Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Building Power

“Stop giving your life away to other people.” 

Adoption was an extremely dis-empowering process. We lost everything that mattered to us in the shattering act of stealing us away from our mother, ourselves, our natural family and our authentic life.

My friend, also an adoptee, refers to us as bandaid babies, given to adoptive parents to help heal their wound of loss. As a child I strived to be the best replacement daughter I could be for my heart-broken mother. It's no wonder that I became a very good rescuer and people pleaser.

I was other-focused. Figuring out what people needed and wanted, giving them my time and energy, pleasing them, fitting in, and being accepted was my primary pre-occupation. Trying to make the people close to me happy was unconsciously driven by my need for love and approval and my fear of loss.

The personal cost was that I was absent from my own life. I was an invisible, silent, disempowered doormat. Adoption had taught me that I didn't matter.

Living this way was at the expense of building a centred and substantial life, an admirable life, a life that would give me a solid sense of security and satisfaction. And like all people -pleasers there comes the inevitable cry 'what about me!' We feel unappreciated, unacknowledged, and unhappy. To be left out of our own life feels devastatingly dis-empowering.

So how do we reclaim and build power in our lives?

For me this has been, and still is an ongoing process and this is what I've learned so far....

Some of the ways by which I/we continue to be disempowered are;

... putting others' desires and happiness before our own
... not speaking up [about how we feel and what we need and want]
... worrying about how others will view us
... not giving ourselves permission to have our needs and wants met

These are just a few examples. How do you disempower yourself?

The path to power involves;

... speaking up for ourselves
... setting boundaries
... expressing our creativity
... validating/accepting our feelings
... accepting support
... believing that 'I matter'

I'm finishing this blog post with an invitation to join me on FB. I'd love to hear from you on this subject. I believe that we can help each-other to grow and be more empowered. We have all been affected by the same primal wound and we are all at some stage of reclamation and personal empowerment. Support and positive suggestions can help and uplift us on our journeys.

Oh...and please 'like' the Shining Light FB page.

P.S. Let's become more visible and audible. Staying hidden and silent isn't serving us. We do matter. Our views and voices are valid, and [at least] equal to the views and voices of others...including our birth mothers.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Adoption PTSD and Self-Forgiveness

For most of my adult life, approximately 30 years, I have been navigating my way through the perilous and vastly unexplored terrain of adoption, and its impact on my life and on the lives of other adoptees.

When I watched the lecture by Paul Sunderland entitled Adoption and Addiction-'Remembered not Recalled', I learned something more about my life as an adoptee. It is as though I am still 'waking up from the great adoption sleep' as BJ Lifton wrote in her book 'Lost and Found'.

Paul explains that a large number of adoptees are in fact suffering from post traumatic stress. Perhaps this is what BJ Lifton was referring to when she wrote "it is as if the act of adoption put us under a spell that numbed our consciousness." Paul goes on to say that we [adoptees] believe that PTSD is part of us, because we have no pre-trauma, comparison experience, or pre-trauma personality. We are unaware that we are adapting to and coping with post traumatic stress. This is true for me. For many years I was an addict, trying to soothe my anxiety and deal with my depression, but I didn't know that I had depression and anxiety because I had never known any other way of feeling.

Adoptees are massively over-represented in treatment and on the BDI scale that measures depression, adoptees often score a very high 30 when it is usual for someone with a score of 22 to be on medication. An interesting comment that Paul makes is that adoptees with depression present very well and seem very together, you wouldn't know that they have depression. I can relate to this as I'm sure many adoptees can. We have become masters of disguise, having learned to cope with and conceal our real feelings in favour of fitting in and being accepted. Pretending was something we became very good at.

Paul says that adoption is actually one of the only conditions that doesn't describe what happened. Rather it is a denial of the relinquishment / the wound. The word adoption suggests a happy-ever-after scenario.The reality is that there is no adoption without relinquishment and trauma. Adoption is in fact saturated with immense grief.

