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DNA Surprise Retreat: Healing Trauma from a DNA Surprise With Debbie Olson

REW Debbie Olson | DNA Surprise


Our personal experiences in life have an impact on our business, relationship, and parenting. These experiences may sometimes be good, but they can also be disruptive in our lives. How will you navigate life after a shocking discovery? Moneeka Sawyer welcomes our guest to highlight how her life experience impacts other aspects of her life. Debbie Olson, co-host of DNA Surprise Retreat, shares how she became a life coach and how fulfilling it is. Grow from your experiences, navigate life, and tune in to this episode today.

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DNA Surprise Retreat: Healing Trauma from a DNA Surprise With Debbie Olson

Real Estate Investing For Women

I am so excited to welcome to the show my friend, Debbie Olson. This is what Debbie has to share with us. I was adopted by my stepfather, and I was told my biological father did not want me and was later told he was dead. I decided to take a DNA test in hopes of connecting to a paternal relative. I received an email from a connection via Ancestry that turned out to be my half-sister. I learned my dad is alive and I have a half-brother.

It is this moment right here that turned my life upside down. For me, the shock was happy and something I had wanted for so long. From this shock, going to therapy and working with a life coach, I became certified as a life coach to help others in similar situations. I met and connected with Alexis Hourselt, and we have united to co-host a DNA Surprises Podcast. Together, we are also hosting our very first Surprise Retreat on May 4th through 7th, 2023 in Tucson, Arizona. You are invited. Debbie, welcome to the show. How are you?

Thank you. I’m great. How are you?

I’m good, thanks. I’ve known Debbie for a while. We’re part of a mastermind that has powerful people in it. Don’t you think, Debbie? Amazing people. I’ve never had this experience in my life before, but every single person you meet has so much to offer. A lot of us are real estate people and a lot of us are not. It’s incredible to me the exchange of heartfelt support and business support, and the things that we bring to each other, whether we’re in the same industry or not.

You know that because bliss is such a big core value of me, this show, and my business, I’m very acutely aware of how our own personal life and our personal experience of life affects our businesses, our lives, our relationships, our parenting, our learning, and all of those things. I often bring life coaches on, and Debbie is one of those people that as she has talked about her experience with this surprise DNA test, it’s been incredible to me to watch her experience and how she has grown and her incredible strength, but also to realize that this is the experience that’s surprisingly common now.

There was no Ancestry.com or 23andMe 5 or 6 years ago. I don’t know when it all started. During COVID, all of us were getting our 23andMe test. I found out that my heritage is exactly from the town where my mom was born. There were no surprises. It was funnily boring. I did find out that I’m a higher percentage Neanderthal than many people, which was a little disconcerting, but whatever.

The point is that I didn’t have that experience, but Debbie did. As I started to talk to people, I realized more and more people do. For some people, it’s this amazing experience. For some people, it’s heart-wrenching. In all cases, it’s disruptive because you’ve got this surprise. A surprise, whether it’s good or bad, can be disruptive. It can disrupt your life. It can disrupt your goals in life.

I had another girlfriend that found a whole family she didn’t know about. She had found a sister. She lived in Southern California, and her sister lived in Santa Rosa. She moved to Santa Rosa to get to know a sister of hers that she never knew she had. They have this amazing relationship. They’re blissfully happy that it all happened, but it completely disrupted her life. It turned out to be the most amazing thing. It has turned out to be an amazing thing for Debbie also, but it was disruptive.

As we’re navigating this brave new world that COVID has created for us, as we’re coming out of it, as we’re doing all these new things in our lives like discovering our ancestry, new relatives, and all of those things, I felt that it was valuable for Debbie to come online and share her experience in the way that she does, which is so lovely. See if this touches any of you, ladies, because in real estate, if we have blockages and if we have disruption, it’s going to affect our business. I’ve seen it. It’s been such a big disruption for so many people.

