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Rethinking New Years & Normalcy

I have always enjoyed New Years Eve and learning about traditions from all over the world, like the Italian tradition of breaking dishes. Discussing traditions with my Brainspotting friend in Spain, she mentioned how she was was going to spend New Years Even saying THANKS to 2020 because that is the best way for 2021 to enter feeling itself welcomed. I couldn't get the thought out of my head all day.

Too often, at least in America, we think that December 31st closes a book, and we get to start a new chapter on January 1st of the new year. I have had too many years that seemed to bleed over into the next year (or sometimes two or three). We want to distance ourselves from what we found unpleasant and always seek new of what we enjoyed. We live in such a disposible mindset culture! Growth does not come from closing a book and putting it on a shelf to gather dust. Growth comes from learning from our mistakes, finding positives in the pain, striving despite setbacks, and recognizing opportunities missed. Growth comes from being in the arena, picking yourself up, the dust, and the sweat. Growth is often painful. 

I write this in 2021, many people want to move past 2020, a year of grief and loss and fear and challenges. We want to hold on to hope that things will be better than they were in 2020. But 2020 wasn't all bad; it also brought more family time, more sleep, provision, and protection. While I am eager for the health crisis of this pandemic to end, I am not anxious for things to get back to the way they were before, especially as a parent. While there are many things I found that I could be grateful for at the end of 2020, as an Adoption Therapist and single adoptive mom, I have seen the security our kids have gained through time together with immediate family. 

When a child first joins a family through adoption, it is recommended that they spend intentional time together, as a family, at home. This "cocooning" period is meant to start establishing relationships, consistency, and neurobiological regulation for a child who has experienced inconsistency. The more disruptions a child has experienced, the more repetitions needed before trust can begin to be established. It does not matter how safe a child is in actuality, they must feel safe before they will be able to start attaching. And children must have a safe attachment relationship before they will be able to process traumas or manage their own behavior successfully.

Those of us who grew up in our biological families may have experienced the most stressful year you have ever known, full of unknowns and dangers and loss and grief. For many adoptees, 2020 was a walk in the park compared to the unknowns, dangers, loss, grief, and changes they have had to experience in their past. With little to no notice they have had to move homes without the parents that they know, often on their own. Some of them even had to move halfway around the world to live with people who speak a language they don't know, eat food they aren't familiar with, and don't look like anyone they have ever seen before. Every holiday they are thinking about and missing people who are important to them. Our children have survived more than we have complained about this year. 

Stay at Home orders have forced a second cocooning for many adoptive families that I know and work with. The emotional and behavioral changes in our children remind us that what they need most is a predictable schedule, more nurture, and more time with family - time for family board games, heart to heart conversations, cooking together, walks and bike rides, silliness and laughter, and mostly their parents' focused attention. There is a lot of insecurity for a lot of people right now, but our children seem to be more secure than ever before.

I have a very active, athletic son (Rugby All-Star Championship team 2019, plus any other sport I will allow him to play), who also happens to be quite the extrovert; he loves to be on the go, doing things, and seeing people. He is at his absolute best when traveling, and we definitely hope he gets to add a few more stamps to his passport soon. And yet, perhaps all the going and doing and socializing, while important, are not the most important. Perhaps we let good somehow replace what is best. Perhaps this pandemic was exactly the reminder we needed of what our true priorities are, so we can purposefully shape our life and choose what things we add back in when the pandemic finally ends.

Reflecing on this and other blessings in 2020, I was able to celebrate New Years Eve with a grateful heart. I don't know all that 2021 will bring, but I will be looking not just for the blessings, but also for the lessons. Thankfulness and reflection will be my new tradition for New Years every year. 

 

 

 

 

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Permission Slip to Prioritize Mental Health over E-learning

This is your permission slip. This is your therapist's excuse.

7th grade history class is not essential. 3rd grade math is not essential. Your 6th grader taking daily showers is not essential (although certainly preferred). Fighting every single battle is not essential.

In 2020, many parents have felt overwhelmed trying to figure out what is best for their kids when thinking about all of their needs: health, social, academic, etc. Many have found that screen time restrictions have laxed, bedtimes have gotten later and later, and showers aren’t happening as frequently. I don’t know any child that is thriving with e-learning. Parents feel at a loss about managing emails from teachers, zoom meetings for classes, “new math”, not to mention their own work demands. Many find ourselves distractible, struggling to focus, lethargic, and doomscrolling. We are struggling as individuals, we are struggling as parents, and our children are struggling too. 