There is the catastrophic severing, shock and grief of the baby who had bonded and attuned to the mother in utero. There is the grief of the mother who acted against her biology when she let her baby go. And then, in mine and many cases, the adoptive parents' deep and unresolved disappointment and grief associated with their inability to have their own child.

Listening to Paul's talk caused me to reflect again on some of my past irrational behaviour in relationships. I thought of the situations when my fear and pain of loss and abandonment would be triggered and I would become flooded with anxiety and anguish...all the times I withdrew, rejected, and ran away in a flight response. With hindsight, new information and new awareness, I can assuage some of the chronic shame I have carried, knowing that I have been haunted by the memory of a traumatic abandonment at the beginning of my life, a memory so deeply embedded that it could not be recalled. How can I blame myself in light of this discovery.

When I look at my mistakes and struggles in my life and relationships within the context of living with the undiagnosed condition of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I find a new level of self forgiveness.

It is not our fault that many of us have had to live with post traumatic stress.
Our separation at birth was a life-threatening loss of the most important person to us and part of us...our mother. We can forgive ourselves if we have acted unconsciously from an un-recognised and unattended wound, and inadvertently hurt others. It's no wonder that an adoptee's longing for intimacy can be contrastingly filled with a terror that will sabotage what we most hunger for...lasting, loving connection.

There is so much in Paul's lecture that clarifies what we have experienced and how it has affected our brain development, our neurological, chemical and emotional pre-disposition to stress. With more information now shining light on the real effects of adoption we can validate and forgive ourselves for the consequences of relinquishment and post traumatic stress.

I've posted the link to Paul's lecture on the ShiningLight FB page.
Comments welcome!

In love, peace, and forgiveness.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Building a House on Sand

Like the tree that puts roots deep into the clay,
 Each of us needs the anchor of belonging

In order to bend with the storms

And continue toward the light.
John O’Donohue

The foundations for our development are laid down very early in our life. A safe, secure and consistently supportive childhood form building blocks of trust, self value, and confidence in life. When a child is taken from mother and clan, at birth or later, the impact is like an earthquake upon that child’s foundation. The degree of damage is further compounded by lack of understanding and compassionate aid after the devastation.

I looked like a ‘well adjusted’ adoptee...meaning that I had adapted suitably to my new conditions.     I was intelligent, did well at school, was independent, capable and composed. This concealment carried through into adulthood where I could blend and impress in social situations, be articulate and very well presented. I could keep it together in all kinds of complicated situations and hold myself with poise. Yet underneath it all I lacked self esteem, was anxious and hyper-vigilant. I could be in emotional chaos and no-one could detect it. Like many adoptees, under the edict of being ‘lucky to be chosen and should therefore be grateful’, I have had years of covering up my pain, suppressing my feelings and being what was expected of me. I had to co-operate with the spurious picture perfect presentation of the happy adoptive family, pretending to be no different from a biologically connected family. As a master of disguise, I had no anchoring in a sense of self and place; instead I was a counterfeit extension to a family that I felt no connection too.

Building a House on Sand is a metaphor for endeavouring to build a life without the solid and secure foundation of connection and belonging. A building is only as strong as its foundation. It is a primal imperative to know one’s biological origins and ancestry which is the basis for the formation of one’s sense of identity and place in the world. 

My adopted brother, who is in his mid fifties, has fallen and recovered countless times throughout his life. When I asked him to tell me something about his life as an adoptee he said ‘I have been down and out, on the streets, no money, no home, but I have always managed to climb back up and rebuild. I seem to have great resilience...friends have remarked on this. It’s all dependent on the foundation. If the foundation is weak the building will fall down. This is a good metaphor for my life so far’.

A friend of mine, also adopted, told me of the recurrent feeling of his foundation crumbling, falling into a sense of numbness, of no substance, and worthlessness. This fall into an emotional abyss would occur within the context of a significant relationship when he would lose his sense of connection to that person, and himself, in a critical moment where he felt there ‘wasn’t enough me’ to sustain the relationship.

In their book The Psychology of Adoption, Drs. David Brodinsky and Marshall Schecter say that ‘connectedness’ to an adopted person is like water to a person in the desert’.

