"Before I could release the weight of my sadness and pain, I first had to honor it's existence." - yung pueblo
My name is Pamela A. Karanova, and I'm an adult adoptee born in Iowa, but I reside in Lexington, KY. I share my adoptee journey at www.pamelakaranova.com. I am the creator of Authenticity Over Alcohol and the nonprofit organization Adoptees Connect, Inc. I work in the home health field and have been for over 16 years. I have three adult children, two dogs, and one cat. I enjoy coffee, hot tea, nature, bonfires, hiking, kayaking, sunrises, and sunsets. I love the simple things in life, and my favorite hobby is chasing waterfalls all over my great state of Kentucky.
Back to the beginning, I grew up in a small town in Iowa with divorced adoptive parents. I was born experiencing pre-verbal trauma at the loss of my biological mother. The core and root issue of my pain was undoubtedly the broken bond I suffered at the beginning of life. This primal wound is swept under the rug in most adoptions today, but the wound can show up in every area of our lives until we tend to it.
"Aren't you thankful you weren't aborted?" says the world. A question that is always asked by non-adopted individuals. Actually, no I'm not. The pain I have carried most of my life has equated me to truly wish I was aborted so please stop saying this to adopted people.
By the time I reached 15 years old, I had already experienced what most people don't experience in their entire lifetimes and I was the prime example of someone growing up "on the wrong side of the tracks!"
I was a runaway juvenile convict, pregnant, living on the streets, juvenile detention and juvenile group homes. I always blamed myself. I hated myself, the world, and everyone in it, and I wanted to die. I tried several times to end my life, but obviously, I failed.
At 12 years old, I was addicted to alcohol at my first drink because it was all that seemed to take the pain away. I will never forget being locked in an inpatient drug and alcohol rehab at 15 years old and handed the big book. I was instructed to "find God." If I completed this, I would get out of rehab, and life would be grand.
They told me I had to step out of denial and admit and accept that I was an alcoholic and, once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. This was the only option I was given at the time. This never sat well with me, and I will soon explain why. I went with the motions, got out and went and got drunk and high as soon as I was set free.
I grew up in a home where God was present by my adoptive mom's teachings. She read the bible, made us pray before meals, and we did family devotionals. She taught us that all gay people were going to hell, and she told me I was going to hell for dating outside my race at 12 years old. The mind-boggling dynamic is that I didn't even know my race because being adopted in a closed adoption, my ethnicity was kept states secret, and I had no idea who I was, let alone what my "race" was.
She failed to understand the reality that dating outside my "race" is how she viewed it, but dating outside my race was actually confirmation that I wasn't dating a biological brother, cousin, sibling, etc. It was a mentally tormenting life to grow up and not know who you are and where you come from. But I was damned to hell from the very beginning.
I grew up with this feeling of badness attached to me. I was a bad baby; therefore, my birth mother didn't want me, I was born bad and a sinner based on biblical teachings. I was going to hell for dating outside my race, and I was bad to the core because I was in trouble so much as a juvenile. When I looked in the mirror, I hated what was looking back at me because she was BAD. I went to the school for bad kids, was locked in juvenile detention with the rest of the bad kids, had no hope in life, and had no self-love. It's hard to look at yourself in the mirror and love what is looking back at you when you have no clue who you are and your own biological mother passed you over to strangers. I was bad.
These thoughts tormented me. The closed adoption narrative rarely highlights the downfalls that directly impact the adoptee and how the secrets and lies these adoptions are rooted in destroying someone from the inside out. Alcohol was my daily best friend, and it was a guaranteed way I didn't have to feel the pain of separation trauma, adoption trauma, grief, loss, and abandonment.
Sadly, my adoptive mom was someone I didn't bond with. I never felt close to her and we were like oil and water. The word that would describe her from my lens as an adult adoptee is REPULSIVE. She was addicted to prescription pain pills, tried killing herself in front of us on many occasions, and created a GOD FILLED traumatic environment that I somehow survived growing up in. I can share that the emotionally abusive dynamic of your mother lying in the street while you watch in hysteria and locking herself in her bedroom while you bang on her door in terror for her not to kill herself does a number on a child.