The truth is 2021 is not going to be a lot different. We are looking at several more months of feeling the threat of COVID and all the stresses and losses that are connected to this pandemic. Our lives have been changed. This will be shaping, not just for us, but for our children. My grandparents that lived through the Great Depression would never throw away something that could be reused. Hand sanitizer will be second nature to our kids for the rest of their lives in the same way. 

As an Adoption Therapist and adoptive parent, I have walked with several families through difficult seasons of parenting. The loss experienced by adoptees is a trauma that can complicate many areas of life and growing up. While I could speak for hours (I have) about loss and adoption, adoption trauma, and adoptive parenting, that isn’t the point of this blog. 

When faced with the need to keep a child alive due to suicidality, impulsivity, drug use, etc., it can be easy to let go of arguments about homework. A grade can be repeated. When a child questions if they are loved, it is not worth arguing about a messy room or dishes left on the counter. It doesn’t have to be a life or death situation for parents to consider how they will prioritize what they want for their children. 

Your child’s mental health matters. Your child’s relationship with you matters. Your relationship with your child matters (which means that your mental health matters). 

Living in stress for an extended period of time inhibits the ability to learn and remember. It isn’t just e-learning that is making all of this so difficult. Your child is struggling academically because their brain has been hijacked by stress. Your child wants to play video games or watch movies because they are seeking dissociation from the stress. They need that - in doses, not in binges. They also need distraction from the stress by doing fun things like playing games as a family, learning to bake a new dessert, or building a tree house. What they don’t need is talking about the news around the dinner table. 

As much as I feel for and care about the teachers and school counselors who are doing their best in an impossible situation, parents, you don’t have to keep them happy. You don’t even have to answer every email. Please, be kind, but remember that you have permission to prioritize. 

Is it most important to you that child accomplished things on a certain timeline or that they were done with full effort? Learning is more important than grades. Even getting into college isn’t going to matter if your child is too depressed to go to class in the Fall. 2021 is not the year to worry about if your child is ready to move out and live independently or if they stay up late reading. 2021 is the year to teach your child that emotional health matters, relationships matter, and priorities matter. 2021 is the year to teach your child healthy physical and emotional health habits. 

This is your permission slip to ignore emails, to prioritize concerns, to skip a class, to create your own schedule, to flex on screen time occasionally, to say no to every single extra thing, to go to bed early, to withdraw your child from school and try out home schooling, to do what is best for your child and your family. 

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Resetting from 2020 to Prepare for 2021

2020 has turned out to be different than any of us has expected. While, I cannot forget the good that has come out of this year, there has also been a lot of hard that has left a lot of us overwhelmed, grieving, stressed, etc. Recently a local newscaster, reached out to me to talk about how we can all reset from 2020. As we start looking forward to 2021, we can prepare not by setting New Year's Resolutions, but by taking the time and space we need now to fully process all the stresses, losses, hurts, and anxieties from 2020. We need to process the trauma and the grief.

While it was cut from the interview, what I really recommend is Brainspotting. Brainspotting is an advanced brain-body-mindfulness-based therapeutic approach, which focuses processing in the parts of the brain where memory and emotion are stored and the parts of the brain involved with regulation, so you actually address the emotions and memories impacting you from a part of the brain that can help you feel better and feel more regulated. The neocortex is not involved with regulation; you can't think your way into feeling better. Rather than trying to use the neocortex to think your way through something, Brainspotting helps us go to the source for a much more efficient and powerful experience. It is my favorite way of healing, not just for clients, but also for myself. 

One of the awesome things about Brainspotting is that you don't even have to talk (to a therapist) for it be really powerful. Whether you think maybe you need to talk to someone or you would really prefer to process in silence, I would be happy to connect you with a therapist at Counseling at The Green House or Brainspotting Indy

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Heal & Create Community: Podcast interview with Kathryn Guylay

I enjoy being a podcast guest when I get the opportunity. I get to have such great conversations. One of the interviews I did earlier this year was with Kathryn Guylay of Make Everything Fun. We discussed writing books, adoption, Brainspotting, couples counseling, & online courses. Kathryn's highlights were: 

#1:  Understand that there might be a difference in how others view your primary legacy and how you view your own (and that’s okay!).

#2:  Recognize that organizing an anthology can be potentially more work than writing one’s own book! (Click here for more information about the anthology that I just contributed to and discussed during this interview).

#3:  Collect stories over time to create your own “story bank” (a creative gold mine!).

#4:  Get to know your “faces of resistance” (to having a bigger voice and reaching more people on a larger platform) so that you can move beyond these obstacles.