I hope you, ladies, find this valuable. I do want to say that Debbie is holding her first retreat, and I’m super excited about it. I won’t be going because I don’t have this issue. As much as I love Debbie, I don’t travel unless I have to anymore. I know that this will be valuable to some of you, ladies. Stay tuned with me and let’s get going on this show. Debbie, you gave us a little bit of your story, but could you give us a high level of what that experience was like for you? What happened?

Growing up, I was adopted by my stepdad. He was the only dad that I ever remember being in my life. I have two full older siblings who did have a little bit of a relationship with our biological dad. They’re 6 and 7 years older than I am. I was about one year old when my biological parents divorced. They have some memories of him and they had some experiences with him. I only ever had a father-daughter relationship with my stepdad.

As we were growing up, we weren’t allowed to talk or ask questions about our biological father. We were always told, “He didn’t want us. You have a great dad. Be happy for what you have and get on with life.” I do think some of that was the thing that you did back in the day. That was what was socially acceptable to do. As an adult probably in her early twenties, I think my mom wanted to put the final stamp on it and told us that she had heard our biological dad had passed away.

I never had the desire to find him until I had the desire to find him. He was always in the back of my mind. There were always little things I would do here and there. I decided to do the DNA test with the goal in mind that I would find the one person who would know something about my biological dad and would say something kind about him because I’d never heard anything very kind.

Why was that so important?

When you have a parent that you don’t know and you’re not told kind things about them, you feel a little bit like there’s something wrong with you as well. I wanted to hear something good. After taking the DNA test, I took it in 2018. I didn’t get any matches that were high enough or that I could equate to my biological dad. I stopped looking at it. I gave up hope.

I got a message from my half-sister, who I learned from my half-sister. She was asking me very specific questions about where I was born and if I knew my siblings. She was using their first and middle names, things that people wouldn’t necessarily know to ask. I was on vacation with my husband, Shane. I looked at him and said, “I’ve got this weird message. This girl knows some things.”

I was a little freaked out, but at the same time, wanted to talk to her. We had probably 1 or 2 very brief messages. She finally said, “I’m your half-sister. We’ve been looking for you for so long.” The next message, I said, “I understand our dad’s passed away.” She said, “No, he’s alive. You have a brother as well. We live in Canada. We’re so happy.”

They’re happy to have found you. That’s lovely.

That was a nice feeling because the more you learn about people that have these DNA surprises, some of them are rejected. Oftentimes, the results of affairs or different and things like that. Wives or families aren’t told and they’re rejected. I was very much accepted. Not only accepted but, “We’ve been looking for you. We wanted you in our lives.” For me, it was an incredibly wonderful experience.

REW Debbie Olson | DNA Surprise

DNA Surprise: Some people that have DNA surprises are rejected. Sometimes they’re the results of affairs.


What happened next?

My sister and I did a lot of emailing back and forth. Within a few weeks, we did some video calls with my sister and my dad and his wife, my stepmom, which is my half-siblings’ mother. Getting to know each other, learning about things, and finding out how we got lost from each other. My dad was very worried that we were going to hate him or be upset with him, which was nothing like that was true. I told my two other siblings that I had found him. They both said the same thing, “We thought he was dead.” There was that dynamic of trying to build a relationship and get past the past.

It was disruptive to your life. Talk a little bit about that, if you don’t mind.

Not at all. It was disruptive. At first, it’s pretty euphoric. You think about it 24/7. You stop sleeping at night. You think about everything that you’ve been told in the past. You think about what could have been. You think about what it will be like now. There’s nothing that you don’t think about. It’s constant. I was able to go to Canada in September 2019. I found them in May. I went in September and met them. By the next May, I was in therapy.

I think once the euphoria, the newness, and so many things wore off and life gets back to normal, the honeymoon phase was over. I call it the honeymoon phase. It was at that point that I recognized that I needed some mental help to help me cope, deal with, understand, and what to do with all the things that had happened.

For you, even though it sounds like it was very euphoric, there was quite a lot of anger around that too, wasn’t there?


