This episode features a conversation with two people in recovery who were adopted as children. Lisa K., a Korean adoptee describes her struggle with identification as an Asian person growing up with a white family in a white world. David B. Bohl, author of Parallel Universes: The Story of Rebirth shares his personal journey as one who was relinquished at birth as a way of providing some perspective that may help understand the correlation between being adopted and problems with substance abuse later in life.
00:00 John: AA Beyond Belief is a podcast by for and about people who have found a secular path to sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous.
00:26 John: Well, according to the site, adoptionnetwork.com, 135,000 children in the United States are adopted each year, and another 428,000 children are in foster care. Among these children, males outnumber females, African-American children are disproportionately represented, and over half are six years old or older. There are 1.5 million adopted children in the United States. And according to a study at the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond in 2012, about 4.5% of adopted individuals have or have had problems with substance abuse compared to 2.9% for the general population. The study also said that adopted children have twice the risk of drug abuse if either their biological, full or half sibling had a drug abuse problem or if they’re adopted siblings had drug abuse problems. Why do adopted individuals have a disproportionate disposition for substance abuse?
01:30 John: So we have two guests today who will help us answer that question. Lisa K is a Korean adoptee and a person in recovery. Her expertise on the topic comes from her personal experience. Lisa has freely and openly shared her story, and it’s really nice to have her here. And David B. Bohl, the author of Parallel Universes, The Story of Rebirth. David is a certified Master Addiction Counselor and a member of the National Association of alcoholism and drug abuse counselors, the American adoption Congress and concerned United birth parents. As a person who’s been adopted, or as he would say relinquished, he understands adoption trauma first hand, and as a professional addiction counselor and person in recovery with an interest in adoption issues, he’s the perfect guest to help us explore and learn about this topic. Hello, Lisa and David, welcome to AA Beyond Belief.
02:22 David: Hello, John. Hi, Angela. Glad to be here.
02:25 John: Nice to have you.
02:25 Lisa: Thank you, John.
02:26 John: Good to have you, Lisa. And Angela, I think you’re gonna find this an interesting topic because it does have a lot to do with trauma, and I think that’s interesting topic for discussion.
02:36 Angela: I know I was gonna say that I was a trauma junky, and then I’m like, “Oh no, junky is not the right word. I’m like trauma enthusiast.” No, that… Anyway, I need more words, but yes, I’m excited about this show.
02:48 John: And I’m glad that you had an opportunity to read David’s book, Parallel Universes. That was just… It’s a beautiful book. You learn a lot about the issues surrounding adopted people, and you learn a lot about David, and you just learn a lot about recovery in general. It’s a book I highly recommend, very well written. So, where to start? I thought what we might want to do, since we have two guests here, why don’t we start with Lisa? If Lisa, you could share your story about… I don’t know, 5, 10 minutes, whatever, and then we’ll just take it from there. And why don’t you have the floor, Lisa? It’s yours.
03:26 Lisa: Okay, thank you. Hi, my name’s Lisa, and I was adopted in the ’60s. I’m a Korean adoptee. And in those days, it wasn’t so common, and I was adopted into a white family. So a lot of my story is around identity and race issues because as a small child, when I first came to LA, I heard people say about being uncomfortable in their skin, and I truly was uncomfortable in my skin my whole life, ’cause even though I was raised in this culture, when I go out in the world, I’m still an Asian person, that’s who people see. So, I grew up with a lot of feelings of self-hatred. I didn’t wanna be a Asian, I wanted to be White, like my siblings. Also, when you talk about racial isolation, so I also did not socialize with other Asian people because I didn’t have anything in common. So, what I heard in the rooms when I was news about that, just wanting to belong. And for me, I know I just kind of stuck out. I was always awkward and very, very shy, and also I wanted to touch on, for me, I still to this day I’m 56 now, no idea of really when I was born or where I was born, or many of our birth certificates back in the ’60s and maybe even through the ’70s and ’80s are fabricated, so we don’t even have access to where we came from.
05:10 Lisa: And I think that most people, that’s just a fundamental thing that you know about yourself and kind of know where you were born. So, that I think was something that plagued me to for many years. Fortunately, I’ve been able to get in touch with other Korean adoptees, and it’s a fine way of feeling of like hearing your story and saying, “I felt that way too, because it’s something that we can’t even describe to our White families, what that’s like to not be heard.” That’s so important. Then I guess also, I think someone touched on the trauma of losing our birth mothers and our culture. Even if it’s not in our memory, it’s something that we still carry with us on a cellular level. When I first went back to Korea when I was 45 years old, I say that I felt like my body was home. I couldn’t even describe it. It was just a wonderful feeling.
06:28 Lisa: So, getting sober about, coming up on 10 years, it was the first time that I was able to look at all of the ways that I behaved and my abandonment issues and the reason I wasn’t able to form no meaningful relationships. Also, I should add that my adoptive mother and… I grew up in a lot of chaos and in poverty, so those were other stressors that added to the whole racial piece, and I didn’t have words to express my frustrations. I say, even though I didn’t start drinking heavily until I was in my 30s, in my 20s I certainly did binge drink, so I’d drink alcoholically to escape into… Because I didn’t know how to cope with those feelings of fear and the bullying. And to this day, I say, I still have to tell myself… The self-talk that I need to have boundaries, I need to not let people push me around and to not be bullied, because you fall into those patterns and they’re hard to break, even though intellectually you know what’s happening. Just being able to be assertive and stand up for myself, and when somebody says something to me, I say, “No, that’s not me, you don’t know me.”