You can see more of what she wrote on her blog. While I didn't realize we were going to record video, it does make it a bit easier to share: 

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The Child That Was Not Adopted

This blog was originally published at MLJ Adoptions in 2010. It is republished here with permission as it has been deleted from the original site.  

 

The child that was not adopted will grow up without the love and guidance of parents, without the security and identity of family, and always feeling like the last kid picked for dodgeball. The child that was not adopted has little hope. Depending on his or her country, he or she may have had little access to basic education. Even if he or she does have the opportunity to attend school, he or she will have no one to hold him or her accountable for doing homework or actually learning. The child that was not adopted will have no one to recommend him or her for employment; in many countries, he or she may be given fewer opportunities, including the opportunity to attend college, due simply to his or her status as an orphan.

The child that was not adopted will age out of the orphanage before most American children are allowed to drive. It is estimated that more than 14 million children age out of orphanages each year. Without a sufficient education, sometimes without even basic literacy, job prospects are limited, especially in countries where poverty is rampant. The child that was not adopted will not have the emotional or financial support of a family. If he or she is able to secure employment, he or she will have never learned how to manage resources, pay bills, or set their own schedule. The child that was not adopted is likely to spend what money he or she does have irresponsibly and be unsuccessful at any employment opportunities he or she may be given. The child that was not adopted is most likely to end up on the street.

The child that was not adopted is likely to turn to crime or prostitution simply to survive. Having never experienced love or personal worth, he or she may learn that sex can bring temporary validation. Yet, he or she may not value him or herself enough to ask for proper protection or may never have been taught about safe sex. The child that was not adopted will want to turn to alcohol or drugs to numb the pain, rejection, and fear; he or she may have never learned any other ways to manage emotions. Up to 15 percent choose suicide before they reach adulthood.

The child that was not adopted is vulnerable and easily taken advantage of by others. He or she is a likely candidate to become a victim of crime. The child that is not adopted is only expected to live into his or her mid-twenties. If I had aged out of an orphanage, I would likely be dead already.

When I walked into an orphanage last Fall, a child that was approximately 12 looked away and would not make eye contact with me. A child that was eight or nine, handed me an infant. It broke my heart to know that these children understood that most people are interested in very young children, and they were already giving up hope. They intimately understand rejection, hopelessness, and an absence of self-worth. Although hurt, most are not damaged beyond repair; they are simply missing what a family provides emotionally. These are the children that ask us to please find a family for them also. My heart breaks for these children; I fear for their future. These are the children most in need of love, a family, and a home.

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Overwhelmed by 2020: Lessons on death, dissociation, & dosing

For months leading up to 9-11 I attended one funeral each month. There was the girl from my small high school (car accident), the friend I watched fight cancer all through high school and while I started college, the middle school student hit on a scooter, and church leaders. There were also medical scares with other church leaders that hung heavy. I clearly remember being up for an early class and getting a call from my dad to inform me about the most recent unexpected death; I went back to bed instead of going to class. On September 11th, I was driving because I was late for that same class and caught the first news reports about a plane flying into the twin towers as I was parking. Like most people I have some clear memories about how that day was different from every other. Unlike most people, I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t shaken. I didn’t watch the news for hours. I didn’t feel much. I was dissociated. I was disconnected from emotions because I had reached my threshold of grief and stress. 

9-11 by itself was enough to overwhelm many people’s capacity for grief and stress and fear. My heart disconnected from the world around me to protect me from that trauma because I no longer had the resources to process it. Many others experienced trauma reactions as their hearts and brains tried to process something overwhelming. Dissociation is protective. 

As we headed into March of 2020 things were looking promising for me. I was simplifying and downsizing. We were looking forward to semifinals for volleyball and starting rugby practice in April. I have friends in Australia, so we had paid attention to the wildfires. We have family in Samoa and had worried about their measles epidemic. Kobe Bryant was shocking and reminded us how nothing is guaranteed. Then COVID-19 shut down everything in what seemed like just a few hours. I had a fever, briefly. Elearning. Murder hornets. Members of my church family became ill with COVID and were hospitalized. A former colleague still struggles to recover. I have family members who have a compromised immune system, but social media complained about wearing masks. We pivoted. I have the privilege to be able to work from home. Elearning was unpleasant for everyone, but we could stay in and sanitize and stay safe from the virus.

