Lessons from a Decade in Reunion (and some Therapy)

Earlier this year, I celebrated a decade in reunion with my natural family. My mom and I spent a quiet weekend together in Amish Country in Ohio, and my dad and I exchanged messages via Facebook.

I was low-key about the anniversary because I’ve been battling anxiety attacks. They started in August of 2021 after a challenging conversation that re-opened the Pandora’s Box of issues that I have carried as an adoptee.

When I realized what I was experiencing (thanks to a Ted Lasso episode), I sought out a therapist. We started working through how to deal with anxiety and why I’m having anxiety attacks.

Though my anxiety can still be triggered, I’m doing much better now, and I’m ready to share some of what I’ve learned from a decade in reunion and some therapy.

People will get hurt. It sounds silly, but I entered the reunion process thinking that if I did all the right things, no one would get hurt. But I was wrong. My natural mom hurts when we talk about the mental and emotional impact of being adopted, when I relive moments that she wasn’t part of (e.g., graduations, wedding), and, at times, when she reads my blog posts. And she’s not the only one. The August conversation that re-opened Pandora’s Box was an acknowledgement from an adoptive family member that they hurt too and the suggestion that other family members also hurt. And I think that revelation (along with some hurt I experienced in that conversation) led to the anxiety attacks that I began experiencing.

It’s still okay to search/reunite. I started this journey for myself and it may be selfish to say I would do it again despite the pain it brought for others, but I would. I am a much better version of myself because of this process. I got answers to long-standing questions that haunted me. I developed relationships with people who loved me from afar for years (and you can’t ever have enough people love you). I feel more complete and content that I did in my first 36 years of life. I would seek those results over and over again.

Control what you can control. This may be the most important lesson my therapist has worked on with me. I can control my own thoughts, words, and behaviors, but I can’t control what others think, say, or do – even if it’s about me and this adoption/reunion journey. I have made decisions that impact others, and as much as I want to make that okay for them, I can’t. What I can do is show up consistently and offer myself to be in healthy relationship with all of my family members. What they do next is their call.

Being an adoptee means nothing, and it means everything. Our experiences may not define us, but they certainly shape us. There are days that being an adoptee has no impact on my world, other than the fact that I have more parents than the average American. I go about my work and play, and my adoption never surfaces in meaningful ways. But there are days that I can specifically identify when being an adoptee is framing how I see an issue, a relationship, or the world at large. I try to be mindful of those moments.

Therapy helps. My therapist has been a fantastic source of support over the last several months. She asks great questions, lets me share my thoughts openly and without judgement, affirms and challenges me, and shares wonderful tools, skills, etc. I highly recommend a therapist, even if you don’t have an acute need; maintenance therapy is also very valuable.

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