07:52 Lisa: My mother did that a lot to me, and then I’ve had relationships, even in the last few years where I would find myself choosing these people who were just domineering, and that’s not me. And I feel, even though with this quarantine, I feel very happy just to be with myself.
08:19 Lisa: I like… I go to Zoom meetings, I’m involved in some volunteer projects and I fill my days and I like the fact that it’s like, just some quiet reflection. I’m taking a Spanish class and I just find things to do. I feel… I say, “I feel happy as a clam.” You know, I’m happy… I’m happy I don’t have any other people to contend with as far as children to chase after, or a partner, it’s just me and I like that. It’s what I need right now.
08:53 John: So Lisa, how long ago was it that you took that trip to Korea?
08:58 Lisa: The first time was in 2008, and then I went again the following year on another adoptee trip, and then my last trip was in 2016 and… Yeah, it’s really neat. There’s something… It’s kind of like when you first come to the rooms and you hear your story, or you hear people who felt the way that you did, and so when I went and I discovered the adoptee groups, it was like another layer of like, “Wow, somebody really can understand what that’s like.” [chuckle]
09:31 John: So you were really drawn to reach out to them?
09:34 Lisa: Yeah. And that’s one of my volunteer projects. Now we have… We’re starting up sort of an advocacy group. There’s a lot of very high incidents of suicide among the Korean adoptees. There was actually over 200,000 of us worldwide from the Post-Korean war till the present, even though the adoptions have tapered off. I mean, we could be our own major city, there’s so many of us. But it’s neat how with social media we’ve been able to connect over the last 10 years and our voices are being heard for once. With all this stuff in the news about race, it’s like I’ve been saying this my whole life, “We don’t live in a color-blind society.” [chuckle] Anyway. Yeah, thank you.
10:28 John: Well, thank you, Lisa. And David, I’m sure that you find a lot in Lisa’s story that sounds familiar. Why don’t I give you the floor and…
10:36 David: Alright. Thanks John. Yeah, I absolutely do. You know, one thing Lisa that you said that struck me immediately right between the eyes is that, you talked about those thinking patterns, and that’s the behavior patterns that are hard to break. Even though we intellectually know what’s healthy and what’s not healthy, we know what works and what doesn’t work, yet it’s tough to do that and that’s because of any number of reasons. For me, it’s because I’m age 59 and I’ve been doing things for a really long time in my life, but it’s also because I’m an adoptee and we have these… As a result, we have these coping or survival mechanisms that are so deeply ingrained in everything that we do, in every way we look at the world, it’s really difficult to extract this from that, to feel safe and then expand beyond that, and I think you’ve articulated that extremely well.
11:19 Lisa: Thanks.
11:20 David: Yeah, you bet and my story is really similar, and I think… As my story has evolved over time, I think I would say that as well, my intellectual understanding has grown immensely of what my story is. For the first 40 some years of my life… Well, I better stop and just introduce myself again. I’m David B. Bohl as John said. I’m both a relinquishee, that is I was relinquished by my birth mother and I’m an adoptee, I was adopted into another family. And I’m a person in long-term recovery from both alcoholism and nicotine use disorder. In addition to that, I’m also in a profession of being an independent addiction consultant, a clinical substance abuse counselor and a recovery management coach. And I work with a lot of people with substance use disorders and their families who are trying to make changes. And not coincidentally, a lot of relinquishees, adoptees, those who have orphaned, those have been fostered, have been attracted into my practice, and I’ve worked with a lot of people who struggle with some of the same things we’re talking about.
12:19 David: But again, for the first 40 some years of my life, my story was really simple. I was adopted as an infant, I was the first child in the family. My family later had a natural born daughter and another adopted son from a different family other than mine. I had very little information about my adoptive parents because I was adopted in the baby scoop era, where that’s just the way it was. Adoptions were closed, people were told, “Forget about your past, your new life starts now, and move forward,” and that’s the way I was treated. But I was welcomed and I was loved, and I was the talk of their family and friends, as I was adopted in their family. And I recall a time when I didn’t know that I was adopted. I even probably told some friends about it, and that’s just the way it was, it was part of my life. But even at a really young age, I remember feeling different from others.
13:08 David: And at the time, it was more described that I was being timid and shy, but I think more accurately I just never felt I fit in anywhere and I had no idea what to do in life, so I never… I felt that other people know exactly what to do. And that was something that was talked about a lot when I came into recovery, and that of course, is a characteristic, very similar to adoptees as well, so there’s a hook, right? But I never attributed that to any one thing including adoption, and that was that. I started drinking at age 13 and I experimented with other drugs as people my age in that generation were wont to do. I didn’t think I was doing anything out of the ordinary. And in some ways in life I did okay. I had friends, I had social circles, I was well respected, I built a career. I got married at age 24 and had two biological children. But shortly after they were born, my wife said, “That’s fine, that you don’t wanna know anything about your adoption, but perhaps it would be fair to the children if we got some medical history so they might know what they were up against.”And I couldn’t argue with that sadly, even though I had tried not to think about my adoption for most of my life.