When I look back at my childhood my main memory is of the pervading anguish of not belonging, and feeling disconnected. These feelings were compounded by the isolation of not being able to express my anxiety to anyone. It didn’t matter how much ‘love’ was being bestowed on me or how much material support I had, the absence of emotional support undermined my potential for a happy childhood. Beneath the facade of the well adjusted, acquiescent adoptee was an unhappy withdrawn child, living with a constant terror of being discovered as the flawed substitute for my adopted mother’s real daughter. I felt like an empty charade with no substance.

When I was a child I would stand in front of my big dressing table mirror and stare at my reflection.       I was searching for something...for some sense of myself. Who was the person in the mirror? I felt no relationship to her. It was a very strange feeling, a scary feeling. I would turn my back on the mirror and then quickly turn around again to see if I could trick the reflection and catch it unawares. The image in the mirror seemed to take on a life of its own and I would run out of my room in fright.

A sense of connection and belonging is something that non-adopted people take for granted. A lack of mirroring within one’s family clan and the absence of genetic history and markers creates what feels like a hole in the soul that can insidiously affect a person throughout their life and set them on a path of searching for the missing piece of themselves.
The happy-ever-after myth of an adopted or anonymous donor conceived child thriving on the abundance of love and security provided by her parents dismisses the essential elements of connection and belonging in a human life. Disguised by a child’s ability to adapt and develop a coping personality, the silent and invisible pain of disconnection can hauntingly undermine a person’s potential for intimacy and happiness into adulthood.

Shining Light on Adoption is about repairing the damage to our foundation and rebuilding a life beyond past wounds into a firm future of our own design.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Here is the link to the apology.