Tell us a little bit about that. I’m sorry to put you on the spot, Debbie, but I want to make it real because I know that with any other person that has gone through this, even my girlfriend being reunited with her sister, there was a lot of pent-up anger inside about, “Why was this stolen from me my whole life?” She had to go through a lot to get past that, even though the whole experience for her was what you might call euphoric. I know that people are going through this and so I want them to understand what your story is too.

I don’t feel like being put on the spot at all. I’m very comfortable talking about this now. That is one thing I will say. At first, it was difficult for me to share these things. When people would ask me questions, I oftentimes wouldn’t know how to answer them. It’s partly because I was ashamed. You feel ashamed that you didn’t grow up in a perfect nuclear family. There’s shame around that. I think that people don’t want to feel angry.

You have this great thing that happens to you and you don’t want to feel that anger. The fact is I was angry. I was angry at my biological dad for not trying hard enough to find me. I was angry at my mom and my stepdad for taking us away from him. You are very angry. You’re angry that you missed out on Christmases with your siblings, birthdays, and the traditions that they’ve created that you’re not part of. It’s a lot to think about and a lot of it does make you mad.

Do you feel like it’s possible to get past that?

I feel like it’s possible to get past it. I sometimes don’t know if it’s possible to completely forget it. Sometimes things will be sad or things will happen. That will bring out some feelings and some emotions in me. I’m learning and I’ve learned to allow those feelings. I allow myself to be mad. I allow myself to be frustrated and to feel like it’s not fair or it wasn’t fair that I didn’t get to have some experiences. Feeling your feelings, allowing them, and not being ashamed of them is important. I’ve tried to do that.

Feeling your feelings and allowing your emotions are essential. Do not be ashamed of them. Share on X

I know you’ve given us in your story and you’re a life coach but define specifically what you’re qualifying for your work a DNA surprise.

A DNA surprise when generally someone will take an over-the-counter DNA test. You said you did 23andMe. I did Ancestry. I’ve done them both now. At the time, I did Ancestry and generally had a surprise. Similarly to you, I know about a half-sister that I didn’t know was out there. People are sometimes finding out they’re adopted if their parents don’t confide that in them or they’re donor-conceived.

A lot of donor-conceived people are finding hundreds of siblings. Some find a few and some find hundreds. A new thing with DNA testing is donor conception. It’s any type of surprise like that where it might not be that often, “Your dad is not your dad.” At least in my communities and things, that seems to be the most common thing. Oftentimes, that’s not it. There’s another person in the community that her biological dad reached out to her and said, “I think I’m your dad.” They did a DNA test to confirm and he was. Usually, it’s with a DNA test, but not always.

How did you decide to go into this work? Let me qualify that a little bit. There are a lot of people that are having these surprises that did not become life coaches. What drew you to this work?

As you said earlier, DNA surprises are becoming more and more prevalent. The more people that are testing, the more it’s happening. There are not a lot of resources in the community for people that are having these DNA surprises. There are not a lot of people that feel comfortable going to therapy or talking publicly.

When I first had my DNA surprise, I would not have done this show. This was not something I would have done. That’s what drove me. It was knowing that there was a need for it. I have historically worked in legal land. I’ve been a paralegal for a long time. I’ve done family and criminal law. That’s a lot of working with families and their dynamics, good, bad, or otherwise. I felt like I already had some experience in difficult family situations, which assisted me in choosing to do life coaching.

Are you loving it?

I’m loving it very much. It’s very fulfilling for me as much as it is. I hope I’m helping others. I believe I’m helping others, but it helps me as well. It’s great.

As life coaches, that’s always true. You grow from your clients as much as they grow from you, which is amazing. How did you meet Alexis?

We went to a different retreat and connected there. We connected on social media. I don’t do the podcast with her. She does it on her own. We had met at a retreat and connected that way and continued talking after the retreat and decided that doing our own retreat would be something that we would be interested in. There are not a lot of resources in the community. There are not a lot of those opportunities out there for people. We started bouncing it around and the next thing you knew, it was being planned.