It's been far more damaging than any physical abuse I have ever gone through. I was born and raised to cater to her wants and needs. I was groomed to care for her, and I did most of my childhood and adult life. But unfortunately, she was narcissistic, manic-depressive, and couldn't care for herself, let alone the two daughters she adopted. Somehow I made it out of this, but not without a lot of mental abuse to heal from along the way.
I was able to connect the dots by my teenage years that my adoptive mom only adopted her two daughters so we could take care of her in her old age because she didn't want to go to a nursing home. I know this because she never stopped talking about it. Her plan backfired because her intentions were mischievous from the beginning. I share more about this in an article I wrote called The Ailing Adoptive Mother.
Alcohol was still my best friend and I was a walking dead woman, a shell of a human being. I could not feel, and I could not cry nor did I have the tools to heal.
At 21 years old, I brought a beautiful baby girl into the world, and four short years later, I had twins. My kids have always been my world. I was a young single mother, raising three kids on my own, but they gave me a reason to keep going, even when I didn't want to keep going for myself. They gave me a reason to want to be better and do better than I had growing up. But it took a long while for me to break the curse alcohol had over my life because most days, I thought I would die without alcohol. The reality was, I couldn't sit with the pain or myself sober because I didn't know-how. I didn't have the tools to process such deep-rooted, complex feelings.
As I reached adulthood, I searched and found both of my biological parents. That's a whole long story by itself, but what I will say is that I discovered I was conceived out of an affair, and my biological father was married at the time, and he knew nothing of me. I was adopted without his consent, and my birth mother never wanted to be found. Finally, I was able to see and meet them both one time, and the biggest takeaway from this experience is that I didn't want to die like my birth parents. I was broken-hearted from the rejection I felt from both of them. However, I wanted to do everything in my power to not die like them.
You see, I found out they were both raging alcoholics, and my birth mother died that way, and my birth father isn't far behind her. I picked up the alcohol thing, even when they didn't raise me, and I spent 27 years of my life using alcohol as a coping tool because I had NO TOOLS being adopted. The therapists I saw didn't understand the depths of the adoptee experience, so they failed at helping me. Alcohol created a fake me, and every day I was walking in a false sense of reality. I didn't know who I was. Everything was an illusion but deep down, I wanted to find the real true me. The Authentic me.
Learning the TRUTH of my beginnings and where I came from ultimately saved my life.
I picked up all the broken pieces of my past and I started to walk with them instead of run from them. In 2005 I packed up a 22-Foot U-Haul, and my kids and I moved across the country away from everyone. I didn't have a home or a car. I was jobless, I had no keys to anything and no money. I started my life over with my kids. I had so much to heal from, and I literally started from what was my rock bottom.
I tried to begin the healing process while alcohol was still in my life; however, this was a recipe for disaster. Alcohol and trauma work do not mix well at all. This was when I knew I had to leave alcohol alone to truly learn to sit with my grief, loss, pain, sorrow, and sadness. To heal it, we must feel it and not just a little bit. We have to sit with all of it, for however long it takes. As soon as I stopped drinking alcohol all the feelings I had been running from my whole life showed up at my front doorstep. Shit got real, real fast.
3500 days ago, my whole life changed. August 13, 2012, was my earthly birthday, a day filled with sadness and sorrow. I drank and partied to ease the pain of the reality of that day. My fellow adoptees get me, but for those that don't - it's hard to celebrate the day you lost everything, your biological mother. That pain surfaced every year around my birthday.
But 2012 was different.
Learning that my biological parents were alcoholics, and I had a traumatic experience happen on my 37th birthday. I woke up realizing that I am just like my birth parents with the alcohol component. I was using alcohol to cope and I was dealing with some very deep rooted traumatic experiences masked by my alcohol use. It rocked me to my core, and this was the day I chose to leave alcohol alone. But I had a problem. I was convinced due to the worldly view of alcoholism; I needed help. I walked away from everything I had always known, to once again start my life over. I was still faced with the ONLY option I had encountered at 15 years old, Alcoholics Anonymous and the big book. I went in headfirst, and I was determined to do what I had to do to leave alcohol alone to be a happier and healthier mom to my kids, which is something I never had.