Government Apology

National Apology for Forced Adoptions
THU 21 MARCH 2013
Prime Minister

In just over an hour’s time, the following words of apology will be moved in the Senate and the House of Representatives: Today, this Parliament, on behalf of the Australian people, takes responsibility and apologises for the policies and practices that forced the separation of mothers from their babies, which created a lifelong legacy of pain and suffering. 2. We acknowledge the profound effects of these policies and practices on fathers. 3. And we recognise the hurt these actions caused to brothers and sisters, grandparents, partners and extended family members. 4. We deplore the shameful practices that denied you, the mothers, your fundamental rights and responsibilities to love and care for your children. You were not legally or socially acknowledged as their mothers. And you were yourselves deprived of care and support. 5. To you, the mothers who were betrayed by a system that gave you no choice and subjected you to manipulation, mistreatment and malpractice, we apologise. 6. We say sorry to you, the mothers who were denied knowledge of your rights, which meant you could not provide informed consent. You were given false assurances. You were forced to endure the coercion and brutality of practices that were unethical, dishonest and in many cases illegal. 7. We know you have suffered enduring effects from these practices forced upon you by others. For the loss, the grief, the disempowerment, the stigmatisation and the guilt, we say sorry. 8. To each of you who were adopted or removed, who were led to believe your mother had rejected you and who were denied the opportunity to grow up with your family and community of origin and to connect with your culture, we say sorry. 9. We apologise to the sons and daughters who grew up not knowing how much you were wanted and loved. 10. We acknowledge that many of you still experience a constant struggle with identity, uncertainty and loss, and feel a persistent tension between loyalty to one family and yearning for another. 11. To you, the fathers, who were excluded from the lives of your children and deprived of the dignity of recognition on your children’s birth records, we say sorry. We acknowledge your loss and grief. 12. We recognise that the consequences of forced adoption practices continue to resonate through many, many lives. To you, the siblings, grandparents, partners and other family members who have shared in the pain and suffering of your loved ones or who were unable to share their lives, we say sorry.13. Many are still grieving. Some families will be lost to one another forever. To those of you who face the difficulties of reconnecting with family and establishing on-going relationships, we say sorry. 14. We offer this apology in the hope that it will assist your healing and in order to shine a light on a dark period of our nation’s history. 15. To those who have fought for the truth to be heard, we hear you now. We acknowledge that many of you have suffered in silence for far too long. 16. We are saddened that many others are no longer here to share this moment.  In particular, we remember those affected by these practices who took their own lives. Our profound sympathies go to their families.  17. To redress the shameful mistakes of the past, we are committed to ensuring that all those affected get the help they need, including access to specialist counselling services and support, the ability to find the truth in freely available records and assistance in reconnecting with lost family. 18. We resolve, as a nation, to do all in our power to make sure these practices are never repeated. In facing future challenges, we will remember the lessons of family separation. Our focus will be on protecting the fundamental rights of children and on the importance of the child’s right to know and be cared for by his or her parents. 19. With profound sadness and remorse, we offer you all our unreserved apology. This Apology is extended in good faith and deep humility. It will be a profound act of moral insight by a nation searching its conscience. It will stand in the name of all Australians as a sign of our willingness to right an old wrong and face a hard truth. As Australians, we are used to celebrating past glories and triumphs, and so we should. We are a great nation. But we must also be a good nation.
 Therefore we must face the negative features of our past without hesitation or reserve. That is why the period since 2008 has been so distinctive – because it has been a moment of healing and accountability in the life of our nation. For a country, just as for a person, it takes a lot of courage to say we are sorry. We don’t like to admit we were mistaken or misguided. Yet this is part of the process of a nation growing up: Holding the mirror to ourselves and our past, and not flinching from what we see. What we see in that mirror is deeply shameful and distressing. A story of suffering and unbearable loss. But ultimately a story of strength, as those affected by forced adoptions found their voice. Organised and shared their experiences. And, by speaking truth to power, brought about the Apology we offer today. This story had its beginnings in a wrongful belief that women could be separated from their babies and it would all be for the best. Instead these churches and charities, families, medical staff and bureaucrats struck at the most primal and sacred bond there is: ·         the bond between a mother and her baby.
 Those affected by forced adoption came from all walks of life. From the city or the country. People who were born here or migrated here and people who are Indigenous Australians. From different faiths and social classes. For the most part, the women who lost their babies were young and vulnerable. They were often pressurised and sometimes even drugged. They faced so many voices telling them to surrender, even though their own lonely voice shouted from the depths of their being to hold on to the new life they had created. Too often they did not see their baby’s face. They couldn’t sooth his first cries. Never felt her warmth or smelt her skin. They could not give their own baby a name. Those babies grew up with other names and in other homes. Creating a sense of abandonment and loss that sometimes could never be made whole. Today we will hear the motion moved in the Parliament and many other words spoken by those of us who lead. But today we also listen to the words and stories of those who have waited so long to be heard. Like the members of the Reference Group personally affected by forced adoption who I met earlier today. Lizzy Brew, Katherine Rendell and Christine Cole told me how their children were wrenched away so soon after birth.  How they were denied basic support and advice. How the removal of their children led to a lifetime of anguish and pain.   