14:12 David: By that point in time, Wisconsin was a closed state so I petitioned for some closed records and… Didn’t have a lot of success. I got some family medical history and learned that my grandma died of heart disease, my grandfather has Alzheimer’s, but nothing that I could show that I was genetically predisposed to anything. And at that time I had a grand mal seizure and doctors were pushing me to try to get this information and so nope, nothing there, nothing to see here. I reached a dead end and there was nothing to pursue but that doesn’t end the story. I opened up a whole can of worms at that point in time. After my… Nine months after my initial contact to the state of Wisconsin, they said that they had tried to make contact with my birth mother, but they had learned that she had passed away as a result of alcoholism. And that was really interesting to me and the timing was remarkable in that I was having a tough time in my life. My alcohol use was increasing dramatically and negative consequences were accumulating. Jack Daniels was now a part of my everyday life and it was affecting my relationships and my ability to function in any critical way you could imagine. And It took nine months from me getting that information and thinking about that and thinking about my birth mother, whom I had no information about other than the fact that she had passed away and it led me to get sober, and thankfully, I got sober, I did it with a lot of help.
15:42 David: I went into a hospital, the detoxification program, I went to a residential treatment program, I was introduced to the 12 steps, and I immersed myself in the 12-step recovery and fellowship that stabilized my life in a major way. And thankfully for that ’cause it allowed me to do the work that I really needed to do, and that’s what we’re talking about in part tonight. And that’s the relinquishing and the adoption part. I had to do it, I had to do it. So, just imagine here, I’m in AA, I do my fourth step after a period of time, that was great. 18 months later I decided,” Oh, you didn’t really address this adoption thing, David, let’s do a fourth step on adoption.” And I did it. My sponsor was really good, but he was not an expert, he was not an expert. So I got it off my chest and what I realized, instead of feeling great and feeling attached and welcomed and all that, I realized what an immense amount of work I needed to do around that, including attachment issues, I might have had trust issues, I might have had identity issues that were lacking because I didn’t have a lot of information. So that’s what I did.
16:44 John: It’s so interesting that your family, they loved you and they were glad that you were in the house and you have a nice stable home, but it was more… That didn’t really compensate for the deep feeling of being relinquished by your birth mother.
17:00 David: Exactly, And who would know it? Unless I had learnt that somehow. It’s something that happened pre-verbally as I was just a newborn. I had no way of remembering that incident, so I couldn’t attach any meaning to it. And I certainly couldn’t describe it even if I could, and even the feelings of not fitting in or malaise that I was experiencing throughout my life. I never pointed the finger at adoption. I just thought that was me. I thought I was defective, something was wrong with me. I was giving up for adoption, so something had to be wrong with me. So that was my assumption as I was going through these developmental periods in my life. And as I said, I suffered from relational issues like attachment, and no idea who to trust including myself, and it was all about shame. It was all about shame and felt abandonment, betrayal and shame, that was those… That trifecta of emotions that are so common to people in recovery and those who have been relinquished.
17:56 Angela: One of the things that I thought of when I was reading your story was that I heard some stories from people where they talk about… They’re sharing their alcoholic story and that their families were normal. Their families were fine, their parents didn’t abuse them, they were great, they were supportive, and yet they became alcoholic anyway. And so reading your book in the beginning, the intro talks about trauma as being that like [laughter] if I can get the words out, like as soon as there’s an environment, we’re a part of it. And so any sort of mother who would either not be planning to be a mother or the stress around that, the hormones do affect the placenta, and so therefore you can have a perfectly normal family life and yet still have these feelings of un-worthiness or just stress. Extra stress…
19:04 David: Absolutely…
19:04 Angela: And so that was really helpful to me to see it in here in that way, and I’ll share with our listeners that right before we started, [chuckle] I admitted that I hadn’t… I read his book, I finished it today, but that it wasn’t at the top of my list when I met him two years ago at the Toronto conference, because I’m not an adoptee and so… Well, you know I do like memoirs, as other people have shared, it just wasn’t at the top of the list. So I’m glad that we did this show because as I read the book, there was so much that I could relate to and understand better about both trauma and adoption and the shame that can… That a lot of us have that we… And it’s not even that we’re blaming our parents. It just seems to be part of our physicality. The body keeps the scores they say. And so, I really liked how that was talked about in your book, and it made me feel much more open to reading the rest of your book, and I enjoyed it a lot. So I thought I’d put that out there in case there are people that don’t relate to adoptees. But yeah, it was helpful to me and really opened me up to looking at some things in a different way.
