One thing that I learned, in my childhood and in foster care, is that I am unlovable. Outing this belief as a lie has been a slow, painful process..
As a young child, my stepfather was verbally, physically, and psychologically abusive. The only time he would talk to me was to yell at me. My mother cared about me, but did not do a good job of protecting me. I was often left alone to fend for and entertain myself. I would cry hysterically a lot of the time. I was too young to understand that I was just very distressed and lonely, so I believed what I was told — I was bad.
When I was taken away and placed in the system, I was told by a social worker that I was abused and neglected — but it didn’t register that this wasn’t my fault. Following my removal was a string of failed placements and group homes which reinforced my idea that I was stupid, worthless, I even thought I was evil. I hadn’t had the time to get to know myself and my emotions before entering the world of group homes, and all their unwritten rules. For every minor violation that I was punished for, my shame and self-resentment grew.
While I had some caring people in my life, there was no constant contact to heal my wounds. The kind souls were beacons of light, but that light couldn’t reach the darkest parts of me. Also, since I didn’t recognize that my self-hatred was a problem, I didn’t see an alternative.
When I emancipated, my low self-worth put a strain on my social life. I quickly made acquaintances who were outside of the system, but they did not understand my extreme pain, my unique and challenging circumstances, and would often write me off as “crazy” or “weird”. I had a live in boyfriend for a while who antagonized me. He was constantly trying to change me, and would tell me that I was pathetic, and yes, unlovable. After he pushed me to tears, he would tell me that I was ugly when I cried. I confided in him still, and believed that he was hurting me because I deserved it. I’d never felt so low. When he used me all up, he moved back to his home state. I was in and out of the hospital for suicide attempts and desperately lonely. Completely drained, completely depleted, and feeling completely alone. I wanted to die because I didn’t see any way to continue life like this.
It started to change for me when a woman moved next door to me… let’s call her The Golden Goddess. I heard her crying — and if there’s one thing I know, it’s the feeling of gut-wrenching agony — so I wrote her a little note and left it on her doorstep with a My Little Pony doll. I didn’t think anything of it, but later she said it “gave her hope”. We got close and talked a lot. She listened to me cry and, instead of giving me advice or telling me to “suck it up and stop wallowing”, actually validated my experience. She shared my pain with me, and eventually these loving interactions started transforming me. I began to see myself, slowly. I saw my caring, gentle spirit and began to feel sad that I would be so mean to myself. I still had tons of baggage and still physically hurt myself, but there was a crack in the fortress I’d built around my heart, and the light started to pour in.
I still felt very sad and pitiful because I didn’t have many friends my age to go out and have fun with. I craved a community so badly. I thought I was weird and that nobody would ever want to be my friend, but The Golden Goddess kept telling me that I would find my niche – maybe, because of my experiences, I won’t fit in with just any group, but there were friends out there waiting to meet me. I didn’t believe her.. but I appreciated her telling me that it wasn’t my fault that I had a hard time making friends.
Last summer, I finally met my niche. A girl who I am no longer friends with (drama, save it for another post) introduced me to her friends, who I hit it off with. I felt like I could converse easily with them, not the strained, walking-on-eggshells conversations I was used to having with people. We slowly started hanging out more and more. It was the first time I’d experienced a consistent group of activity buddies, and it excited me.
I started spending time with this one guy in the group.. let’s call him C. We had amazing, heady conversations and he really loved his friends, which I appreciated – I was so used to shady people who used their “friends” to meet their needs. One night, we confessed that we liked each other. I was scared! I was tempted to run the other direction, This confused me.. eventually I recognized that I wasn’t used to respectful, kind men being interested in me. Or really, anybody being interested in me – merely being interested in what they could get from me. I didn’t think he would hurt me, but something felt unsettling, the notion of trusting another person and letting them get that close to me. I’d done a lot of work on healing myself, but I had left the relationship portion untouched because — well, I didn’t think I’d ever be with a man. (Or, realistically, a woman – I just assumed I was “undateable” too)
Eventually my fondness for him overcame my fear, and we started dating. Our anniversary is 11/11! It’s been wonderful, and it’s the best decision I’ve made so far. Sometimes, it’s hard. He appreciates my love, which is something new for me. He shows me that he loves me, rather than just telling me. Although he tells me too, and often. He is infinitely patient with me. I was terrified of losing him, but I am less worried about that now, because I’ve learned that the things other people abandoned me for, don’t make me unlovable. People can be awful, and for some reason I’ve had a lot of awful people in my life. What people did to me are not things that people who love each other do. As I’m allowing his love into my heart, I find myself healing. I’m beginning to accept that I have a good heart, am a good person, and am deserving of love. And, unlike other people and programs, he doesn’t get angry at me when I get down on myself, or feel anxious. As he says, “I’ll always remind you if you forget.”
It would be incredible if all foster children and hurt kids had people, early on, to counter that toxic shame and pain that can eat away at our lives. The system doesn’t do enough to ensure that the most basic need – affection – is provided to children in care. Thankfully, there is hope.. there are caring people out there, waiting to love us, and show us that it’s okay to love ourselves too.