Category Archives: Media

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When I hung up the phone after my 40-minute radio interview with Valerie Okunami, host of KCOR’s Bizi Yogi show (listen here), I had a sinking feeling. I had talked about my shame on the air. I knew what I’d be discussing when I agreed to be a guest—the day’s topic was healing from toxic shame. So why did I feel bad? Had I confessed too much? What would people think of me? Then it hit me. I was ashamed, the very feeling that had been at the heart of the interview.

A week later, I listened to a recording of the show. To my surprise, I didn’t cringe at all. I’ve listened twice now and felt the same way both times. I shouldn’t have doubted myself—before the interview, I had set the intention to leave my ego behind and speak words that would be of the highest good for all who listened. I planned nothing and went with the flow while talking to the show host, and it worked.

I’m not sure if my interview inspired others, but it certainly inspired me. While listening to my own voice, I was reminded of the many gifts that arose from my most painful “failures.” An old friend once told me that he records himself speaking inspirationally. He said that listening to his own voice is powerfully uplifting I didn’t believe him then, but I do now.

I spoke about my shame and guilt when I was on the radio, but I didn’t talk about the underlying disenfranchised grief. Dr. Ken Doka defines it as “grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly mourned.” Disenfranchised grief can be caused by anything—abortion, death from AIDS, death from suicide, death of the partner in an extra-marital affair, loss of one’s home, loss of a pet, grief that other people think has gone on for “too long,” having a child in prison…

My grief began at birth when I was given up for adoption. In my interview, I touched on the shame I felt from being abused as a child, being sexually assaulted, being adopted, and giving up my own baby for adoption. All of these experiences caused disenfranchised grief and, subsequently, feelings of deep shame and unworthiness that took decades to access and heal.

When I hung up the phone after my interview, I sat silently for a moment and looked onto my deck. I noticed the soft melody of the chime, the bluebirds hopping on and off the feeder, and the shadows cast by the beams of morning sunlight. Just outside my window was a metaphor for my life: shadows amidst melody and light. In that moment, I let go of feeling bad about my shame, my disenfranchised grief. It’s part of who I am. Like the shadows on my deck, it will continue to ebb and flow, and that’s okay.

 

Published by Women Writers, Women’s Books – Memoir: You Gotta Feel To Heal

Not long ago, I wrote a piece for Women Writers, Woman’s Books, an online literary magazine. This request coincided with the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the emerging #metoo movement. It was perfect timing because I had recently finished writing the rape chapter in my memoir (still in progress). I have included an excerpt and a link to read the full essay.

EXCERPT:

Healing Begins
Once I began writing, I couldn’t stop. It was as if my wounded teenage self—who yearned for healing—guided my fingers like a magical puppeteer. I began writing the hardest material first: the rape I experienced as a 15-year-old virgin. Then I tackled the knifepoint abduction that occurred a month after the sexual assault.

Examined Every Detail
Completing the rape chapter took a whole winter and multiple revisions. I examined every buried detail from that night: my rapist’s smell and threats, the way the room looked, the physical pain, his shaming comments when he felt he’d been cheated because I didn’t bleed.  It also took a long time for me to realize that I had been raped—my definition of “rape” had always involved being jumped and beaten by a stranger in a dark alley, but I had known my 19-year-old abuser.

It Wasn’t my Fault
My shift in perception—realizing that I’d been raped and it wasn’t my fault—didn’t begin until my 92-year-old mother helped me relive the experience. It was as if she was leading a blind person through a minefield. Once the details were on the page, I realized I wouldn’t hesitate to call it rape if the scenario involved my own daughter. In fact, I would have delighted in stringing the perpetrator up by his balls and beating the crap out of him. For over forty years, I had recalled the abuse with my naïve 15-year-old memories of guilt and shame. It took my mother’s guidance, much reflection, and many revisions to stop blaming myself.

I Blamed the Victim
After reading about the recent scandal involving Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, I was amazed (almost vindicated) that one of his accusers internalized her experience in the same way that I had.  Lucia Evans told The New Yorker, “I just put it in a part of my brain and closed the door. It was always my fault for not stopping him. I had an eating problem for years. I was disgusted with myself.  It’s funny, all these unrelated things I did to hurt myself because of this one thing.” Like Evans, I blamed myself, the victim, instead of blaming the perpetrator—probably like millions of women all over the world who have been assaulted. Evans opened her door by coming forward. I opened mine by writing.

As do many sexual abuse victims, I silently blamed myself for my rape. I now realize that the subconscious guilt and shame I felt colored many of my life choices and decisions. I wonder what the years may have looked like had my rape not occurred. Would I have picked different partners? Would I be in a long-term loving relationship today?  I’ll never know.

