The Unwanted Adversarial Relationship

How One Adoptee Got Triggered

Specific present-day circumstances can trigger my profound wound of losing Elizabeth, my first Mom. What I’m about to share is personal and I’m asking that you’ll read with mercy and grace. I hope this post will be helpful to both adoptive parents and fellow adoptees who struggle with abandonment and rejection issues. Perhaps, for these, the flow of painful memories might be uncontrollable. And, these painful memories become triggers that cause a meltdown or shut down.

While vacationing in Florida, my husband, adult daughter, and I stopped at a sketchy CVS for a pit stop. I was the one in need, so the other two said they’d wait in the car. “I’ll be right back, ” I said while rushing off. I ran in, did my business and rushed out to the car, expecting to resume our  journey of errands together. But, she I returned, there was no one there. My heart raced as I visually surveyed the parking lot. Maybe I was looking in the wrong car for them? Maybe they’d decided to resume errands and would come back to pick me up? So, I stood alone on the porch of CVS and waited. I started holding my breath. Maybe I should look in our rental car again? I did. It was empty. I felt numb from head to foot. I didn’t see my options. I could have texted, but I didn’t have my phone. Even if I had, the thought wouldn’t enter my mind.  Then, one more entrance into CVS. It would be safer there than standing outside.

Suddenly, my husband peeked at me from an aisle cap. His smile was downright irritating. He smiled, which really ticked me off. Why would he be smiling at such a distressing moment? Then, I screamed, “ Where were you? I thought you forgot about me!”  Both husband and daughter called out: ”I will never forget about you,” as they rushed to my side for an embrace. Needless to say, I was emotionally absent after this, even though we made a stop at TJs and Homegoods. Later, I asked how they perceived the event. My husband said that I appeared angry. Perhaps so, but I didn’t feel angry.  I felt abandoned, forgotten, and left behind.  It’s taken me weeks to process this. At the time, I couldn’t remember anything.

This is living proof that my adoption is a lifelong journey. Healing from my past doesn’t mean that the slate of past memories will be wiped clean. Instead, it means that I can walk through present day triggers and not be emotionally devastated. I can also see life through restored lenses, which is pure joy.

Types of Adoptee Triggers

So, for the parents reading this, here is what triggered me. Because adoptees are unique, everyone’s triggers will conform to the trauma they’ve endured. 

  1. Strange Places

Healing from my past doesn’t mean that the slate of memories will be wiped clean. Instead, it means that I can walk past present day triggers and not be emotionally devastated. This is a common trigger for adopted kids of all ages. New school, geographical move, new homeroom.

  1.  DNA Expectations

As a newborn, my DNA was wired to expect that my first Mom would be happy to see my face. I was looking forward to nursing at her breasts. Most people, adopted or not, find this relationship with the mother to be foundational for life. We were created to have biological mothers.

  1. Sudden Absence of Loved One

Newborn Sherrie’s biological mom gave orders that she didn’t want to see my face or know my sex. Thus, she was whisked away, never to be contacted for 47 years. She disappeared, just like my husband and daughter did on the Florida vacation.

  1. No Way to Find Loved One

On the Florida vacation, I couldn’t find my husband and daughter, no matter how hard I seemingly tried. After my birth, my brain and body began to search for my first Mom. It took 47 years to find her, but I did.

What Parents Can Do

  1. Don’t try to fix your kids when they’re experiencing a trigger. You can’t. Be respectfully quiet and listen.
  2. Don’t touch. We’re in so much pain when we get triggered that we’ll push you away.
  3. Regulate yourself.
  4. Continually practice self-care.
  5. Read: THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE–Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Bessel Vanderkolk, M.D. (Order here:

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