EMBRACE WHO YOU ARE – FOSTER CARE INCLUDED!!
One of my Alumna Sisters shared that she was torn when it came to whether she should embrace her foster care history or leave it in the past without mention. I understand that due to the current stigma of being in or from the foster care system, many of us Alumni would rather not talk or think about it. Sometimes we are afraid of what other people will think of us and how they will treat us once they know what we consider to be our tainted past. I say foster care is just as much a part of you as the color of your eyes. You cannot escape it. It has shaped the very person you are. It has shaped how you think, how you feel and how you react to different situations.
This is not a negative thing! Sure, you may have some negative experiences from the foster care system, but look at you – all alive and well and stuff! If you are reading this, you have persevered through all you thought you could not bare. I don’t mean to suggest that we do not continue to work through some of the issues of our foster care past that seem so vivid at times; what I am suggesting is that there is nothing to be ashamed of. If there are people in your life that are uncomfortable when you talk about your foster care experience and encourage you not to speak of it, then I would question the role of those people in your life. It is extremely important to surround yourself with positive people that support every part of who you are, even if they don’t like or agree with every part of who you are.
Although it is important to accept and embrace your foster care history, it is equally important to avoid “living” there. What do I mean by this? We are all on our own timeline when it comes to dealing with our foster care experience. Some of us have been able to face the good, bad and the ugly and understand those experiences for what they were and their role in shaping who we are. This doesn’t mean we don’t struggle from time to time when memories rear their ugly little heads, but it means that we know how to deal with it when it happens. That looks different for everyone. There are also some of us that are crippled by our foster care experience and find it difficult to function in the present because we are stuck in the past. We are still that little scared foster child that is leery of everyone and everything. We are still re-living the trauma associated with our foster care past and we don’t know how to talk about it.
What I have learned over the years, from my own development and from watching others from the foster care system is that we have a tendency to make others feel uncomfortable when we share our foster care history, not because of the experience itself but because we don’t know the proper way to share. It is extremely important that we learn when and where to share personal information and when it is appropriate. We can’t be in the middle of dinner with friends or acquaintances and randomly begin to talk about sexual abuse that happened to us in foster care. Current/former foster youth or not, there is a time and place to share intimate details and you must know when that is.
If you are an Alumni and are having difficulties dealing with your foster care past, be sure you are confiding in the right people. There is nothing wrong with seeking out a mental health professional or if you are spiritual or religious, seeking out someone there that will help you process some of your thoughts and feelings. Whatever you do, you have to get uncomfortable and process what has happened to you and you can’t expect everyone you meet to be able to handle the severity of your experience. Most, if not all, people are dealing with their own historical blisters and may not even know how to do so for themselves. For this reason, they may feel even more helpless when you share your foster care past.
Remember that the reactions that most people have toward you are manifestations or projections of how they feel about themselves or manifestations of personal shortcomings that they are unwilling to deal with. They may not want you to share your story because it may remind them so much of their own.
At the end of the day, you are who you are. You cannot change where you come from or the experiences you have had to enjoy or endure. DO NOT be ashamed of your foster care “heritage”. You cannot undo it and you don’t have to. Again, there is a time and place for everything but those people who are closest to you – who you have been the most vulnerable with – if they forbid you from talking about your foster care history, have a conversation with them to find out why. You may find that it is not about your experience at all rather, it’s about theirs and what they have been unable to deal with.
Personally, I love to listen to people talk about foster care and foster youth before I reveal that I am an alumna of foster care. People can be so very cruel due to their ignorance about the foster care system. We have a responsibility to correct them and to create a better understanding and to set a better example for the young people that are coming up in the foster care system now. When you realize that your experience was not all about you and that you actually have a story to tell that will inspire people that you may never personally meet, you will better understand your purpose for being in the foster care system. When you shift your perspective from that of “Why Me?” to “Why not me?” you reclaim your power as an individual and as a human being experiencing this thing called life. A human being that has the capability of changing not just your own life but also the lives of others.
Do not sit in your pity or shame of where you come from because every moment you do, you are failing to save someone else from his or hers. LEARN HOW to share your story. Surround yourself with positive and encouraging people! It cannot always be all about you. You are a survivor and you must claim the direction of your life. Embrace EVERYTHING about yourself and work on the things that you are unhappy with or that hinder you from reaching your full potential. There are MILLIONS of us out here “hiding” from the criticism of those with a warped understanding of the foster care system. They have a warped understanding of individuals from the foster care system. You cannot complain about a stigma if you choose to remain silent and you cannot help others if you are content in your silence. In order to dispel or destroy a myth, you have to reveal the TRUTH.
Now, every alumni will not feel comfortable or have the desire to share their experiences or to even reveal to others of their foster care history. This is fine, but they will also soon realize that no matter what they do, the very reason they choose not to reveal or embrace their history will be the very reason they will continue to be internally haunted by it. Internal trauma is ever-present and sometimes you don’t know the full extent of it until an unknown catalyst TRIGGERS you and you find yourself working to regain your composure. You can fool others for a certain period of time, but you can never fool yourself.
I’ve said this before and I will say it again, you are BEAUTIFULLY made, FLAWS AND ALL. OWN IT!