Growing up, I remember thinking about how free I would feel when I was no longer a foster kid. Looking back, I realize that was naive. There are numerous ways that the trauma continues to impact my life. Sometimes the survival strategies that I was forced to normalize interfere with the freedom I should have today. I am 22 years old, but I feel like I am stuck with the lessons I learned from the system.
Social workers taught me that I can never know what’s best for myself. Psychotropic medications taught me that trauma never has to be addressed. Group homes taught me that basic things like eating and showering are a “privilege” that can be taken away if I make a mistake. “7 day notices” taught me that people give up when I need them the most. The juvenile justice system taught me that there really is no such thing as justice. And reading my case file taught me NOTHING about my strengths.
I think the system taught me a lot of things about how life is, what people are like and who I am. I think these lessons have made it harder for me to grow and heal in the ways that I deserve. All of these lessons make the good things hard. It can be challenging to build positive and supportive relationships when everybody you’ve met has been temporary. It can be uncomfortable to hear compliments when you’re only used to hearing what you did wrong. It can be devastating when things start coming together and you realize how much you’ve been missing your whole life.
Things started to get different for me on Mount Shasta in June.
I had the opportunity to climb the mountain with a group of young people who have experienced foster care and some supporters. I questioned my choice to participate a little bit after we went to get some equipment and I left holding an ice axe. At that point, I wasn’t sure if I was cut out for an adventure that serious. However, hiking up a snow-covered slope with a 40-pound pack, I finally realized I was cut out for this, and I have never felt that powerful in my life. And glacaiding down the mountain (with that ice axe) I felt the freedom I used to dream of as a little girl.
Now, every time I hear “I am so proud of you” or “you are so strong,” two things happen. First, I do what I have always done and let the words fly over the top of my head without paying them any thought. Second, I remember my time on Mount Shasta with the Foster Youth Questival. When this happens, I start to believe that maybe I can be proud and maybe I am strong after all. The system tried to define me with statistics and limit me with their lessons, but I am finally starting to learn it’s not all true. Today, I choose to rise in joy and love.
There is something so particular about the careful placement of one foot in front of the other on the way up a mountain that makes healing possible for me. Finally.