20:24 David: I appreciate that. And that certainly… In a couple, I think it was a couple of podcasts ago, you talked a great length about adverse childhood experiences, and if this is the link that we can share whether an adoptee or not, this is some language that those of us in recovery oftentimes have in common. So as I’m telling my story, and I suggested earlier that I happened upon alcohol at age 13. Well, I believe it was more than that. I believe I happened upon alcohol at a time in my life where I was totally lost, where I didn’t fit in. I had all these things going on, and who knows. The reason I identify as being a relinquishee and adoptee is twofold because it describes two different events. Being relinquished can be a real separation for mother and could cause real clinical trauma. Not attaching to the family one is adopted by, even though it’s safe and they’re loving and everything else. Not feeling like you belong is a different type of trauma.
21:12 David: It’s a complex or a developmental trauma. And I believe that I was suffering an immense developmental interruption. I wasn’t developing normally because I was in constant fear, ’cause I didn’t feel like I was connected anywhere. And when I found alcohol at 13, wow, that was what we term sometimes is the magic elixir. Some people say, when I first started drinking or using drugs, it made them more socially aware and it was… Or able to get along. And that was partly with me. But I thought I attached these people in meaningful ways that no other human beings would ever attach to them. That’s how I know, in retrospect, that I was likely drinking alcohol at age 13. Alcohol altered my perception of reality, and it was no accident. This was a learned behavior that was working for an illness and I couldn’t even describe it until 30 years later.
21:58 John: David, I don’t know if you can see the comments in the chat room, but Johnny wrote that your book was unbelievably helpful to him as a child with alcoholic parents, and he can’t believe how useful your story was, and he thanks you for it.
22:11 David: Johnny that’s very kind, and I appreciate that commentary. I will tell you that of the people who do reach out after reading my book, a good portion of them are parents and families of people who struggle with alcoholism or adopted parents, because they’ve attached to the fact it has provided to them a better understanding of what the context was of some negative events going on.
22:37 Angela: Lisa, I was wondering about with your experience with your group and what I heard in your sharing with that is that you finally felt seen, which is how a lot of us feel when we get to the rooms and people are sharing similar stories. In your group, do you guys talk about addiction or things you mentioned, the suicide rate? Is it something that you have groups that you talk about it with, or do you keep that separate, your addiction recovery and your adoption community?
23:13 Lisa: Well, that’s funny you ask that. I participated in a organization meeting the other day and I outed myself, and I don’t typically do that. But I just said that, “These are issues that parallel recovery about having a voice and the self-hatred and just wanting to belong.” And that also we all at different points in our sobriety as well as our adoption journey. Some of us don’t have any interest at all in finding our birth families, others try very hard. But I think as I get older, I think more about my birth mother and the stress that she must have gone through knowing that she had to relinquish me and that… I don’t know if she’s still alive or not. But I feel, I don’t know… I never had any animosity toward her. But as David touched on, we probably both had that feeling of being relinquished and unwanted. But fortunately, as a result of being involved in the adoption groups, I don’t have that feeling anymore. I feel like I’m sure that I was very much wanted, but it was the circumstances, the social constructs that in Asian culture, and the poverty, and there were so many factors and also that she didn’t have any agency and nor did the orphaned babies. It wasn’t our choice to come here. And the narrative that we’re told is that we’re supposed to be grateful. And yes, we’re grateful, but what they don’t see is the loss and the sadness.
25:07 John: One thing I was interested in, there was a conversation on Facebook about the… If this is biological that adoptees have such a high incidence of addiction. Maybe it’s because their birth parents had addiction issues and which is why they had to relinquish their children. Do you think there’s anything to that Dave?
25:28 David: There can be. If we look at all the elements that we know that might contribute to addiction at this point in time that being genetics and that being environment. Environment can be the environment which you grew up in, the psychological aspect of it, the toxic stress, any number of things that one might have been experiencing. Yeah, I think there is something possible with that. Imagine my birth mother who… The man that helped her create me denied that he was the father and her being sent off to a home for unwed mothers all by herself for the last five months of her pregnancy imagine the stress she was under so you talk about an unborn fetus inside of a woman and the stresses that they might be feeling it may begin that and absolutely that biology continues. I think there’s a lot of research being done and new theories being supported that suggests that this trauma can be generational and it is cellular and that it is biologically embedded in some capacity in the cells and passed along from generation to generation absolutely true. Yeah.
26:32 John: That’s interesting. Joe M has written in here, he says, be careful what you wish for the family of origin may have its own hell when you find them, he says that his aunt rated his mom out in a drunken party, the cops were called too and the cops called child services so yeah, what was your experience Dave when you found your biological mother?
26:52 David: Well, it was interesting, as I mentioned earlier I learned that my mother had died of alcoholism I had no idea what that meant it doesn’t say alcoholism on her death certificate but that is what must have happened but when I was able to do thankfully as I was able to meet some step-siblings who helped fill in some of that information and sadly my mother died in a shelter on the south side of Chicago of respiratory distress as a result of alcoholism and she had struggled with it for decades and who knows she may have even been struggling with it when I was born I’m not really sure. She did not… Probably did not come from an alcoholic family but had some stress in college whereby she even went and saw some counselling profession because she felt like she was under so much stress then you add an unwanted pregnancy to it or an unkeepable pregnancy to it and she was under this massive tax of stress at that time. I learned also that my biological father who was not identified paternity without legally established but I found out who he was also likely struggled with alcoholism and what I could tell you is that I have some step-siblings who have been known to have that problem as well so it’s an issue that oftentimes runs in families in many different ways and I’m no exception to that rule.
