Saturday, January 9, 2010

All About Me

I was asked to talk about myself and my experiences for a board I am on. This is what I wrote:

I am here today, not as a professional in any psych or educational field. In fact, I don’t even have a college degree. There are many things that are said in meetings such as these, which I don’t understand. My eyes begin to glaze over. What I am is a survivor. What I am is a wife and mother. What I am is committed to helping children and young adults.

This is my story.

My mother wanted a baby so badly, my father likely not so much. He already had 5 to two other wives. My mother, however, had wanted a baby for many years. She was 43 when she had me. My first 7 years of life were wonderful for me. I had everything I needed, had love from my mother and other women in the family. My father worked out of town and was pretty much absent, but I never really missed that. His visits were short and sweet, which made it nice. All of that came to a sudden halt when my mother developed cancer and died at the age of 52. I was 8. My father was then my primary caretaker. He quickly remarried to provide a mother for me.

My father was abusive, as was my stepmother.

I became a very troubled teen, severely depressed and very angry.

I began using alcohol and random prescription drugs (specifically valium) that I found around the house. I found that the mix of alcohol and drugs helped me to relax and not be so irritable with my father. I found that this would sometimes prevent his outbursts and rages. Not always, but sometimes. I began cutting. I often walked around feeling like I was holding in my breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak. Watching my own blood drip into the sink or on the table allowed me to exhale. It worked almost as good as the alcohol and drugs and combined with that it was almost euphoric.

My parents were either oblivious, ignorant or just didn’t care. I had nightmares of them finding me dead and just kicking me to the side and moving on. I was nothing to them.

I endured years of abuse by my parents and abuse by other relatives and family friends. By this time my self esteem was pretty low and I felt pretty worthless.

A kind school teacher saw some signs of a problem and alerted the school counselor. After talking to me, he alerted children and youth services. I was interviewed by them. They said they would send somebody out to talk to my parents.

To my knowledge, nobody came out, they called my parents, my parents told them I was a depressed, troubled teen trying to get attention and that was that.

When I was 17 I graduated high school and eagerly found a college far enough away from home that I wouldn’t have surprise visits from my parents. Finally I was to be free from the hell I called home.

During this time in my life I had a pen pal. He was a US soldier in the Army, in Germany. We wrote back and forth for almost a year and arranged to meet when he came stateside. We met and well, got married not quite two weeks later.

My depression was ongoing. I just didn’t know how to get help. The military lifestyle didn’t help much. We wanted to begin a family, which we did. I had Jenna when I was 21. Her twin was stillborn. I suffered severe PPD. Not long after Jenna’s birth, my husband was honorably discharged from the Army and we moved to Pennsylvania.

We suffered more pregnancy losses and infertility. Finally I got pregnant and Jonathan was born. After many years of trying for more, we expanded our family by adoption, not once, but twice.

I made a promise to myself, when I was just 16 that I would break the cycle of abuse. It was up to me to prevent it from continuing to another generation. I’ve worked very very hard to make that happen. No child deserves to go through what I had to.

I have 4 children now.

Jenna, my oldest, is now 18. She will tell you her own story at a later date.

Jonathan came along when she was 5. He is pretty well adjusted, mostly what you would call an average child. He’s average in sports, average in school, average at home. He’s just average. Average is good.

When Jenna was 12, family circumstances led us to realizing it was time to adopt. We have a family history of adoption (husband at birth) so it was something that was always on our hearts. We turned to the SWAN program and unlike the normal protocol, our daughter, Jessica, was selected for us rather than us doing the selecting.  She was considered unadoptable and our case worker felt we were just the family to take on that challenge.

Jessica was 11 and at that point in 7 different foster homes. She had been removed from her birth home at 4. She was horribly abused, neglected and well, just damaged. She has been with us for 5 years now and has it been easy? No. I won’t lie to you and say it has. But would I do it all over again if I had to? Certainly. Jess has RAD, ADHD and mild MR. She has other labels added, but they are secondary to those. She requires special education and we have wrap around services at home and in the community. I love and adore her and it is painful to me that I can’t “fix” her. I wish I had been able to get her at birth to prevent all of the crap she endured.

Hope joined our family as a newborn, 3.5 years ago. She is a domestic adoption and we have a wide open relationship with her birth family. She has Cerebral Palsy. She is a tough cookie and has brought so much joy and sunshine into our lives. Has it been easy? No. Would I do it over again? Yes.

Is it easy taking care of a RAD child AND a toddler? Oh hell no. In reality, it’s like having 2 toddlers. Between my husband, myself, Jenna and Jonathan, we run a pretty tight ship with a daily routine. There are days when I literally think I am crazy, certifiably so.

I look back at my last 21 years (my “adulthood”) and I see that my abuse, my early years, shaped me into who I am. I’ve spent 21 years doing more “growing up” than I did in my first 18.

I am here because of what I went through. I am committed to helping children and young adults who need help.

I didn’t have a voice that was heard 25 years ago. I was a very sad, very frightened child. Nobody would take the time to HEAR me. I now want to be the voice for children going through what I did. They have a voice and need to be heard. It’s my job to be their mouthpiece.

I now live by the words, BE THE CHANGE YOU WISH TO SEE IN THE WORLD.

Thank you.
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