1. Find community.
Finding a place where you “feel felt” is so important. Our feelings
need to be validated and our experiences shared. When we are able
to do that in the context of community, inviting others to witness our
stories, transformation happens and healing occurs. I certainly see
this transpire among the members of a group I co-facilitate for teens
who were adopted. Teen AdoptCONNECT is a safe place for kids to
express their feelings and in return get the validation from others
who “get them.” Find a group or create one if there isn’t one in your
city or town. Attend an adoption related conference or talk to others
who are walking a similar path. While in person meetups are great,
there are also wonderful opportunities to connect online. Check out
the podcasts AdopteesON and Born in June Raised in April, and the
Facebook pages Ask Adoption and Hello I’m Adopted.
2. Move your body!
Walk, run, hop, dance, skip, swim, ride your bicycle! As people who
were adopted, we experienced a profound loss that many of us can’t
recall consciously because it happened before we had language to
describe the event. The memory instead is held in our midbrain and
our nervous systems are often sensitive and can easily become
dysregulated. Others who do recall separations and transitions and
can put words to the events may still experience a heighted state of
vigilance leading to anxiety or depression.
Exercise and movement are great regulators. Exercise activates the
body’s natural healing process by boosting the levels of serotonin
and endorphins in the brain. These are the “feel good” chemicals.
Yoga, tennis, bike riding are my go-tos.
3. Practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness is moment to moment intentional awareness…of
thoughts, emotions, and sensations, without judgment. It’s a way of
focusing your attention. It’s being awake. Mindfulness is a way to
recognize thoughts, feelings and sensations and relate to them more
skillfully. It’s the opposite of being on automatic pilot where many of
us spend a lot of time. Mindfulness allows us to feel more in control
of our thoughts and feelings rather than being controlled by them.
Over time, with regular practice, mindfulness changes the way our
brains are wired – it prunes away the least used connections and
strengthens the ones we use the most. Mindfulness makes our
default a more resilient state. Attention becomes more focused and
we cultivate compassion for ourselves and others which leads to
feeling more connected. Mindfulness lowers our blood pressure and
stress level and strengthens our immune system. In short, we feel
better! I enjoy the wisdom of Jon Kabat-Zinn, Tara Brach and Sharon
Salzberg (to name a few) and I LOVE the apps Calm and Insight Timer.
As Sharon Salzberg reminds us, “Mindfulness isn’t difficult; we just
need to remember to do it.”
4. Explore nature. Get dirty.
I put these two together because there’s something fantastic and oh
so healing about being in nature and if you get dirty while you’re out
there, good! Take a walk, go to a park, find a green space, even if it’s
just a patch. Find a river or stream…a pond or the ocean and count
seagulls or ladybugs. Pull out your bicycle and ride like you did when
you were nine…ring that bell. Consider camping and if you go, build a
campfire and roast some marshmallows under the stars. Do you have
space to plant a garden? If not, get a pot and plant a flower or two in
the morning sunshine. It all adds up.
Do something fun. Dr. Stuart Brown, the founder of the National
Institute for Play says “If adults can begin to reminisce about their
happiest and most memorable moments, they can capture the
emotion and visual memories of those moments and begin to
connect again to what truly excites them in life.” Take some time to
recall how you played as a child. What did you love to do? Now
recreate that, no matter how silly it seems and see what happens?
6. Work with an adoption-competent therapist.
Neuroplasticity is brilliant. Our brains change throughout our
lifespan. It’s never too late to work through adoption related issues
(or any issues for that matter). I wouldn’t wake up each day excited
about my work if I didn’t believe this to be true!
In my work with clients I combine talk therapy with two other
therapies that are especially effective with trauma and/or events
that occur pre-verbally, that is before we have the language to
describe what happened. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and
Reprocessing) and Brainspotting are helpful therapies that work with
the body-mind and allow access to the subcortical areas of the brain
where traumatic memories are stored. I guide clients to address
memories and work through blocking beliefs so they can live their
best lives in the present, knowing all that has happened but feeling in
charge of their lives today.
Lesli Johnson, MFT uses a collaborative approach in her work with clients and is certified in EMDR, She has presented at AKA conferences several times over the past decade. Lesli is also an adoptee.
Instagram is @askadoption