Adoption Trauma: Farewell Charlotte Dawson

As a fellow adoptee my heart goes out to Charlotte Dawson in her tragic passing. She has been on my radar for many years now, since I found out she was adopted at birth and now, here in memoriam, I can again feel her a breath away from my soul.
A lot has been said about the reasons for her suicide and without wanting to butt in as a stranger where I am not welcome, I do feel I have a silent and meaningful connection with her as a fellow adoptee. There are often many reasons behind a suicide and Charlotte had complex, compelling, and overlapping traumas in her life that may have lead to her early death. However, I would also like to say, from my position as an adoptee, that Adoption Trauma is (as Von Coates has also posted on her Facebook page) still grievously overlooked and underappreciated in society today. I would just like to point out for all those commentators who are genuinely and compassionately trying to piece together and learn from her death (for a beautiful tribute and personal memoriam see Rebecca Sparrow’s article), that Adoption Trauma is real, debilitating, and life threatening. It can have an accumulative effect throughout life and society should not continue to underestimate or overlook how devastating ‘relinquishment’ can be. As Rebecca Sparrow suggests “We let her down’ but I would like to highlight that ‘letting her down’ also includes, and probably hinges upon, society’s lack of understanding and acceptance of adoption trauma in general.
Before every Adoption (no matter how loving the adoptive parents) there is first, from the baby’s perspective, a life-threatening Relinquishment. This is generally not only often forgotten but not even understood. It is for society an unthinkable, unspeakable moment that cannot even be referred to at great length – only in passing (only very recently have we begun to emerge from five decades of deadly silence surrounding adoption).
Being Relinquished is like being born on an Existential Precipice and it is treacherous to manage life from such a precarious position.
Indeed, relinquishment/adoption for the baby and subsequent adult is a dangerous and acutely painful business…
The 2012  Australian Institute of Family Studies report Past adoption experiences: National Research Study  on the Service Response to Past Adoption Practices shows that quality of life is one-third lower for adoptees than the general population and that there is a “higher than average likelihood of having a mental health disorder than the general population.” (p. 121). I want journalists, commentators, therapists, and society at large (and sometimes adoptees themselves) to understand more fully the trauma associated with adoption.
I feel sad and deeply moved as so many are by Charlotte’s passing but perhaps I, and others like me, have a personal and experiential insight, a deeper understanding and primal connection to the tragedy with regard to the underlying and often forgotten and misunderstood effects of adoption trauma. I hope that society can learn, not only about depression, bullying and abuse but also, and I feel, most importantly and crucially, about adoption trauma and its primal position in the investigation and understanding of psychopathology.
Farewell Charlotte. I am so so terribly sorry…This fellow adoptee will continue to hold you in her heart always…
white rose 3

ILLYRIA: Not a foreign country

ILLYRIA at the Fringe World Festival 2014 [eFlyer]

Bryony Lavery’s ILLYRIA: Not a foreign country…


Media is peppered with it constantly. Journalists in flak jackets and helmets reporting in from war torn countries are a constant reminder of the turmoil and atrocity across the world at any given time. Crossing the border into ILLYRIA last September I and the rest of the audience at the Hayman Theatre at Curtin University were exposed in a much more visceral and challenging way to the vicissitudes of war.

Seated precariously close in the first row, I didn’t realise I would have to hand over my passport, that I would feel, all at once, like a trespasser, a victim, and a perpetrator.

Perhaps I was already vulnerable in some way that night but the trauma of war and dispossession, struggle and disempowerment slipped right past my private guards: In the small auditorium, and so close to the stage, the young and fiercely talented troupe of actors created a taut and powerful dissonance and disturbance on stage and within.

illyria FB09

Scenes that linger especially (and there are many, some I do not want to give away) are the spectral suitcases packed heel to toe with torture. Shoes laid out in the crescent of a vanishing moon suggesting excess, engorgement, and self loss. When ‘Madame’ (red hair, red lips, red shoes) clicked her heels we were transported (shackled to our own capitalistic consumerism and desires?). We became Hans Christian Andersen’s Karen disempowered and dancing in a sinister dystopian tale.  We wondered how the blood oozing out across the stage could ever be washed away. Could this raw and real (but also existential and personal) wound be gauzed? The ending…well, I will let you decide what the resolution to the revolution conjures and requires..illyria FB07.

ILLYRIA is at times certainly confronting. Through the eyes of a journalist in a foreign country, it explores the trauma of war, misogyny, ignorance, brutality, how, in the end, we are all somehow foreign and easily vanquished. The subject matter is powerful and thought provoking enough (engaging both the global and personal) but the play is lifted further in effective counterpoint by the haunting choreography and inspired design. Indeed, while I found ILLYRIA at times overwhelming, its moving lyricism, deep symbolism and poetry gave the work true and lasting pathos, all characteristics, for me, of an excellent theatre experience. Each act of violence (murder, torture, rape and sex) is cleverly translated through energetic and committed acting and beautifully executed body movement, the employment of sinew and bone (as if releasing the muscle memory of innumerable victims), the grace of their bodies as they fall dead, or violated, or maimed, or dismembered, acting as a pivot upon which, for the next hour or so, the audience turns.