28:05 John: Another comment from a member of our Facebook group, he says that he was adopted back in the ’60s in the United Kingdom and even though he had a very loving adopted family the feeling of rejection was always there, even though I was still loved by his parents when I got to the age of 20 he began searching for his birth family and from the age of 17 he began drinking and drugging which was in retrospect a way of trying to avoid those feelings of rejection and also he’s come to realize a way to deal with impostor syndrome, never felt comfortable.
28:37 David: That feeling and I can’t speak for all adoptees but I do hang out in those communities and very much like Lisa, I have found support in adoptee communities and not only getting from them but giving back to them and this is a common theme, that discomfort, that uncomfortable in our own skin no matter what intellectually might be going on in our lives, I think that’s a common thread and one that we typically need to work through in our lives and John you talked about the statistics earlier about adoptees but there’s so much more. And not only this is true about addiction but adoptees are also more likely to have difficulties with eating disorders and Attention Deficit Disorder and suicide and untimely pregnancies. And we have higher rates of higher personality disorders and antisocial personality, borderline personality but mainly and I’m not looking for sympathy here just something we need to address and certainly if someone is trying to work a program of recovery they need to be aware of this sooner than later, we have issues of loss and grief and identity development, self-esteem and lack of information about family history that may never be resolvable which would contribute to that feeling of discomfort. “When am I ever gonna be whole, when am I ever gonna see like I’ve done enough.” And that hypervigilance is a common thread throughout adoptees especially those attempting to recover.
29:54 Angela: Yeah, I really liked how you talked about that in the book that you did… If there was a way to do program through AA perfectly you were going for it. A gajillion meetings and all the inventory and all the books and all of the stuff and yet this was still something that needed to be addressed and I thought that was important. Because I know just in my experience that in early recovery that when I was going through the steps and doing all the stuff, if I continued to feel not that great or upset about something I thought I was doing it wrong and there must be something extra wrong with me or I missed a step or whatever and so I liked that by sharing your story you showed that you can get sober and be sober and yet the journey continues. And I think that’s an important message to hear ’cause regardless of whether you were adopted or not I think most of us, maybe there’s some that are really more well than others but being open to seeking additional help even after you’ve been sober for a while is important for the continued journey.
31:13 David: Absolutely, very well said. We’re taught in clinical settings and we’re taught in medical settings and we’re taught in recovery settings that addiction and recovery are forever. It’s something that… Once someone has crossed that line into a severe substance use disorder they’re likely gonna have to deal with all their lives. Well, relinquishment is very much the same way, that never goes away so they are life events that can be triggering or add pressure and toxic stress to people’s lives and you’re correct we should be at the ready to be able to deal with those things and arm ourselves in the best way possible with the tools necessary to do that work.
31:50 John: And Lisa something that was interesting in your story is the whole problem about identification and feeling that you don’t belong, is that you also had that racial component where you were Korean adoptee by a white family, you lived in a white community and I think that you related that it was a while before you realized that you felt… You had that feeling of not belonging am I correct with that?
32:16 Lisa: Yes, I was even sharing in one of my Zoom meetings, I don’t see many people that look like me in AA, ain’t a lot of Asians getting sober, if they are they don’t do it with AA. [laughter]
32:33 John: So yeah, we have another comment from Facebook, he says, “Thank you for this extremely… Thank you, this is extremely useful for me. Again, connection for me has been the main help for my sobriety, so to hear people as yourselves, sharing on the subject, adds to that connection and to know I’m not alone. Thank you.” And thank you for making the comment because I hope that these podcast episodes are useful and helpful to people. I love these. It’s like an AA meeting and a party in a conversation, it’s just a really good thing to do on a Friday night, I think so, but if it helps you, that’s even better. So thank you so much for that comment. Now, if you’d like to call in, our phones are open and the number is 844-899-8278. There you go. So Angela, what was it about Dave’s book that you found most compelling, that was interesting to you?
33:32 Angela: Well, like I said, I really liked the science and the intro because it was described his experience in the adoptee experience in terms that I’m now familiar with. Again, when I first met him, I hadn’t read that much, I wasn’t doing my own trauma therapy and stuff. And so, a couple of years later, reading that, I could understand better and I felt more connection to what the story was about to be… I could relate to that experience better and I liked where he talked about the value of a drunkalogue that often times where… And meetings we’re like, “It has to be solution.” And straight out of the book solution and blah, blah, blah, but I think it’s our stories, the stories were what got me to stay, was hearing about people who felt as terrible as I did or had similar experiences, and then were able to overcome them. That’s the main reason I stuck around. It definitely wasn’t the God stuff.
34:41 John: Yeah, I forgot about that but you’re so right, you often hear that people need to cry, the drunkalogue and everything, but I love the stories, I love speaker meetings and I love memoirs, you just learn so much from the stories.