 

 

 

 

 

Published in Anchorage Press / Article & Essay

Article & Essay

Narcissistic Underbelly (25-minute read) first appeared in the August 17, 2017 edition of the Anchorage Press.The essay appears beneath an article about my experiences. This is part of my memoir-in-progress.

To read the full essay click HERE and scroll down the page past the article.

 

Excerpt

The man who gave us a ride home from the party never revealed his name. He seemed polite but I was distracted by his bulging yellow eyeballs, fluorescent against his black skin. They looked like they would pop out of their sockets with a sneeze. I had never seen the whites of eyes that were yellow, the color of dark urine.

I assumed Rick knew the man and figured he was a friend or relative of one of the school’s basketball players. He was in his thirties, at least 6’ 4”, and huge—not fat, but strong, like a body builder. His extremely short hair stuck to his head, the opposite of the round Afros that were in style. There were no other options for a ride and we thought he was a friend of Rick’s, so we felt reasonably comfortable going with this creepy-looking man.

As we left the party, clumps of damp, fluffy flakes fell from the sky and blankets of pristine snow covered sidewalks and cars. I selected my steps carefully, planting my feet inside the impressions left by the man’s large shoes. My unease grew with every step into his massive footprints, but the certainty that my parents would restrict my freedoms when they learned that I’d lied again was more concerning than getting into the car with this yellow-eyed man. As we approached the car, I shivered and pulled my unbuttoned coat tighter around me.

The yellow Chevy with the black top was well kept and fairly new. It was parked up a slight hill, along with other partygoers’ cars. The man opened the front passenger side door for me and I slid across the black bench seat; Debbie soon joined me on the cold Naugahyde. He cleaned snow off the windows before getting behind the wheel.

I sat in the middle, squished between him and Debbie. I was uncomfortable with his body pressed so close to mine. The heat from his leg seeped through my wool slacks, and his breath stunk like an empty stomach. I was way too close to this man.

As we pulled onto the street, the car wouldn’t make it up the small incline because the tires spun in the snow. He got out and said, “Hold on, I’ll be right back.” I watched in the rearview mirror as he pushed the car. His large, wide nostrils flared and his yellow eyes popped as he strained, making him look like an enraged bull charging a matador. I shivered and thought that he must be strong to push the car up the incline, especially with us in it. Just then he looked through the back window and into the mirror. He knew I had been watching him. I quickly looked away.

It was a short, awkward ride to Debbie’s house. The man was silent as we gave him directions, only acknowledging them with a nod. Debbie couldn’t say anything as she exited the car, but her eyes sent a clear message: “Are you going to be okay?”

Mine said, “I think so.”

Read more

 

 

Listen To My Spot on Alaska Public Radio, Adoption in Alaska

This May I was a guest on “Alaska Public Radio”, an affiliate of National Public Radio (NPR). They connected me live from the NPR Studio in Sacramento where I told my story of being an adoptee who also gave up a baby up for adoption. (Listen below.)

The Weight of Grief

My baby was born in 1973, the year Roe v. Wade made abortion legal, but that was never an option in my Catholic family. No one ever asked me if I wanted to keep my baby, and because I was fifteen, it was assumed that I would give it up for adoption.

I got to hold my daughter just a few times during the three days I was in the hospital. They let me because I, too, was adopted and my baby was the only blood relative I had ever known. As we drove away from the hospital, I looked over my shoulder as a life with my daughter melted from view. I couldn’t breathe; the weight of my grief was crushing. Out of desperation, I turned my eyes back to the road and said to myself, “I just won’t think about it right now, I just won’t think about it right now, I just won’t think about it right now.”

Those eight words became my mantra.

Audio Links

Click here to listen to my 8-minute interview

Click here, for the hour-long show, Talk of Alaska, Host Anne Hillman speaks with birth moms and adoptive moms about their experiences with adoption, how adoption has changed over time, and misconceptions about the process.

Mother’s Day weekend

If you read my journal entry on November 25, 2017 titled, “Unfinished Business,” then you might remember the life-changing experience I had when visiting the adoption agency in Anchorage last summer, 26 years after giving my baby up in a closed adoption.

As a result of that visit, I participated in, Passage Writes: Alaska Birth-Moms’ Stories, a project devoted to enabling birth-moms (women who made adoption plans for their children) to tell their stories in their own words. The organizer had read my blog and invited me to help facilitate the workshop, which took place on Mother’s Day weekend. There were six birth mothers in attendance, all with different situations and who had relinquished their babies at different times. To be in a room sharing stories with other birth mothers felt like a reunion with survivors of the Titanic.

“My participation in the workshop led to my appearance on Talk of Alaska.