I walked into several observations worth noting that I have experienced in the last 3500 days of living without alcohol. First, I had a significant issue with the label "Alcoholic," and I refused to accept and acknowledge that I was an alcoholic and, once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. So if I wanted to get help, work on healing, and recover, the AA way would trap me into dying like my birth parents, like an alcoholic. I was NOT going to die like them, and I was willing to put in the work, blood, sweat, and tears to make sure of it. So why would I be forced to take on this label, and if I didn't take it on, I was gaslit and told I was in denial, and I would DIE unless I accepted I was an alcoholic? I was told I would only be able to get help if I accepted I was an alcoholic and confessed loudly, "I am Pam, and I'm an alcoholic."
Well, I am too stubborn to give in, and because of my beliefs of wanting to RECOVER, I didn't fit in the scope of Alcoholics Anonymous or Celebrate Recovery. I refused to believe I would never recover and that I needed to submit to recovery for the rest of my life. But this didn't happen overnight. It's taken 3500 days alcohol-free to say that I am finally walking in my genuine authenticity. This is because I live an alcohol-free lifestyle for all the reasons I have shared in this article. While I am entirely supportive and aware that these programs work for many, I am writing to share they don't work for everyone that it's okay if they don't work for you.
"In oneself lies the whole world, and if you know how to look and learn, the door is there, and the key is in your hand. Nobody on earth can give you either the key or the door to open, except yourself." - Jiddu Krishnamurti
One of the most significant positive takeaways from the last 3500 days is the reality that I have options now. One of the biggest hurdles has been the lack of resources to choose from. Many more options have become available in the last 3500 days of my life than Alcoholics Anonymous, but they don't seem to be listed in one space to see all my options out in front of me. This has created 3500 days of ups and downs of figuring out what works for me and what doesn't. I started in AA and ended up in Celebrate Recovery. I wouldn't change these experiences for the world because they have added a layer of understanding on what works and doesn't work for me.
Celebrate Recovery was a ministry biblically based approach. While it was helpful in many ways, it created an environment where instead of sitting with the pain and trauma to heal, I was running a rat race of praying, fasting, serving, leading, pretending, feeling guilty God didn't heal me, which only left me feeling a never-ending dreaded doom on top of increased feelings of being bad in the end. In addition, I experienced using spiritual practices to avoid dealing with reality and my truth. Better known as spiritual bypassing. This only added insult to injury when it came to my trauma and added a layer of religious trauma to the other traumas I have carried.
The last 3500 days of my life have been solely dedicated to my recovery, and even when I was trying to help myself, I was taking time away from my kids to get the help I needed. I couldn't imagine doing this for the rest of my life, but no one was telling me that I would feel like my hard work paid off one day, and I would be able to say to the world - I HAVE RECOVERED! They said the opposite, ONCE AN ALCOHOLIC, ALWAYS AN ALCOHOLIC, and KEEP COMING BACK, IT WORKS IF YOU WORK IT. I've found the gaslighting and shame surfacing at my time in these programs to be damaging. I learned I can heal and recover from this "disease" everyone talks about, and I can do it MY WAY.
The reality that I figured this out on my own has been lifesaving, but I consider these programs being set up to keep someone trapped for a lifetime is quite dangerous and damaging. I'm thankful daily that I have had my awakening to find the strength to believe in myself, trust myself and RECOVER.
It never sat well with my spirit to be told I was powerless. I have all the power in the world to change, quit alcohol, heal, grow and recover. I remind myself daily I AM POWERFUL. The minute I walked away from religion and the recovery groups out there today was the minute I truly started healing. Instead of trying to pray my pain away, I welcomed it, acknowledged it, and began to learn how to sit with it. But, of course, this goes with learning how to feel feelings and process them in healthy ways. So I have spent the last 3500 days healing and feeling. I have made the AOA Pledge. Click here to learn how you can take the pledge.
My tears have dried up, and my sadness has turned into peacefulness. Don't get me wrong, adoption has impacted me significantly and always will surface in different ways, but today the pain isn't so profound that I can't see past it like it was most of my life. I had never walked in my own footsteps without alcohol, so this was a whole new learning process for me. It was scary at first, but the outcome 3500 days later is mind-blowing. Today I have a zest for life that I never had before.
Today the feelings of badness have long left my body, and in finding my adoptee truth, I have been able to find myself. I found out who I am like and who I am nothing like. I can honestly say that I get recognition for being brave and overcoming obstacles in my story. While my individual story doesn't fit inside the boxes that have tried to confine me for 47 years, I have learned so much over the last 3500 days that I am truly honored and humbled that I am here to share my milestone with you all.
