Adoptees and the Journey of Finding Belonging
I openly welcome questions by individuals in our community of adoption and foster care who ask about my experiences as an international adoptee. Questions of how those experiences have formed my identity, directed my relationships, and shaped my view of the world around me.
Recently, I was posed three meaningful questions to explore, which I will do in my next three blogposts. The first question is from Oleg Lougheed, international adoptee and founder of Overcoming Odds. Overcoming Odds is an organization that supports adoptees along the journey of healing and discovering how to use their story for bigger and bolder purpose. It’s been my honor, during the past few months, to speak at two Overcoming Odds events that took place in Los Angeles and San Diego.
Oleg’s question is this:
How have the feelings that you might have experienced as an adoptee (feeling rejection, not worthy of love) impacted your ability to see, trust, and find belonging? How have those impacted your identity?
I have, as an adoptee, dealt with feelings of rejection and an over-arching belief that I was not worthy of love. Rejection can have that type of effect on a person. It strips you of a sense of dignity. It devalues. It shames. As for me, rejection and the abandonment that took place at the hands of my first parents left behind many wounds. Nothing seems safe when the people a child should be able to rely on the most—their parents—turn and walk away. No matter a parent’s reason or circumstance, the rejection—the leaving behind of a child—can cause lingering wounds. Everything—love, trust, relationships, family, friendships, the present, and the future—can seem uncertain in the child’s eyes.
For me, the wounds of rejection showed up in the form of fear: fear of being left, fear of trusting, fear of not being enough. I recall, as a young girl, the many times when my adoptive mother would leave the house for a meeting or a grocery store run. I’d cry until I threw up. Every, single time. I was convinced that my mom would never return. I didn’t trust that she’d walk back through the front door of our home. I feared that she’d stop loving me when she discovered whatever flaw I possessed that had caused my first parents to turn away.
The shame of rejection rested solely on my young shoulders and I didn’t know where to go for help. I was afraid. I felt helpless. Vulnerable. Abandoned. Disposable. This was my young identity.
The more the fear took grip of my thoughts and of my beliefs, the more isolated I felt within the adoptee experience. I find these fears to be common ones among adoptees, today. We, like most people, crave belonging yet the fear of rejection builds walls and draws lines around our hearts. At least, it did around mine.
I couldn’t see, at the time, that belonging—the knowing that one is embraced and included—could ever be possible for me. I told myself that being alone was better. It was safer. This was the story that I adhered to for years. In reality, being alone hurt. Isolation is a poison that feeds a belief that you’re not wanted or meant for connection. What could make a person of adoption feel more acutely alone than isolating themselves from others who might also understand this journey?
Within the isolation, we do the only thing we know to do in order to survive: we cling to our wounds of uncertainty, we keep our feelings bottled up inside, and we try to hold together our fragmented sense of self. In doing this, we slowly die within. Rejection wins.
I’m here to tell you that rejection does not hold the power to defeat adoptees unless we give it that kind of power. Rejection whispers that the adoptee is powerless. I’m here to tell you that adoptees are powerful. We are far more powerful than the wounds of rejection or of abandonment will ever be.
Wounds make warriors.
My journey of finding belonging and transforming my identity began when I left that place of isolation. I allowed the wounded girl to speak. I let her step out of the shadows of shame and into the light of her truth. There’s power in the light! I wrote and blogged and spoke and shared and searched. I gave myself the gifts of forgiveness and understanding. I connected with others traveling this journey of adoption. I listened. I cared. I cried. I grew.
I offered to myself what my parents didn’t know how to offer me as a girl: freedom to explore who I really was within this journey called adoption. A safe space to ask, to seek, to scream, to soothe, and to soar.
This offering to myself allowed the girl to become a woman. A woman who has taken the heartbreak of adoption and transformed heartbreak into happiness. It’s okay to be happy! The joy is sweeter because I’ve tasted the bitter parts.
At some point, a person has to be willing to come to their own rescue. My community of fellow adoptees has helped me do just that. To come to my own rescue so that I, in turn, can help others arrive at theirs.
Isolation separates and segregates us from ourselves and from each other. We can’t find real belonging there. Adoptees, the first step to healing is understanding that we need each other. It’s vital to understand that you belong; you’re needed here.
Today, I know my identity. I’m worthy of love. I’m safe to love. I love me. I have forgiven, which is a key step along the journey of overcoming. I trust. I belong. I know who I am. I’m not afraid. Not anymore. Rejection holds no power over me. I’m embraced. My life has meaning. It holds purpose.
So are you, dear adoptee, so are you…