I remember back to the earlier days of my life, particularly in my pre-teen years, and I was so angry about my birth mother never coming back to get me; I just wanted to die. I hated the world and, I hated everyone in it. And most of all, I hated myself. For me, this means my self-love was non-existent. Nothing could console me and I didn’t feel connected to anyone or anything.
I was a trainwreck.
During the beginning of my life, I developed the fantasy that she was coming back. I dreamed and fantasized of the day that she would change her mind and decide her love for me was so great, she decided to come back and get me. After all, I dreamed she wanted me back because who could actually give their baby away and genuinely mean it?
During my teen years and childhood, as many times as I saw therapists ( I saw a lot!), adoption was never addressed or discussed. Because of this, I didn’t start working on any adoptee-related problems or issues I was holding deep down until the later part of my 30’s which is when I consider the beginning of my process of coming out of the fog about adoption.
In the years that passed, adoption-related thoughts plagued my mind, but there was no help for me. I learned to keep things tucked inside, never sharing my thoughts with the world for fear. Fear of what? Fear of shattering my adoptive mother’s dream come true to be a mother. Fear of upsetting her or being abandoned once again. I never talked about it, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t thinking about it. It honestly never left my mind. I was obsessed with finding HER, my biological mother.
Who would have ever known that my internal dialog with myself was one of ultimate torture? What adults in my life would have understood this dynamic played out as an adopted child? I wasn’t acting out until I was in my pre-teens.
But even then, once I started acting out, no one ever acknowledged that being adopted could play a role in my behaviors. Even running away, locked in drug and alcohol treatment, being in group homes, detention, breaking the law, fighting, stealing, unplanned pregnancy, and even a burglary at 15 – Not even my adoptive parents. So I am here to tell you that not one person in all the contact I had with adults, made the connection that “Wow, this girl is adopted. Maybe that brings some root issues for her we need to bring to the table?”
Once I reached my 30’s I lived many years as an everyday drinker, trying to raise three kids as a single mom, work, pay the bills, and not think about my adoptee reality. Alcohol was the escape, so was partying. I didn’t know how to process the pain from relinquishment, nor did I ever make the connection that my drinking was a symptom of a much bigger cause – ADOPTION TRAUMA AND RELINQUISHMENT TRAUMA.
Once I learned that I have always had every reason to act out and be angry, the fog began to lift. It’s taken over 10+ years working on myself. I have learned that my feelings were so EXTREME and SEVERE because not only was I keeping things tucked inside, but sharing my real feelings about my adoption experience was IMPOSSIBLE because I had never done it.
Not only had I not shared feelings, but I was emotionally abused and gaslit my entire life that adoption was a wonderful thing. I made my adoptive parent’s dreams come true to be parents. I was also told that my birth mother loved me so much; she wanted me to have a better life with a loving two-parent home that she couldn’t provide.
Too bad my adoptive parents divorced a year later, and I was raised in an abusive home with a mentally ill and narcissistic adoptive mother I never bonded with!
From a very young age, I learned that I must put everyone’s feelings ahead of my own and that my feelings weren’t significant compared to everyone else’s. Of course, I internalized this, and it only magnified my feelings of grief, loss, anger, rage, and self-hate. I was also forced to pretend that my adoptive parents were my only parents. I knew they were not, but I had to go along with the fantasy because I didn’t know who my biological parents were or how to find them. I was forbidden that information, and it was kept a secret from me.
No Truth, No Healing
The reality that I have made it out of this complete nightmare is nothing short of a miracle. This is why I keep sharing my story because it’s a miracle I am alive to do it. The reason I am saying this is because my issues were so deep. I spent the majority of my youth wanting to die. I tried several times to take my own life (no one even noticed), and I would entice others in hopes that they would kill me. Sounds ludicrous, right? Well, it is, but that’s how dark my sorrow and sadness were. I just wanted out of my misery, and at that time, I was hopeless I would ever “feel alive.” So it’s easy for me to understand why so many adoptees choose to leave the world.
The world has failed adoptees.
When I hit 2010, I found my first adoptee online via the Twitter platform named Jessenia Arias. Jessenia is now Jessenia Arias Parmer, and her website is I Am Adopted. I will never forget this beautiful soul, who I consider one of the most amazing lights to adoptees and anyone in the adoption world. I love you, Jessenia! I remember like it was yesterday, reading her tweets and how so many of them resonated with me.
