Dear Dad

handmixer

Well, I used the only thing you ever bought me the other day.  The hand mixer I purchased with the gift card you sent me for Christmas a few years ago. That mixer’s my inheritance, your legacy to me, and pretty much the only good thing you ever gave me.

Oh wait – when you gave me up to the government, you “gave” me a lot of things, but none of them were beneficial.

You got out of a lot in your life – supporting your daughter financially, emotionally, and otherwise – when you surrendered me.   What’s interesting is, shortly thereafter, you traded me in for two new models when you adopted two children with your second wife.  Like a do-over? I never truly realized the significance of that until after your death. I also did not realize you had separated from Mom, perhaps because her illness became too much for you to handle.  I only realized that after re-reading the synopsis of my life I’d received from social services.  Mom and I were living with her mother until my mother went into the hospital because of  colitis.  My aunt told me she was in there for a year.  During that year, you screwed around on her.  What a winner you were Dad. Cut and run when it gets to be too much.  Sometimes I wonder if I inherited that urge from you – I, too, want to run when life gets to be too much. But I don’t.

Too bad you couldn’t have manned up and done the same.

Your daughter

Too Much Trouble

P1020440

We went to our good friends’ cottage for Sunday/Monday. We took our 5th wheel and parked it in their drive way.  I require an electrical plug in because of my CPAP machine.

Plugging in the 5th wheel into their outdoor plug required a bit of finagling. I’m not sure what wasn’t working but eventually whatever was wrong, got fixed.

Watching this play out, I began to feel all uncomfortable inside.  I apologized for being “high maintenance.”

Shortly thereafter, as we’d arrived around lunchtime, we started talking about eating and I stated something to the effect of my body is on a bit of a schedule, eating wise.  A lunch was quickly assembled for the adults in the group.

About this time, I was feeling quite anxious and nervous about these two events.  Later in the afternoon I started to relax.

On the way home from the weekend, I started to wonder why I felt all these uncomfortable, anxious feelings.

I think I got it. The story I figure I ended up telling myself as a child, getting moved around from foster home to foster home every 6 months – 2 years or so, was “I was too much trouble.”  So, somewhere along the way, I vowed not to be too much trouble.  Not too much trouble looked like:  not asking for anything, helping out as much as possible, being agreeable.

You see, as a child if I wasn’t too much trouble then:

 I won’t be changing foster homes, someone will love me, keep me, like me.

Yesterday, I cried for that little girl.

 As an adult, if I’m not too much trouble:

I’ll be a welcome guest, a good employee, a good friend, a good girlfriend, a good wife, someone will love me,keep me, accept me and like me.

 [On the flip side, If I’m not too much trouble I’m also someone who can’t ask for what she needs and gets taken advantage of and even abused.]

It’s funny how these situations this weekend acted as a bit of a trigger.

I’ve done much better over the years at asking for what I need [my husband would say I have NO problem asking stating very strongly to him what I need] but every so often. “don’t be too much trouble”  rears its ugly head.

Force Fed Part II – Voiceless, Defenseless, Powerless

The online dictionary defines voiceless as “having no voice in the management or control of affairs.”

After I left the abusive foster home, the weight fell off thanks to a new environment that included more exercise and less food.    My weight was more or less stable throughout my teens.  I’d been with the same foster family for almost 4 years.

I’d also started dating a man in his early twenties.  Things were a bit chaotic after I started dating “P” — I was sneaking out and lying about where I was going to be with “P”, all of which culminated in accusations of pregnancy/lost virginity from my foster parents.  I developed headaches during these years.

Then the bottom fell out of my world.  My foster parents announced they were moving to the United States.  I wasn’t invited.

So here was my reality in 1979:  I was 17, going to graduate high school, was dating an older man, and about to be abandoned by the foster family I had lived with for almost 4 years.    While I didn’t know it at the time, in a year I would also be cut loose from foster care [known as “aging out.”]

I freaked out and went into survival mode.  When “P” proposed, I accepted and we married shortly after I graduated from high school.  My as-usual-absent father was not in attendance.  My foster parents didn’t support the marriage and it’s difficult to recall if they provided alternatives. My grandparents came from the US and my grandfather walked me down the aisle.

The marriage wasn’t a cure all.  I remember “P” as being somewhat controlling, [“I don’t ever want to see the outside of that toaster looking that dirty again”] and finances were tight.  I was afraid, lacked confidence, and was emotionally and physically withdrawn and uncertain.  “P” cheated on me with a hooker and wanted me to know it, since he charged the affair to our credit card.  At the mercy of my circumstances, I had little control.

Two years into this marriage, I developed an eating disorder.    I decided to eat less than 1,000 calories a day and existed on protein shakes for breakfast and lunch and a “sensible” dinner of mostly vegetables.  [This sounds eerily similar to those advertisements for diet companies doesn’t it.]  My weight dropped to 117 pounds.  At 5’6”, the BMI calculator gives that a BMI of 18.9.  [a BMI of less than 18.5 is considered “underweight”.]   The wake up call was when my disorder caused health problems and I began to eat again.   Two years later, the marriage ended in divorce.

