A short personal reflection written for Adopt 4 Life: Ontario’s Adoptive Parent’s Association. May 15, 2015.
My Name is Jessica.
I have grown up sharing my story. I have shared my story with the Radio, newspapers, community events, television programs, award ceremonies, publishers, teachers, friends, extended family, youth in care and advocacy groups to name a few. I sometimes forget that even though my story sounds like a broken record to me after sharing it for nine years, people are impacted by it. It is always interesting watching people’s reactions to my story, the story of why I went into foster care at the age of 15. The story of why I became a Crown Ward and the Ontario government became my parent.
For many years, I did not realize I was struggling with trauma. I was in survival mode for so many years that my body did not have the time to think about how things were making it feel. All I needed to worry about was leaving home safely, running away fast without getting caught, finding a pillow for my head, shelter from the rain and food for my stomach. It was not until my life started becoming relatively normal, that I began noticing the effects my past was having on me.
Nightmares began occurring, of my siblings dying or seeing ghosts of my family members. Dreams of being in danger and someone finding me were common. I would wake up screaming, crying or in a panic attack. I self-harmed for a period of time. For me, self-harm provided a physical release of the hurt I felt internally. Hurt that told me I was in the wrong, I was the reason I was in care, that I was unlovable, abandoned and a failure. Anxiety began developing when I was in University. I would experience stress at a whole new level and go from 0-100 in seconds, immediately imagining the worst of any situation. Being unable to breathe was often followed by tears and exhaustion. When speaking about my story or my family, my body would shake uncontrollably despite my best efforts to tell myself that I was OK and that I was safe. I also did not know how to build positive and healthy relationships, or how to rely on anyone but myself. I was conditioned to believe that the only way to be safe was if I put a wall around me. I learned to try to be emotionlessness and play the game, for as long as I needed to play it, to survive.
I share some of the effects of trauma I experienced, to provide a glimpse of what it was and still can be like for me. To show you, what a large portion of my teen years were like. If I did not write about how bad it was, telling you where I am today would not mean anything because you would have nothing to compare it to.
Today, I am a youth advocate for youth in care and gay youth. I use my voice, to make a change for the generations coming after me. I use my voice not to share my story for the sake of sharing my story, but to raise awareness of forms of abuse, mental health and homophobia experienced by gay youth by their parents and families. I began public speaking at the age of 17 and from that, began being asked to share my story through different forms of media. The Office of the Provincial Advocate discovered my voice through my local CAS agency’s submission for the Children and Youth in Care Hearings in 2011. I then began sitting on Provincial working boards and becoming a part of change on a provincial level. My voice was now a part of impacting thousands of youth. It started, with sharing my story. The story of why I went into foster care at the age of 15. The story of why I became a Crown Ward and the Ontario government became my parent.
Today, I still experience the past effects of the trauma I experienced as a child and teen. Trauma does not just go away because you go to counselling or learn how to cope. You do not just forget what happened to you. I still get triggered, I still have anxiety, I still have nightmares, and my body still reacts. BUT, it does not happen as often, and when it does, I can put a voice and reason to why it does. The other difference is that I now have people in my life who help pick me up when I am experiencing lows. I now have people who constantly display care towards me and love me no matter what. Sometimes, I push them away, but I am learning to do that less. I now have people to talk to when I am struggling. I now have boundaries which I have developed over time to keep me safe, in a healthy way. My partner of seven years, her parents, aunts and uncles, mentors and friends, have all helped me develop into the person I am still becoming and have helped me along my journey of dealing with past trauma.
It took me 15 years to be traumatized and to learn unhealthy habits. It would be unfair of me to expect my body and mind to unlearn everything with the snap of my fingers. The thing about advocates is that we are human too, we struggle like everyone else. We have our stories and have our pasts. That is part of why we are advocates. As horrible as my story is, it is a reason I am where I am today, and have made the impacts I have this far. It is the reason I have learned the lessons I have. Trauma is a part of my past and a part of my story. The story of why I went into foster care at the age of 15. The story of why I became a Crown Ward and the Ontario government became my parent. Trauma walks alongside me, but it is more silent with every step forward I take.