The exciting news is that this production of Bryony Lavery’s ILLYRIA, as directed by Teresa Izzard and created collaboratively with the Ensemble from the Hayman Theatre Company, is being remounted as part of the Fringe World Festival.

So if you missed ILLYRIA in September last year, you have the chance to see it again at the Hayman Theatre at Curtin University on the 28th January. It’s wonderful to know that this quality production is about to have a second season.

Do not miss it.

illyria FB03

Free ILLYRIAN Festival at 6.15 for a 7 pm start 28-31st Jan. Feb 1st 2014

For bookings:

Leonard Cohen Concert Perth WA 13th November 2013

leonard concert
The ‘Sisters’ were there but, emotionally, Leonard, thankfully, gave no mercy.

As you might expect from Leonard Cohen he worked an almost imperceptible seduction at the Entertainment Centre in Perth last night. As humanity packed into the auditorium, I imagine Leonard was ‘out the back’ oiling his vibe, summoning us to his bedside, whetting his poetry into a magnificent point.

And what a vibe it is.

Ill fitting suit and trademark hat. Everything you would expect, except his shock of grey hair every time he reverently took off his hat in honour and respect whenever any of the exquisite musicians were engaged in a solo. Leonard, at these moments, was a deeply compelling human being. Humble. Respectful. Honouring of others. Aware of his own shortcoming as an accomplished instrumentalist. Unendingly grateful and appreciative that their sublime talent continually rarefied his poetry and music.

The Sisters were the Webb Sisters and his long time partner/collaborator Sharon Robinson. They were honey in his hive, jive, vibe. Faultless.

Sharon Robinson sang ‘Alexandra leaving’. Exquisite.

The Webb Sisters’ version of ‘If it be your will’ –perfect.

Cohen is obviously a heady mix of artistic sensibilities: The Poet. The Musician. The Lover. The Watcher. The Boy. The Man. The Saint. The Sinner. Artistic Heartthrob. Icon.

And woven imperceptibly into the fabric of his persona is his immense compassion and understanding of the human condition. And intelligence. His mind turns on an exquisite point. The point being that we suffer, make mistakes, need succour, and love, have to leave, forgive, remember, and get wise. That we are broken, caught, inexorable, alone, aching in and out each others’ arms is gut wrenchingly rendered in “a thousand kisses deep’

the undeniable highlight of the evening, the ageing hippie beside me reduced to tears, squeezing my hand, and then my knee, the audience hushed all around us as if the whole of humanity as one was listening to the deepest darkest most sacred secrets of the soul. As if it was Church. Delphi. Varansi. Mecca. Gethsemane.  Vajrashila. And not simply Perth. A small uninspiring suburban outpost of human confluence.

And in the midst of all this, between songs, he unexpectedly (for me, having never seen him live), showed a childlike joy, skipping on and off the stage, indulging us with encore after encore, the Persian carpet beneath him a luscious symbol of his exotic and yet intimate riches, undeniably shared (as if we know him and might have a chance of knowing ourselves) with pleasure and passion.

And I am glad he sang ‘Suzanne’.  I watched the river pass by, thick and mellowed in a nostalgic and personal memorial.

Late Discovery Adoptee: My Story

Me in front of FJ

My story

I am a Late Discovery Adoptee. I found out I was adopted when I was 42 years old.

I was adopted at birth.

My mother never had the chance to touch me (‘they’ told her I died).

I never knew consciously. My origins were kept a secret from me. However, my body knew. My soul. My unconscious. My cells. My muscles. My marrow. My blood. My dna.

The relinquishment orchestrated my life as a phantom conductor might.

That tear, that loss, that irrevocable rupture reverberated. On every level.

So that when I found out, much became clear. The undiagnosed chronic psychological pain. The childhood depression. Marginalisation. Insecurity. Constant anxiety etc…sometimes there are no words to describe the tearing…(see what A for Adoption has to say about her poignant birth experience)

I was very grateful to find out, to be given the chance to understand what has been wrong all these years.

Very grateful.

To know.

To have a chance to consciously grieve instead of that grief leaching out inexplicably into all areas of my life across the silent years. To express what my body had to keep imprisoned (and still, to some extent, does). To heal. To integrate. To hold myself. To embrace my truth.

I have written my story in a fictionalised memoir (the names changed) that I hope will be published soon.

So what happened to me as a child, adolescent, young woman and adult, and how I found out, what happened next… I will leave hanging for now…

In the meantime there are a few themes that I would like to highlight and discuss on this website regarding Late Discovery Adoptees and Relinquishment/Adoption in general.