Looking back, it surprises me that I did not develop an eating disorder sooner; after all, I had had little say or control over my life since I was 7 years old.

According to a report entitled “Youth Leaving Care – How Do They Fare” dated September, 2005, by The Modernizing Income Security for Working Age Adults (MISWAA) Task Force http://www.torontoalliance.ca/tcsa_initiatives/income_security/pdf/MISWAAYouthLeavingCareReport.pdf foster children who age out of the system are at increased risk for:

  • leaving school before completing their secondary education
  • becoming a parent at a young age
  • becoming dependent on social assistance, unemployed/underemployed or incarcerated
  • experiencing homelessness
  • having mental health problems and
  • being at higher risk for substance abuse problems

The report goes on to say:

Youth in care face considerable challenges in making the transition from state care to independence and adulthood. They bear the scars of physical and emotional trauma, yet are expected to function independently, usually with little social or financial support, once they reach age 18. Canadian youth aging out of care have cited the following requirements as being crucial in ensuring better transitions to adulthood:

  • need for ongoing supportive relationships
  • peer support, independent living training
  • increased access to financial support and
  • support in gaining access to education, employment and training programs

International research has attributed better outcomes for youth aging out where they:

  • complete high school
  • access post-secondary opportunities and role models
  • refrain from alcohol/drug use
  • obtain life skills and independent living training and
  • experience stable placements while in care

Canada does not have the capacity to track the outcomes of youth as they leave care, nor can our programs identify the types of interventions showing the most promise in helping them to achieve better outcomes.

The authors of this report recommend providing extended support to youth aging out in such areas as financial assistance, health benefits, education assistance, and the development of standards to youth leaving care.

My marriage at 17 terminated my government care.  Had I not married, I would have had another placement until I turned 18 and things might have turned out differently. “Aging out” would not have changed but with proper support how I approached it might have.

 

Force Fed (Part One)

foodplate

I spent several years of my childhood in foster homes.  Most were okay, but one in particular was very abusive.  It was a farm setting in East Central Alberta.  The foster parents were elderly, their own children having grown up and left home. The only reason, it seemed to me, that they took in foster children was to have them as slaves for their farming operation. Certainly it wasn’t because they loved children.  There was much abuse here, of every kind.  Physical abuse home ranged from being slapped in the head by the other foster children living there, to a beating (a.k.a. spanking) so severe, it broke several blood vessels on my buttocks.  Emotional abuse ranged from being not allowed out of my room except for meals, and to go to school and back, as well as being told by the foster father “you’re as ugly as a mud fence on a rainy day.”

Everything that the other foster children did to me must have been condoned by the foster parents, as I don’t remember any discipline being meted out to them.

Then there were the mealtimes.  It’s tough to say how this all began, but meal times were hell.  There the real torture began – from the physical abuse of the foster children slapping me on the head as they walked by as I was seated at the table – to the force feeding imposed on me by the foster mother.  I was given extremely large quantities of food – more food than an adult could (or should) likely eat, never mind a “tween” girl – and forced to sit there until I consumed the entire amount.  Often times during this horror show, I would have to go to the bathroom to vomit as I would be physically ill from the over-consumption and then return to “finish my plate.”

As a consequence of the force-feeding, and the lack of exercise permitted me by being confined to my room, I found myself, at age 13 or so, likely what would be termed “morbidly obese” –  I weighed 155 lbs.

I lost what little voice I had, due to threats from the foster parents if I dared speak up to my social worker – i.e. “this is the end of the line for you.”

Eventually I was moved to another foster home and, once my eating decreased, and my exercise increased, the excess weight disappeared.

But the pain did not.  The shame did not.   The shame I felt, and sometimes continue to feel, from the abuse, as if it was somehow all. my. fault.  The self-loathing did not.  The need to protect myself and my heart did not.

My relationship with food hasn’t been the same either.  Stay tuned for more as I chronicle the good, the bad, and the downright ugly of food and me.

The picture I chose for this post is of a bunch of plates with uneaten food on a table.   That was the closest I could come to a photo representation.  If I was to take a photo that would represent my mealtimes there, it would be a photo of a mound of food piled high on a plate.  It would be an ugly, disgusting photo of different foods all mixed up together.  I now realize why I lose my appetite at the sight of buffets–buffets act as a trigger for this part of my past.

Update — I  did some grieving and praying shortly after I wrote this about that time and saw Jesus shielding me from the blows at the table!  He was angry, angry at the abusive situations, and, in one case, pushed the boys away from me.  I had tears, partly of gratitude, as He did protect as much as He could while not completely disallowing the abuse.