After spending 2010 and 2011 trying to heal from adoption and relinquishment trauma with alcohol in my everyday life, I finally decided that I could not heal while using substances. Instead, it made my problems worse because I wasn’t genuinely feeling my feelings, I was mixing alcohol with raw emotions, and it was indeed a recipe for disaster!
On my earthly birthday, August 13, 2012, I decided to throw in the towel on my drinking, and this was the last day I ever drank alcohol. Why? Because I desperately wanted to heal, and I wanted my kids to have a better mom than what I had. Even when I was in shambles on the inside, I wanted to get better for my kids. And eventually, for myself. Removing alcohol from my life, I had to get honest with myself. Then, all the feelings I had been running from my whole life showed up at my front door.
BIG ADOPTEE FEELINGS!
Frankly, adoptee feelings have been the biggest and most complex feelings I’ve ever had, even experiencing other traumatic events. Slowly, I started sharing my feelings online, but I was scared to my core that if anyone knew how I felt, something terrible would happen. So I began to write online under an alias, and I wasn’t strong enough to share my feelings from my true authentic self. This was when Adoptee in Recovery was born. It protected me.
I wrote many years under this alias, but one day into my healing journey, the lights flipped on, and I realized I was coming out of the fog, but I wasn’t being true to myself in the process. I wrote under an alias, making me feel phony and not legit. So I stepped into a new phase around 2015 of welcoming the real true me into my website and online adoptee world. This was a liberating experience, but it took years to get up enough courage and strength to get here. I finally didn’t feel invisible. I felt more real than I ever had. I was strong and ready to share my story with the world, from the real true me and not just a piece of me.
ALL OF ME.
No more hiding behind an alias, but it was lifesaving for a time in my life where I was operating out of paralyzing fear. Adoptees have a lot to lose when they share their real feelings. For me, it was worth the risk, especially knowing I could validate the sentiments of my fellow adoptees if I poured my heart and soul out into my articles.
We must recognize that every person who experiences separation trauma from their biological mother has trauma memories stored in their subconscious memory. This trauma can cause many issues that might not be brought to light. They come out later in life, and adoptees usually have to learn about this independently by experiencing triggers.
While many adoptees feel conditioned to be thankful from the beginning of life, we learn to internalize our thoughts and feelings about our adoption experiences. We go most of our childhood for some of us without ever letting the words from our emotions come out of our mouths. However, just because you don’t hear an adoptee sharing heartbreak or sadness doesn’t mean it’s not there. Most of the time, if they know the whole truth of their adoption, it’s there.
I will never forget the first time I started to share feelings about my birth mother. After 27 years of a love affair with alcohol (so I didn’t have to feel), I stopped drinking alcohol in 2012 at 38 years old and made my way to Celebrate Recovery. I was sitting in a circle of women, and I started sharing about my birth mother, and tears started to flow. I began to cry; my cry turned into a sob. The next thing I knew, I started whaling with my cry and tears, snot started slanging. Suddenly, I realized this was the very first time in my whole life I had shared about the loss of my birth mother. I was 38 years old at the time. 38!!!! Suddenly, an adoptive mom interrupted me, who was in the group. She said, “I’m sorry, but you don’t know adoption like I know adoption! I adopted two kids from foster care, and the experience those kids had gone through before we adopted them has been a nightmare!”
Of course, I was silenced. I shut down. I couldn’t even finish my sentence. How many adoptees who are reading have gotten this sort of treatment in your life?
I got up, and I left…
I walked out of Celebrate Recovery, and that was the moment that I knew if adoptees wanted to heal from a space like this, that is supposed to be safe to share, we would have to create our adoptee centric space because I knew we would be silenced if we didn’t! This was when I knew Adoptees Connect, Inc. was so needed!
So you see, the one time I get up enough courage to share my real feelings, I get silenced and shut down. So I left, and I was hopeless after this. To be transparent, if I were suicidal at this time, I would have taken my own life. I needed and wanted help so desperately, but there was no place I could even share my adoptee feelings freely without being silenced. By this time, I had given up therapy. I couldn’t bear to therapy another therapist.
News Flash: This is the treatment most adoptees get in life! We aren’t only silenced and shut down; we are emotionally and mentally abused and gaslit regularly. Yet, we choose to keep our feelings to ourselves for fear of more emotional abuse.