Their experiences echo the stories told in the Senate report. Stories that speak to us with startling power and moral force. Like Linda Bryant who testified of the devastating moment her baby was taken away: When I had my child she was removed. All I saw was the top of her head – I knew she had black hair. So often that brief glimpse was the final time those mothers would ever see their child. In institutions around Australia, women were made to perform menial labour in kitchens and laundries until their baby arrived. As Margaret Bishop said: It felt like a kind of penance. In recent years, I have occasionally passed what then was the Medindi Maternity Hospital and it generates a deep sadness in me and an odd feeling that it was a Dickensian tale about somebody else. Margaret McGrath described being confined within the Holy Cross home where life was ‘harsh, punitive and impersonal’. Yet this was sunny postwar Australia when we were going to the beach and driving our new Holdens and listening to Johnny O’Keefe. As the time for birth came, their babies would be snatched away before they had even held them in their arms.  Sometimes consent was achieved by forgery or fraud. Sometimes women signed adoption papers while under the influence of medication. Most common of all was the bullying arrogance of a society that presumed to know what was best. Margaret Nonas was told she was selfish. Linda Ngata was told she was too young and would be a bad mother. Some mothers returned home to be ostracised and judged. And despite all the coercion, many mothers were haunted by guilt for having ‘given away’ their child. Guilt because, in the words of Louise Greenup, they did not ‘buck the system or fight’. The hurt did not simply last for a few days or weeks. This was a wound that would not heal.    Kim Lawrence told the Senate Committee: The pain never goes away, that we all gave away our babies.  We were told to forget what had happened, but we cannot. It will be with us all our lives. Carolyn Brown never forgot her son: I was always looking and wondering if he was alive or dead.  … From then on every time I saw a baby, a little boy and even a grown up in the street, I would look to see if I could recognise him. For decades, young mothers grew old haunted by loss. Silently grieving in our suburbs and towns. And somewhere, perhaps even close by, their children grew up denied the bond that was their birth-right. Instead they lived with self-doubt and an uncertain identity. The feeling, as one child of forced adoption put it, ‘that part of me is missing’. Some suffered sexual abuse at the hands of their adoptive parents or in state institutions. Many more endured the cruelty that only children can inflict on their peers: Your mum’s not your real mum, your real mum didn’twant you. Your parents aren’t your real parents, they don’t love you. Taunts vividly remembered decades later. For so many children of forced adoption, the scars remain in adult life. Phil Evans described his life as a: rollercoaster ride of emotional trauma; indescribable fear; uncertainty; anxiety and self-sabotage in so many ways.
 Many others identified the paralysing effect of self-doubt and a fear of abandonment: It has held me back, stopped me growing and ensured that I have lived a life frozen. I heard similar stories of disconnection and loss from Leigh Hubbard and Paul Howes today. The challenges of reconnecting with family. The struggles with self-identity and self-esteem. The difficulties with accessing records. Challenges that even the highest levels of professional success have not been able to assuage or heal. Neither should we forget the fathers, brothers and sisters, grandparents and other relatives who were also affected as the impact of forced adoption cascaded through each family. Gary Coles, a father, told me today of the lack of acknowledgment that many fathers have experienced. How often fathers were ignored at the time of the birth. How their names were not included on birth certificates. How the veil of shame and forgetting was cast over their lives too. My fellow Australians, No collection of words alone can undo all this damage. Or make whole the lives and families fractured by forced adoption. Or give back childhoods that were robbed of joy and laughter. Or make amends for the Birthdays and Christmases and Mother’s or Father’s Days that only brought a fresh wave of grief and loss. But by saying sorry we can correct the historical record. We can declare that these mothers did nothing wrong. That you loved your children and you always will. And to the children of forced adoption, we can say that you deserved so much better. You deserved the chance to know, and love, your mother and father.   We can promise you all that no generation of Australians will suffer the same pain and trauma that you did. The cruel, immoral practice of forced adoption will have no place in this land any more. We also pledge resources to match today’s words with actions. We will provide $5 million to improve access to specialist support and records tracing for those affected by forced adoptions.  And we will work with the states and territories to improve these services. The Government will also deliver $5 million so that mental health professionals can better assist in caring for those affected by forced adoption. We will also provide $1.5 million for the National Archives to record the experiences of those affected by forced adoption through a special exhibition. That way, this chapter in our nation’s history will never again be marginalised or forgotten again. Today’s historic moment has only been made possible by the bravery of those who came forward to make submissions to the Senate Committee and also of those who couldn’t come forward but who nurtured hope silently in their hearts. Because of your courage, Australia now knows the truth. The report prepared so brilliantly by Senator Siewert and the Senate Committee records that truth for all to see. This was further reinforced by the national consultations that Professor Nahum Mushin and his reference group undertook to draft the national apology. 

Their guidance and advice to government on the drafting of the apology have been invaluable.

Any Australian who reads the Senate report or listens to your stories as I have today will be appalled by what was done to you.
 They will be shocked by your suffering.

They will be saddened by your loss.

But most of all, they will marvel at your determination to fight for the respect of history.

They will draw strength from your example.

And they will be inspired by the generous spirit in which you receive this Apology.

Because saying ‘Sorry’ is only ever complete when those who are wronged accept it.

Through your courage and grace, the time of neglect is over, and the work of healing can begin.