Recently, I gave a speech for a group at the local offices of www.casey.org.
This post is simply the text to the speech. Feel free to pass it on....
CASEY TRANSITION TEAM
Speech for September 22, 2008
When I was asked to speak with you, I immediately said, “Yes.” I learned how to say, “Yes,” when I was working in my first “real” job at a rubber and plastic sales organization. My then boss and mentor, used to tell me, “Just go out into the world and say, ‘yes.’ We will figure out how when you get home.”
Those who are successful and stand out in life find ways to say, “Yes” instead of “no.” Most people say and think, “I can’t do this or that.” Successful people say, “How can I or we do it?” Keep a can-do attitude!
Saying “yes” is exactly how I started my speaking, training, coaching and consulting career. I started speaking for food—breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Then, the audience members began asking me if I could speak on this topic or that topic for the companies where they were employed. Remembering what George had taught me, I simply replied, “Of course!” Then I would race off to learn everything I could about the required subject matter.
The day of my presentation, I simply (okay…not so simply) presented myself as the “expert” in the subject matter. My confidence grew because the seminar participants always left with a new or different insight. They got what they came for…and then some.
Another winning thought: Under promise and over deliver. You will always be at the top of the minds of people who can open doors for you if you surprise them with a little extra.
Sometimes saying, “yes” is a lot easier than following through with that yes, as is the case today. However, we must discuss the “hard stuff” in life, so we can come to some common understandings and create winning solutions.
I cannot speak for other foster youth, but I can tell you that, as a teenager, I was angry, frustrated, neglected, scared, upset, nervous, quiet, detached, needy and emotionally bankrupt. The only thing I was not was morally corrupt, as I expect is the same for most foster youth.
As a young person in foster care, I learned some unhealthy habits. I learned to manipulate the system and the people in it. I learned to hide what was really happening with me. I learned to smile when I was torn up inside and wanted to explode. I learned to say what others expected me to say, and that was not necessarily the truth. I was so lost that I didn’t know where I was most of the time.
In this enormous envelope is the story of my experiences in foster care. Each page tells a different story. And interestingly enough, this is only a fraction of the story, as I never shared the rest. And no one else found out.
I also learned that I was just a case in a hungry, thirsty monster of a system. I learned that I was unlovable. Even before “care,” my mother abandoned me in a city park, and my father abused me. I learned that no one really cared, even if they said they did. I learned that people didn’t care, even if they were paid to care. Harsh….and true.
I learned that some people were kind on the outside, but judgmental on the inside. I learned that there are even some people who are mean on the outside, blatantly blaming you for your situation. I was even asked once, “So, what did you do to get dumped into foster care”….as if foster care was a punishment for being a bad kid.
I learned that people take advantage of those they consider weak. I learned to hide my story and to be ashamed of my history—and my SELF.
I learned how to hide the truth. I hid the truth so well that no one ever knew from where I came. I chased the myth of “normal” so long and so hard that it wore me out. I didn’t realize then that in my efforts to hide the truth and pretend that there is a “normal,” I was ruining my own life. By hiding the truth of my past, I was stealing from my present and from my future.
I learned the hard way, and I want to share so that others can take a gentler path.
YELLOW BOW STORY
Pat Goehe changed my life when I was 26 and in college. (How I got to college is another speech!) I had not a clue about how my life would change when our paths crossed.Pat was one of my most unusual college professors in college. She is one of the few who insists that her students “own” their educational experiences. Most professors/teachers seem to be “material focused.” Not Pat. Pat was…and still is…student focused. She is a free-spirited professor that refuses to be “institutionalized,” even in the institution. Pat taught what she wanted to teach, regardless of the syllabus or the departmental rules and restrictions.Among other things, she taught me to have a healthy disrespect for authority. My relationship with Pat was not love at first sight. It was quite the contrary. I really hated Pat. I REALLY hated her. I hated Pat because she forced a painful truth I was hiding to reveal itself. I blamed her for the pain that I was feeling in her class. As I think back on the experience, I wonder what compelled me to stay in class. (I have since learned that when you HATE someone, it is always about you, not the other person.)The class was called “Conflict,” and although I forgot the point of the class, I will forever remember my lessons.