34:55 Angela: Yeah, the speaker meetings also, the stories, the drunk-a-logs, you could hear what somebody was like in the beginning, what they did and what they’re like now, ideally. But in a lot of the meetings, you just hear how somebody is dealing with things for five-minute increments, and I couldn’t always relate to that because they’d share that they let go and let God and they have their shit together and I’m not at that point. And so, hearing how they went through and it worked out, so I liked when you talked about the drunkalogue and the addiction memoirs, when you shared about that because of how in addiction memoirs, the idea of people trying when they get to the point where they’ll try anything at all, and I think that’s something that I can relate to as well is because again, I was an atheist and still am, and so doing that, going to AA meetings and having to hear that stuff, and from day one, I said, I’m an atheist, I don’t know if I can do this, and yet it was the only thing in town, and so I had to, and so it was getting to that thing.
36:13 Angela: The other thing I liked is, he dubbed the word coins, which makes me giggle, very creative for a community of individuals needing support, so it relates to 12-step meetings of all different kinds, and a lot of us get coins there. And so, yeah, I love word-play as well, so anyway that tickled me. And if you wanted to talk a little bit about some of the unhelpful things, and we’ve talked about some in a few podcasts ago, but some of them you listed that I agree with is like the safety ones and the bossy ones, and the attitude of feelings aren’t facts because in my family, certain people who are allowed to feel and certain people were not, and certain feelings were allowed and certain ones were not, and it depended on who you were, which things you got to feel and such. And so, being able to feel and then recognizing my feelings is a big deal for me, and so how it’s talked about in the room sometimes is not helpful. So, that was another thing that I enjoyed that you addressed in that book.
37:31 John: David, I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about the organizations you belong to, the Concerned United Birthparents and the American Adoption Congress, and any other adoption organization that you participate in.
37:44 David: There are all kinds of great resources out there. Certainly the American Adoption Congress, typically in a non-COVID era holds an annual convention that brings together any number of resources to bear upon people who are adopted in particular, but also resources for other people in the constellation that adoption consolation, that includes birth parents, relinquishing family members, adoptive parents, etcetera. And they have a clearing house of a great deal of research that’s available. Concerned United Birthparents is more bringing the different parties together and gaining understanding of how each person’s perspective informs their lives and their interactions going forward. There’s a group in Indiana called the Indiana Adoptee Network that I am very active in, even though I’m not in Indiana. Their work crosses state border lines and they missed their conference in April, but they’re doing a weekly happy hour, if you will, on Friday evenings where you need to get adaptive resources, and I helped them to do that.
38:46 David: Tonight, they had Nancy Verrier, who is an author and therapist. And Nancy wrote two very important adoptee books. One was The Primal Wound, describing that wound that happens when the child is relinquished from its birth mother, and the other was coming home to self, which is a book about identity development in the adult adoptee and how does one develop an identity and continue their personal development when they don’t have biological mirroring and other family members from which to reflect things back to them? So I’m very involved in those organizations.
39:18 David: Of course, I also operate in the addiction realm and spend a lot of time doing that as well, but I also… I’m recovery manager and I help people in their recoveries, including family, and I’m… I use the services myself, so I’m very familiar with all different types of recovery, and it’s very important for me to stay abreast of that, not only for my own well-being, but for those of my clients, and I think it was so important that the Facebook commenter talked about connection, and Angela made a comment about a drunkalogue ultimately, to me, those are just really fundamental forms of narrative therapy. The better able we are to tell a story about ourselves, the more mentally “well-adjusted” we are, the better we’re able to deal with things in our lives and to become more resilient. So telling our story, so long as it’s not… So long as my story today is not the identical story that I told 15 years ago when I got sober, as long as that story has evolved because I’ve done some more work on what’s going on in this world and on myself that it’s really healthy to do that.
40:20 David: And as we know in the AA belief universe, the AA belief universe, sometimes these communities of individuals needing support can be really tough to navigate. That mutual aid group that uses these 12 steps, sometimes it’s really difficult between their texts and their culture, not only difficult for people who just struggle with their religious language, but they could be particularly difficult for adoptees who are always trying to seek safety, they need a safe place to do the work that’s so essential. So as part of those four-step programs, sometimes adoptees struggle over the text and sometimes they struggle over the culture, right? This notion of powerlessness, and it’s not just adoptees, it’s people who have trauma. Right? Trauma can render people powerlessness and to tell them they’re powerlessness and they have to turn to something outside of themselves is oftentimes really difficult when trauma survivors are being taught, you can martial a personal power within yourself to deflect these things, it’s a contrary message, including that un-manageability that says that you’d manage your life, even though as an adoptee, we’ve existentially survived a lot of things by doing that over the years.
41:31 David: And I think the other thing that adoptees trip over in terms of the text is that focus on the wrongs, whether it’s defects of character that imply, that were effective in a way, and of course, you heard me and you heard Lisa’s testimony that we didn’t feel quite right or we didn’t feel comfortable, we didn’t feel like we belong. It’s oftentimes dangerous for trauma people to reflect on the past without some new helping coping mechanisms, right? So telling a drunkalogue in AA without knowing where to go with that flood of emotions can oftentimes be contraindicated. But it’s that shame that comes from the negative focus, of focusing on the wrongs and is particularly… And John, you’ve heard me talk about this, ’cause I can’t talk about this enough, that darn spiritual axiom that says, “If there’s something that I’m bothered about, there’s something wrong with me.” Right? And, “Oh, man!” Tell someone who thinks there’s something wrong with them.