Ahmed Arbery’s murder was terrifying as my dark skinned son wanted to cruise his bike around our new suburban neighborhood. Social media was covered with his photo. A group texted alerted me that a Black man had been shot by police right outside of my friend’s neighborhood. Indianapolis Metro Police also shot another Black man and ran over a pregnant woman that same night, although they haven’t gotten as much attention. I was already lamenting and concerned about my son’s safety when George Floyd was heartlessly tortured to death in broad daylight, while four men waited for him to die, apathetic to cameras and the cries of witnesses. Those photos on social media disgusted me and made my blood run cold, but I struggled to stop scrolling. Protests against police brutality were met by more excessive force and brutality by police. My friends were sprayed with pepper spray, shot with tear gas, targeted by concussion grenades, and shot in the face with rubber bullets. There were riots. Lynchings. While more people began speaking up and unlearning, social media became more polarized than ever - or maybe I was just too compelled to keep scrolling. 

Then suddenly a young family friend died just a few days after the birth of her first child. Just a few hours before her death, I had loved a photo she shared on social media of her new daughter and she had loved my reaction. In the last ten years her father and brother had both died suddenly. Her grandmother had passed right before COVID. It was too much. It isn’t fair. My heart is broken for her mother, her newborn, and her husband. She was already making an impact on the world through her relationships and work. Her loss is felt be many. 

The day she died, I told my dad that it felt like a bad dream; it just couldn’t be real. The sun was shining outside, and it just didn’t fit with reality. The next day, I tried to send a Marco Polo to one of my best friends and couldn’t. I didn’t want to say the words. I didn’t want to open up all the feelings. I had been grieving for three months and this loss was the straw that broke me. I knew I needed to Brainspot myself but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I avoided certain conversations. I finally recognized the dissociation. I was shunning all the thoughts and feelings because it felt like too much. 

Even without this personal tragedy, 2020 has been enough to overwhelm anyone. You are likely finding some dissociation in yourself. Even as I was compelled to keep scrolling social media, it was a form of dissociation. I was staying “informed” and “engaged”, but was I processing my feelings? Making donations and writing letters was my real action; scrolling only helped me hold on to the feelings. Over-focusing on some conversations while ignoring others is a form of dissociation. Getting lost in a book or binging Netflix is another way people dissociate. As the pandemic took hold in America, I listened to a podcast where Dr. Bruce D. Perry (listen to it, he’s one of my favorites) suggested parents help their children to *dose their dissociation, allowing screen time, but in small doses rather than binges. At times we all need a break from certain thoughts or emotions. Get lost in a book, stream Hamilton, go for a walk, play candy crush if that is your thing. Do it purposefully to take the necessary break from what you are feeling or thinking. When I gave in to the compulsion to scroll social media, I wasn’t giving my heart and brain the break it needed from the tragedies; instead I was hyper focused and feeding the overwhelm. Yes, it helped me find small connections that I needed via DMs, but there are more efficient ways to connect. Relational connection is an important part of neurobiological regulation. 

Because I did not dose my dissociation well before, dissociation took over when the stress became too much. I am tired. I am fatigued. I am sad. I have used this blog to help me reconnect. When I did talk to my friend (five days later) she responded, “When you said you couldn’t say the words. I totally understand that. There is so much that happens where it’s too much to say the words.” I am pretty lucky to have friends who are also therapists who do their own work. I am thankful for the gift of Brainspotting because I don’t have to say the words. Many of my clients don’t want to say the words. Brainspotting works when you don’t want to talk to a therapist or you just can’t. This weekend I have chosen my dissociation to start working my way back. I need to grieve. I need to lament. I need to lean on my hope. I need to feel my feelings, observe my thoughts, and notice how my body reacts. We will not see an end to COVID-19 or structural racism any time soon. To have the emotional stamina for this marathon, I have to choose my dissociation and dose it rather than binge it. I need sleep and good food (less sugar) and exercise and connection and laughter to hold on to my neurobiological regulation. 

 

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COVID-19 Pandemic Impact on the Core Adoption Issues

Probably the most popular thing I have ever written is the blog on the 7 Core Emotional Issues in Adoption. It has been on my site since 2014, but I still regularly get emails from people who found that blog and just wanted to share with me that they felt seen by what I had written and often that they were able to make new connections between their behaviors, feelings, and past experiences. (I should probably update the image on that blog which feels very 2014 in design).

 
As we started hunkering down to shelter in place, I watched carefully the reactions of adoptees - adults and children - and how those were different from non-adoptees. While we have observed regression in children across the board, many young adoptees are responding positively to more time with family and having to navigate fewer relationships. Cocooning is very helpful during adoption adjustment, but several families are now re-thinking “normal” and how to integrate what is working now even when restrictions are lifted. Adult adoptees and birth parents on the other hand may find they are struggling with restrictions and isolation. Recently, I was asked to lead a discussion for the Indiana Adoptee Network and we talked about many ways this pandemic is touching on the Core Emotional Issues in Adoption. 
 
