February 26, 2014

Adoptee Activists: When the Personal Becomes the Political
Guest Post: Karen Caffrey, LPC, JD

Like so many of us (all of us?) who follow along here at Adoptee Restoration, I have been deeply affected by Deanna’s ongoing story and the multitude of other personal stories, comments and posts that regularly appear.  This is a place for feeling, for sharing and for healing.  Most of what I read here feels deeply, achingly personal. 

And there is so much sharing and healing to be done.  So many suppressed feelings to be expressed.  So much shame to be cleansed.  So much rage to be screamed, tears to be shed, and doubt to be validated.

Today, however, I found myself wondering how many of us are actively involved in the politics of adoptee rights.  How and when does each of us arrive at the place where we stand up and take action?  The kind of civic, grassroots lobbying action that changes the discriminatory laws that got us into this mess in the first place?   

I can say that my own journey between the personal and political has been a back and forth affair.  Personally, I searched for and reunited with my birth family as a teenager.  Then I became a lawyer and practiced law for a decade, before becoming a psychotherapist.  As part of my second career, I developed a specialty in counseling adoptees and birth parents. I developed a whole new awareness of the world of adoption and adoptee rights. 

By the mid 90s I became politicized.  I became a co-leader of the adoptee rights movement in my home state of Connecticut.  I dove into our group completely. 

We organized! We wrote letters! We got a bill introduced in the Judiciary Committee!  We printed buttons and collated packages of information.  We drove up to the Capitol.  We testified with our hearts on our sleeves. 

And we lost.  We were defeated by an open vote of the Judiciary Committee.

My government had told me, in no uncertain terms, that I did not have the right to my identity.  I did not have the right.

I was crushed. Devastated.  I was 38 years old.

I walked away.  I simply could not bear to come back the next year and face the pain of being invalidated by the very government that had licensed me to practice law, to try cases and to issue subpoenas.  I could protect others, but I could not protect myself.

I stayed away for almost 15 years.

A couple of years ago, I started walking back.  Although I am known at this blog as a psychotherapist, since last summer I have once again become one of the key leaders in the adoptee rights movement in Connecticut.   

I am 54 years old now.  I am wiser and stronger.  I validate myself.  And I am fully grounded in the awareness that I am right and my government is wrong.

The experience of my younger, less healed self informs how I am able to respond to the folks who suddenly disappear from the ranks of our volunteers.  I’ll get a private email.  “I just can’t do this right now.”  “It’s taking too much from me.”   Or sometimes a person just disappears behind a deafening wall of silence. 

I understand.  I am more humble now, having lived through my own experience of defeat and retreat.  I don’t judge those who walk away.  (I judged myself harshly after I walked away in the 90s.  Fifteen years has made me more compassionate, as well.)

Now, there are more of us.  There are more of us who are healing, and acting, and speaking our truth.  My inbox is full of emails from adoptee rights activists in Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Georgia, etc.  There are social media communities, websites and yahoo groups.  We are growing, people!  All of us are healing, and weaving back and forth between the personal and the political into a united community.  And we are finally, finally being heard. 

 In Connecticut we have a public hearing this Friday, February 28 that *anyone* across the country can submit email testimony in support of.  New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Georgia have bills pending as well.  Visit the Adoption News and Events page on Facebook for details on all these states, and visit www.accessconnecticut.org for information on how to submit testimony in Connecticut. 

 When you’re ready, when it’s your time, come join us and add your voice.  Don’t worry.  We’re waiting for you with open arms.  

For almost twenty years, Karen Caffrey, LPC, JD has been a counselor for individuals, couples and groups in her psychotherapy practice. She helps people recover from anxiety and depression, problems in their relationships, work and life stress, emotional, physical and sexual abuse, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), trauma, addictions, women’s issues, and achieve mental health and wellness.

For ten years prior to her career as a counselor, she was a practicing attorney. She practiced law in a Fortune 100 corporation as well as in a private law firm.  She found that her experiences as a lawyer made her uniquely able to understand and empathize with her clients who work in the legal and corporate worlds.  She has a keen appreciation of what it is like to try to address your own needs while balancing work, family and community obligations.  She also learned that even highly successful, capable people can face life challenges for which they need help.

She specializes in working with adult adoptees, and does this work individually and in groups. She has presented extensively on issues faced by adult adoptees including loss, rejection, anger and identity.  

Lastly, she has a special love for animals and has experienced how powerful a healing force they can be in people’s lives.  When possible and appropriate, she encourages people to involve their animals (real or symbolic) in their healing process.