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.

prayer of a birth mother

I never had the opportunity to meet my birth parents. They had both passed away by the time I found my biological sisters in Taiwan, whom I reunited with in 2012 after 40-something years of separation. I wasn’t surprised, as per my adoption contract, my parents were older when they had me. I once had a very vivid experience with my birth mother, however, that you can read about in my memoir. It was surreal to say the least. It is the greatest sense of loss never to know who gave birth to you. I am eternally grateful to be in reunion with my two sisters and extended family in Taiwan.

The piece of art above, prayer of a birth mother, is to honor mothers who have been forced to relinquish children due to a multitude of reasons, e.g., poverty, shame, lack of support, societal expectations and pressure, etc. They suffer great loss, and in many cases overseas, do not want to relinquish the child. I was told by my eldest sister that I was relinquished without the knowledge of our mother and my sisters by our birth father. My sisters said that after school, they would visit the babysitter and hold me. Then, one day, I was no longer there. To speak of our family’s history is very difficult for my sisters. I respect their privacy and am grateful for the knowledge that I do have about our family. Still, I’m left with so many questions. It pains me to hear others say of birth mothers that they relinquished or abandoned a child because “they wanted to give the child a better life.” Societies around the world do not make it easy for single, unwed mothers to parent a child due to stigma, lack of funding and programs to support family preservation, etc. Though I will never know my first mother, I believe that we are connected and always will be.

姐妹

You are blood. You are sisters. No man can break that bond.

In 2012, I reunited with my birth family in Taipei, Taiwan. I had been searching for them for nearly three years before making contact with my oldest sister via email. I had the help of a social worker who was also Taiwanese. Going back to Taiwan, the country of my birth, was one of the most profound and beautiful experiences I have ever had. To walk the streets of my home town was simply magical, and the ten days I spent with my sisters were extraordinary.

My sisters are older than me by ten and eleven years. I also have an older brother, a niece and a couple of nephews, and an Uncle, who is the patriarch of our family. Unfortunately, our parents had already passed away, so I did not have the opportunity to meet them. I continue to keep in touch with my sisters, brother, and niece via social media and hope to return to Taiwan next year.

The drawing above is of my sisters and I – my second sister is to the left and eldest sister to the right. I’ve been wanting to do a sketch of the three of us for awhile now, and after a visit with a dear friend of mine from Arizona, I was inspired to finally put it to canvas.

If you’d like to learn more about my reunion, you can actually read my memoir, Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir and Search for IdentityContact me if you’d like an autographed copy, as I have a few soft covers still available.

To my sisters, you are an inspiration.

Quote above by Kim Boykin, A Peach of a Pair

anger

I still do not manage my angry feelings well. Deep at my core, I’m still a people pleaser and hate conflict.

I’ve been exploring anger lately. It’s an emotion that I’ve tried very hard to avoid most of my life. My adoptive mom exploded in anger when I was a kid at any given time. It got worse as I became an adolescent, as I became quite rebellious. To this day, I don’t know why she carried so much anger. I often wonder if she had an undiagnosed mental disorder or illness, like depression. She and my adoptive father drank a lot. Of course, many from their era drank socially. My father joined the Air Force at the age of 18 and was a pilot in World War II. He flew a B-24. My parents loved their martinis and cigarettes.

I feared my mom because of her anger. I seem to gravitate toward people with similar personalities to that of my mom, quite unconsciously. Through therapy, I’ve learned that it’s common to attract what we’re most familiar with, even if it’s not particularly healthy.

Therapists and others identity anger as a secondary emotion. In other words, anger lies beneath another emotion, like sadness, emotional pain, loneliness or disrespect. I think, however, that anger can also exist as a primary emotion. When someone cuts me off on the freeway, and I have to slam on my brakes, I’m pissed. I think that you can genuinely feel angry toward someone else without the presence of a secondary emotion.

I’m learning to own my anger and that I feel angry a lot more often than I realize, or allow myself to acknowledge. Anger tells me that I need to explore the root – that’s the part I don’t like because it means I have to do something to resolve it. Like confront. Throughout my life, I’ve let others take their anger out on me without doing anything about it. It typically just sinks deep to the bottom of my heart. I can recall times when my mom terrified me with her anger. She once ripped the cord of my telephone in my bedroom out of the wall when I was talking to a friend (we didn’t have cell phones back then) and threw it across the room.  On another occasion, she pushed me onto my bed and proceeded to shake me by my shirt. I was a teen when both incidents occurred. Other times, she just yelled and screamed and that was enough to send my heart tripping. She demeaned my father by calling him names like dumbass and asshole. I yelled back, but I also felt so fearful, and that was never resolved. I became a people pleaser. I put on a smile, learned to be kind and passive. It did not serve me in the least bit, except to avoid conflict. I learned to live in fear like it was a normal, daily experience.

There are a couple of podcasts that I’ve listened to recently that explore anger. One is Adoptees On by adoptee, Haley Radke, where Pamela Cordano, MFT, talks about some of the reasons why adoptees legitimately feel angry.  I highly recommend listening in to this episode, especially if you’re an adoptee. She also discusses different types of anger and gives some practical exercises to work on. The other is The Creative Superheroes Podcast by Andrea Scher. Guest, Juna Mustad, a Life Coach, Intuitive, and Group Facilitator, discusses relationships and the Drama Triangle, which very much resonated with me. She also wrote a book called, The Good Girl’s Guide to Anger, where she talks about healthy relationships, confrontation, and dealing with anger.

Something made me really angry last weekend. The piece above came from that anger. I still do not manage my angry feelings well. Deep at my core, I’m still a people pleaser and hate conflict. I have grown and am growing, but still have much more growing to do and fears to overcome…It’s crippling to not deal with anger. I’m so grateful that art gives expression to those difficult emotions.

grand symphony

Hey folks! Happy Saturday to you. I have been so inspired to create lately. I’d much rather be drawing and painting or taking some art classes than working. Alas, that is not possible at the moment. I’ve been wanting to make art related to adoption, but have been low on ideas. The piece above came mostly because I wanted to say something to other adoptees. Thus, the salutation, ‘Dear Adopted One,’ popped up, and I wanted to highlight just how important adoptee voices and stories are. In the adoptee community, many of us feel that our voices are the last to be heard – adoptive parents and adoption professionals have long held the mic. Adult adoptees are forcefully flipping the script, however, and changing the scene. We are the truest experts of our own experiences! Our community is vibrant and thriving. Visit Lost Daughters to learn more about this movement.

I worked on “Grand Symphony” over the week and had great difficulty with painting it and with the letter stamps. Grrrrr. Didn’t quite end up exactly how I had envisioned. Practicing patience…There are many, many other adoptees using the creative arts to flip the script. I’m just grateful to make a small contribution.

Cheers…