Let's celebrate our alcohol-free milestones every chance we get because it's truly something to be proud of, especially when all the cards are stacked up against us from day one. Unfortunately, we live in a world plagued by a positive culture and overpopulated with alcohol propaganda every way we look. It isn't an easy decision to make, but if you can take away one thing from sharing my story today, I hope you know that your recovery journey doesn't have to look like anyone else's. You get to write your story, and what works for others might not work for you. Being authentic to yourself is vital.
Each year on my yearly milestone of living alcohol-free, I present myself with a rock with the number of years I have lived alcohol-free painted on it. Why? Because the worldly view says we have to earn tokens and chips by doing things a certain way, and they have to be presented by a sponsor. Don't get me wrong, I have many of those tokens in my pot of gold, but about three years ago, I realized I didn't need a sponsor because I already have one right inside myself. I also realized that mother nature had been my most incredible healing tool to date, so the rock symbolizes the earth, aka mother nature.
I started a nonprofit organization called Adoptees Connect, Inc., geared for adult adoptees to connect and meet in person. I consider this my service work. I recently received my original birth certificate from the state of Iowa which was a huge milestone in my life. Next, I hope to jump on board to assist KY adoptees in obtaining their OBCs but pushing new legislation that's been introduced. I used my pain and brought purpose out of it, but if the world had its way, I would never be allowed to tell the world I HAVE RECOVERED!
I plan to walk the rest of my life pouring into my nonprofit organization and the Authenticity Over Alcohol Movement. One of the highlights about this creation is celebrating the reality that we all have options now, and options save lives! Click here to visit our resource section I have put together on the AOA platform. A very important piece of this movement is allowing people the space to share their stories, and why they made the choice to live alcohol-free.
If you are struggling with alcohol or would like to learn more about modifying your relationship with alcohol, please visit our website and find the RESOURCES tab. You will find a wealth of information at your fingertips. If you have something to add, please send us a message here.
Thank you for reading my story, and remember, if I have two alcoholic biological parents and I have beat the alcohol thing WITHOUT adding all the labels to my life, and the life sentence of recovery, you can do it too! All the answers you need are right inside yourself. You have to be willing to listen and learn from your intuition and follow your heart.
The colors in the rainbow umbrella are a symbol of what my recovery journey has looked like for me over the last 3500 days of living alcohol-free. Together, they bring beauty that is alive, and create a masterpiece that is my life. The last 3500 days of my life have been a mixture of beauty and sorrow but without the sorrow, and the ability to sit with it, I would have never found the beauty. If the narrative that positive culture spins was to sit a front seat in the last 3500 days of my life, I would have never had the courage to allow myself to sit with the pain, let alone share it with those I am close too. I challenge you to be real, be true to you and walk in your true authentic purpose.
I hope my story helps someone not feel so isolated or alone. I hope it allows others to see we can all write our own stories, and we have all the power in the world to determine which way we go on life. Growing up on the wrong side of the tracks might have shaped and molded me in ways that have created a strong and determined person, but they don't define who I am. I am just a few short months away from my 10-year alcohol-free milestone which falls on my earthly birthday of August 13th. I celebrate this day as my RE-Birthday because the day I stopped drinking alcohol is the day I truly started living! Instead of using the word ALCOHOLIC, I describe my journey using the word Alcohol-Free. Instead of the life sentence of recovery, I share I have recovered. Does that mean I don't have hard days or challenging moments? Not at all. They are not dominant like they used to be. Today, my mind is crystal clear, and I'm freed by the truth. I celebrate sober saturdays and sundays, I enjoy my early mornings with no hangovers, and I love saving money I would have otherwise spent on partying and alcohol.
Healing is a lifelong journey, and I have embraced that I will be healing for the rest of my life. A special thank you to all my ride or dies, and Keila, Damia & Damond. You all have been my greatest source of motivation and at the end of my days, whenever that time comes I will not be dying like my biological parents or a shell of a person. I am sorry I am late, but the mom you deserved all along HAS ARRIVED.
After spending 47 years in pain, and 3500 days working towards recovery I've turned pain into passion, and made it happen. I think my kids deserve a mom that has RECOVERED, and I must not forget that I deserve it too. So do you!
Thanks for reading!
Pamela A. Karanova