Themes such as:

The Rights of the baby/child/adult to know…

This is very much an issue these days with laws still banning the release of birth records, donor inseminations, surrogacy, and wombs for hire etc. So it is still a topic to be compassionately understood, and I would argue, from the baby’s perspective. So I will state my bias upfront: I believe every child has the right to know who their parents are (and to contact). I believe their rights supersede the rights of the adults involved. I am not against adoption. But the child must be told and then nurtured through the loss. The adoptive parents also have to know what it means to lose your mother at the very moment you are coming into Being. To lose your Universe. Your Self. Their love cannot replace the lost mother’s love because at birth the baby and the mother are one in ways that can never be replicated. This is where the ‘primal wound’ is given. It is a wound that can never be healed (those lost moments, hours, days, weeks, months, years can never be replaced as they were and might have been). The wound can only be understood. Embraced. Integrated. Nurtured. Seen. Witnessed. Allowed. Made Legitimate. Only then can the wound become some kind of reconstituted nesting place where we can re-womb and give birth to ourselves within our truth, not as marginalised, liminal human beings, not as objects of personal and societal and cultural shame. Only then can we render adoption ethical.

So I write and paint the last (and lasting) memories of my mother.

I photograph the liminal spaces, wherein I find her and, therefore, myself.

I sing – unbeknownst until I was 42 – with her voice. Her echoes. Her reverberations.

That timbre my own.

Colin Simpson Memorial Lecture 2013 Melissa Lucashenko

New South Wales is on fire again. Umbral clouds billow above the buildings of the Sydney CBD. Elsewhere homes are burning.  Hundreds of hectares scarring. The air is rife with ordeal. As if the city might cook. As if Gaia is making a point in a ruinous and ancient sepia.

I want to take a picture but we are hurrying to make the Colin Simpson Memorial Lecture. I have a migraine, my brain delicately and privately swelling in its own cataclysmic haze.  We enter the small auditorium through the State Library café. It is closing. The end is nigh. We rush in anxiously (or was that just me?). There is no obvious place to sit. People are spaced out in small clumps like a post modern poem. We find a place between phrases.  I put my camera together. Take a picture of the presenter. Wonder if I should. As if the presenter knows I am clueless on this matter, she tells a story about a white woman in another audience recently who asked her if it was “alright for a non-indigenous person to write about indigenous people”. In relating this story to us, the presenter sighs heavily, leans on the lectern, takes a moment and says that she hates having to say “No” but someone has to.  So “No”. It is not alright. The woman presses her point later over coffee, “It’s okay, I know exactly how you feel and why you said “No”. “No”, answers the presenter, “you don’t know exactly why. Not even close“. She had crossed a line with her question and, again, more seriously with her apologetics. The presenter had to speak up. Didn’t want to. But says she always has to. Someone has to. The speaker of this difficult but necessary word ‘No” is Author Melissa Lucashenko. In speaking on what it means to be an indigenous author in Australia, on what can be done to support the creation and distribution of indigenous authorship, she begins to edit the ‘elitist post modern text’ sprawled out in front of her. She educates us about the toxic representations of indigenous people: Firstly, portrayed as a noble savage in some kind of garden of Eden who is easily conquered (read: saved) by white man; or secondly, as the ‘tragic native’, always a ‘victim’. She likens these descriptions to the two little pigs who built their houses out of straw and sticks and who were eaten by the ‘wolf’. She argues for more representations of the third kind; the pig who had the initiative to build his house in bricks, to foil the wolf and survive and prosper. She says that these types of indigenous people are invisible in text, art and film and suggests that the only representation that, in her opinion, truly does portray the ingenious indigenous of the third kind is The Tracker (it seems overwhelmingly appropriate that the only representation of value is one that portrays a tracker who ‘tracks’ what white society cannot see). The Tracker depicts the indigenous protagonist (who can speak four languages, including Latin) as resourceful, smart, and successful. She also says that if we do not start to portray the indigenous as empowered, strong, and capable then they may rise up and find other ways to clear their throats. They might become militant. She is telling us. She is telling us “No”. No more.

I feel chastened.  Disquiet. She is formidable. I feel the earth beneath her. In her.  In comparison, I feel like a wisp of condensation across my own clichéd idea of a remote desert ridge.

She is strong, sure, and wolf-wise.



And…she is richly, richly appreciated…honoured…we all say thank you…I say thank you…

Later, outside again, as we wait for the walk sign to change to green, the world has cooled. The clouds only dimly lit now by the lights of the CBD.

But we can smell the smoke and ruin. The rage and fire.

Illyria: A play about war and new beginnings

Last weekend I attended a performance of Illyria. It was confronting in parts and its taken a week for my thoughts to percolate down.

The acting was brilliant and I especially loved the blending body and text throughout. The choreography added depth and poetry to the play and was an inspired juxtaposition against the raw and traumatic subject matter.

This is my extended response to play in the form of a prose poem: Illyria: Notes on a Play

This following description is taken from the Illyria Facebook Page:

“Curtin’s Performance Studies and the Hayman Theatre Present Bryony Lavery’s ILLYRIA Directed by Teresa Izzard Created collaboratively with the Ensemble …

Illyria is a play about war- its futility and machinations. It is also a play about the journey towards forgiveness and peace.
An Australian journalist gets lost in a war torn land and is witness to events that alter her. Through poetry, storytelling and compelling images ‘Illyria’ takes us along for the ride.”

Check out the Illyria site for pictures of the action and some inspired notes from the characters.
Thanks to all involved for the stimulating experience. Wonderful.
And thanks to the Suzannes for inviting me.