When I started to come out of the fog and share my truth, I feared that my adoptive family would read my feelings? What if my biological family reads my feelings? Will they all leave me too? Will they stop talking to me? Will they be mad at me?
Despite all these internal fears, I stepped out, and I started to share anyway. After a while, I learned to put myself first and not care what anyone thinks. Finally, after a lifetime of being silenced, being true to myself and sharing my truth loudly became a priority. Unfortunately, many adoptees never get to this point. Instead, they internalize things so long that they lose the battle at life.
They choose not to go on.
I want those reading that aren’t adopted to consider acknowledging and understanding that their role in an adopted person’s life could potentially be a role that sends an adoptee over the edge. What they say to us is a significant piece of our journey. Do you realize I will never forget the way this adoptive mom treated me and how she silenced me?
Let me share that this experience has been the launching pad for everything I have done for adoptees in creating adoptee-centric spaces all over the world? Unfortunately, not all adoptees will have this courage and strength because we are simply tired! We can’t take more gaslighting and abuse from the world that celebrates our trauma. (adoption) We are tired of being treated like second-class citizens to everyone else’s feelings.
If I ever have the opportunity to speak to an adoptive parent, I always share that the sooner the truth is revealed to the adoptee, the better. I would seek emotional support and therapy from an ADOPTEE competent therapist to know when to share the truth, specifically at age-appropriate times. If I had started to identify with grief, loss, and sadness early on, my healing would have started earlier. I might not have depended on alcohol to numb my pain for 27 years of my life.
The thing about adoptees being young and healing are that we need our adoptive parents, counselors, therapists, and adults in our lives to help us find the words to identify the feelings and also spark conversations that will help create a dialogue. As kids, we don’t know how to do this without help.
Before any adopted child begins to share feelings about being adopted, we need our adoptive parents to research and learn as much as possible and acknowledge and accept that adoption always begins with loss. And we need them to recognize that anytime a mother and a child is separated, a trauma occurs. Once they come to a place of acceptance that their adopted child could struggle with these things, then they can know how to hold space for difficult conversations to be sparked at age-appropriate times.
It’s taken me 10+ years to learn how to process my adoptee feelings in healthy ways, and I am 47 years old. My life is over half over if I’m lucky. Adoption has stolen so much from my fellow adoptees and me, but it doesn’t have to keep stealing so much.
Today, I take my time to respond to uncomfortable feelings, and I have learned that all my emotions are valid and legitimate. If no one has ever told you, so are yours! I sit with them when they come, and I am no longer numbing myself with substances, so I don’t have to feel. My tears have gone from being hard as a rock to flowing freely. Now, I have cried so much the last 10+ years as an attempt to feel and heal that my tears are finally starting to dry up.
This is what I call getting honest with myself, and sitting with my sorrow and sadness, and learning that it’s okay to feel these ways. I remember days when I couldn’t feel at all!
I have also accepted the pain is here to stay, which was one of the most prominent healing dynamics of my journey and life. I spent so much time trying to be completely healed in my past! But after running many rat races, I learned that it was all a hoax, and this pain is here to stay. I’m not saying I won’t heal because I am healing daily, but adoption’s painful parts will always revisit. I will never be completely whole, and that’s okay. I have accepted it, and it’s easier for me to believe this than run a rat race for 100 years TRYING TO BE FULLY HEALED. This reality in itself has helped me tremendously. They will revisit future generations and my children when they aren’t revisiting me. The key is not running from it but embracing it, sharing it, and feeling it.
Today, I am thankful for the ability to feel because I remember when I was a teenager, my heart, soul, and entire being felt so hallow, dark, and empty inside. Because of all the blood, sweat, and tears, I’ve put into my journey, not today.
Today I am full of life, and I have joy in the little things. I hope the same for my fellow adoptees.
Adoptees, What has the process been like to identify with your adoptee feelings? Have you struggled with this? Do you have any advice for your fellow adoptees or tips and tricks you recommend when it comes to processing and feeling adoptee feelings? Have your adoptee feelings been the biggest feelings you’ve ever had? How has your healing journey been? What helped you the most?
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Thank you for reading,
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are that of the author, Pamela A. Karanova. Reproduction of the material contained in this publication may be made only with the written permission of Pamela A. Karanova