Talk to me about the idea of this retreat that’s coming up.

We want to create a community of healing and wellness. We have a ranch-style facility where we’re going to be holding the retreat in Tucson, Arizona. It won’t be snowing like it is here, hopefully. It’s May 4th through 7th. Think Airbnb style. There are some shared spaces. We’ll be providing the meals. We’ll be there for Thursday to Sunday. Thursday night, we’ll do a big dinner, get to know each other, and share why we’re there, and where we’re from. We have people from all over the United States that are coming, which is exciting. We have expert-led sessions with different facilitators that are going to speak about different things. We’ll have three facilitators each day, Friday and Saturday. Sunday, we’ll have a little brunch type of experience and go back home.

Could you talk to me a little bit about what the experts are going to be sharing and talking about?

Yes. We have one that’s going to talk about grief. We have someone that’s going to talk about trauma, Big T and Little T traumas. We have someone that’s going to talk about RAIN, which is Recognize, Allow, Investigate, and Nurture. We have someone that’s going to do a right-to-heal where we’ll do some writing exercises. We have another gal who’s going to do a little art project with us about being broken and putting yourself back together. I’m going to do a session What’s Next? working on the strengths that you already have.

I got tingles listening to that. It sounds amazing.

It’s going to be fun, I think.

For a first retreat, that’s ambitious too. I’m proud of you for putting together this special the first time around. That’s amazing. There’s something magical about the first time. Ladies, have you noticed this? The very first house you buy or the very first man you kiss. The very first time you go to a dance. There’s something magical about that first experience doing something. I’ve done a lot of retreats myself that I’ve put on.

The first one, it’s not always as put together. Yours is put together. Mine wasn’t, but it was so magical. It was like that first time. It was my first experience. I’m still close friends with every single person that came to that retreat because we had this amazing creation together that changed all of our lives. It was amazing. I’m super excited for the people that are going to be joining you, Debbie, for this creation.

Thank you.

What I’m so impressed with, ladies, is she’s capping it at 30 because she wants there to be personalized attention for everybody that’s there. Sometimes when we’re going through hard things, we don’t want to be in a big group. We want to be held in a smaller community. I know that Debbie was feeling that too. She wanted to create that for people. She will only have 30, but it’s May 4th and she’s already half full, which never happens for anybody that runs retreats or events. Usually, people buy their tickets in the last week or the last two weeks. To have it half full does speak to how prevalent this is out there.

Sometimes when we go through hard things, we don't want to be in a big group. We want to be in a smaller community. Share on X

When I went to my first retreat, I was nervous. I didn’t know anyone. I do feel like this environment we’ve created and we will create will be welcoming and loving. It can be a little intense with emotions. We want people to know that they can take time out if they need to. There’s no expectation of them to attend every session if they’re struggling or if they need a minute by themselves. That’s absolutely something that they can do. We want to create that space for them as well as the community and togetherness and hold each other in a safe space.

As many women are, I am the victim of sexual assault. When I’ve gone to retreats to heal that and when I need that time out, sometimes I need someone there to help me through the time out. Do you feel like you’ll have that kind of support there?

Absolutely. With our facilitators being around and with Alexis and I co-hosting, there will always be one of us that can handle whatever is happening in the socialized part of the retreat. While if someone needs a hug or a timeout, we can do that as well.

That’s valuable. Thank you for that. Who do you think should attend?

Anyone who’s had a DNA surprise. If you’ve taken a DNA test and you’ve found a father, a sibling, or maybe you’re adopted. Alexis specifically had an ethnicity shift. She found out that the dad that raised her wasn’t her biological father. She was raised to be half Mexican and half White. She found out she’s an African-American and White. She’s had some ethnicity shifts with hers. That’s been something that she’s had to work through. DNA surprise is hard to just say, “This is what it is,” because it is vast. The best definition is if you’ve had a DNA surprise.