Pat is an experiential teacher. She helps students learn through experiences versus textbooks and lectures. One of the experiences came from an exercise she had the class do. The exercise was to “draw the conflict in your life.” My body bristled immediately. Do I do this? Or do I do what I’ve been doing for years, and pretend my life was what it wasn’t?Up until this moment, I lived for normalcy. All I wanted to do was to feel normal, act normal and be normal. So, I thought that if I “looked” normal, I would be normal. I looked nice. I looked healthy. I had two children. I earned a bacheor’s degree with honors. I was enrolled in a master’s program. I was doing normal stuff and looking pretty normal.This exercise would threaten the house of cards I was balancing. So, do I draw the truth or do I draw what would comport with the façade I was showing the world? If I told the truth, everyone would know that I am a fraud. My truth would be “out there,” and I would have no control over how others would react. Could I handle that?Pat gave each of us a huge piece of paper and markers. It was time to make a decision: truth or lie. For whatever reason, I decided to draw the truth. I drew a face as big as the piece of paper. It was a big, smiling me. That is who I put out to the world: a big smiling me. Then I took a pair of scissors and shredded the face. This is my conflict. I hated Pat for compelling me to tell the truth. Isn’t fascinating that I “blamed” Pat for “making” me tell the truth? I blamed her for the intense pain I was feeling. I was so very weary of the pain. I blamed her for opening up the wounds that I guarded so severely. I blamed her for the collapse of my carefully stacked house of cards.
Pat angered me even further when she looked at my shredded face. She had the audacity to say, “You will heal when you can embrace your demons.” I was horrified and thought, “Like freaking HECK (not what I thought) I will embrace my demons! You are nuts, Woman!”I hated Pat for saying that. How dare she even say such a thing! I wanted no less than to kill the demons that possessed me and that were ruining my existence. I had spent my entire adult life covering them up, hiding them and making them stay far away from the surface of who I wanted to be seen as. There it is. I was trying to be seen as something that I simply wasn’t. I was faking.Pat exposed me and I hated her for it.Pat asked us to put our drawings on the wall, so everyone could see. She put mine up because I would not. She must have seen the surprise and horror on the other students’ faces. She certainly saw the raw pain on mine.The next day, I came in and there was an enormous yellow bow mounted behind the shredded face on the wall.She told me again, “You will heal when you embrace your demons.”“What does that mean? I hate my demons. And I hate you for exposing them.” I never said this to Pat, but I thought it.For the duration of that course, I felt tortured without relief.
The DromenonPat had another experiential lesson in store for me. She knew that I was pushing back on her strongly, but she never quit trying to help me understand what she was teaching me.She taught me about the Dromenon, or the spiritual labyrinth. Although labyrinths have been used for centuries for personal growth, I had not heard of this nor did I really want to. I did, however, want to “get” the lesson that Pat was teaching me, so I tried to listen with an open mind. After all, what I was doing was clearly not working.Walking the Dromenon is the ancient ritual pattern of dynamic expression, a dance rhythm in which participants experience higher level of understanding. Basically, walking the Dromenon, from the outside to the inside is a method of physical meditation. If you are very still mentally and if you are open, your unique personal lessons reveal themselves. I began to trust my teacher because she stayed with me. She didn’t judge me. She knew pain. She knew me. Even when I didn’t “let” her see me, she did.
As I went through this exercise, the most amazing new truth emerged for me. The new truth was that my demons could be my blessings. All the energy that I put into hiding my demons and controlling them could be turned into strengths that I could actually feed and grow. For example, all the abuse, terror and chaos that I endured as a child created enormous gifts for me. I have the unique ability to observe the keenest physical clues that indicate others’ moods and needs. I have become super sensitive to other people. My empathy skills are second to none. My ability to think and behave strategically have helped many people, organizations and communities.Finally, I learned that I am “not normal,” but “better than normal.”These gifts, among others, were gifts from my demons.
Moral of this story: You can only move forward in a healthy way if you turn your burdens into blessings. When you feel negative about something, ask, “What is the lesson or the blessing?” Don’t push back; accept
CALL TO YOU FOR ACTION TODAY—
Adults and care providers:
- Provide the following, without enabling:
o Provide direction
o Provide connection
o Provide unconditional acceptance of the youth as valuable human beings they are
- Understand that, without entitlement:
o You are loveable;
o You are capable; and
o You are responsible
GOING FORWARD FOR EVERYONE—
You cannot expect
Yet you must expect
Your scar tissue to be stronger
Handouts in life
Higher self esteem from your strength
Your issues with abandonment, identity and trust to disappear
To learn to manage those issues so they don’t ruin you or others
A smooth path
To be wise and powerful
Your past to change
That how you move forward is completely your choice
Is a normal life
An exceptional life
My goal is to ask for you—the help provider—to offer the appropriate help that really—no kidding—helps.
My goal for you—the youth in foster care—is to help you bypass unnecessary mistakes so you can be healthy faster!
Blame and shame have no place in living a healthy, happy life. You didn’t cause it, but you can control how you deal with it. If you do, you cure the source that did cause it. My biggest accomplishment in life is that I broke the cycle that caused me to choose foster care. I have fabulous grown children and am speaking to you. My biggest hope is that you see any unhealthy patterns in your live and reverse them for the future that you touch.