Core Adoption Issues in COVID-19 pandemic
 

Fear

Adoption in itself can be a trauma, not to mention the traumas that may have led to needing adoption or the traumas that may have occurred while waiting for adoption. It is not surprising that a child placed in the care of strangers who may not look like anyone else he or she has ever seen and may speak an entirely different language feels afraid. *The more fear one has experienced, the more likely one is to react with fear to experiences in the future.* There are many things to fear in this pandemic, but adoptees and birth parents may find that they have more fear reactions than others. A common fear for both adoptees and birth parents is searching for each other and finding a grave; with so much death right now that fear has only been magnified. One birth mother shared that she was afraid she would not even be notified if something happened to her child. 
 

Control

In adoption, major, life-altering decisions are made for the adopted person and sometimes for the birth parents, often without their consent. It is no wonder that those impacted by adoption often have a need to control certain things. This can play out differently for different people and may be recognized in anxiety disorders, dysfunctional relationships, eating disorders, etc. Some who control their environment are finding it distressing right now to not have access to the cleaning products they usually use. Some may find they are very resistant to restrictions because it feels like control. In our discussion though it was agreed that trying to control things can be exhausting, especially as this pandemic is teaching us that there is almost nothing in life that we can truly control. 
 

Grief/Loss

Just like with fear, all subsequent losses are a reminder of past losses. No matter the details of the adoption, the age at which adoption occurred, or whether there are "memories" of the birth family, loss is a major component of adoption. Loss of the birth/first family can be extremely powerful even if the child was placed with the adoptive family at birth. Loss of culture can complicate identity issues, particularly in transracial adoptions; however, this loss may not be able to be fully grieved until children reach adolescence and sometimes even adulthood. Loss of country, language, etc. can be involved in international adoptions.
 
Each subsequent loss is more powerful and may be experienced more powerfully than others might expect. During this pandemic, we are grieving several losses: places we wanted to go, trips we had planned, people we miss, changes in employment, and deaths. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, but those with a history of loss may be feeling especially fragile right now. 
 

Guilt/Shame

Adoptees and birth parents both carry guilt and shame for different reasons. The shame experienced when rejected by a potential date is nothing compared to feeling rejected by one's mother. Some believe that their behavior was the cause of rejection or abandonment. Some believe that they do not have value and were not good enough a or cute enough. This is too heavy of a burden for anyone, especially a child, to bear in my opinion. Birth parents often carry guilt or shame for not parenting. Enduring feelings of guilt may lead to a greater likelihood of experiencing guilt in the future. One specific concern right now is the potential to unknowingly spread COVID-19, causing someone else to fall ill or even die. 
 

Rejection/abandonment

While these are separate ideas, they can play out very similarly. Even when we know that an adoption plan was created out of love and with the child's best interests in mind, it doesn't mean that the adoptee (child or adult) doesn't feel rejected or abandoned. Birth parents may have experienced rejection or abandonment by others in their life as a result of events surrounding pregnancy and adoption. Rejection and abandonment are fears both birth parents and adoptees have in search and reunion. Often when an individual feels he or she has been rejected or abandoned in the past, they are constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop with the next person. While they may rationally understand why friends and family members do not want to see them while social distancing, it can still feel like rejection or abandonment. 
 

Intimacy

Many times it is relationship or marital issues that cause adult adoptees to seek out counseling services initially. Often adoption issues are the cause of relationship issues, but sometimes they simply exacerbate the concern. One reason for this is that it is often not until late 20s-mid 30s (depending on a variety of factors) when we are neurologically developed enough to fully process all the complexities and impacts adoption has had on one's life. Feeling cut off from close relationships - friends and family members - may be especially painful for adoptees and birth parents. 
 

Identity

"Where do I fit?" Is a question that many adoptees ask again and again from a very early age. Even in same-race infant adoptions, children seem to innately understand that genetics contributes to who they are and what they will become. When adopting across country borders or racial lines or at an older age, the question of identity becomes even more complicated. If we have used a job or an activity or a social group to help define identity, feeling cut off from those things may be extra distressing. We were also able to discuss how holding on to things that feel like a part of one’s story can lead to hoarding-like behaviors when there is a greater need for identity development. 
 
 
Indiana Adoptee Network is open to all members of the triad (including those outside of Indiana). In place of the conference this year, they are hosting a series of Friday night “Happy Hour” online events
 

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