You’ve told us a little bit about the facilitators and what they’re going to be teaching, but could you talk about each of them as a person a little bit and introduce us to them?

I can. I don’t have their names in front of me and I’m terrible at this. I know off the top of my head, Christine Wolf is doing the Write To Heal. She is a writer in Chicago and lives in Chicago. She helps people write memoirs. She’ll be teaching that session specifically. I’m doing a session on What’s Next? building on our strengths. It’s my hope that I can listen to and take from what the other facilitators have taught at the retreat and then I can build on that for everyone.

That’s one of those things that you’re good at. It is the What’s Next conversation because we’ve had this conversation. This is another thing, ladies, that you might want to know. Debbie and I have all these group activities that we do with this mastermind. Debbie was one of the very first people that I had a group activity with. I laid it all out on the line. I’ve got some fun “I love my life,” so I’ve got some fun secrets that I don’t share with the broader world, but it was relevant in this particular exercise.

It was so fun to look into her eyes and speak that truth without fear. I didn’t know if I was going to be judged or whatever. We’re all afraid. We’re in that vulnerable space about being judged, and how kind and generous of spirit she was, and the way she held me, and the way that she was gloriously happy for me. It was amazing. That’s why we became friends. It’s because of her as a coach. My thing was, “What’s next?”

I have to confess. I believe I’m this amazing manifestor. I’ve created this blissful life that I can’t even believe is mine. I want that for all of you, ladies, which is why I do this show. I want it for the whole world but I’ll do what I can do. There’s always a “What’s next?” It’s my belief that if we’re not wanting, we’re dying. It’s not wanting like, “There must be more. I want more. I want more money. I want a bigger house.”

It’s not like that, but there has to be something that we’re being pulled forward toward in life that we’re working toward, that we’re blissfully inspired by, that keeps us alive and keeps us growing and evolving, not just in our businesses, but in our lives, our relationships, and everything that we’re doing. I’m very much a what’s next person. Not because I’m not satisfied. You, ladies, know that I do, but I’m always like, “Thank you for this and what’s more? What’s possible? How could I be more blissful?”

It was fun to talk to Debbie about here I am in this place and I don’t even know how to set a goal for the next thing. How to feel that inspiration moving forward? I’m feeling stuck. Poor me, I was stuck in my bliss. It sounds so goofy, but it’s true. I had gotten to this place where I wasn’t sure where I was headed next. Debbie helped talk me through that. That was a ten-minute exercise, ladies. I know what her capacity is, and I’m so looking forward to you guys experiencing that.

Thank you. I appreciate that. The other people speaking, Megan Irwin is going to talk about the trauma, The Big T and the Little T.

Talk a little bit about the Big T and the Little T.

With traumas, there are big traumas and little traumas. I’m certainly not an expert on this, but this is what I know Megan is going to speak about. I believe she’s going to speak about working through the big traumas and the little traumas and how to work through those things. Maybe how to identify them as well.

I think that’s the thing. My question is how do I define the Big T and how do I define a Little T? To me, it’s all T.

She’s going to speak about how they affect our bodies and our minds, and she’s going to give tools to manage those things.

I love that.

We’ll have Jennica Klemann. She is an advanced certified grief recovery specialist. She’s going to talk about brief recovery methods. She works with people who have lost spouses, pets, children, friends, and any grief loss that way. When you have a DNA surprise, there can be grief in it as well. I did find my dad and he was alive, but I’ve grieved 50 years of not having a relationship with him. That’s how that can play into that, or if you’ve been rejected by family or if you’ve found a biological parent or sibling and they’ve already passed. That’s where the grief can lead. She’s going to talk about that.

When you have a DNA surprise, there can be grief in it as well. Share on X

Jennifer Spencer is going to talk about radical acceptance. Oftentimes with the DNA surprise, you can lose your identity. Alexis is a perfect example of that. She was raised Hispanic and then found out she was African-American. There’s some identity crisis in there. With that, I was never raised with any biological paternal side of my family. Having found that, it’s interesting to see our likenesses and our differences, and different things like that. The radical acceptance is interesting when you’ve had a DNA surprise

REW Debbie Olson | DNA Surprise

DNA Surprise: Sometimes with the DNA surprise, you can lose your identity.


