gave myself permission to experiment a little with the acrylics without judgment and actually liked how it turned out. Typically, I prefer pencil sketching over painting, as I feel that the paint changes the sketch so much. I’m trying to be kinder to myself as I continue to explore my own creativity and grow as an artist.

The piece above was inspired by the following quote by B.E. White,

We should all do what in the long run gives us joy, even if it is only picking grapes or sorting the laundry.

I’m finding that as I focus on what brings me joy, I open myself up to increased creativity and new ideas, whether in my personal or professional life. Though I have not yet reached “the long run,” I’m slowing getting there everyday. What brings you joy and where are you in your journey towards the long run?? I hope that you are getting closer and closer if not already there!

Cheers!

feeling teal

Hey folks! How’s your Sunday going? I’ve been kinda obsessed with Weezer lately. They dropped a surprise record Weezer: Teal Album, last week. It’s a covers record which features classics like “Paranoid” originally by Black Sabbath, “Billie Jean,” “No Scrubs, by TLC and “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” Oh, and of course, “Africa,” originally by Toto. Weezer is one of my favorite bands, and pretty much anything they perform, I love. River Cuomo and company – drummer Patrick Wilson, bassist Matt Sharp and guitarist Jason Cropper – are preparing to release their 13th album, The Black Album, on March 1st, and will feature all new material. Yay! The band is performing at Coachella in April. I’m not going, but I”m sure it’ll be pretty rockin’.

weezer 1

So the artwork above was a departure and inspired by lead vocalist and guitarist, River Cuomo. Okay, so it’s the first male sketch I’ve ever drawn and is certainly not perfection. Maybe it looks like him, maybe it doesn’t…But, you gotta start somewhere…I never know where the creative process will go. It’s a little frustrating not yet having the skill to draw exactly what I’ve envisioned, but I shall keep practicing. Still working on developing my own style, which is mostly whimsical art and females. Anyway, give Weezer’s Teal Album a listen. It’s just way too fun.

Cheers!

full moon

I hope you’re enjoying the first full moon of 2019! I was driving along the freeway this evening and caught a glimpse of the supermoon just over the horizon. According to yoga teacher, Natalie Perez of Roaming Yogi, every single full moon gives us the chance to embrace changes and to let go. Since we’re experiencing the first full moon of the year, it’s the perfect time to reflect on our new year’s intentions. My intention was to bring more balance and strength into my life; however, during my morning yoga practice, I felt that I needed more courage, as this year, I’m stepping into a new role that I’m both excited and nervous about. It will require more time and energy I’m sure than I anticipated.

So, this morning, I began sketching and eventually tore up the sketch because it was just awful. What I wanted to draw just wasn’t happening. I started another sketch, which morphed into the work above, a kind of selfie. Nothing was flowing today, and I felt stuck, blocked. I think I’ve been afraid of experimenting for fear of messing things up. I remember an artist I follow said you have to make a lot of bad art before discovering your personal style. And of course, practicing and refining your skills requires time and patience. I get frustrated with my lack of improvement, but then remind myself to chill and just enjoy the process. As Henri Matisse quoted, “creativity takes courage.” Letting go and making bad art is part of the process in order to get to the good stuff, and that takes courage. It takes courage to try new things and to step outside of your comfort zone, to fail, but keep going.

So, my plan is to keep working on this piece, experiment, let go of perfection, judgment and self-doubt. To just flow with it. I hope to further bring courage into my new role. I start my first parent training group on February 1st. It will be a challenging, yet I hope, rewarding position. May you also find flow and courage to explore your creativity with abandon. Oh, and enjoy the full moon!

Cheers…