42:18 David: That would be the most negative narrative you could ever confirm about somebody, right? Instead of that, that positive, safe, validating environment that we all need to do the recovery work, whatever we’re recovering from is necessary. And that’s just the text alone, then there’s the culture, and a lot of us, who have spent some time in those rooms… And I… And don’t get me wrong, I’m not bashing anything that works for anybody, I’m just talking about my personal experience and some others. But tough love doesn’t work for trauma people, including adoptees. It can feel really hostile, and if it feels hostile, it’s not safe and if it’s not safe, we’re not gonna tell our stories or do the work, right?
42:53 David: So that makes it really different, and sometimes being told… Not be told or feeling you’re not welcome here if you don’t do it our way… Boy! That makes it feel even more unsafe and I think it’s really important for people to know whether they have trauma, whether they’re adopter or whether they have some outside issues, there’s always a time that they need to find other people in areas of expertise to benefit them, because every solution is not necessarily found in a group that focuses on recovery from substance use disorders. There are other people that can bear witness and help with those facts. So I’ll get off my soapbox for now, but those are some concerns that exist sometimes in the 12-step fellowships that are very similar to the problems that people in the AA Beyond Belief, secular universe have as well.
43:43 John: And Lisa, I was kinda interested in what organization you belong to for adoptees.
43:48 Lisa: There are several actually. We even have a group for 15 and older. Some who are kind of on the bus search journey, some are just fun. Others are for advocacy as far as access to our records. Another one is citizenship, having dual citizenship. I wanted to comment though on something that David was saying, I think that the way that my perspective has changed over the last five years or so is that I think when we first come in, we are “broken” but today, I feel very proud of myself. It hasn’t been an easy road, and they tell you that fear of economic and securities will leave us, it hasn’t left. But my fear, my fear of it in the way that I approach is I’m a survivor, and I say that I am not broken, I’m resilient. I mean, there’s stuff that I’ve been through, especially the last four or four or five years. I feel like I’ve come out the other side, even though I’m not working and I don’t… I just got my own employment and I was kinda worried about the rent, but I don’t know, I just feel so empowered and so healthy with my network, my support network of friends and people in the program, in and out of the program.
45:25 John: It’s interesting that you mentioned the group that helps people find their biological parents, I am betting that is getting to be more common nowadays with people going online and…
45:37 Lisa: Yeah, especially with the DNA testing for sure and also it’s easier, I think I probably shouldn’t speak to the whole adoption community, but younger adoptees the records… They kept better records. For us older ones, we don’t have much hope, but adoptees from the ’80s on, I think their records were better and they have more chance of finding biological family members.
46:15 Angela: One of the things that I was curious about and I think David would probably have more experience in this, is I have know several people in recovery who are adoptees, but it’s within their family, so it was usually like a sister, or somebody who got pregnant at a young age, and so then the mother adopted the child and raised. And so, that kind of a situation, actually, with most of it is that sort of a situation… Or an aunt or somebody else. And so then a child is raised thinking that their families are certain way, and at some point finds out that no, it’s actually this person is your mother, who you think is your sister and stuff. So I’m wondering about your experience with that.
47:09 David: Sure, well, that’s interesting, and of course, I don’t want to overly generalize anyone’s story because just like addiction stories are very complex, adoption stories are immensely complex as well. But yes, kinship adoption that you’re describing happens very frequently. And sometimes it is preferable to outside placement or any number of alternatives that are just there and oftentimes social workers or adoption placement, people will look to family members to see if that’s possible, because ultimately what that does is not only does it provide structure, but it helps to eliminate that secondary matter that has to be delt with, right? So the relinquishment never truly occurs to the degree that it would occur if someone were placed outside of their family, and that all of that genetic mirroring is lost if someone was raised in their own family. However, whether someone is told or given misinformation about who they are and what their place is in the family and who’s raising them…
48:04 Angela: Right.
48:04 David: Or whether or not they’re not told until they’re adult… I know lots of adoptees, or late discovery adoptees, LDA they’re referred to as, or told until they were 21, or they found out when they went to get a marriage license that they were adopted. And I can tell you, as we know in addiction and recovery circles, secrets and lies are not good things to perpetuate, as one is trying to personally recover from, whether it’d be an addiction or trauma or some type of complex toxic stress or developmental trauma. It takes away that safety, right? A family has lied to one. That’s the case.
48:37 David: In my case, I didn’t have it to that extreme, but just the mere fact that my family told me I was adopted and that was a great thing, turned to be a lie because I was treated by some people… [chuckle] I was ostracized by some people and treated as less then because I was adopted. Made to think that there was something wrong with me. So imagine being told by Jack Nicholson, he was raised by his sister, not his mother, and he found out much later in life that that leaves a lasting impact, and that means that a level of trust and attachment has to be built up, and we go back to Lisa’s initial statements, these are the thought processes that are so ingrained and the perception that are so ingrained that they take a lot of work to extract the reality and the context out of them to do that. So yeah, absolutely, Angela. There are lot of people in that boat and they as a result, have those issues to deal with as well.