I’m sure what she’s going to be talking about is radical acceptance of yourself. Is that true?


We can’t expect anything from anybody else. We’re all going to have our own experiences around this. Radical acceptance Is about self-acceptance.

We have Lindsay Johnson, and she’s the one that’s doing RAIN. RAIN is Recognize, Allow, Investigate, and Nurture. She’ll teach us how self-compassion is an important tool in healing after you’ve had a DNA surprise or anything similar to it. Christine will do the Write To Heal session with us. She helps people write their memoirs and different things like that for her job. It’ll be an amazing experience. I’m so excited about her session with us.

I’m by no stretch a professional at this, but I have walked people through putting together their own memoirs, and pieces of it. I had a girlfriend who was going through cancer, and she was writing through the process. That book, when she’s finally completed it, will be an amazing resource for people going through similar things.

It was incredible to watch her growth and her examination of this disease, her own will to live, her capacity, strength, and resilience, and to honor those things. I don’t know that she would’ve put any focus on that if she hadn’t got a great mindset. She’s got a great mindset so she would have, but I think that it was so much more powerful for her to write it.

I think sometimes just getting it out, whether you share it, you don’t share it, journaling, or any way of getting it out is incredibly important.

This has been so much fun, Debbie. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing about this new world of things that we’ve never had to deal with before.

I appreciate you, and I appreciate your audience for allowing me to come on and talk about something that is not related to real estate.

I think that clearing these things out of our life creates more clarity and opportunity for us to succeed. I think it’s valuable. I appreciate you sharing with us. It’s a conversation that nobody has. You don’t hear it out there in the big wide world of small talk when you’re out there.

REW Debbie Olson | DNA Surprise

DNA Surprise: Clearing some things out of our life creates more clarity and opportunity for us to succeed.


No one usually walks up to another person and says, “I found my dad. Do you want to hear the story?” Everyone would probably be, “Absolutely. What an incredible story.”

This is a great topic that I brought especially to my ladies. They got to tune in to it. How many shows do you ladies read this on unless you’re pursuing it and looking for it? Thank you for joining us. Is there anything, Debbie, that you wanted to say before we sign off?

If anyone wants more information, I have my resources on my website, DNASurpriseNetwork.com. That’s my personal website information about coaching. I have resources on there, different books, podcasts, and things that people can refer to if they’ve had a surprise and don’t know where to turn. Alexis’ podcast is DNASurprisesPodcast.com. Obviously, that’s where you can find her podcast.

Do you have a free gift?

I am happy to do a free coaching session with anyone. They can email me through my website. My email is [email protected]. If they want to mention that they tune in to this show, I’m happy to do a free coaching session with anyone at all.

That was so generous. Thank you.

It’s my pleasure.

The dates for the Surprise Retreat again are May 4 to 7, 2023. For those of you that are tuning into this and may have missed that retreat, definitely go to her website and check what’s going on now. Maybe there are some other resources, another retreat, or something else that you can plug into so you can get the support that you need to create your blissful life even through all of this.

Alexis did do little bonus episodes on her podcast from all of the facilitators. If anyone is interested in hearing the facilitators speak for themselves and what they’re going to share at the retreat, they’re available on her podcast as well.

That is the DNA Surprises Podcast so you can learn more about the facilitators. That’s awesome. Debbie, thank you. This is amazing and so good to see you again, not in our mastermind but in person, face-to-face. Thank you so much.

Thank you. I appreciate it.

Ladies, thank you for joining Debbie and me for the show. I so appreciate you. I look forward to seeing you next time. Until then, remember, goals without action are just dreams, so get out there, take action, and create the life your heart deeply desires. I love you. See you later.


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