I recently had the opportunity to face one of my fears. To say I had anxiety about this is an understatement. I was asked to talk about Race and Adoption at the ABCD (Anti-Bullying Celebrate Diversity) Conference. These are two parts of my life I had no control over, and to be honest I haven’t always known how to make sense of.
As I prepared for the talk, I had mixed feelings about sharing my thoughts about these topics. Race is often a controversial subject, and my adoption intersects two families. I wrote drafts of my talk, and spent hours thinking of what I would say. Of course, it wasn’t until the day before I realized the thread that would shape my talk.
I talked about shame and how babies and small children don’t feel shame. Think about it, you were taught to feel shame. People would call me names: chink, gook, flat face, Chinese-Japanese, etc. Behind the words was the message, “You don’t fit in. We don’t accept you.” They used the thing I had no control over: my race. Bullies will often target the aspect you don’t have control over. My face used to burn with embarrassment when they singled me out and called me names. I could hear their laughter as I was stunned into silence. Those experiences taught me, “Who you are is not all right, feel bad about it.” And as best as my family and friends would tell me otherwise, their messages were often puzzling. “We love you. We don’t see you as Korean or Asian. We don’t even think of it – you’re just Lora.” I thought, how do they not see me as Asian? That part of me is erased?
They say that the need to belong is so strong that it shapes much of our decisions. When I was younger, I didn’t know how to make sense of being different, I didn’t have words to express what was thinking and feeling, and often it was unclear even to me. I was a very shy, introverted child. I loved my family and friends, who were all Caucasian. As a family, we went to church and I learned about God. Because I was painfully shy, partially because the attention I received publicly was because of my race, I prayed. My prayer was not for more clothes, a bigger bedroom, or more toys. I prayed to be White. Any mirror, reflective surface, or even photographs were painful. They were all reminders of what I wasn’t.
In our community, everywhere we went I saw what I wasn’t: at the doctor’s office, at school, at the bank, at the store. I couldn’t even imagine what I wanted to do when I was older, I couldn’t see myself in any of the professions or jobs. I believe we have within us this mechanism that guides us. When I was in high school, I found journaling. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I poured out my frustrations, my anger, the things I wish I had said to those bullies. I poured out my questions, my thoughts. I wrote my way to freedom. I used words that were my own. I didn’t have to try and explain it to anyone else. It mattered because it was my own. And those words released creativity. I embraced the art world, and I saw how so many artists were outsiders. I saw how they created their own worlds.
In my talk, I told the audience how my yoga and meditation practice gave me the most powerful tool: the power of my mind. I can’t change my past, I can’t undo what was said to me. But, I can choose to stop letting those words have power over me. I can’t control what people say about me in the present, and I may not agree or like it. I don’t have to, but neither do I have to accept it or let it live within me. I’ve come to trust and honor myself, for me this has been through yoga and meditation. And it’s what I’ve taught my own daughter, who too has had her share of bullying. I’ve learned to listen to what she says, and I also no longer tell her what I was told, “the bully didn’t mean it; just ignore it; be the bigger person.” Instead, I tell her how to use the power of her mind, to really know and trust who she is. To speak up, to draw clear and firm boundaries with the bully. Most importantly, not to take on their comments. The bully relies on weakness, but that’s not who we are. We are strong. We rise.
The talk I gave taught me so much about myself, but what I loved the most was how connected I felt to the audience. I realized, that each one of us has parts of our life that we have felt shame about. We all experience fear and have hurts. After the talk, I was touched by the people that came up to me. They wanted to share their stories, some of them were the same as mine. And I understood why it’s important to share your story, because there’s a healing that happens when we are present and open to one another. The audience and the speaker share in the experience, and everyone is changed. This is the power of owning your story, even the parts that are uncomfortable and painful. In the owning of the story it lessens its power over you. And you do the thing you were always meant to do, You Rise!