49:28 John: And you know there’s a lot of family secrets being uncovered now because of the different ancestry sites. My wife is really involved in that stuff. Family research and so forth, and as she was doing that, she was contacted by a woman who I think through the DNA testing seemed to be related to Susan and as it turns out she was. And what it was, is one of Susan’s uncles apparently was stationed in the Navy on the West Coast in San Francisco, had an affair, had a child, never told anybody in Missouri, his family in Missouri about it. And so now this woman is reaching out and all these… Her father’s dead and everything, but is reaching out and to Susan and they put the pieces of the puzzle together and they say, “Oh yeah, this is your father?” [laughter] “And this is what happened?” [laughter] But isn’t that interesting? But I’m sure that could be maybe traumatic for the families themselves, because I think that back in the ’50s anyway, and maybe it’s even to this day, there was a lot of stuff that was being swept under the rug and not being talked about.
50:39 David: Mm-hmm. Not being talked about and or not being investigated because they just simply didn’t have the tools that you mentioned and the genetic genealogists who are so important in our world today to help go through those things. But yes, absolutely. In the adoptee world I can, without quoting anyone’s story specifically, there are many incidences of people who thought they had an uninterrupted family line, who discovered at one point in time, “Oh, that man couldn’t possibly have fathered that child who is my grandfather”. So there are interruptions in the chains of genealogy and genetics all over the place, absolutely. And these, you’re right, these are things that some people thought they were gonna take to the grave, but science has changed all of that.
51:18 John: Is uncovering them. But you know what’s cool is Susan has become friends with this new cousin and they still stay in touch, so… Yeah.
51:26 David: It’s excellent.
51:28 John: But I can certainly understand the trauma of not having that identity and then searching for it, I’m sure that’s something that people long for.
51:39 David: Absolutely, absolutely. And not something we can’t always complete. They’re just missing links. I can’t speak other than my own experience, but I do work with people who have been adopted from other countries, who there is no way they are going to ever retrieve any of their birth history, and as a result, part of working a program of addiction and adoption recovery has to do in radical acceptance. I have to accept that that’s going to be effect, I can mourn it, I can grieve it, I can do all the right things, but that’s something that I can’t focus on, I can no longer hope for, so what can I now focus my efforts on?
52:16 John: And that’s the case with Lisa. Isn’t it, Lisa?
52:19 Lisa: Yeah, I was gonna share that it’s like this gaping hole, and it’s something that’s at different times in my life, it’s bothered me, and I think as I get older, it’s more apparent because like David said, it’s just that acceptance that that is something I will never know.
52:39 John: Yeah, because of the circumstances surrounding that. At that time with Korea. Joe is writing. He says that he did his DNA research and his nieces and nephews don’t have the 50% that would be required to be the same as his elder brother who looks just like him, so…
52:58 John: I don’t know what to say about that.
53:01 David: Well, there are excellent genetic geologists out there, including those who can be referred by 23 and Me and the other DNA sites who might help him deconstruct that. Yes.
53:11 John: Well, we didn’t have any callers tonight, but I do hope that those of you who are listening and those who will be listening in the future have found this discussion helpful. It was really great to have David and Lisa on here. One of the best things about doing this podcast for me is all the friends that I’ve made while doing it, and I count David and Lisa and Angela among those friends. And all of you who listen as well, and the people who are participating in YouTube and on Facebook, it’s just so much fun. I just… I love all of you, so thank you so much for listening.
53:42 Angela: Yes, thank you. I really enjoyed the discussion today and learned a lot, so I really appreciate Lisa and David sharing their experience with us.
53:51 John: Yeah, thanks a lot, guys.
53:53 David: It was my pleasure.
53:54 Lisa: Thank you.
53:56 John: And now the music. And that’s it. That’s another episode of AA Beyond Belief, the podcast. Thank you everybody for listening. It was great to be here. Sorry about the sound quality issues we may have had today, but that’s not a big deal. If you would like to participate in supporting AA Beyond Belief, the Podcast and website, you can do so in a couple of places. You can visit our Patreon site, Patreon.com/AABeyondBelief. That’s right, yeah. And just become a subscriber, we have like, oh, I think 40 subscribers now, and it’s very nice, so thank you for so much for that, and you can also donate through PayPal. PayPal.me/AABeyondBelief, or go to our website, and I think that’s about it. So thanks everybody. We’ll be back again next Friday for another sober distancing episode. I’m not quite sure what we’ll be discussing, but we will be posting that real soon. Take care everyone.
How You Can Support the Site and Podcast
Consider Supporting AA Beyond Belief with a small monthly contribution. This helps pay for podcast transcripts, hosting fees and other costs associated with creating content on the site and podcast. Even a dollar or two a month helps out a great deal.
AA Beyond Belief is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation.