Tuesday, November 16, 2010
We did not have any furniture in the one bedroom house we were living in at the time, only an old sofa in the living room, and a mattress in the bedroom where my siblings and I slept. Despite the lack of furnishings, the house was filthy. Our mother never cleaned. The carpet was caked in dirt, food, animal droppings, and little bits of crack my mother had dropped. There was trash everywhere. There was only one closet in the house. It was my closet. It was where I spent a great deal of time "thinking about what I did." This closet was in the bedroom, in the back of the house but I could still hear my mother and siblings when I was in there. They always seemed to have a good time together when I was in the closet. Maybe it just seemed this way to me because everything was better out of the closet. I used to think that maybe the reason my mother was so unhappy was because I made her that way. She would be so much happier without me. She told me this often, but she didn't have to. Just hearing her laugh with my siblings when I was locked away was enough.
The police knocked on the door. My mother was passed out on the sofa, crashing after coming down off of crack cocaine. “Momma, the police are here,” I said while feverishly shaking her." She didn't budge. They knocked on the door again. I nearly had a heart attack. "Everyone be quiet, maybe they will think nobody is home," I whispered to my siblings. The police officers knocked again and my brother began to cry. "Who is it?" I asked. "We are police officers. Is your mommy home?" They said. "She's sleeping. Can you come back later?" The police officers called me by my name and asked me to open the door. "It's okay sweetheart, can you please open the door for us?" The fact that they knew my name sent me into a severe panic attack. I could barely breathe and my head was spinning. I gathered my siblings, helped them climb out the back window and we ran into the desert. Our mother had shown us the route to take to get to our aunts house in case of this very situation. Our aunt’s house was pretty far away and in my panic I had forgotten which way to go.
The officer put me in the back of his car and then drove me to a DCFS building where I met a woman named Susie. Susie was my case worker. She was extremely nice to me. When she met me, I was filthy, bleeding, and covered in bruises but she hugged me anyway. "I know you're scared sweetheart, but you're safe now, I promise." If only that promise were true. I sat on the floor in her office for a few hours. There were chairs and toys but I chose to lie on the floor and try to fall asleep. I guess I felt that sleep would make it all go away. Eventually she drove me to my foster home. I was going to be staying with a woman named Mickey. I expected her house to be full of Disney characters but it wasn't. When I arrived, my sister was already there. I was relieved to see her and rushed to her. No one told me where my siblings were and I began to look for my brothers, but they weren’t there. They were at a different home.
Mickey did everything right for me. She was gentle, sweet, and caring, but not ever child who enters foster care is as lucky as I was in this home. Being taken away from your parents is extremely traumatic, no matter how it’s done or how abusive your parents are. It didn’t matter how nice Mickey was to me. I was terrified because my connections in life had been taken away.
Connection is the basis for all human life. All human beings need connection to survive and thrive. From the day we are born we are programmed to connect with other people. Our very survival depends on it. If an infant doesn’t connect with other human beings, it will die. That child will fail to thrive. Vulnerability and tenderness are vital from the day we are born.
When CPS “saved my life” they also severed my connections. They should have found new connections for me, connections that would allow me to grow into a healthy adult, but they didn’t. Instead of connections they bounced me from placement to placement. I only had disconnections. Sadly, my story isn’t unusual. While my number of placements is a bit unusually high, you have to take into account how many placements were temporary foster homes and children’s shelters. Those placements were only meant to last a month or two. If you take all those placements away my numbers drop down considerably. Only ten of my foster families were potential adoptive families. I had ten chances at connection but never got it because by the time those chances came into my life I was too old, too damaged, and unwilling to take risks with my heart. My purpose in life became solely to protect myself. Foster parents were not worth the risk.
How do we find connections for foster children? How do we make sure they don’t lose their ability to connect with people and grow into healthy adults? I wish I had the answer to that. I don’t. I don’t know what needs to happen in foster care. All I know is that what happened to me should not happen to children and it continues to happen today. Foster children are used and abused before foster care AND while in foster care. For too many children, trauma continues and gets worse in foster care. While in foster care I experienced every kind of abuse possible but it was worse than with my mother. My mother abused me, but she was my mother. I was connected to her. She was a constant in my life and constantly abusive. In foster care I never knew what to expect and I didn't have any connections. I didn't have tenderness. I didn't have love. I never felt connected. Instead I felt suspicious, scared, and shameful. I never knew when I would be moving again. I never knew if my foster parents would get angry at me and then get rid of me. As much as I say that I didn’t ever connect with my foster parents, it’s not entirely true. The reality is that I put in a lot of effort NOT to care about my foster parents because I knew it would hurt later, but no matter how hard I tried, I always felt a little bit attached to them. I always wanted to stay with them. I wanted them to want to keep me. I ALWAYS wanted them to love me. I just wanted them to tell me they loved me first. I wanted them to risk loving me first. I wanted to be sure it would be safe to love them and I wanted them to prove this to me. I wanted them to show me that they would love me and keep me no matter what, and no matter how hard and stubborn I acted, it always hurt when they didn’t. It still hurts that they didn't.
Sometimes I feel like I’m not a whole person because part of me died a long time ago. I’m hoping that that something is just broken because I’m ready to fix it. I’m ready to start living my life. Twenty-something years is enough suffering. I’m ready to move on. How do I let myself feel with my whole heart again? How do I learn to love without fear? How do learn to be vulnerable again? How do I let go of all my shame and torment? How do I learn to accept who I am and where I’ve been, and allow myself to feel the feelings associated with those things and move on? How do I make myself believe that just being me is enough? How do I make myself believe that I am worthy of love and connection? Is this even possible for me or am I too damaged to ever live a normal productive life?